Sunday, February 1, 2015

Doing For Ourselves: Quality Food And Some Of the Benefits Of Gardens

Hello again my friends!

This is one of those occasional doing for ourselves posts you will probably see more of since this blog is more than just an informational blog on Cushing's, it's about my journey and taking a more holistic approach to living with it.  This topis, food, get's a little touchy for us.  So please, if you are a disabled Cushie please take some time to consider carefully what I'm about to say to you.  If you are a family member, please think about it as well from the standpoint of doing something for your loved one suffering from this disease from more than the standpoint of, "Hey, here's something You can do!"  It may well be that your loved one may just be too much to do this for themselves, but you may be able to do this for both them, and the rest of the family.

Earlier last year I was sitting in front of the computer and exchanging comments in a Forum for Cushies like me on Facebook when the conversation took a turn which made some of us uncomfortable, but made me think, "Why Not?"  The fact is that Cushies who've reached the state of advancement with their diseases to be disabled have a special problem on their hands, FOOD!  The truth is that if one gets SSI here in the United States the government limits what their spouses can make pretty strictly while being able to keep on receiving benefits.  In many cases, they can't get extras many people on other forms of welfare can get, such as food stamps to help stretch things where they can get quality food.

When that happens we generally end up eating cheap, minimally nutritious foods like the morbidly obese we see featured on TV.  We get stuck with things like boxed macaroni and Cheese, or pasta salad, food which doesn't fill us up to start with, and does nothing but pile the weight on as we try to find some feeling of satiety.  Such food is devoid of nutrients, so it adds to the problem by denying us the nutrients we need to maintain our health as we fight this disease.  So what can we do?

There is a counselor in the group and she asked us why not grow a vegetable garden?  Well, there were plenty of answers to that one.  The expense of gardening, the work involved, we are disabled after all and can't do a whole lot, not knowing how, and so on.  In a way I don't blame my fellow Cushies.  I'm 358 pounds as of my last weigh-in two days ago at my Endocrinologist's office.  My back is shot, I can't bend over much or stand for very long.  So chores like weeding are just out of the question.  And, yes, there is the expense, if I could really afford to garden in the first place I could just go ahead and buy the food I need, right?  Added to that, what the heck do I know about gardening and who am I kidding anyway?  Yep, I thought, there are some pretty big obstacles to following that advice.  But I decided instead to follow that advise anyway and do so with a view to overcoming those obstacles.

More often than not those with Chronic diseases don't have much space for a garden to begin with for various reasons and their disability won't permit them to have much of a garden anyway.   Added to that there is a public perception that vegetable garden are inherently unsightly anyway and home vegetable gardeners are running afoul of local codes because they don't know how build an attractive garden.  Look at the picture above of a relatively small patio garden which makes clever use of the way the vegetables are combined in a way that the garden at least isn't unsightly and is hard to tell from any other bed with non flowering ornamental plants.  Of course most of us with Cushing's can't grow a garden quite like that, even with help, which a disabled gardener would want to get from family members capable of doing some of the heavy lifting and other tings we can't.  So the obvious answer is:
Yes, my friends, that is a picture of a dwarf tomato in an ornamental planter, or container.  Container gardening is the obvious answer to the problem.  It requires little in the way of tilling soil, raises the plant higher up making it easier to reach and permits the gardener to move the plant around if necessary for the conditions.  As we can see here, containers also permit us to plan an attractive as well as productive garden, at least in areas readily visible to the public, as in the case with that tomato plant.  I will admit planters like that don't come cheap.  But in areas where the appearance of the containers is not a real issue it is possible to get them cheap, or even for nothing, if one knows where to go, such as with these:
The fellow pictured here with his container garden is using five-gallon containers such as the sort folks often see for sale in hardware stores for mixing things up in and other purposes.  They can be cheaper than ornamental containers, but they can also be found for free.  Restaurants, bakeries, and other establishments often order needed supplies in three or five gallon containers just like the ones above, and are willing to give them away to anyone willing to take them off their hands after they're empty, for free.  One just has to have courage to ask around and find those businesses.  A word of caution, stay clear of businesses like janitorial services and the like unless you are certain the chemical supplies they use are biodegradable and non-toxic. 

By the way, the same can be said for nitrogen fertilizer, coffee bars and the like brew enough coffee to fill containers like that daily.  Some are happy to give the grounds away to those wiling to take them.  So that's a potential free source for compost material, and long term nitrogen needs since it takes a couple of months for the grounds to be processed in the soil and the nitrogen made ready for the plants to use.  There are many other resources for gardeners who need to garden on the cheap can use.  There are community mulch and compost heaps which are maintained by municipalities as part of their sustainability programs.  One simply needs to use the internet or get out in their community and find out what is there.

Seeds aren't that expensive.  One tip is to buy and use heirloom an/or open pollinated varieties of vegetables such as Brandywine tomatoes, etc., and collect and save seeds from the produce.  Open pollinated (heirloom varieties are open pollinated varieties with a known history of fifty years or more) plants often are a bit less productive than hybrids, but they are generally tastier and reduce seed costs in the long run if one learns to collect the seed and store it from year to year.  It is just one more way to reduce the cost of gardening as time goes by, just like composting and slowly accumulating durable containers a little at a time.  Something else to keep in mind is that your garden won't be that big, just what you can handle, so the expense if one uses a semi-organic approach and uses strategies to avoid expensive fertilizers and chemical herbicides or pesticides will keep the costs down.

Start out small to start off with.  You will have to make your mistakes while you learn and you will also have to convince family to help you with the tasks you can't do yourself.  It is better for both if you start small, just a couple of kinds of crops and a few plants of each, I grew some onions, tomatoes and peppers last year.  I also started a small compost pile.  That was a freebie, though raking up grass clippings and pine straw was trying, even with my small lot.

I found information online.  YouTube is a great source for information.  Some of the gardeners who have YouTube channels hold annual seed giveaways for subscribers willing to send self addressed stamped envelopes.  I got my hands on five packet of seeds that way from one channel I subscribe to, and I have five more on the way, from another one who is giving away seeds given to her by an heirloom seed company which is dedicated to the preservation of heirloom varieties through encouraging beginners to garden with thing like free distribution to other like minded individuals and organizations.

I will provide links to a number of seed companies.  One of them is the company I mentioned, another sells all his seeds for $0.99 a packet and has a fixed shipping rate.  His desire is to make gardening with heirloom vegetables more affordable and he is a recent start-up with his own YouTube Channel I recommend subscribing to.  another is one I've dealt with which has a pretty good selection.  There are lots more companies out there, but the links I posted will be a place to start if you would like to take the counselor's advise and garden.

More than just food, gardening will slow the degeneration of one's health through keeping you active, and I discovered another benefit of gardening.  Just sitting on a stool among he plants was calming and made one really great way to reduce unhealthy stress and find some balance.


Annie's Heirloom Seeds
Burpee's Heirloom Vegetable Page

Gary Ibsen's TomatoFest


Baker Creek Seed Company

YouTube Channels To Start With

Remember, these are all starting points for videos on how to garden, and several of them have smaller gardens.  The one in Alberta pairs up with another gardener who has his own channel, and he is worth checking out as well.  If you do start, you will want to explore YouTube and find gardeners who fit your particular circumstances more.  The same with the seeds, there are many other fine seed companies out there and if you don't live in the United States of America you'll want to research reputable companies in your own home country.

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