Changing how we work in the garden

After quite a few conversations and hours of thinking about the pros and cons, Hanno and I have decided to keep our vegetable garden going; although there will be some changes. We were going to pay someone to weed and plant for us but decided that the $200 would buy a lot of fruit and vegetables and was not a wise investment of our limited funds.  Then we thought about having a cottage garden with no food crops. That would have been an easy option for us but when I thought about not being able to walk outside and pick herbs for our meals or not having homegrown tomatoes, it was so far from my vision of us, we dropped that idea too. Eventually, after weighing it all up, we've decided to grow some things in the garden and have another garden in the bush house with food plants in polystyrene boxes.



That's the practical breakdown of it but for me there is a more important element - the psychological benefits of the work involved in keeping a garden. I come from a family of workers and when I was growing up my father grew a few vegies in the backyard and my grandmother, who lived in the same suburb, had fruit trees and chickens. My family valued the taste and the economy of home grown. After my brain tumour diagnosis I decided to sit back and relax more but having done that for a couple of weeks I realised that instead of making me feel better, I was beginning to feel hopeless. My days felt so empty without a to-do list. It makes me happy to work in my home and even after decades of backyard growing, it makes sense to me.  I don't want to stop. Hanno has bouts of dizziness too, so I want to modify how we work, and keep that sense of independence and control we have over our lives.

Purple sweet potato slips in the bush house. If they don't shoot, I have orange sweet potato starting to grow in the kitchen.

When we first came to live here, there was no sewerage connected to any properties in the area. We were the first to have it installed and the council set up in our backyard to install a lot on the infrastructure for our street. It was like the trenches in WW1. Now, whenever we have a drought, you can see the footprint of some of the trenches, as seen in the picture above. 
Hanno cut both the elderberry trees back.  They'll grow back as bushy as ever in the next couple of months.  We got three buckets of berries from the tree.  



Elderberry cordial is a great summer drink but it's also been proven to have properties that help keep us free from colds throughout the year.

We did a bit of work outside yesterday morning and discovered just how dry the garden has been. We planted purple sweet potatoes back in September, they grew well, covering the corner of the garden where they were planted. Hanno started harvesting them yesterday and found only a few small sweet potatoes in cement-hard garden soil. A total failure. We've not had enough rain to keep the crops going properly.  Yes, we watered the garden but now we know that when the soil dried out, no amount of watering was going to make the difference real wet season rain would make. Most of the watering has been useless.  We've had less than 10mm of rain in the last two months - which are our hottest.  Anyhow, there's no use in looking back, we have to move forward. I took a couple of cuttings from the sweet potato and now have it resting, and hopefully growing, in the bush house.  When it recovers and starts growing, we'll replant it in the garden and hopefully by then, the rain will gently coax it to produce large purple tubers.

  Our bush house crops will be:  
  • Lettuce - an all year variety
  • Cherry Falls tomatoes - a large and prolific cherry tomato
  • Radishes - Long White Icicle
  • Viking spinach
  • Red pack choi - ready for eating in 7 weeks
  • Rainbow chard
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Bay 
  • Mint
  • Aloe Vera
  • Welsh onions
  In the garden:  
  • Sweet potato - purple variety
  • Potatoes - in a potato bag
  • Golden nugget pumpkins - bush variety that don't take over the garden
  • Turnips
  • Beetroot - Perfect 3 - to eat fresh and for preserving
  • Marketmore cucumber - to eat fresh and for preserving
  • Chilli Shake - a mix of heat levels and colours
  • Bee and butterfly mix of flowers to attract pollinators 
  • Welsh onions
  • Kale - curly kale, Hanno's been eating it all his long life
  • Garlic - to be planted from cloves saved from last year's crop
  Old sandpit:  
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Welsh onions
We'll grow Welsh onions (also known as Japanese bunching onions) in the garden, the bush house and in the old sandpit. They're important. If you divide them and plant them in their own space and not in a clump, the bulb grows well, like a shallot, and it's got a good onion flavour. I use them in almost every meal - either for their flavour and nutrition or as a garnish. I removed all the Welsh onions from the garden about a month ago because I was scared we'd lose them.  We've been growing this herb for 15 years from a small clump we were given by a friend in Nanango. They're so hardy and prolific I don't want to be without them. I had to BUY green onions on the weekend and almost choked when I had to pay $3 for them. These onions are perennial and will produce new onions on the side of the growing ones, increasing the size of the onion patch considerably over the season.  They grow well in both hot and cold climates.  If you know anyone growing them, they might give you a few to start or you can buy the seeds at many heirloom seed businesses like Green Harvest and Diggers.

