Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Adaptive Gardening


Is there a sure indicator that spring is on the way, it's this holiday. So what does this mean? To gardeners and adaptive gardeners alike, it's time to get planting! I've organic gardened for the better part of half my life. Having to give up my over twenty year plot of gardening space was a true hardship about moving here. It meant starting from scratch again. But, starting over is not new to me. I had to rethink my gardening strategy after my stroke. I couldn't operate a tiller with one functioning hand. Turning the rich dirt with just a shovel was a ridiculous idea when looking at the size of my was 30x50. Sure, one shovel full at a time would have worked, but REALLY??! With one functioning hand and arm. Nah! I wasn't going to do it.

Milk crate garden with Lil Bit
I built raised beds out of pallets, raised growing areas with milk crates, and hung gutters at a more accessible height. Granted my harvest wasn't as great as just planting in the ground, but I was doing what I loved and needed to do. It wasn't easy, but it brought me joy to raise plants from seeds and produce harvestable produce to eat. With my allergies, it was a necessity. I suffer far less with organically grown food. When I started gardening organically, organic food were rarely in standard grocery stores. But I continue growing my own even though it is. I like knowing where my food comes from and what's in it. To me, it's just a healthy, both mental and physical, best option.

Here on the cockeyed homestead in NE Georgia, we also grow organically. This property was abandoned for seven years before Mel bought it. So the soil has healed and it is truly organic. Granted there are too many trees and most is heavily overgrown. She has done well over the past three years of cleaning what she could, but now it's time for bush hoggers and trees cutters, if we are going to open up more than a quarter acre space. Having the wood for the wood stove cut and ready for years to come doesn't hurt either.

Last year, I started with raised bed built low to the ground and growing in gutters. It was a dismal failure not because it doesn't work, but our darn blasted chickens wouldn't stay out of the garden. This year we are opting for elevated raised beds for herbs, lettuces, carrots, and strawberries. A YouTube creator that I watched just after my stroke shows how to make them. Watch below. It's not that hard to do and you have plenty of growing space in them.
YouTube standard license
What we did differently than these folks is that we filled the bottom 2/3rds with used straw from our hen house, leaves, etc, and are allowing it to compost down. So it's doing double duty. Yes, the inner ground will drop as it composts, but we'll have plenty of compost rich soil to raise the level again. By the way, we didn't use a nifty air compression staple gun, I wish. We screwed the pallets together for easier dismantling if we decided to move the beds. At one end, we wired the pallet, so if we decided to use the composted material elsewhere, we could. The beauty of doing it this way with the bed filled with compost, is that when the season is over, we can plant sweet and regular potatoes in them.

We also didn't zigzag the planting beds like shown in the video. We left them two pallets wide by one across with a four-foot walkway in between. This allows for weeds and grasses to grow for our chickens and rabbits. Everything is double or triple duty on this homestead. It has to be to be more productive and efficient. 

We did, or should I say Mel did, till the former garden.The soil is hard packed clay and needed a lot of organic material to make it soft enough to plant and grow healthy vegetables in. After two years of Mel working at it and adding organic amendments to it, it now has an abundance of worms in it. You can't turn a shovel full up without getting a few.

This will be for the taller plants like corn, sunflowers (we grow our own Black Oil Sunflower seeds for the angoras), peas, cucumbers, and pole beans. But all the low harvesting plants, like zucchini or yellow squashes and stuff, went in the elevated raised beds. This makes it very accessible for me and not so hard on everyone's back. Nobody is getting any younger. It's also less of a fall hazard for me. Yes, I may still have to bend over and stoop down, but not as often. We use the 5-ft fence around the garden for these tall plants to grow up and add support.

