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The aging homesteader

 
master gardener
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The back to the land movement in its Mother Earth format has been around since the 60s or 70s depending upon how you want to start the clock. That behing said, there are a number of us here who are well past what a saner person would consider to be retirement age.  Much of my mainstream  background is connected with rehabilitation, which leads me to wondering how we, as a group, are taking measures to stay active on our land.  For example, this year I bought a log splitter .....something I swore I would never own. My wife and I, looking into the future, are pricing a chair lift to get us in and out of the basement. If nothing else, it might be useful to transport boxes,etc.

So, I wonder, what adaptive measures have others taken or plan to take?
 
pollinator
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I'm on the approach path to 60, so this is something that features in my daily thought patterns now. We have been consciously designing for aging in place for quite some time now, with things like a ramp to the front porch built a couple of years ago and a new one planned for the back. The planned outdoor dunny will be made accessible, too.

I lift and move smaller loads now. Sometimes I have to actively remind myself to do this and not try to deal with two tons of material in one session. I now see the wisdom in filling a wheelbarrow, even to move dirt the same distance I could pitch it with the shovel, because I have compared how I feel after the two forms of exertion and the efficiency is about the same. I retired my massive Flintstones 12-lb splitting maul for a shiny new Fiskars and I can split more wood without having my back pay for it the following day.

If you've got social capital, don't be shy about asking young and fit folk to lend a hand. Feed them, help with something less physical, share your wisdom, be a friend and mentor. It sounds corny, but when I was in my teens and 20s I really did enjoy doing stuff for older relatives and neighbours and just getting an earful of their stories.

Any time you can gain mechanical advantage, do it. Wheels, ramps, levers, pulleys, motors, anything to multiply a minor effort on your part to get more results. I find myself using a block and tackle for more stuff these days. Our property is just under a hectare, so I can't really justify a mule or tractor, but a motorised cart might be worth having for all the times I need to move lots of material. Or maybe a trailer for an e-bike. Oh, and an e-bike is definitely going to figure in by the time I'm 70...probably sooner.
 
John F Dean
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To add to your observations,  I notice that am quick to evaluate risks now.  I was involved in an activity last night, and a major storm blew through with little warning.  Reflexively I began to lock things down when a step ladder flew past me.  I had the good sense to head to the house. At one time, I would have stayed until everything was secure.
 
master gardener
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I am definitely planning for the future as I'm also 60+. I'm building raised beds that are raised to 24 to 30" - much easier on the back. They may be less permaculture and more "garden", but I do put punky wood in the bottom and try to use a compost hole or sunken pot to help water under the soil rather than on the surface. I'm trying to get trees planted now that will produce something without much care or interference once established.

I totally agree that tools I could use 10 years ago, I avoid now. An injury now takes much longer to heal. We bought a two wheel "wheelbarrow" and it's much safer for me to push. At the same time, I'm really aware that my active lifestyle will keep me healthy and fit longer!
 
pollinator
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Fortunately I have a good news story.
I am 70 + and can do almost everything I did before without problems.
Except for the activity I could once do all night and cant do once a week now!
I do pace myself, and use levers etc to make things easier.
I still race motorcycles and I never ran so I cant report on that.
I think the techniques I now use have been things I no doubt either learned about or was told.
So good luck everybody.
 
pollinator
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I once wrote an article for (the very early) Mother Earth News!  Then 35 years flew by, and . . .

I recently retired from my job, which involved a lot of sitting while driving, sitting while at the computer, and sitting in a courtroom waiting to testify.  In the last year, I've spent my time gardening, wielding a pitchfork to move wood chips around, and generally climbing around my steep property.  And in the off-hours, I'm at the physical therapist, in the Pilates class, or getting a massage.  All of those years of sitting, followed by all this activity, brings on a whole lot of pain.  I'm going to have a cart to move those wood chips soon, because hauling them up steep hills in a wheelbarrow seems like less of a good idea.

