This experiment I have started with lasagna gardening, straw bale gardening and hugelkultur beds has started me thinking about getting old and the means to address it, while still growing in and maintaining a sustainable permaculture garden.
One of the principles of permaculture, Catch and Store Energy, is what I call the Law of Permaculture Thermodynamics, i.e.- conservation of energy. This says that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it can change forms. As we get older, we have less energy available to do heavy lifting, digging and construction. It changes though from kinetic into other forms. It changes into lethargy, inertia, potential, wishful energy, aches, pains and occasional bursts of kinetic energy. We have less and less kinetic energy even if we are active in our "golden" years.
In this vein, whatever I design for the garden, whatever approach I take toward planting is not for conditions that exist today or tomorrow or even 2 years from now. It is for conditions that may, and in some cases, will exist in 10 years, or 20 or 30. Torie has already had 1 knee replaced about 5 years ago with a 10 year knee. My shoulders are starting to feel the wear as is one knee. If I am down for days or weeks, all hard physical labor in the garden and on the farm stops. The same goes for Torie. She is critical to the operation of the farm. If she is down for days, it places a much bigger load on me.
So, I am experimenting with designs that we can live, and grow with. Raised beds, whether hugel, straw bale, lasagna or box gardens that can minimize bending and stooping are going to become more important. Planting nut and fruittrees in hugel swales so they are self-irrigating to a large extent, along trails and paths that are well-surfaced and easily accessible is important. Fortunately we will still have the tractor but if diesel goes to $10 or $15 per gallon or more, it's use will be drastically curtailed and it will be back to the wheel barrow and buckets. Resources will have to become closer and closer to the point where they will need to used.
This gerontological gardening (geronculture?) as I call it(old folks getting dirty- picture that!), is, in my opinion, not being addressed enough in the permaculture world. Granted, permaculture design describes methods to minimize outside inputs and energy expenditures while maximizing outputs. But the elderly now, and the elderly permies of the future need focused attention put to techniques and designs that will benefit them(us).
Within the permaculture design world, the could well become a specialty and offer opportunities to new and experienced designers.
I hear ya Thom, I used to shovel and haul rocks all day long. Can't do it as much any more.
That is one of the things that draws me to permaculture. The idea that if we design things in tune with nature, nature will take care of the garden for us.
In our old age we will only need to harvest and enjoy.
For me permaculture is such a mixed bag of eclectic things that are a win win solution. I think a secured area with play area for kids and salvaged concrete block raised beds high enough to sit on the edge might work for all ages , and in the quantity that is manageable and yet have other ground area gardens set in large fenced in paddocks that are rotated for chickens with a central chicken house/coup /garden tool shed which lightens the load rotating where you grow each year , fertilizing . Others parts might be mixed edible landscaping or grazing paddock and recreation areas mixed with tree fruit and nut production and perimeter multi use shelterbelt. Even before I reach my middle years I tend to tackle too much that gets beyond me and I have to step back and think smarter about how much work and how hard it is on me physically. If the extra nut and fruit trees get wild over the years and all I can tend is the closer groomed landcape and raised beds , well so be it. I hope for multigenerational living to make a big comeback , fewer people perhaps who cherish life and each other more but if it is just me I would like the area close to the home to be designed and put in place specifically with the very young and the elderly , or at least an aged or physically impaired version of myself in mind . I think a few things might be just as delightful as I age like a nice swing and a teeter totter and a shady hammock , well a few luxuries should be planned to be lifelong enjoyments and accesible at every age.
Thom, I hear you loud and clear! I was 55 when I started creating my homestead farm. The first few years really physically beat me up (and whipped me into shape) but it forced me to think about effort saving methods that didn't cost a lot of money. Thus I started designing permaculture and low input farming techniques long before I ever heard the word permaculture. My homestead incorporates lots of effort saving ideas that I've refined over the past ten years. Since learning to surf the Internet, I've been able to take others' ideas and modify them for my own situation, making my farm very user friendly for a person my age. And though I'm still developing the homestead, it has grown to the point that it is self supporting and giving us a small income. Within 1-2 years it should be totally supporting us.
