Grow your own vegies to improve CFS/ME and reduce your families impact on the planet!

By on July 14, 2011 in Activity, Books, Local Food, Nutrition with 13 Comments

I know having CFS/ME puts a huge dent in your productivity levels, but with a little help you can have your own productive vegie garden providing your family with organic food that has very low food miles and supports the long term sustainability of local food.  Let me explain…..

Food Miles

Is a term used which refers to the distance food travels to the consumer after its produced.  With globalisation the miles travelled to get food to your door can be massive and with the increase in food miles comes the increase in environmental impacts such as the use of fuel and energy and the emission of carbon.  Growing food in your backyard means NO FOOD MILES!  You can also help keep food miles down by buying locally grown food from markets and local distributors who source food from local farms.

Food sustainability

This is a really broad topic and includes things like:

  • How much natural resources are affected or used to produce, store, transport and distribute food (i.e. clearing of native vegetation, energy use, fuel use);
  • Conservation of food species – many species of fruit and vegetables and livestock have become extinct never to be produced again);
  • The nutritional value of food over time (food nutrient content is dependent on production methods, storage conditions and the time taken till it is consumed – not to mention how its cooked);
  • Pollution and waste generated in the production and distribution of food (eg. packaging, manufacturing and processing waste; waterway and soil pollution from pesticides and fertilisers);
  • The health and environmental conditions of countries where food is imported from; and
  • The inequality of food availability across the globe with much of the food in developed countries going to landfills while people in other countries starve.

It’s hard to see how I can help this massive food system to become more sustainable, but by doing my little bit of supporting locally grown food producers and organic food producers and growing what I can locally in my own backyard I am making a difference…..and you can too!

Much land has been cleared for us to live in lovely suburban and city areas and more and more we are seeing the loss of good agricultural land for the establishment of housing developments, and pushing the agricultural land further and further away from the main consumer centres to more lesser productive areas.  We are also losing touch with how to produce food for ourselves, and knowing things like ‘what’s seasonal’.  By growing food within cities and suburbia we are becoming more self sustaining (not perfect) but contributing to what I see as a compromise.  Its not easy to be green as human beings have pretty big footprints, but we can do small things that carried out by many people, make a big difference.

So how does growing your own food help you with CFS/ME?

Good question and I’m sure many of you already know the answers, but just to refresh……

  • You can control what goes onto your garden so you can grow organic food which is a massive plus for anyone serious about health or battling a chronic illness;
  • You get regular time out in the sun – again great for good health and recovery;
  • You are breathing fresh oxygen provided directly to you by your loving plants;
  • You get vegies high in nutrients – direct from the ground to your kitchen!;
  • You get a bit of exercise and movement;
  • It saves you money;
  • Its convenient, don’t have to go far to get the vegies for dinner;
  • You get to share the food with flatmates, family and neighbours (great barter system for those needing a bit of help occasionally); and
  • Basically it gives joy.  There is something about growing your own food that just brings joy and happiness.  Maybe its the wonder of life – plant a seed and watch it grow…..check out a flower bud from formation to opening….it works….something about it just makes you feel warm and happy inside.

So how the bleep are you going to set up a vegetable garden when you’re struggling to get out of bed?

Yes this is a pretty big challenge I know, but I do have a couple of tips that may help you get it underway……..

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with growing my own vegies.  I just love it.  Not only the satisfaction of seeing them grow and look great in my backyard, but the convenience and luxury of having fresh, healthy food at my back door.  See pics of my current garden at the bottom of this post.

I’ve set up quite a few vegie gardens now as I’ve moved around way too much and each time I start a new one.  Well that is except one time when a lovely fellow who’s very passionate about local food helped me move my vegie garden soil on the back of an old flat tray truck to my new place.  Yes, in retrospect seemed a little over the top.  But damn it was good soil!  It originated in West End…..a Bush Turkey had developed a mound in my friends garden and she wanted it removed!  Green Girl Mel the rescue…packed up into the back of my Mazda 1300 in garbage bags and off to the then place of residence to start of vegie garden.  The soil was a nutrient bomb!