I bought a house with a first-floor bedroom and bath, and we built a big garage.  I think this place will see me through, and I belong to the Aging in Place Committee in town.  The new coop will be built to ergonomic standards!  I might also start raising the raised beds - good idea, Jay!
 
John F Dean
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Hi John & Anne

I find raised bed to be critical.  I now have around 30 ft tall raised beds.  I am considering making them taller. But taller creates other issues.  A taller bed for potatoes makes sense.  But, other plants are already pretty tall.  So this will take some planning.  I too am pretty healthy. My plan is to stay that way.
 
John F Dean
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Excuse  me. That should be 30 two ft tall
 
pollinator
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My game plan is much like others.  I do plan to continue working out for as long as possible.  Lifting weights and walking my (very hilly) trails will hopefully allow me to function at a higher level for a lot longer than I would otherwise.  I'm firmly in the camp of "if you don't use it, you lose it", and working out hard makes day to day activities much easier.  It's far easier to carry that 50 lb bag of chicken food on your shoulder if you have been doing 300lb deadlifts :)
 
Anne Pratt
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John F Dean wrote:Excuse  me. That should be 30 two ft tall



Yeah.  I was thinking that going up and down the ladder all the time could create a different kind of risk!  ;-)
 
John F Dean
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Hi Anne,

Yes, but it discourages the Raccoons.
 
Jay Angler
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John F Dean wrote: I am considering making them taller. But taller creates other issues.  A taller bed for potatoes makes sense.  But, other plants are already pretty tall.  So this will take some planning.

Taller beds really benefit from punky wood at the bottom +/- things like "olla" pots for watering. I grow bush beans in the raised bed - my pole beans are climbing a tripod and the structure that's over it (my wind-chimes have been silenced for the season!) and I've tried to get them going laterally rather than higher to avoid the "ladder" issue. I don't mind having to use the extra water that raised beds require if most of that water is second use (chickens, ducks etc). Life is all about compromises, so having systems with a variety of options is all we can do. Some people stay healthy and strong into their 90's, some drop dead at 50, and some face gradual decline.  

I'm *really* hoping someone will come up with a "Hugel - Senior's Version" but at the moment I don't have a good spot to experiment with that.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Jay

I have tried the tripod approach. It was ok.  Now I am using fence.  This year, though  the beans are simply not growing.
 
John F Dean
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Hi jay,

Over the winter I fill my raised beds with straw from the stalls. The winter and spring rains help to break it down.  Of course, they are pretty saturated with water by planting time.  I normally sprinkle some well composted soil on top and plant.  Of course, the beds get  little taller each year. That is my version  of a hugel for seniors.
 
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John F Dean wrote:Hi Jay

I have tried the tripod approach. It was ok.  Now I am using fence.  This year, though  the beans are simply not growing.



My beans aren't growing either (Zone 6b) I think I will start another crop soon and hope they do better in the cooler temps coming soon... I hope....

(Approaching 50 and looking at starting a homestead)
 
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This is an interesting and somewhat depressing subject for me as I am going to be 59 this year and have problems with my back. I'm trying to use food foresting techniques but there is still much to be done and it seems like if I so much as try to cut a few weeds I get my sacrum tweaked. Hiring men to help is quite expensive, and the option of doing it all myself is not the most appealing when I'm in pain. Moreover I live in Florida and I hate the heat (long story why I'm here) so am looking to start over someplace new! It's hard to Dominate the World when your back hurts. I very much dislike the subtropics... but starting over at 60 isn't exactly appealing either!

 
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I just found this post. If I do anything wrong, sorry. I am 78, a widow with an OOOLD 4 room house. My lot is 50ftx150ft. carport  12x20 shed 8x10.  All the rest is in garden. I grow enough to can some, share with the neighbors. I would like to be working in my garden when i die.
 
Anne Pratt
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Cheli, Margaret, welcome!  So happy to have you here.

This thread has had some discussion of modifications we can make to our practices to make gardening accessible as we get less strong and mobile, and I would like to encourage more of this talk!

What else, folks, can we do to make our homesteading lives last longer?

We talked about higher raised beds. What about specialized tools?  Modifications to pathways?  Perennial vegetables and flowers?  Congregate living?
 
