On Building A Vegetable Garden For Seniors

Well, it has come to this when we talk about building a garden for seniors. Sigh…

  My sweetie and I are seniors.  And I’m blaming Covid for this state of numerical affairs. Before Covid, I was any age I wanted to be or felt like being when I woke up. After Covid, I’m “at risk” because of my numerical age and it’s been impressed on me that I “should” be careful, avoid strangers and indeed look both ways before I cross the street to retrieve the mail out of the mailbox.

Well crap. (I’d use another word here but this is a family-themed garden blog.)

As Seniors We Needed A New Garden Design And Operating System

Just between us, I used this “seniors” excuse to revamp our vegetable garden and “steal” a few square feet for my perennial propagation and breeding adventures.

But having said that…

The First Decision Was About Where To Put The Compost Bins

To accomplish this new garden adventure, I’m eliminating a rather large compost bin and creating two smaller ones I can dig by hand. The older one is a tractor sized digging job and frankly between the two, I prefer that the tractor does the digging.  This fact alone apparently convinces some people I’m a senior. 

I note I’ve never liked digging and that’s why I was the owner of a nursery and employed other folks to do any necessary digging.

The Compost Bins Were Moved Inside The Vegetable Garden

I’m putting the compost bin inside the garden because it makes it easier to create compost (the garden is where a great deal of the organic matter originates) and this new location is closer to the kitchen door. (See concrete block construction below)

Closer to the kitchen door really counted this winter when I made a mad dash to empty the kitchen bucket without having to dress up like a three-year old in a snowsuit to venture out. And moving forward, who knows where we’ll be, so closer is better.

And, even if I could empty the current bins by tractor, I had to wheelbarrow and shovel the finished compost within the gardens. The tractor weight leaves tracks across the finished beds that would have to be repaired (i.e. lots of hand digging.)

gardens under construction

I Wasn’t Saving Labour

It turned out I wasn’t saving any labour by using the tractor, simply changing what I had to dig.

Note: keep your garden stuff as close to the garden as possible.

Using Raised Beds In My Garden For Seniors

I immediately started designing raised beds that would be marvels of surrounding wood construction. But my sweetie pointed out that when we were on our knees or leaning into the bed, it would be easier if I didn’t build walls around each bed. 

She felt very strongly about this and as every guy out there knows, when your beloved says, “I feel strongly about this,” you move forward in any other direction at peril of your happiness and indeed life.

My contribution to this was to increase the size of the pathways between the beds.

This allows us to get onto our hands and knees to work and makes it even easier to get back to our feet without destroying half the plants in the bed.

Note: The beds are now roughly 3-feet wide and so are the pathways between beds. And I’ll get back to you about the wood edging in another year or two.

vegetable garden for seniors

How Many Beds Do We Really Need?

This is an interesting problem as well.  When I was on the farm, the garden was monstrous. We fed the six of us out of that garden. But the kids are grown up with families and gardens of their own so I can make our garden any size that works for my current lifestyle.

And, normally Mayo and I go south for the winter (if you don’t count this Covid winter) and we really don’t need to produce a year’s worth of food out of this garden. What we need is fresh food as early as we can get it and as late into the fall as we can get it.  This alone makes a massive difference in the kinds of plants, the numbers of plants and square footage of a garden. 

Note: no matter how many beds you have, you’ll always need “just one more”.

I might even go back a decade or three and build some cold frames for extra-early salad green production.  But that’s a next-year kind of thing.

I’ll have pictures and some other thoughts on this in upcoming posts as I sort out the actual operating systems to make our new gardens productive.

But the time is upon us now we’re seniors. 

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p.s. I’ll get back to you about this new “seniors” label. Apparently it comes with discounts at some of the places I haunt for used books (good). But still, I’m not sure I’m willing to adopt this label just yet. I just got over being “mature” so don’t expect me to go willingly into “senior-hood.”

Check out my vegetable gardening ebook right here

The Meaning Of Life, The Universe and Everything In A Flower Bud

(With apologies to Douglas Adams)

Every nurseryman I know got into the business because they had an affinity for plants; and therein lies one of the great paradoxes of our trade. The best plantsmen, the great plant explorers of our age and indeed past ages have had an eye for a wonderful plant but generally a head full of compost when it came to making money with them.

The artist’s eye saw the soul of the plant and instantly understood how it thrives and enhances our lives.

I have walked production and test fields with such people and have seen their scanning senses pull one plant from thousands as distinctive and worthy of attention.

I have similarly had people ask me how I could pick out one small plant from thousands while scanning greenhouse benches full of similar plants. How could I pick out the one sick one?

I would answer that once you’ve seen a million healthy ones, the sick ones stand out — in an attempt to say that I had absolutely no idea how that one plant would speak to me.

Our plantsman’s reality is that we operate in “sympatico” with our plants.

There’s an instant acceptance but never-ending wonder at an emerging seed and no matter how many millions of seeds I’ve started, I confess that wonder is still there for each and every seed. It’s the delight in feeling the wonder of thousands of plants about to grow again after being snow-covered for 4 months.

It’s the delight on an early spring morning of having thousands of nursery blooms and not having to share that sensation with any living soul. Indeed, it is one of absorbing the exuberance of nature unfolding.

There are no magic words to adequately share these “nurseryman moments”, those skills, the attitude, or involvement with the plant world.

You look at pictures in a book and you either “get it” and know you are, as Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery described, a “kindred spirit” or you don’t.

Your sensibilities lie elsewhere and the pictures are simply gorgeous pictures.

But if garden pictures speak to you as they speak to me — the words aren’t necessary. You understand the seed emerging, the bud unfolding and the spirit that emerges to become a player on the universe’s stage.

And in the late stages of winter, this is enough.

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Note: this was originally published on my blog at Douglas-Green.com

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