How to Avoid Heat Exhaustion—The #1 Threat to Summertime Gardeners

Avoid Heat Exhaustion on the Homestead

My husband and I admit to being weekend warriors when it comes to creating our homestead in Florida. Our normal work in summer involves sitting in front of a computer in an air-conditioned room for most of the day.

One Sunday morning, we headed out to our property, hoping to get some yard cleanup done while it wasn’t raining.

A few weeks earlier, we had contracted to have the trees cut down from around our future driveway and the footprint and immediate area of the house. Now there were 7 piles of tree remains to be handled.

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#1: Use the Right Tool for the Job

First, we bought a used chipper. We took it to a repair shop to get some needed maintenance, only to find out that it was 27 years old! Despite the company that originally manufactured it being out of business, 2 expert equipment mechanics and some new parts got it working fine.

We also rented a stump grinder, and we took the chipper and the grinder to our property. We arrived at about 11:00 a.m. on a day that would reach 94°F.

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The first hour and a half went by pretty fast. My husband manned the stump grinder and handled 4 or 5 stumps from about 1 inch to about 7 inches in diameter. That took care of the driveway.

In the meantime, I was working with the chipper. All it could do was shred the ends of anything over 1-1/2 inches. That meant that I had to lop off the branches that could fit in the chipper. Anything that was too big was laid aside to use in the dead hedge we were building.

#2: Take Frequent Breaks

We took a break to get some water and sit down. After about 10 minutes, we started to go at it again.

This time we only lasted about an hour. We took a longer break, had more to drink, and tried to get some more done. Each time we would start, the amount of work got shorter and the breaks got longer.

I felt really hot and my heart was beating faster than normal, even when I sat down in the shade. By about 3:00 p.m., we were both exhausted.

#3: Know When to Stop

At this point, it was all we could do to put everything away and get the stump grinder back into the bed of the truck. My husband was dirty and drenched with sweat, so he changed before we left. I was sweaty and thought it best to change shirts. Even though I had been wearing a long-sleeved shirt and hat while I worked, my arms and face were both red—I was definitely overheated!

We went to a restaurant and I sat in the air conditioning, sipping water with lemon as my body cooled down. It took about half an hour to start feeling better. I had a light lunch with fruit and vegetables, and then we were on the road back home.

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The Facts About Heat Exhaustion

According to the WebMD website, heat exhaustion occurs after exposure to high temperatures and is often accompanied by dehydration. Actual heat exhaustion can include symptoms of headache, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, and muscle cramps.

Although we didn’t experience anything that severe, we would have if we had not stopped when we did. The website recommends doing exactly what we did—get out of the heat and into a cooler area to rest.

We decided that the next time we want to make a day of yard work we will do it in shorter stretches and take a long air-conditioned break in between.

In terms of hydration, we have also found that drinking coconut water and eating watermelon are good for replenishing mineral salts that are lost due to sweating.

What Do You Think?

What precautions do you take to avoid heat exhaustion while you’re working outside in the summer? Share your thoughts and best tips in the comments section below!


This is an updated version of an article that was originally published August 3, 2016. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!

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This post was written by Karen the Newbie Homesteader


  • NolaM says:

