Tips for Gardening For Aging Backs

I admit it.  My back hurts.

It pretty much hurts all the time now. Following two surgeries on my left hip, I was left with two scars (7 inches and 4 inches) slashing horizontally from spine to hip bone and doing battle every day to see which cut muscle can spasm the most.

Some days, it seems like they are both winning but a little pain is not stopping me from putting in my garden this year. In fact, it’s made me rethink a few things.

Straw protects my garden.

Straw protects my garden in the winter.

First tip: Prep the Beds Early
All of my soil is covered by straw for over-wintering. Straw keeps down weeds but it also keeps the soil cooler, longer.

If you grow Mediterranean veggies like I do — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant – you know the soil has to be warm, warm, warm so the first job is pulling the straw back.

Instead of trying to get all my prep done is a day, now I spread it out over a week or two. The steps are easy but all of them require bending to which my back says, “No!”

So here are the steps I take to prep the garden:

  1. The first thing I do is pull back straw from my planting areas.
  2. Next, I move the fences and rails I am going to use to trellis everything from tomatoes to cucumbers to new locations.
  3. The raised beds get the next look-see. I add soil or compost to the beds, level them off and get them ready to receive my transplants.
  4. Last but definitely not least, I lay out my soaker hoses being careful not to knock about the baby lettuce already growing.

    Soaker hoses around baby lettuce.

    Soaker hoses are set in place early.

Second tip: Fast versus Slow
That blasted tortoise showed up this year and gave me some advice on how to win the race to put my garden in without too much pain. I am following it.

I used to put ALL of my plants in the ground on one day. When I say all, let me give you my count for 2016:

  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 4 San Marzano tomatoes
  • 12 Sweet Italian Peppers
  • 5 Rosa Bianca Eggplants
  • 6 Zuchetta
  • 14 cucumbers
  • 4 basil plants
  • 2 Italian parsley plants
  • Countless flowers for interplanting

That’s 63 plants and 63 holes of varying depths, all at once. And this list doesn’t include the 3 types of beans I put in the ground now that the lilac is finally in full bloom.

This year, I am staging my planting. I dug 16 holes for the tomatoes, a week before I needed them. All I have to do is set the tomatoes in holes, press, water them in and stake them and quit for the day. The “quitting” is the hardest part for me but I am letting my back give me orders this year.

If my back feels okay the next day, I will dig the holes for the eggplant and the peppers and plant the following day. Holes for herbs will be next, then planting. Last to go in the ground will be zukes and cukes around the end of May because these babies really like their soil warm.

Third tip: Plan for the Future

Raised beds keep my back happier.

Raised beds are easier on my back.

The size of my garden hasn’t changed much over the years but how I garden has.

I started with no raised beds; this year 6 of them. One is an old Chevy truck bed in the background.

Two are new galvanized oval-shaped beds and

3 are home-made, 12 foot long boards held together with corners from Gardener’s Supply.

Raised beds let me work with soil that is softer, more friable and easier to dig in. I also can reach the ground a bit easier as it is close to my knees. I can sink stakes and cages and trellises into my raised beds without my hand sledge.

I plan on adding 2 more raised beds next year so I will have even less digging to do when it comes to prep and planting.



5 responses to “Tips for Gardening For Aging Backs

  1. Good plans. I’ve never put all the stuff at the same time – but then different climates do account for some of that!

    • Our current climate is killing me…and my plants! Only 43 degrees out at 9AM this morning with constant wind of 15 mph!! I feel so sorry for what is out there.

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