Raised-bed garden with Text Overlay: 6 Tips to Make Gardening Easier with Chronic Illness

6 Tips to Make Gardening Easier with Chronic Illness

I got an email from one of my favorite garden-supply companies a few weeks ago. It seems that so many people have taken an interest in gardening that supplies are starting to run low. I love to garden and now, it seems a lot of other people do too. For many people who live with chronic illness, having a garden may seem like a pipe dream, but I’d like to share 6 simple tips to help make it easier for that dream to come true.

Gardening can be therapeutic and growing our own food can ensure we’re eating food that’s grown the way we want it to be grown.  And let me just say, there’s nothing like being able to go out your back door and pick something for dinner.

It can also be a lot of work, and when you have fibromyalgia or another chronic illness, it can be difficult to keep up with all the things that have to be done for your garden to thrive.

Back in my Air Force days we had a saying, “work smarter, not harder.” Applying that mentality to my gardening has been extremely helpful in allowing me to do something I love without wearing myself out.

As with anything else, it has taken some experimentation and patience to find better ways of doing things, but here are some of the things that have been most helpful:

1. Start small.

If I could make only one recommendation for someone just starting out, this would be my one piece of advice. It’s easy to add on later if you find that you enjoy it and are up to doing more work in the garden, but if you start out too big and can’t keep up with it, you might get discouraged and give up on it completely.

If you don’t have the space or energy for a full garden, you can grow many vegetable plants such as lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, and others in pots on your patio. I’ve grown lots of tomatoes and herbs in pots. They’ll probably need to be watered a little more often that the traditional garden, but other than that, this is a great, low-maintenance way to grow a few veggies.

2. Use raised beds.

This can be a little more expensive than just digging up the ground, but they have a couple of advantages. First, you don’t have to bend over as far to do any weeding, pruning, harvesting, etc. Secondly, although you will still have weeds, you probably won’t have as many as if you start at ground level. Using the raised beds leads to the next thing that’s been helpful for me….

raised garden bed containing lettuce, tomato, spinach, and cucumber plants

3. Get a lightweight stool to use in your garden.

For times you’re going to be out there for a while, such as when you’re weeding, this is an invaluable piece of equipment. I also use mine when I’m cutting lettuce. That takes a while, and if you’re bent over cutting, it can really drain you quickly.

Your stool doesn’t need to be anything fancy or expensive. Just make sure it’s the right height for your garden beds. A good height is one that allows you to reach everything comfortably without excessive bending.

4. Grow up.

For plants that like to vine, training them up a trellis can save you a lot of bending. My husband built me a wooden frame that he attaches to whichever box I’m using for the cucumbers. Each Spring, he uses garden twine to string a trellis for them to climb. Of course, you could always use a ready-made trellis or you could even use tomato cages to allow them to grow up and out.

If you’re growing in pots, you’ll definitely want to use a small trellis for any kind of vining plants, like cucumbers or beans.

cucumbers on trellis https://reclaiminghopewellness.com

5. Grow only things that you really like to eat.

 There’s no need to waste energy growing things that you don’t really want to eat that often. I’ll give you an example: we planted bell pepper plants for several years, because we do like them, but we found that even after sharing with our neighbors we still had to throw some away because they went bad before we ate them. Now when I need bell peppers I just pick them up at the Farmer’s Market or grocery store.

6. Limit your gardening work to the coolest hours of the day and do a little at a time.

This is probably a no-brainer, but sticking to an early-morning or late-evening schedule and breaking up the work can pay big dividends in energy conservation for those of us who don’t have much energy anyway.

My Hubby and I are early risers, so I go out first thing in the morning, and I almost never spend more than 30 minutes to an hour out there. That allows me to get some of my work done without wearing myself out.

Bumblebee on cucumber bloom with quote: "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow." ~Audrey Hepburn

Growing your own food can be such a rewarding experience, and for me at least, it’s great therapy for those days when I’m feeling down or cranky, or just plain out of sorts. It’s something that I was afraid I might have to give up once I became ill. Just as with other things, though, sometimes you don’t have to give up what you love; you just have to make adjustments to make it work for you.

Are you a gardener? What tips do you have to make gardening easier for those of us who live with chronic illness? Please share!