The bush house need a good clean out and then I have to clear the bench so I can put all my poly boxes along that side. 
These herbs will be moved and another growing area just outside the shade of the bush house will be created for plants that need a bit more sun.

If, like me, you use a lot of herbs in your cooking, you're much better off growing them in your garden if you have one, or in a pot or polystyrene box in your backyard. As long as they're in good potting soil and they are watered, they're reward you. Some will need shade, others will need full sun so make sure you position them where they'll thrive.

And some good news! Our metal water tank was down to the lower two ridges but after a light shower of rain, and drizzle overnight, the almost empty tank is up to one third full.

Now we're collecting small polystyrene boxes which we usually get at the back of our local Chemist Warehouse. They transport various drugs in them so they're very clean. We also have to buy manure and mushroom compost.  We've decided to do a small amount of work every day so we don't have a couple of weeks of intense work. I'm pretty sure it will all work well for us, although it will be hard work at times. We are both aware that it is through work that we harvest not only fresh organic food but also the feeling of independence and accomplishment that no amount of money can buy.

44 comments

  1. This sounds like a really sensible and achievable plan Rhonda, I know what you mean about feeling at a loss.

    I miss having herbs to go and pick and a kitchen in which I can cook and bake in properly. Once we have the yurt built in a couple of weeks I look forward to getting some pots and setting up a few herbs and various bits and bobs again. Even a little bit will help me feel more at home. Paying $3 for a bunch of basil is crazy!


    xx

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  2. Rhonda, it is the same here as regards the watering. Just a waste of time and water. I have wondered if it is best just to buy all the veggies from the farmers market but I still want to grow a few things here as it is so nice to be outside in the sun in winter. As for summer...I think we all all be very glad when it bids us goodbye this year.

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  3. Thanks Rhonda for such a positive post. Like you we are experiencing challenges as we grow older reading your posts remind me of all the simple and very enjoyable aspects of everyday life.

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  4. Hi Rhonda, I'm sorry that you were feeling hopeless. You are such a hard worker...I feel better when I am busy and contributing to society, too. My father, who is 88, confided to me that he feels envious of people who are able to continue working in retirement. It really is good for our feelings of self worth. I know what it's like to have bone dry soil. We had a very long and damaging drought here in California for several years. The only way I could grow veggies was by mulching heavily and using grey water every day. I just planted a small potager garden in front of my cottage. Glad that you got some rain. So did we, and it's made a huge difference since those terrible fires. Take care of yourself...

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  5. The ways you and Hanno work together are most inspirational!! Will enjoy hearing how this new kind of gardening will work out. I hope your health will hold steady!!
    Elizabeth

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  6. Have you considered wicking beds? They are usually made of apple crates linned with plastic with rocks in the base. It acts as a water resivour so the plants are self watering and its at a height so you dont have to bend down to harvest or tend it.

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    1. We're familiar with wicking beds, Jacinta, but we prefer to grow our food in a regular garden so we benefit from the natural minerals in the soil. It's the same reason we don't grow our food in raised beds. Hopefully this drought will be over soon and then we just rely on our water tanks to provide rain water for the gardens.

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  7. That is a good idea to get your garden 'up off the ground' so there is less bending while still allowing you both to potter and grow your lovely veggies. I wish I had a bush house!

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  8. We also have had very little rain here. It may be forecast but almost always efficiently bypasses us. Our vegetable crop has not done as well as we hoped as the soil is so dry. We also need some of that bee and butterfly mix you use. However, as you say, look forward with posivity. There is nothing more accomplishing that walking a few steps to pick some homegrown herbs. Wonderful post as always. Brigitte

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  9. It can be hard to adapt to changing life situations, lovely to see you are working your way around your limitations so that you can still enjoy a garden and some of your own produce. My partner and I love our fresh veggies and fruit but often find it difficult due to our physical limitations caused by injuries. We have tried to adapt things to suit so that we can manage and will continue to do so as time goes on. It can be frustrating at times though, and I get quite crabby at myself, but all in all we muddle through and achieve quite a bit. It definitely gives us a sense of purpose. :)

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  10. Rhonda, glad that you have a plan to keep gardening. Someone I know switched to waist-high raised beds when they were no longer able to bend due to health reasons. It has allowed them to keep producing a large amount of veg and also to enjoy working in a garden again.

