Growing old in the garden requires a plan

posted Oct. 16, 2017 9:56 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Bev Carney | Gardening Columnist

On my recent birthday, I paused and asked myself, “How much physical labor can I continue to do?” Luckily, for me, the answer was “quite a lot.” But time does take its toll, and at age 67, I do get tired more quickly and am beginning to accept a few limitations. Looking ahead, I still want to grow my own food and I still want massive quantities of flowers from spring through late fall. So what's my plan?

I am cutting back on the quantity of vegetables we grow. We don’t eat as much these days and this year, even eight tomato plants proved to be too bountiful. Although this year I dropped from three zucchini plants to two, next year I will be planting only one of those super productive plants. I am assessing our need for every vegetable I grow.

I am mulching even more than normal. Previously, we cleaned barns and hauled spoiled hay to use in the garden. This year, we decided to cut the work in half and purchased hay to be delivered for our use in the garden. We bought a lot and for the first time in years, we feel free to use it as lavishly as desired. Mulching helps retain moisture, keeps back the weeds and helps build nutrient-rich soil.

I am revamping my flower beds. For years, I had a spontaneous garden, allowing seeds to freely self-sow. That worked quite well for a number of years, but eventually, the weed seeds became the first to germinate and took over the entire bed. Now, with a massive redesign of that garden underway, I’m looking to flowering shrubs and trees to form the structure of the flowerbed. I’ll add an assortment of long-lived perennials and each year pop in some fast-growing annuals for season-long flowers. I’ll mulch this garden as well, to control the inevitable spread of weeds. While laying out the garden, I’ll also create a walkway through this enormous space to make weeding and planting easier. And lastly, I’ll lay out a watering system that should stay in place for several years.

To get the work done with my aging body, I know that tools are important for the preservation of the body’s joints and back. It’s well worth the time to investigate the world of ergonomic tools and find some that fit your particular body structure. The University of Florida offers this publication on ergonomics: http://​​px7ek7s. Even ergonomic tools can cause stress when used for long periods of time so limit your garden sessions or invest in a few braces. I find a wrist brace to be enormously helpful when hand-digging or hand-plowing weeds. Likewise, a back brace provides needed support and knee wraps keep knees properly aligned.

Raised beds are another option if stooping and bending is just too problematic. A perfect raised bed is whatever height you deem comfortable. A U-shaped design means you can work on a lot of areas with little movement. The frames for raised beds are easy to assemble and kits are even available. What an ideal fall project!

As activity slows with the approach of cooler weather, investigate strengthening exercises that will make you stronger and fitter for the spring season ahead. No matter what your age, there are exercises for your back, your wrists, arms, legs, etc. The more you move over the winter, the more prepared you will be next spring and the less chance that gardening will cause any pain. Check out the National Institute on Aging’s exercises at http://​​yafshgh8. There’s also an excellent and detailed publication at http://​​y8kfsp5a designed for beginners.

Beverly Carney can be reached at

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