Margaret Moon
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I am female & 78. I use a piece of cardboard to kneel on to pull weeds. The weeds without seed go into a compost pile, ones with seed in the trash. I also use cardboard and newspaper as a weed barrier.
HOPE THIS HELPS.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Chili


You bring up a good point regarding the heat.  My wife and I had this discussion this past week.  In the future we will only do needed maintenance work outside in July and August.  New projects and optional maintenance will be timed to avoid those months.  

It is probably  very odd on my end, but I find the aging process fascinating and exciting.  I have been blessed with relatively good health as an adult.  I got all my diseases and injuries out of the way before the age of 5.  I did grow up in an extremely poor family .....poor as in more than one winter morning I woke up with my one blanket white with frost.  So, I do have some relatively minor health problems associated with my early diet, etc.

My wife has have a couple of back surgeries.  We find raised beds to be critical. At 2ft tall they reduce the bending.

Oh yes, welcomento the site!
 
Holly Magnani
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Cheli Bremmer wrote: Hiring men to help is quite expensive, and the option of doing it all myself is not the most appealing when I'm in pain. Moreover I live in Florida and I hate the heat (long story why I'm here) so am looking to start over someplace new!



Cheli,
Depending on what you are doing, try WWOOF.org. I've been a Wwoofer with them, by spending my time on a rescued farm animal ranch, I learned how to care for farm animals/livestock, which I hadn't experienced before. I had to clean a lot of pens and haul a lot of stuff to work with the animals but I loved every minute of it. They didn't pay me, I didn't pay them. I did have a place to stay, though, with the family of a friend who was nearby. Look into it. I hope to have Wwoofers on my homestead when it happens. We have a lot of knowledge to share.

While Wwoofing, I had to learn how to handle the "Three Amigos", three dwarf something goats that hung out together and were basically a goat-gang. They would gang up and knock you down if you weren't watching.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Margaret

Welcome to the site.  As I have commented elsewhere, I find that raised beds are great to limit bending.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Holly,

Nigerian Dwarfs are like that.  One of our goats was quickly renamed from April to Stewpot... it didn't impress her.   We have kept our animals. In fact we are adding to them to a limited degree.  Putting up fence is not much fun anymore.  We will probably add one Kunekune and stop the additions.  Oddly,  it seems to be the chickens that are taking the most work.
 
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I am having trouble with my ankles now, and I ended up buying a scooter chair at a yard sale to help me care for my place. It has worked out fairly well: it fits between my raised beds and it is really good for helping me pick up the sticks in the lawn that come down after every heavy rain. And, it works out fairly well for harvesting the blackberries in the back fence.

I want a little cart, but the needed hitch is not available, possibly due to COVID shutting down the factories.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Terri,

It has been my experience that those hitches are overpriced.   Get a picture or two of what you need and go a a local welding shop.

Many years ago I was working with a young woman with severe   cerebral palsy. She needed adaptive equipment for her electric wheelchair that Medicaid refused to cover.  The equipment was going to cost thousands. I took her to the local outlaw motorcycle gang. They fabricated the equipment at no charge. It fit and functioned perfectly.
 
Jay Angler
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The last place a friend lived was soggy wet in the winter and her path turned into narrow ruts in the clay soil. When it dried in the spring, those ruts were like concrete and became a tripping/ankle turning hazard. Part of "aging in place" successfully is watching for things like that and gradually finding long-term solutions. Paths need to be flatter and safer as we age and our "balance" sensors get old just as many seniors' eyesight and hearing decrease.

Wood chips can even out a path and are forgiving in a fall, but need to be refreshed every year or two.

Gravel needs to be weeded, and somehow as I've aged, it's *much* harder to get back up than it used to be.

Concrete has a lot of embodied energy, but if it allows access to key places, that energy will be offset by all the other benefits of productive food land.

Stepping stones if they're close enough and flat enough may do it, so long as they don't become a tripping hazard.