    Madeleine

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  11. Growing your own veggies is such great therapy and I can understand why you still wish to do so. Modifying the way you grow them as well is a great idea. I have finally sorted my veggie garden after neglecting it last year and it makes me so happy. I've done 1 of 3 now to get to do the other 2. I have to wait until after 4pm when it's in the shade to weed and sort it out as this weather has been too hot. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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  12. True, it is a misunderstanding that one should stop doing labour when they get older. When possible, keep doing daily household work, it will keep you fit longer. I think you found the right balance for yourselfs.
    I wish growing food, working on the garden and eating was a more communal thing.

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  13. Thanks for your post Rhonda. We have been thinking lately about the future as we are reaching that age now, ( 68 & 71 ) & our health isn't as good as it used to be. We live on 7 acres & have a large vege garden & lots of fruit trees & berries & we have been thinking about selling up & buying a unit, but then where would our dogs run & what would we do all day?

    I will be taking your lead & hopefully getting some of your positivity along the way. You are amazing Rhonda with how you cope with life & yes we do need to stay as active as we can & eat our freshly grown produce .... Terrarossa xx

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  14. OMG... how did I miss the news about your brain tumour? I'm so sorry.
    One of the year 12 kids I taught last year had one as a baby and it's now come back. It's a nasty thing - I hope yours is behaving itself.
    It makes sense to cut back on the garden - I've done a similar thing and it makes life so much easier.

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    1. No worries, Frog, it's not malignant so I feel like I've dodged a bullet. I found out six months ago. The only thing I notice is dizziness and sleep problems. So now I just have to get on with life and I reckon gardening is one of the best ways to do that.

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  15. Hello Rhonda. Best of luck with your new plans for the garden, homegrown is so lovely and does make such sense. My health has declined rapidly this year, we have had to modify our ideas greatly. Tomatoes, strawberries (for jam over winter) and potatoes are a must-have, also some lovely herbs in pots. Makes me happy. Take care, you inspire us all so much. Blessings, Pam in Norway

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    1. I'm sending love and my best wishes, Pam. xx

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  16. I get the feeling that there are a lot of us here who are at the stage of becoming frailer in our old age. We are mourning our losses but thank you for being a leader in good practical cheer and life management. I found your comments about Welsh Onions very interesting and will have to try them out especially if it means I could stop buying regular onions. Here in Hawaii, it is quite common to use the leaf tips of the sweet potato as a green vegetable in stir fries so it gives twice.

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    1. Stellamarina, Welsh onions should grow well in Hawaii. We're sub-tropics here. Just make sure they don't get waterlogged and they'll be fine. Good luck with them.

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  17. Hello. It sounds like you have a great plan. I'm not sure what poly boxes are, I assume they are what we call coolers. Growing in containers is a wonderful way to prolong our gardening as we get older and have health issues to deal with. I have a friend in Florida who grows everything in containers on his 7,000 square-foot farm. This includes, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, cucumbers, peas, spinach, broccoli, mustard greens and a number of other yummalicious crops. It is also completely pesticide-free. I look forward to seeing your garden grow!
    Here's to your health in this new year. Blessings...

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  18. this sounds like a great option for you and Hanno. I would hate to give up gardening altogether. My garden has got a lot smaller since I have got older. Good Luck.

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  19. I'm glad for you that you were able to find a way to continue gardening that works for you! I will have to look into the welsh onions...my daughter and I were just talking about growing some sort of onion this year!

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  20. Just looked up welsh onions. Are they similar to chives? The seed place I use did not have a picture, but from the description sounded a lot like chives. And were sold out! They had two types of heirloom bunching onions that sound a lot like you describe...sort of like scallions. One has a red bulb which sounded intriguing!

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    1. Hi Debbie. They're more like scallions than chives. We grow the red ones here.

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  21. It sounds like you have a great plan. I wish you could get some of the excess rain that we have had up here! Take care and go slow, you are such a blessing to all your readers.

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    1. I'm good! Don't worry. We're having occasional showers now, it's not much rain but hopefully it's a sign of what's to come. And you watch out for crocs up there. We don't want anything to happen to you either.

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  22. Just a thought Rhonda - have you considered having a couple of garden beds that are waist high? I had those at my last home and they were wonderful as I did not have to bend and also I made sure they were not too wide either- that I could reach the middle from both sides.