    Congrats at getting the job done.
    I was wincing at the 11am start time.
    A lot of rental places will give you a day rate if you pick it up before closing the night before.
    Imagine if you already had everything set up to start work that morning.
    There is a reason Mexico has the siesta mid day break.
    Yesterday I started at 5 am in the garden to pick blackberries, pole beans, josta berries,
    Be out there as soon as it gets light enough to see what you are doing.
    Now I do things the lazy retired way but have picked fruit commercially and did construction.
    We have cut firewood, cut shake blocks commercially as well. Start time was always pre-dawn.
    I have a flexible sided canteen that I fill 3/4 full of water and freeze.
    Then I drink the water as it melts. That way I don’t over drink.
    Drinking too much water can kill you faster than dehydration.
    I make a trail mix of mixed salted nuts, coconut flakes, raisins.
    Gives you protein, salt, coconut is great for gut electrolyte balance.
    Stay way from sugar or any diet drinks. They both bounce your blood sugar.
    Keep a bucket of water to dip your shirt/hat in and put back on.
    My husband likes his hat, I like to wet my short hair.
    I have tried to convince him that the shade is not worth heat retention.
    Nope…works for him. You need to keep your core cool.
    I use coconut oil for sunscreen. It runs about SPF 8
    I keep a wet frozen cloth in a ziplock for each of us.
    A wipe to clean the salt from your arms, neck and reapply coconut oil? Ahhh.
    Remember that sun piles up against your clothes so do the edges.
    I understand the protective long sleeve shirt but a tank top and long gloves is better.
    Besides… Getting a wicked farmer tan is half the fun. Grin.
    If you have to do long sleeves get a cotton dress shirt from a second hand store.
    A white cotton shirt that was only worn to church on rare Sundays by an old guy.
    White is cooler, reduces bugs, they are old, soft, protect your neck.
    Now I Quit by 10-11 at the latest, do lunch of fruit, veg, cheese,
    Then drink water, nap, go back from 5-6 pm to dark.
    If you have to work through the heat of the day.
    Try to move at a paced speed that is sweat reducing.
    If you are sweating actual drops, slow down, open your core, take a break, breathe
    Breathing deep is one way to cool your core. Lungs are your body’s radiator.
    Shade is your friend. Hope this helps.

  • Richard says:

    Nola does it the right way !!!

  • David Lee says:

    When growing up, many of the field hands wore long sleeved flannel shirts. They said it kept them cooler. I start in my garden about 9am and by 11am, I am drenched. I drink a lot of cool tap water.

    In the movie, Magnum Force, Dirty Harry said, “A man (or woman) must know their limitations.”

  • Michael Ruff says:

    What you must remember, heat exhaustion is telling your body that it needs rest NOW. Not continue to push yourself without stopping and resting and cooling down.

    The next progression from heat exhaustion is Heat stroke and once you hit that level, you are in big trouble.

    As a paramedic, heat stroke can be devastating and quickly fatal. Your first signs of heat stroke are going to be loss of thirst, red hot skin and the absence of sweating. Once you stop sweating, it can become quickly fatal like I have said.

    The key to keep from this is plenty of water and gatorade (alternate bottles – drink one bottle of water and then a bottle of gatorade) and get out of the heat. Many times, EMS and hospital care is needed.

    This is what kills the kids left in the hot cars. Heatstroke.

    All in all, the author recognized that they were in the middle of heat exhaustion and took appropriate action to reverse this potentially deadly syndrome.


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  • kejasmine says:

    Smart people, great practices.
    I keep my head cool with a wet bandana. I consider my core my brain. A nice sun hat can go overtop if needed.
    The way people get hydrosis or getting over hydrated is when they forget to hydrate, then drink a whole lot to make up for it, this is hard on the kidneys.
    Regular sipping like every 10-15 min is best.
    Don’t let work be foremost but who the work is for.
    I wouldn’t drink prebottled drinks, don’t trust them, there are lots of recipes online for electrolite drinks. Mine is 1 1/2T organic unsulphured blackstrap molasses to 1T raw organic honey and pinch of real salt in water to taste. I alternate drinking it with an herbal infusion. I pick and dry all my own organic herbs. A wise woman said that water is more absorbable with plant material in it. If I drink this way I don’t drop in energy levels.
    I freeze a green smoothie that has fruit, nuts, greens and bit of salt and spices and eat it as it unfreezes.
    I’d rather go for a playful swim than air-conditioning.

  • Beth says:

    I am one who has hypohidrosis, also called anhidrosis, the inability to sweat at normal temperatures, so extreme temps cause me to overheat with no way of cooling off quickly. I have a medical exemption from wearing masks because of this but I should not have to go into a lengthy explanation when I try to buy groceries. I was actually told by one door greeter that “maybe you should” when I told him that I can easily faint when having my face covered.

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