Edging that's a clear colour may be helpful in places, solid but 'creative' handrails where there's a step or slope (it doesn't have to be "institutional" looking to do the job), comfy benches to rest on, and an "occasional use" outhouse are all things that can make a difference in being able to get to an area of the property, forage there and do any maintenance like chopping and dropping, and getting back without feeling like it was a huge chore or a risk to the body.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Jay,

Well thought out fence can function as a hand rail. Well placed benches are essential.  I have resting places throughout my property.
 
pollinator
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Good thread.
I’m 47 but now dealing with new mobility issues due to MS. My wife the Nurse Practitioner says I’m in denial. I see nothing wrong with that. Since my very sanity is directly tied to being outside I’m way more careful than I once was. I’m even considering physical therapy to correct walking issues. Issues that I could have been working on already but was too damn stubborn.
With new problems come come new blessings as well. Working in healthcare all of my life left me with the bad habits of eating too fast, too much and terrible food. I now pay a serious price for dietary indiscretions so I’m more careful there too.
As far as mechanical help getting around I have walking sticks stashed everywhere. Cedar and tulip poplar are my sticks of choice.
The neurologist suggested yoga which I’ve discovered how much I despise.
I don’t know what will happen as I get older but I feel like I’m pretty well able to adjust. At least I hope I am.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Scott,

You seem to have discovered that the better part of successful adjustment on the homestead  is anticipating what can go wrong and making adaptations before it does.
 
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As I have noted in previous discussions, I live in an earth sheltered home, basically a cave with large south facing windows.  It's is easy to heat in winter with about 2 1/2 cords of wood per Montana winter. And I stay cool in summer, the house is seventy degrees inside, the garage sixty, while daytime temps outside have been one hundred plus lately.

Aging in place is important to me, I retired ten years ago at sixty eight having built this house with aging in mind. The rule was no stairs, which worked until I added a retaining wall with additional access that required shallow steps. "You don't want to slide downhill on your butt." said the concrete guy. I can still avoid steps down the driveway and through the garage. I raised electrical plugs to eighteen inches above the floor, toilets are raised, and my favorite feature is the dishwasher that is raised eleven inches. Halls and doorways are 36 inches wide, bathrooms and one shower are wheelchair accessible.

I garden on the roof, leg muscles stay sturdy. Hauling wood chips etc. up hill requires a sled with smaller loads. My gardens are all raised, initially to foil the evil ground squirrels but now theymake life a lot easier. We wrapped my wooden boxes, on top of pallets, in sheet metal, I plant tomatoes in stacks of tires (with more metal cuffs) and I have a series of bathtubs, mostly from Restore, on concrete blocks. The game camera caught a snowshoe hare in one of the boxes but otherwise I think that we have outsmarted most would be thrives.

I understand the back thing. Shingles a few years ago left me with some kind of neurological damage that triggers episodes of a charlie horse cramps if I overdo, and sometimes just for no good reason at all. So I have to pay attention to early signals, medicate before heavier jobs, and try to remember my limitations without getting really pissed off.

In the meantime I continue to garden (my beans didn't do a darn thing this year either), I do Zumba in the park, volunteer at an animal shelter two days a week (pre medicated), and do an occasional hospice visit. Covid-19 has meant that I get less exercise than usual but my property is surrounded by Forest Service land and I can walk the dog as far as I want to go. I also believe that community involvement is important and I serve on City/county planning and zoning committees where I encourage increased green space.

In the meantime I have a couple of kids planning to build here, I have a good mountain view and about ten buildable acres. They listen politely to my architectural suggestions, they are also getting older, but so far mine is the only cave we will have. I am urging them to drill a well first, mine is adequate but two would mean better water security. My daughter is anxious to leave Florida. We have the virus here too but it's a little easier to breathe in the woods.

It will be good to have family within reach. My oldest son was a sawyer and he enjoys visiting here. He faught forest fires back in the nineties and is knowledgeable about such things. Of course a cave isn't going to burn down but we did evacuate in 2017.