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    1. Karen, we have considered raised garden beds but we prefer what we have. Maybe it's something we might do in the future, but not now.

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  23. You have a great plan Rhonda. I also wouldn't like to give up gardening.

    I have elderberry blossoms already even though it's still winter here. I should have pruned the tree, but didn't do it yet. I'm sure that's why I didn't have a good harvest last year.

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  24. Sounds like a great plan, thought out with much careful consideration. At home here, in a small side yard my hubby has built raised veggie beds. They’re roughly 60 cm high and have a small path between beds so we can sit on one edge and weed / work in the next. His plan for helping us continue to garden as we age.It seems like we all find solutions that will work. Happy gardening Rhonda and Hanno.

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  25. Thank you so much for your postings! I'm glad to hear that you and Hanno will keep busy with a limited amount of gardening. The exercise will be good for you as long as you don't over-do it. Best wishes to both of you. It looks like we are going to have an early Spring here in the Northern hemisphere in the Southeastern US. Today's high was 71* F. and we are supposed to be in that range all week long. Quite a contrast to the cold and wind we had just last week.

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    1. We're looking forward to our big planting now, Richard. Best of luck for an early spring over there. I wish we would have an early autumn so we could leave the heat, bush fires and floods behind.

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  26. As always Rhonda you are very well organised. That is a long list of your own herbs and veggies anyway, you will still have lots of your home grown on your plate. Here in the Northern Rivers it is unbearably dry. Thankfully we have wicking beds that Rob set up a couple of years ago. Otherwise we would be struggling to grow anything in this heat. Your polystyrene containers are a great idea, they are up high on your benches so no bending over. Happy gardening!

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  27. Hi Rhonda, I meant to mention The Medical Medium to you. He has an excellent book that you may find helpful. I ordered it on my Kindle. It's made a huge difference for me. He's on Youtube, too.

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  28. i just googled 'original' cottage gardens, it had me intrigued when you said about planting one but decided no, you wanted to grow food, the humble cottage gardens when they first came out were food gardens, they did have flowers & other plants but most consisted of herbs, vegies & some fruit trees, depending on the size of the gardens. you could do more of a herbal cottage garden? would be low maintenance at least.
    i like your plans for your gardening & potted plants, they always look good!
    i have started back down at our community gardens but the heat here has scorched many of our vegies
    wonderful post
    thanx for sharing

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  29. So glad you are blogging again Rhonda, I missed you. Very happy to hear you will still have a veggie garden of sorts. Very dry here in Melbourne. Cheers

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  30. So interesting to read how you are adjusting your gardening to your needs. It sounds as if you will still have so much to harvest and put on the dinner plate.
    We've had such a dry spell here in Brisbane too, I'm delighted to report that we have had some rain in the last day or so, and sounded like a real downpour overnight. I'm off to the allotment this morning and it will be interesting to see if any of the rain has soaked in.

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  31. I really like your plans, Rhonda. Gardening is so therapeutic for our health and mental well being, isn't it? I have grown a lot more in pots over this summer, and was really pleased I did when we had a scorching 47.8 C day that wiped out (I thought) almost all of my veggies in the garden. Nature is so wonderful, that many of the plants are showing new growth now. We are in our third month of no rain and the soil is really suffering. The veggies in pots/potting mix are doing so much better than the garden. Hopefully the floods will ease off in FNQ quickly and the rest of us will get a nice drink for our gardens. Enjoy working in your new garden.

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  32. The boxes sound like a great idea. along the same lines, I grow some vegetables in pallet collars, which have hinged corners and can be stacked. Over the last year my back has become quite sore while working in the garden so this year I have ordered some more collars so I can stack them higher and not lean over. I get mine secondhand from a local company.

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  33. I'm glad to hear you've reflected on things--resting versus labor, the garden, and all. Life is always about finding the balance--and then just about when things are balanced the circumstances change and balance must be sought in a different way. I hope you find this system suits you and am sure you will think and adjust on it as you go.

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  34. I agree with you and many of the other commentators, gardening is good for your soul-personally I try and find perennial plants, be they' wild' or not, to plant so that over time, you have a backbone of crops that keep coming up (wild garlic, perpetual spinach, herbs, fruit bushes and trees, elder, etc etc)without too much backbreaking work-and potatoes I grow in plastic rubble sacks with great success, makes watering easier and you dont stick your fork in them when you're digging them up :)

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