Work Hard, Plant Hard

self care

Soil Aeration and Constipation

Christine K1 Comment

Yes. I did it. I went there--even rhymed. I’ve been dying to write this analogy, and so here it is.  

First, a bit on soil. In the early days of being a plant parent (cough, over a decade ago), I used to take the potting soil right out of the bag and repot my plants with it. No amendments at all. Most of them rotted. That’s when I started doing a deeper dive in to potting soil and found out that most of it is not ideal straight out of the bag. With the exception of some cactus mixes, the majority of plants will suffocate if you plant them directly in potting soil that is not amended.

The are so many options to choose from when it comes to potting soil. This is at my local nursery Barrels and Branches.

The are so many options to choose from when it comes to potting soil. This is at my local nursery Barrels and Branches.

Here’s my go-to potting soil. It contains: Aged Fir Bark, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Aged Redwood, Volcanic Pumice, Earthworm Castings, Washed Sand, Kelp Meal, Bat Guano, Feather Meal, Gypsum and Mycorrhizae. Oyster Shell Lime and Dolomite Lime are added as pH adjusters

Here’s my go-to potting soil. It contains: Aged Fir Bark, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Aged Redwood, Volcanic Pumice, Earthworm Castings, Washed Sand, Kelp Meal, Bat Guano, Feather Meal, Gypsum and Mycorrhizae. Oyster Shell Lime and Dolomite Lime are added as pH adjusters

I use EB stone cactus mix straight out of the bag. Contains: Pumice, Fir Bark, Aged Redwood and Sand. The sand keeps it nice and dry.

I use EB stone cactus mix straight out of the bag. Contains: Pumice, Fir Bark, Aged Redwood and Sand. The sand keeps it nice and dry.

There are so many different amendments to use. I love to use pumice because it works really well and is super easy. I also use perlite, which ideally should be rinsed before added. It has tiny little particles in it that can get sucked up by the roots and interfere with their ability to get what they really need. So it’s a bit higher maintenance. But I’ve got my routine down with it. Other additives I’ve used are vermiculite, orchid bark, hydroton/leca (clay pebbles) and coco coir. There are more not mentioned here. I love to play around with mixes, kind of like a chef in the kitchen.

Playing with soil amendments is like being a chef in the kitchen.

Playing with soil amendments is like being a chef in the kitchen.

Pumice is one of my favorite soil amendments. Pictured is General Pumice Products, a local company that sells online as well (www.GeneralPumiceProducts.com/order-here/). I was gifted this pumice but started using it well before I started blogging.

Pumice is one of my favorite soil amendments. Pictured is General Pumice Products, a local company that sells online as well (www.GeneralPumiceProducts.com/order-here/). I was gifted this pumice but started using it well before I started blogging.

And then we move in to the human analogy – bowels. Bowel function is such an important part of overall health, yet of course most people don’t regularly talk to each other about it the way we talk about sleep issues, muscle/joint aches, or skin problems to name a few. In my experience as a physician, I feel there’s an epidemic of constipation in our society. It affects women more than men, and tends to occur more in younger vs older women. I have theories about why this is but regardless, I have some tips that have worked for my patients and wanted to put them out in the blogosphere. But, I don’t have any photos of poop. Because, well, poop. :)

If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), these tips probably won’t be helpful for you. But if you find yourself backed up after 2-3 days of no bowel movement, sometimes causing abdominal pain, gas, and bloating, read on. Actually, read on anyway, since you probably have a friend with this problem and you might help them someday. The caveat here is that I encourage you to check with your doctor to investigate for things like thyroid problems or calcium abnormalities that could contribute to the constipation. But for most, those tests are normal. And then you’re left still wondering what to do, since many doctors don’t necessarily discuss the basics of bowel function with you.

We are born with a gastrocolic reflex. This reflex triggers the bowels, that are made up of (smooth) muscle to contract. The reflex typically occurs after eating – especially something with fat in it, and also with drinking a hot liquid. The reflex tends to be strongest in the morning. Often, if you have a soft reflex, you won’t “hear” it, especially if you’re rushing around trying to get out the door. It may not come back that day if you miss it. And so on goes the cycle.