Anyhoo, I regress…..

These days I go for the easy vegie garden build option and that is ‘NO-DIG Vegie Gardens’.  I’ve been abiding by Esther Deans recommendations in a little book called No-dig Gardening and Leaves of Life, well worth getting hold of.  She writes about how to set up vegie gardens for disabled and elderly people.

Purchase your own copy of Esther Deans No-Dig Gardening and Leaves of Life Book









So this is pretty much from Esthers book, with some slight Green Girl Melisms…steps to build your no-dig garden:

  • Find the best spot in the yard that gets plenty of sun;
  • Define the area with a border either with some bricks, rocks, timber or just simply cutting a 45 degree cut into the soil to create a bit of a divet.
  • Cover the grass and weeds on the ground in your vegie garden area with newspaper (approx. 5 sheets thick, overlapping at sides and wet by filling wheelbarrow with water and layering newspaper in it);
  • Cover the newspaper with pads of lucern hay as they fall easily off the bale;
  • Water hay lightly;
  • Sprinkle the hay with blood and bone fertiliser or chicken manure;
  • Cover next with about 20cm of loose straw or sugar cane;
  • Sprinke again with blood and bone fertiliser or chicken manure;
  • Spread about 10cm deep of compost over the top (this can be used more sparingly in just the areas you wish to plant if need be);
  • Cover with a straw or sugar cane mulch;
  • Pull back mulch at appropriate spacings and plant seeds and seedlings into compost.  When you put the mulch back around the seeds and seedlings leave about 5cm to ensure they aren’t smothered by mulch.
  • Water gently.

Now the benefit of a no-dig garden is that you well, don’t have to dig, yes that’s pretty obvious.  But I’ve found this great as I really don’t like hard work….even before CFS/ME!  Its also a bit fun making a garden this way, kind of like making a layered lasagne or a cake:)

But there is still a bit of work involved and I recon the really best way to get it set up is to organise a little working bee with friends and family – enlist some support to just get it set up cause once its set up well it’s just a matter of a bit of regular weeding and occasionally adding more lucern, straw, fertiliser and compost as it needs more building up.

I found it really difficult to keep asking people for help and this was one thing I thought I could kind of cope with doing myself and to be honest it was a bit of a struggle.  But the way I accomplished it was by doing a half hour one day and then having a sleep, do another half hour the next day, have a sleep….. I actually found that it really helped to boost my mood and my energy.  I really tried to make sure I didn‘t overdo and sometimes I did, but by doing a little you start to get a little more ability and can also get a better handle on where the limits actually are.

Actually when I extended my garden I wasn’t really very well, but I was busting to get more space to grow more food, so I just set up the garden using the 45 degree cut in the ground border – still a bit of a struggle and needed lots of rests.  It’s not the best as the grass and weeds don’t really have much stopping them from getting into the garden, but you can do a scrape with the pick every now and then and keep them reasonably at bay.  When I was feeling a fair bit better recently I added a nice timber border to the edge and filled in the gaps.  It’s really starting to look good now, can’t wait to add in some more food to fill those gaps!

So key thing is to start small and slowly build up unless you can enlist some support to kick start it.  You can even start as small as a styrophome box with holes in the bottom and just layer it up.  There’s also kits available on the internet to start some small frames.  Good luck and let me know how you go.  Here’s some photos of the evolution of my current vegie garden…..

My first vegie garden in current house. Used simple timber border, untreated hardwood. Was pretty heavy and difficult to work with though.


Second phase. Tried some bamboo edging that allowed me to make a horseshoe shape - good for getting more space, but bamboo broke down really quickly.


Removed bamboo border and extended area covered using 45 degree cuts into the ground as my border


Current garden with the timber border. Still to add the compost to the extra parts within the edges and do some infill planting.