I will try to attach a couple of pictures. We hauled bathtubs up to the garden on a sled. Note that I am not visible in that picture.
 
roberta mccanse
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Photos, somewhat out of date.
IMG_20200524_123449965.jpg
Hauling bathtubs uphill
Hauling bathtubs uphill
IMG_20180721_095725113.jpg
Garden with a view three years ago
Garden with a view three years ago
 
John F Dean
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That looks like and old hot tub or "garden tub" being used as a raised bed. What a great idea!!!
 
Jay Angler
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Scott Stiller wrote:

I’m even considering physical therapy to correct walking issues. Issues that I could have been working on already but was too damn stubborn.

The kind of stubborn that translates to "I'm going to work hard to get well and stay functional as long as possible" is a good stubborn. Denial is a not-so-good stubborn and you may ingrain bad habits that 10 or less visits to a physio could have corrected and prevented worse problems.  So I'm backing you 100% so far as doing what you can outside within reason, but I'll also agree that seeing a physio and finding an exercise program you don't "despise" (don't like yoga, what about tai chi?) is important. Find a physio who's a gardener, and specifically ask them to think like an Occupational Therapist and give you exercises that you can do through or while gardening. I worked in health care years ago and simple approaches like incorporating rest or stretches within activities goes a long way.

roberta mccanse wrote:

The rule was no stairs, which worked until I added a retaining wall with additional access that required shallow steps. "You don't want to slide downhill on your butt." said the concrete guy.

Stairs vs slope is a big consideration and can be very dependent on the individual's needs. Yes, wider, shallower steps are important as we age. The degree of slope is also important. Stairs can actually keep some people healthier if they don't get enough exercise, but can be hard on the knees. Although it costs money and uses electricity, there are ways we can "replace" stairs with stair glides and lifts some of which are designed to be used outdoor.

My sister had major abdominal surgery 18 months ago, and the step from her driveway up to the concrete preformed staircase was higher than it should have been. I put a couple of paving tiles down as a short-term emergency fix. When I went back to care for her after her second surgery, I discovered she's bought more tiles a better size and shape and made my "change" long term. Her eventual plan is to redesign the entire entrance, and we discussed what others have done in the neighborhood and which ones I felt would be good for aging in place, and which ones "looked beautiful" until the first ice storm when they would be treacherous! Looking at all sorts of things people have done and thinking about how to apply that to one's own homestead can keep us healthy and safe!.
 
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75, single woman farmer in the high desert of Cali.  Actually not much has changed for me - for the most part still doing all the things I've always done. But because there is just me here I no longer opt to pick up more than 50#'s and walk it somewhere. I now have a hay bale dolly and some wagons.  I try to be a little more conservative simply because I can't afford to take chances on getting hurt - who would take care of all this?  So, not quite as reckless as I was decades ago.  For instance, I got this little contraption that anchors my ladder that I use to get on the roof - it keeps the ladder from falling, either while I am on it, or while I am on the roof. Because I have so much here, over 50 fruit and nut trees alone......I took the time and dug them all up (they are dwarf) and put them in 5 gallon home made air pruned pots - they are all in one area now, instead of all spread out over hill and dale, and I pruned them into bushes which makes taking care of them and harvesting....a snap.

I spent some time over the last two years organizing things better - like things in like areas.  I was surprised how much it cut my time. I was working outside 10 hours a day, now its half that. I built a little house, put in a home made solar evaporative cooler - bought Hidden Harvest LED grow lights and now grow a lot of summer veggies inside - concentrating on micro dwarfs. Much more fun to grow, nice to work inside when its 110 outside.....they aren't as stressed and we are all happy as clams with this arrangement. They are happier, they are easier to take care of....and like wise provide me with more than enough summer produce.  Because the plants are smaller, I have more variety.

I also bought more tools.  Instead of a hand sheet-metal nibbler I bought a Makita that will cut any gauge I would be using.  Got me so inspired at the ease of use I am going to tackle re-roofing my cabin.  For me I have been looking at things to make life easier so that I don't have to work outside 10-12 hours a day. I now water by hand instead of using irrigation. I do it before sunrise, or just before sunset and its a nice time - just lazy time doing a chore - I've never had that before and quite frankly it seemed like I was fixing the irrigation lines somewhere or nother.....continuously. And my water bill shows it. No more broke lines that go unnoticed.

