Aging Gracefully on the Homestead

Our readers have worked hard to build their homesteads, so why retire to the city? Here are some ways they’ve been able to stay on the farm.

  • Small wagons and carts allow senior homesteaders (in this case, Donna Allgaier-Lamberti) to move heavy items without straining their joints, muscles, and backs.
    Photo by Donna Allgaier-Lamberti
  • By growing greens in raised "salad bars," older gardeners can remain standing to weed and harvest.
    Photo by Gardener's Supply Co.
  • Scaling back their homesteading efforts has given Donna Allgaier-Lamberti and her husband, Gene, more time to spend with their grandchildren.
    Photo by Donna Allgaier-Lamberti
  • Large livestock are often out of the picture, but chickens remain popular among older homesteaders (here, Gene Allgaier-Lamberti).
    Photo by Donna Allgaier-Lamberti
  • Arthritis sufferer Laura Johnson has redesigned her garden to meet her physical needs. She can sit on the edge of her Hugelkultur beds to weed and harvest.
    Photo by Laura Johnson
  • Pruning fruit trees to keep them at low heights has helped Laura Johnson continue to garden well into her 70s.
    Photo by Laura Johnson
  • Some MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers (here, Gene Allgaier-Lamberti with Sassy) relieve their aches with yoga and massage.
    Photo by Donna Allgaier-Lamberti
  • Mulching heavily and gardening with raised beds works well for MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader Cam Pratt, who gets fantastic results out of a small space.
    Photo by Cam Pratt
  • Senior homesteader Bruce McElmurray cuts firewood throughout the year to spread out the workload.
    Photo by Bruce McElmurray

From stiff joints and mild inflammation to full-blown debilitation, life can take its toll. In my case, I’m reminded every morning as I hobble out of bed of the brake drum that fell on my ankle, while still attached to the vehicle it belonged to, roughly 40 years ago. In my 60 years, I’ve found some smart — and some less-smart — ways to keep on keeping on, but one thing’s for sure: I look for ways to work smarter so I can still do what needs to be done. Several issues ago, we heard from folks looking for tips on how to stay on the homestead, even with a serious hitch in their get-along, and we’ve compiled many of the fantastic tips you all submitted, right here!

—Hank Will, Editorial Director 

Ways to Cope

Homesteading presents more challenges each year. Here are some ways I cope:

Gardening. Because I have trouble bending to harvest, I use “salad bars”. Yes, they’re small, but they provide plenty of greens for two or three people. I use three: two shallow “bars” and one that’s 15 inches deep. While I purchased mine from and Costco, they could easily be constructed from scrap lumber.

I use raised beds for most vegetables so I don’t have to till. I weed only at the beginning of the season and apply some compost. I’ve tracked my garden produce for three years, and the yields haven’t decreased enough to warrant constant weeding. (I’d like to see actual statistics on the value of a weed-free garden. I mean, I know mine is ugly, but the food seems just as good.)

Deep digging is a challenge, even in my raised beds. For the past two years, I’ve been using grow bags for potatoes. While I can’t raise a huge crop this way, I get some delicious potatoes with no pain at harvest time. (With a heavy-duty sewing machine, you can make your own grow bags from water-permeable weed-barrier fabric.)

7/3/2020 8:45:59 PM

Great article. I am a 65 year old gal in the process of developing a food forest on my 1/4 acre lot in an out of the way corner of a large CA city. I am raising chickens for eggs and have a multi raised bed garden in my front yard. My harvest has started to roll in and I am busy preserving the fruits of my labor for the winter months. I have acquired several fruit trees and berry bushes that will soon be planted. I found, while putting my raised beds in over the past couple springs that asking my sons and daughter for help is the way to go. There is usually someone available to help and the help is greatly appreciated. The raised beds also serve me better where my problematic back is concerned. But, despite a few aches and relying on other’s muscles at times, there is not much I enjoy more than growing my own food. Abby Boxwell, Sacramento, CA

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