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….
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.
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.
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!