A word or two about tools you will need to for adaptive gardening. Garden hand pruners can be difficult to use if you have small hands. I found a smaller pair built for smaller hand widths at Gardeners Supply Company. My hand from the tip of my pinky finger to the tip of my thumb is only a six inch reach. My hand width is only 3 1/2 inches wide at the widest point so standard bypass pruners are too big for me to use one-handed. A good pair of pruners are worth their weight in gold in the garden. I also have another pair for butchering rabbits and chickens, and soon quail.

A standard watering can (2 gallons) is handy to have when working in elevated raised beds, but it weights over 16 lbs when full. I opt for a gallon milk jug or a 2-qt pitcher. Yes, I have to refill in more often, but watering plants with one hand trying to control that much weight is chancy at best for me.

Shovels, hoes, and rakes, even mops and brooms, can be hazardous and awkward when using them one handed in the best of times. Most often, IT IS NOT the best of times. First of all, I'm stuck with using these with my nondominant side. So using these items are always awkward for me. Plus, I'm short (5 ft squat). I found cutting off a foot to a foot and a half of the handle works well. Yes, the reach is shorter but my control of these things is better.

You can buy the adaptive gardening tools for beau coup buxes. But I'm a cheap skate. I'm already having to adapt a whole lot of things in my life because of my stroke. I'm choosy about what I buy to do what I want. That's not to say that I don't love my adaptive cutting board and Ulu knife because of the ease of use they provide me, I DO. But when you compare the use factor of these two items and their cost, and the amount of use a set of adaptive gardening tools, there's no contest. I do a whole lot more cooking and food prep work year around.

Gloves, I rarely use them. I find soap and water works just fine. I ranted about the waste of money by having to buy a pair of gloves when only one is used. But I have justified my cost of my favorite leather work gloves finally! Mel is right handed. So usually her right handed glove wears out faster than her left. She just swaps out her worn glove for my nonused right handed glove. How's that for an economically sound practice? Now I don't feel so wasteful in buying a pair of work gloves. But actually buying gloves to garden with? Nope. I just wash my hands more frequently. I do make a scrubbing bar of soap by adding a little sand to my regular soap recipe. It clean me up pretty well.

For when I want to move more dirt than my hand trowel will do. I found a trip to a second hand shop was the ticket. I found an old military shovel. A little rust remover (used motor oil in a filled sand pot) and some spritzes of WD-40 restored it almost to it's former glory. The handle makes control of this shovel a breeze. It even came with its old canvas cover. My cost was $5.35 plus a little labor. I use it when planting and removing plants from my raised beds, and harvesting potatoes.

$64.95 plus tax or more
Now my leg muscles strength have deteriorated with advancing age and strokes. I find it's easier the sit down more when gardening. Not to mention, the rack and pinion steering in my back, and arthritis setting in to my upper spine. I wanted a gardening stool to do the job but most were too costly or too low to the ground for me to rise easily. Again, my second hand store to the rescue. I found a heavy duty, double resin toy box. I just slapped some bolts, washers, nuts, and wheels (from discarded tricycles) on it and VOILA! A wheeled garden stool with storage. I did drill two large holes on in end and threaded a piece of old clothesline through it, so I could pull it along as I moved down
My solution
the rows. It's just the right height for me to rise and lower myself with ease. My cost total with adaption $10.00. Did I mention I'm a cheap skate? The seat of my "new" garden cart is wider that the purchasable one so it's more stable when lifting my wide hinny up and down. I can actually shuffle my body around it to get both sides of the garden rows without moving it unlike the other one.

Are you disabled or getting older and thinking about gardening. Maybe not as huge as mine that provides a year's worth of produce. What are you waiting for? Even growing one tomato plant in a pot will be ten (or more) less tomatoes you will have to buy in the store. I guarantee it will be the best tomato you have ever eaten. Nothing beats a tomato sandwich on a hot summer day. Especially if you make your own bread too with it. A little homemade mayonnaise, some salt and pepper, you have a meal fit for princes and princesses... which you are by the way through Christ.

Nothing is impossible.


  1. I love your creative ideas for saving money. Living with a stroke can go on and on.


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