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There Are 13 Brilliant Comments

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  1. I Really enjoyed reading your ideas. The no dig garden has been a long time favorite of mine : )

    • Green Girl Mel says:

      Hi Lesley, Thanks for your comment. Have you got your own garden? I see you are up the Sunshine Coast. What a lovely place. I use to visit every couple of weekends and catch a few waves. I’m hoping to get up there again soon and start bobbing around on my board for short periods. I love the Find a Cure Site. Its really great, a lot of resources to check out.

  2. Flo Scott says:

    Hi, I’m inspired by your veggie garden especially that it is a no-dig, low maintenance system that you’ve set up, inspired by permaculture design techniques. I too have had ME (CFS) for many years and now I have the diagnosis of Lupus, which means I have to design my lifestyle to be low maintenance in the ways you describe so well. I came to the same conclusions as you, about healthy eating, gardening, gentle exercise, and saying ‘no’ to pressures and stresses, were the key to living well with a chronic health condition. I have a great quality of life now with my family, with my salads and veggies growing in my garden, and taking care of my chickens. It would be great to link up with you somehow, my new website is still being built, but perhaps we could link sites? find me on facebook too!
    Flo Scott (Brighton, UK)

    • Great to hear from you Flo, love to link up with your site when your up and running. I’m planning on writing another post shortly about permaculture! Sounds like you have got the balance right now. How long did it take you? Did you have to get over any big hurdles? I know that anxiety is probably one of my key issues and that when I can get to a stage where it doesn’t come up I will have found a good balance. Can you send me your facebook site link and I’ll like to you.

      • Flo Scott says:

        Hi Mel, Thanks for the reply 🙂
        It took me a while to get the balance, and just when I thought I had ‘got it’, I was diagnosed with Lupus and that threw me into another year of confusion and soul searching! Anyway, I feel like I’m out of the dark tunnel now. What really helped is that I was doing a Permaculture Diploma at the time, so I was forced to apply permaculture principles to my energy and time management (zone 000) and this enabled me to get my priorities right so that I could achieve all that I wanted (and get my diploma too!). I’m hoping to help others by writing an article for Permaculture Magazine about this, and putting it on my blog when the site is up and running.
        I love what you are doing… be encouraged! I know quite a lot of ME sufferers (and ex-sufferers) who are hungry for this stuff.
        Anxiety was definitely an issue with me, I suffered from panic attacks, which in retrospect were brought on by ‘energy crashes’ (blood sugar imbalance and sudden fatigue). Eating well helps, pacing, getting a balance of physical, mental and emotional rest and exercise, and avoiding stress is key for me. Also mindfulness meditation was very helpful, I also do tai chi and chi gung.
        It would be lovely to stay linked with you as we are working in the same direction. My facebook page is
        and this is my new page:
        Flo 🙂

        • Hi Flo, thanks again for your great comment. Love your reference to zone 000! Don’t worry readers, if you don’t know what that means, all will be revealed in future permaculture posts. I’m also pretty keen to bring that similarity of permaculture utilizing and conserving available energy and relating that to CFS/ME conservation of energy. I’m not quite sure how it will look, but I love the idea of delving into that area so I recon we could bounce a bit off each other which will be great! Perhaps we could coin something Green Fatigue Culture!! Ha! I’m going to check out a local Chi gung class tonight actually. I’ve been wanting to go for a while but put it off thinking I don’t have the energy to do the full class, but I’m kind of encouraging the neighbors son to go (who has a back issue) and thus it seems I am more motivated by helping others than myself. Doh! But I figure it will help me in the long run so it’s a good thing. I’m very excited by our connection. Thanks heaps for making contact. Will keep in touch.