The analogy to soil aeration for us is water and fiber. We need plenty of water, which helps keep things moving, and plenty of fiber to bulk the stool up. This will help prevent our bowels from stagnating and suffocating. A good balance is about 35 grams of fiber a day with around 2 liters of water intake, but everyone has their individual needs, so I encourage you to play around with it.

If you suffer from chronic constipation, I recommend you get up a bit earlier to allow time for your bowels to relax, allowing for you to listen to your gastrocolic reflex, and to act on it. Drink some tea or coffee and eat something with a bit of fat in it like almond butter (preferably without added sugar – check the labels!) or avocado. You might also consider adding some magnesium oxide (400mg) at night, which can help your bowels relax. Be patient with your bowels – if they’ve forgotten how the reflex works, it will take time for them to relearn.

Bowel function is as important as sleep, regular exercise, restorative sleep and good nutrition. Please let me know if there’s a topic you’d like to hear more about; I’m sure I can come up with a plant analogy for it J.

Hibernation

SleepChristine K
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Some of our plants are waking up from their winter hibernation/dormancy. I heard concerns from so many newer plant parents this winter about lack of growth on certain plants. Alocasias are notorious for this. You can stare at them all you want, but they generally won't produce much during the winter months. This is true even in many somewhat warmer environments like San Diego. They conserve energy during times when there is less fuel available (sun). Like people, their “sleep” allows them to be healthier in the long run. alocasia

Good restorative sleep is at least as important as a healthy diet, regular exercise and healthy bowels (more on that in a future post) in terms of overall wellness. Although each individual is different in terms of what might be interfering with sleep, here are a few tips that might help you improve this important component of wellness:

1. Realize that we sleep in approximately 90-minute sleep cycles. Even people who don’t “wake up” between each cycle come very close to it. So when you wake at 4am and you don’t need to be up until 6, tell yourself, “It’s okay, I still have time for one more whole sleep cycle!” This might reduce the anxiety you feel about waking up prematurely.

2. Have a good sleep schedule. Generally you should go to sleep at the same time every night and awaken around the same time every morning. Obviously there have to be exceptions to this – there’s travel, social gatherings, etc .– but try to stick to the schedule at least 5 days a week at a minimum.

3. Exercise – but not too late! Regular exercise (vigorous is better) has been shown time and time again to help with sleep patterns. However, vigorous exercise can be overly-stimulating for people who have trouble falling asleep. In that case, be sure to finish at least a couple of hours before you plan to hit the hay.

4. If you are having chronic trouble sleeping, eliminate caffeine after noon or altogether if needed. This seems obvious, but it can be hard to give up if you’re a coffee addict! You may need to taper off to avoid headaches and severe fatigue, but your body will thank you in the long run. (Side note, if you’re not having trouble sleeping, coffee is okay in moderation, and is even good for liver cleansing!).

5. No screens for 2-3 hours before bed. Period. Except…if you are like me and like to read books and articles on your device, or get your Instagram posts prepped after the kids go to bed. In that case see if you have a “night shift” setting. The newer iPhone software has this under “Settings -> Display & Brightness -> Night Shift.” Other smartphones may have similar functions. This setting adjusts the color scale away from blue light, which can be overly stimulating before bed. Exposure to blue light has been shown to lower elatonin levels, our natural sleep hormone. This may not solve your problems if you are struggling significantly – in that case please eliminate screens altogether. Go back to paper books or listen to a calming podcast instead.

6. Though alcohol can often help people fall asleep, too much often results in midnight or early morning awakenings. Best to go easy on the alcohol, especially if you have problems with sleep. Here's more information about safe alcohol amounts: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

7. The bed should be for sleep (and sex). Period. You should read in a different location of the house and go to bed when you’re sleepy. If you wake at night and can’t fall asleep, go to a different room and do something relaxing, such as mediating or reading, or spending time looking at your plants, and then return to bed when you are sleepy.

Wishing you all restful, restorative sleeps!