When Gardening Is A Pain
This weekend, I joyfully took possession of a new-to-me P-Patch, a modest plot in a community garden just a few blocks from my home. A recent reorganization of the garden to a more collaborative, cooperative model opened up over a dozen beds to new people, including me. My plot of about 200 square feet had been badly compressed by piles of building materials, so I spent a few happy hours going over the soil with a garden fork, gently loosening the soil without turning it over. Like tilling, turning the soil releases stored carbon and brings nutrients to the surface inches, where they are quickly devoured by plant roots, leaving soil depleted. Opening the soil loosens it without the havoc of tilling, preparing a more hospitable environment for plants and soil dwellers, from worms to friendly fungi and bacteria.
My fork work exposed a handful of small potatoes and a dearth of worms. Obviously, the soil can use some feeding before anything gets planted, so I hauled and spread ten barrowloads of compost, which amounted to a layer several inches deep overall. Raked smooth, it made a temptingly tidy bed, but the last few weeks have been drier than usual and the soil was barely moist. Careful watering left the compost crumbly and receptive, drawing curious birds to investigate. Now all I need is plants, and somewhat warmer night time temperatures. However, another result of all this carefree labor is that I’ve been more muscle sore than expected. The restrictions of this past year definitely put a crimp in my activity level, and though I’ve walked most days and gardened weekly, I’m clearly not in my best shape ever.
After the sunny, mild weekend, a number of my friends are similarly afflicted with self-induced strains and pains. Hearing these distressful tales, I’m reminded that the wise gardener does some stretching and warm ups before starting a vigorous gardening project. Next time I garden, so will I. Fortunately, a friend gave me a comforting cbd salve for sore muscles, which is also awesome for arthritic hands. As I continue to mature (at least technically), I find that arnica gel isn’t quite as effective for arthritic joints as topical cannabis lotions and potions.
Sadly, the days when I could garden for hours at a stretch without uncomfortable consequences are long gone. I’m also not as strong as I was a decade or two ago, nor as sure-footed on ladders or when climbing up in trees. These days, I have to pace myself, remembering my changing abilities and limitations. That’s not a very pleasant realization, but accepting reality turns out to be less painful than denying it. I’m fairly fond of denial, at least at times-I always remember a favorite counselor saying “Denial is an underrated coping skill.” Still, there are times when realism is the path that gets us no-longer-young people where we want to go.
Tai Chi In The Garden
Over the years, tai chi has played an important part in my life, and it’s been especially helpful during recurring bouts of vertigo. Tai chi is an excellent practice for gardeners, as it’s all about balance, pacing and a realistic understanding of what your own body is inclined or able to do on a given day. Walking attentively, dropping the center of balance, keeping the lower back open, all help stiffening backs and knees. Whether we’re bending and stooping or kneeling or crouching awkwardly, any such stretching and balancing exercises will stand us in good stead.
Sitting (which most of us do far too much of) compacts the spine and causes a lot of lower back issues. Standing around (usually mainly on one foot) isn’t much better, but tai chi offers a useful move well known to pregnant women; the Pelvic Tilt. It’s a little forward tuck of the tailbone that involves the abs and core muscles in a small adjustment that shifts weight downward to the lower belly, dividing it evenly between both feet and making our stance more stable.
Simple Warm-Ups For Gardeners
My best advice might be, don’t try to make up for a winter of neglect in one day. Divide projects into small parts, change tasks every 10-15 minutes, and always start by warming up your neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. It only takes about ten minutes and the results are rewarding. Begin with 8 neck rotations (the magic tai chi number), avoiding the backward position: Drop your right ear toward the right shoulder, letting the shoulder slope away earthward. Roll your chin to your chest, then repeat to the left. Return your chin to your chest between each side, but don’t roll your head backward, which can strain neck muscles.
Next, circle both shoulders 8 times, forwards and backwards. Raise your arms and rotate them at shoulder height 8 times in each directions. With arms at your sides, lightly clench your hands and circle your wrists 8 times forwards and backwards, then squeeze and release your hands 8 times. Shake out your hands lightly; they should tingle just a bit. To loosen the waist, do 8 hip circles forwards and backwards (like using a hula hoop). Shake out each leg for a few seconds and jump almost-but-not-quite off the ground on both feet together 8 times. End up by shaking out your hands and arms again for a few seconds. Now you should feel brisk and warm, with all joints loosened up and ready for action.
To prevent soreness after working, stretch your arms skyward, then do some hip rolls and pelvic tilts, gently rocking the spine forward and backward. If your back feels tight, lie down on a yoga mat or rug and press the small of your back to the floor, holding through five full breaths before releasing. Do that gently a few times and then take five minutes to reverse the blood flow to your legs; relax against a wall with your feet up, heels pointing toward the ceiling, and your legs supported by the wall. Onward!