My husband, Ben, and I fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1988 when we retired and moved to the McGowen Circle Ranch, in a 5,400-foot-elevation valley in the Sierra Anchas Mountains of central Arizona.
We are self-sufficient with solar power, spring and well water, a fireplace and a wood-burning stove. Our concessions to the modern world are a radiotelephone, propane refrigerator and stove, and satellite TV. Our house faces south, taking advantage of passive solar design to keep it warm in the winter.
Gardening at this elevation presents us with many challenges — late and early frosts, drought, extreme heat and grazing wildlife.
Our most recent gardening challenge came when I could no longer walk and had to use a wheelchair — that made it impossible to work in the garden. A good friend suggested building raised garden beds. To build the beds, we harvested logs from beetle-killed trees that were partially burned in the 2004 Willow fire in Payson, Ariz.
Not only do the raised beds solve my problem of reaching the plants to water, weed and till, but the paths between the beds don’t get muddy. Also, the gravel ground cover keeps the paths free of weeds. The soil in the beds is a mixture of forest mulch, dirt, sand and horse manure. We like the raised beds so much that we are building more.
I thought I’d have to give up gardening after a knee injury last year because the constant bending was just too painful — and I didn’t have the time or energy to build fancy raised beds. Being a hard-core gardener, I began exploring other possibilities and found a solution: Square straw or hay bales can be easily arranged into a big rectangular shape. Then, fill the inside of the rectangle with compost and top it with a 10- to 12-inch layer of soil. Presto — we have a raised garden bed! The bales even make good seats.
I would really welcome more tips from “physically challenged” readers. (I hate the word “disabled.”)
There are more of us than some may realize, and we’ll do anything to continue gardening. My 85-year-old father, a retired Illinois farmer recovering from a hip replacement, has even mounted a special rack on his walker to hold garden seeds and tools.