Permanent growing beds with permanent aisles, hugelkulture growing pits for bananas and certain fruit trees, growing boxes (both keyhole types and box types), tabletop gardens, small aquaculture systems, and non-circulating hydroponics I find work good on my homestead. Plus the use of mulch is critical on my place.
I'm still refining my techniques to eliminate effort, thus am moving to different composting methods to avoid heavy work.
I've designed gardening to the point that a mantis tiller is my main tool. I aim to keep weeding to a minimum. Livestock consists of easy handle animals-- chickens, rabbits, bottle fed sheep. Nothing that can knock me around or cause trouble, except for my horse for now. Some day that will get down sized to a pony only because I enjoy them around.
Part of farming at my age means a change in thinking/ priorities. Some weeds in the garden? So what. When putting in fence posts and finding a boulder, I just move the post over a foot or two. So then fence isn't totally straight. So what. The hydroponic system made out of recycled stuff doesn't look all that hot. So what.
One thing I've considered but haven't done yet is to use wwoofers. I'm currently considering building some compact housing for two wwoofers. When I'm in my 70s I may need the help.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Great topic and one that is widely applicable to a bunch of people not just older folks.
While I'm only 50 years old, I came to permaculture after a devastating autoimmune disease tried to take me out of the game entirely on more than one occasion. The end result is that I have several physical limitations - not the least of which is being legally blind in one eye and low vision in the other. In my entire permaculture existence, I have had to design for this and the fact that I will probably end up completely blind at some point. You can read more of my story here if interested. I have the extra challenge of living in a desert where most plants are "prickly". So much fun! LOL.
Things that help me are the fact that I live on a small urban lot (manageable, even when I'm in severe pain) and I have a strong link to my community. This last item is critical because I both live alone and don't drive (for obvious reasons!) Along with some friends, Istarted a non-profit that was designed to help people get permaculture projects in the ground through cooperative efforts. That non-profit merged with a larger non-profit with a more efficient model for doing the same thing. In fact, just this past Saturday, 20 people showed up at my place to install two greywater projects and knocked them out in half a day (would have taken me months and months of work by myself). Plus we had a great time. I intend to put a couple of blogs together on the process, but here are some photos. Community is a wonderful boon to people like me!
Subtropical desert (Köppen: BWh)
Elevation: 1090 ft Annual rainfall: 7"
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
posted 7 years ago
One thing that I have considered into a design is a ramp.
Even if we never need a wheel chair (or walker) for mobility, a ramp makes it so much easier to get thing into the house.
A 'little red wagon' full of split firewood, or a months worth of groceries is easy to pull up a ramp.
A winch setup is easier yet. With a $40 solar fence charger, a car battery and an $80 winch, You're set for life.
Will this el cheapo winch really get your ATV unstuck?
I don't know, but it can certainly haul 500# of stuff from your car/truck right to your door.
Have you read Ruth Stout's books? She has inspired me to deepen the mulch in order to build the soul and lower the work load. No tilling, almost no weeding. Sounds good. She did it for decades and gardened into her nineties.
Zones are good to think about. Keeping the work close to home to reduce long walks and hauls with the wheelbarrow.
Also, benches or other ready seating. Seats with arm rests are much easier for most older folks. We sit on 5 gallon buckets sometimes as we work. Perhaps an even more comfortable and portable low seat would be good.
Building community is a great suggestion! If you can make good soup and muffins, the work party will do your job for you
Wwoofers have been a great help to me. I'd recommend having them. A good application is essential to weed out the ne'er do wells. If anyone is interested in seeing my application I can send it to you easily. I haven't chosen a mistake wwoofer since using it.
My first suggestion would have been to either employ your children (it's one reason we even bother to procreate, right?) or to begin making connections with people around you through food and learning so you have a diverse community of permies to help ease the workload. It's funny how when you start talking about this stuff with people around you, suddenly everyone wants to be part of it.
I live in the suburbs now and I work at a sole proprietor business with about 12 other people. After I took my first PDC and began drawing up plans for my future house and homestead, several of my coworkers decided they wanted to become part of my project by joining me on a large piece of land. One day we will begin construction on a permaculture community here in southeast Michigan and I will have plenty of help from my partners.
That's one of the many beautiful things about permaculture...it starts with you and your design and then immediately branches out into your local community of people.