If something doesn't grow here in 2-3 years, I take it out. I use to fuss and fuss with something, sort of refusing to admit that for some reason the plant or tree wasn't happy. I took it as a personal slight - LOL.  I remember transplanting this one tree to different places about 5 times. Now that's silly! Now I just say okay and move on. I was spending a lot of time trying to save things that in the end did not prosper. Now, farming has become fun again.
 
John F Dean
master gardener
Posts: 2106
Location: southern Illinois.
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Hi Purity,

I work outside in shorter bursts.  I plan what I am going to do with my first cup of coffee. Then i head out and feed the animals and pick up whatever needs picking up around the property.  I head in and have a light breakfast.  After that I go after things a project at a time.  3 seasons a year that is in 2 hour steps. In the summer, I am lucky if I last an hour without a rest. Of course, my indoor time is sometimes on another project. I honestly have no idea how many hours I spend outside in a day.
 
Posts: 93
Location: Chipley, FL
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John F Dean wrote:
I work outside in shorter bursts.  I plan what I am going to do with my first cup of coffee. Then i head out and feed the animals and pick up whatever needs picking up around the property.  I head in and have a light breakfast.  After that I go after things a project at a time.  3 seasons a year that is in 2 hour steps. In the summer, I am lucky if I last an hour without a rest. Of course, my indoor time is sometimes on another project. I honestly have no idea how many hours I spend outside in a day.



I am working on learning to do this. As soon as my house is done and I get moved in, it will be easier.  Being in an apartment 6 miles away means I either procrastinate driving out, or get there and procrastinate leaving.  The former isn't a health issue, but the latter can be this time of the year here!  I grew up in the tropics and thought the weather here would be completely fine. Guess age matters. Can't work in the sun very long without a break, and not all that much of a break when it's just shade (still hugely better than in the sun!) and temps still 90s and humidity above 50.

I did stick to a small one-story house, no stairs. Property is pretty flat too.

After last year's garden, going to give getting a food forest going priority. Annual crops are high maintenance!
 
Scott Stiller
pollinator
Posts: 784
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Advice appreciated Jay. I feel that my sort of denial isn’t that bad. She wants to pay someone to mow. That isn’t happening because I know where and how I want to use the clippings. She just thinks I push myself to hard which is almost never the case.
My plan for exercise is getting a gym membership when Covid is over. I don’t know what kind of physical activity is best but I feel that’s a good way to try everything. I also plan to take guitar lessons again. I haven’t played in so long I’ve been afraid to try. Today I played for the first time in years and it wasn’t bad. Feeling better about that. I’ve been thinking of martial arts too. I took and taught karate for a decade earlier in life. The body has changed a bit but a little practice is what I’m after.
 
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Location: Woodstock, CT
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Carol Deppe, who wrote The Resilent Gardener, mentioned many tips for saving ones back and otherwise lasting longer while being productive. I always remember her advice to resist “completionism” — that compulsion to just push through until the task is done.  
 
pollinator
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As several have mentioned, reducing risks is key to me. Once you get hurt at our ages (let’s just be kind and say ‘over 50’) it takes longer to heal, arthritis sets in, muscle strength is lost... Thus it makes sense to slow down, be more alert to how I’m likely to get injured. Scott made the comment “Since my very sanity is directly tied to being outside...” and that is critical to me as well. It’s good motivation to try to be safer, because recuperating from an injury and going crazy from wanting to be out and about working is sheer misery for me!
 
Scott Stiller
pollinator
Posts: 784
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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There would be lots of unhappiness if I were stuck inside currently Julie. Like learning from nature we have to learn from our bodies too. What I’ve learned over the past six months is I need hobbies that can be done inside. I think I’d have been more prepared if things would have happened over a decade or more but eighteen months has been problematic. I would be lying if I said that it's not been a bit irritating.
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