Blessings,

`Terri

31 comments

    1. Oh my goodness Bar! I hope you recover from your painting adventures soon! It’s amazing how different what would be “normal” soreness is when you have fibromyalgia. At least you’ll have a fabulous-looking gate to show for it… Sending hugs your way!

    1. Thanks so much Tim! Your lovely wife sent me photos of your garden. I’m looking forward to seeing pictures of your progress over the summer. You guys are going to be doing some good eating.😊

  1. You reminded me, Terri, of the zucchini seeds we planted one summer. We had bought a home with some large, raised bed gardens. About the second summer we decided to plant one whole bed with zucchini. We had no idea of how many zucchini would come from that large bed! So we took a bushel basket to the office and filled it daily. People even popped in just for more zucchini!

    1. I had to chuckle when I read your story George! We joke around that you can’t even give away zucchinis around here because so many people are trying to get rid of their extras. We plant four plants every year, and that gives us enough for us to have all we want AND share with the neighbors.

      1. Now you tell me! I could have shipped bushels to you. Might even have paid you to take them off my hands! lol Actually we just don’t seem to cook with it, but that might be because we don’t know how. Or don’t cook meals that are that complicated. 😎

    1. Thanks Kim! I haven’t done lettuce or celery in water, but I know plant towers, which allow you to grow things in water, are really becoming popular. I checked on Amazon to see if they had any that might fit your living situation, and I saw one that was about 19 inches high. I didn’t read all the details on it, but it might be something to check out.

    1. Thanks so much Gail! We find modified ways to do lots of things when we live with chronic pain, don’t we? Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m heading over to your blog now. Blessings to you!

    1. Thanks so much Brigid! It really is wonderful to know so many people are learning to grow their own food. It really is a blessing to have fresh food available right outside your door. I’m glad you liked the quote – I thought it was lovely and wanted to share….. All the best to you sweet friend!

  2. Great article Terri! Thanks! While I hoped to use raised beds this year, we just didn’t get to it. I really appreciated the tips on here. I love my garden, but the work can get overwhelming when I’m not feeling well. The biggest thing, I learned this year, was to weed every day I feel well enough to. That way the weeds never get ahead of me and become an hours long effort. The garden didn’t go well and we only have a few plants that actually took. Maybe better luck next year? LOL

    1. Thanks so much Stace! That’s a great tip about weeding every day that you feel well enough. We’ve also made a concerted effort to stay on top of the weeds this year too. Whenever we take the dogs out, we check for weeds and pull any that we see. It really has helped a lot to do it a little at a time. As you said, the garden can be overwhelming when you’re not feeling well, so doing things just a little at a time helps so much. Our garden hasn’t done as well this year either, other than our lettuce and spinach earlier…. We had a huge amount of rain earlier in the season, and now we’ve barely gotten any. We’ve also only had one day this month that it hasn’t been in the 90s. You just can’t water enough to make up for that deficit, it seems. I hope both our gardens do better next year!

      1. Me too. We actually lost almost the entirety of our peach tree crop. And between the absolutely ridiculous beetle population this year and the extreme heat, our garden is quite pathetic.
        The weeding daily trick has really helped this year-in the beginning of the season I was really overwhelmed with the gardening; despite wanting to do it.
        A friend of mine just actually told me that the extreme heat won’t allow tomatoes to turn red-so to pick them green and bring them in the house. So glad he told me, I’d have never known that!
        Maybe next year I’ll get just a little bit better at gardening. For now, I’ve just accepted I have a black thumb. 🤣

  3. I wish I knew these things back when I first was sick, but you learn as you go. I get way too hot and cannot be in the heat so I am always dragging everyone outside early. haha But it is better for everyone. the one thing I have not done is gotten a stool. Or those garden pads for your knees would do wonders. And we did pots this year for our garden, my husband loves making pickles and he has his cucumbers going up a little trellis right now! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Crystal! It’s amazing what you can grow in a pot, isn’t it? I’ve even seen special ones to grow potatoes in. I hope your husband’s pickles turn out well. I made some one year, but I haven’t made anymore. We’ve run out, so I may have to plant some pickle-friendly cucumbers next year. Stools and/or those need pads are wonderful. I can’t stand to kneel for very long so I opted for the stool but those kneeling pads look like they would help so much. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment. Blessings to you!

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