          • Flo Scott says:

            I love ‘Green Fatigue Culture’! There’s a lot the world could learn from us… like how NOT to waste valuable time, energy and resources!!
            Will stay in touch xxx

  3. Mairi Stones says:

    Well said Flo, I couldn’t agree more. It’s interesting because I looked at people I knew with ME, who were adressing it like you said and wondered at their calm and peaceful ways, and I have to say with some envy sometimes, and lo, what did I create the chance to learn for myself!
    Love the permaculture/ME links gals, really looking forward to hearing more from both of you.

  4. Mairi Stones says:

    Before we came off on this trip I asked for help with our garden and had a couple f working bees. Things which had seemed impossible to tackle were done with ease and I felt inspired, supported and also could leave large parts of the garden to look after themselves for the year. Mulching was a big part of it, and I am totally with you on the no dig. I love it and the Forest garden ideas which s where i hope to concentrate when I return next June.
    Love your garden.

    • HI Mairi, Yes I too have felt some envy towards beautiful calm, tranquil people who seemed to have found that ability to go with the flo (sorry for pun, hee), so to speak, and now – well as I’ve mentioned before, I think I now am the Mistress of the Chill Factory! That sounds great re your garden, nothing like getting a little bit of help to knock it over and get the workload in manageable order. How are you going atm? Are you living on a boat? Perhaps you could get some wheat grass to nurture? Not sure what grows too well in ocean breeze, hmm and I’m sure freshwater is something to be savored. Do any of the yachties you’ve come across grow any food onboard? Yes, will have to work on that permi/cfs energy conservation concept soon!

      • Mairi Stones says:

        Yes at the moment I am living on a boat with my husband and two 13 years old twins, till next June. Have only come across people with pots of basil, or big motor yachts with house plants, but I am growing; I’m sprouting mung beans and sometimes almonds to make almond milk. About to try a sour dough, which is growing but of a different sort.
        Still got a way to go till join you in the Chill factory but heading that way!

  5. Jill says:

    Hi Mel I am inspired by your garden and posts I had Ross River in 2010 and although not officially diagnosed with CFS/ME think that is what my problem is as I have struggled to hold down a job since and struggle with immune system problems and illness unfortunately I have been pushing myself to keep going and am chronically ill at present very tired and can’t function very well I suffer from anxiety and panic and have had a lot of stress for years with a son with mental illness I have tried naturopath and lots of alternative treatments I have tried Bowen therapy and have found a great aromatherapy masseuse who is great I have spent a lot trying to regain my health I am working on diet and lifestyle and want to start yoga and some mild exercise I suffer a lot of joint pain some days are better than others I have to try to balance out my lifestyle and try to get well again I think you are on the right track it’s an inner journey and different for everyone thanks for your inspiration

    • Goodness Jill, I’m so sorry I must have missed your comment and I see it is now months later. What a slacker I am. I keep saying I’ll get back into managing this blog properly…..must make some time for that. Anyhoo, enough beating myself up. Sounds like you were in the depths of it when you wrote your comment, I do hope things have lifted a bit for you. I have found the anxiety was a real problem in the early stages of my recover, i.e. as my energy got better and I was able to live my life again I was very anxious that I might get sick again. It has taken an aweful long time to get over that and the anxiety still lurks. I have been on pristique for a couple of years now and find it very helpful. When they prescribed it it was to address depression and anxiety and my doctor said it has been particularly successful for patients who have suffered with chronic fatigue. So I continue to use it as I’m still working through a lot of stuff. To be honest I’m actually really thankful that I got sick as it has been the catalyst for really digging deep and working through my stuff. I am in the best place I’ve ever been now and it just continues to get better very rapidly – mind and spirit. Body, well, I’m working through what I would have to say is my last addictive crux – chocolate addiction and so can’t really say my body is in the best place it has ever been as I weigh the most I’ve EVER weighed at the moment. But, in defence of the journey of life, I need something to focus my energy on:) Lol. I hope you have found some tools that are helping you greatly. I’m starting back on the vitamin c which I stopped about 12 months ago.

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