October and November begin the planting season for us here in Miami, and a few weeks ago I got busy beginning the planting of my veggie garden. And then the arthritis flares began, three really bad ones. I have no problem bending over, I’m flexible, and I feel very little pain at the time. Over the next week, though, I had three bouts of flare that disabled me, and made sleeping difficult, as every tiny movement brought excruciating pain.
I remembered something I had seen years ago: a length of PVC pipe cut to about four feet, with one end cut on the diagonal. The diagonal end is supposed to touch the soil, so you can see where your seed goes, but I found that useless. I actually like dropping the seed in the upright diagonal end, but YMMV. See instructions on the photo how to open the furrow, drop in the seeds, close the furrow. Easy – and days later, no pain! I also used a hoe to “dig” holes for the many scented geraniums that I planted. I did have to bend over briefly to place the geraniums in the hole and cover them, but again, no pain. I don’t use a shovel because they sometimes throw me off balance if I hit a rock. I also planted a lot of small rosemary plants, and a lemon verbena.
Trained as a botanist, horticulturist, agriculturist and landscape architect, I have read many articles over the years on how to lessen the pain factor for those with arthritis who garden. Here are some more:
1. If you have tiny seeds, use a hoe to scrape the shallow furrow or bed, and sprinkle the seeds from a salt shaker, maybe mixed with a little sand to help distribute them evenly, or at a lower rate of application. Broadcast top soil or peat moss over the tiny seeds to the required depth, tamp in with the back of the hoe.
2. If you have arthritic hands, you’ll find garden tools with wide handles, which make it easier, since you don’t have to close your hand tightly to hold them. This includes that hoe I keep recommending, and of course all others, even the small hand digger.
3. Consider having raised beds, or at least large raised pots, to grow plants, so you can avoid bending over and have easy harvesting of veggies, flowers, or herbs. I have a supplemental garden of herbs and patio tomato plants in pots right outside my back door.
4. Don’t do heavy lifting. I think that contributed the most to my flare this year. I transplanted some stuff into big pots, and carried the bags of soil, and then the pots about thirty feet (10 meters), and they were very heavy, maybe forty or fifty pounds. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it! Ask someone to help you with stuff like that.
5. Use a garden seat or scooter. I love the purple garden seat I have, it’s so convenient for just sitting and watering the plants, doing some light hoeing, or other chore when my knees or back ache. It really extends the time I can spend gardening. I didn’t get a scooter because that’s impractical in my garden, but you might want to consider one.
I still have a lot of planting to do, and I’m going to take it easy and look at everything ergonomically to improve my working conditions in the garden.
After all, my business is Anya’s Garden, and I want to keep growing and harvesting organic, edible, fragrant plants with pleasure at the top of my list, avoiding pain. I hope my ideas are useful to you, or to someone you know with arthritis. Do you have any gardening with arthritis, or other limiting factor tips to share?