Anaswara shares her gardening journey: From Houseplant Defeat to U-Pick Farm Victory
I am grateful for the opportunity to share about my 50 year gardening journey with you. It culminated in the creation of Turtle Barn Organic Picking Farm.
My journey began in my 20’s when I couldn’t keep house plants alive. I was really over mothering them with too much water. This was my first lesson in gardening; a little benign neglect could help plants roots grow stronger. A plant’s life may begin in a sheltered greenhouse, yet our goal is to support plants thriving in the wilds of our gardens. Overly sheltered plants develop weak stems and are prone to disease. We want to harden them off so they become strong enough to endure cold and wind.
My backyard produce garden began when I was in my 30’s. I came back from a Llama Foundation Retreat in New Mexico with a “garden calling”. I found myself in Llama’s magical gardens every spare moment I had. When I returned home, I built two 8 by 16 foot raised beds and planted them chock full of vegetables. By the next year, I had converted the rest of our small backyard into vegetable beds and created many herb beds in the front yard. This was the start of something big to come in the future!
When I was in my 40’s, I was so blessed to meet Amma and did a lot of Seva in Amma’s San Ramon, California Center newly started produce gardens in the early 1990’s. I felt Amma graced me with a full-blown gardening transmission. My desire to grow food, care for plants, and share nature with families grew stronger each year I helped in Amma’s amazing Ashram Garden.
When my husband’s environmental career moved us to a new city, we bought a home on a 1 ½ acre lot and created our farm, Turtle Barn Organic Picking Farm. We started turning our Bermuda grass yard into a vegetable and herb garden and planted fruit trees.
One of the parents asked me if I gave farm tours. It sounded like fun, so she brought her Girl Scout Troop for a tour at our farm. All the parents and children wanted to pick produce.They were excited to discover their favorite foods growing and be able to pick them. This farm tour gave birth to our picking farm. We started with 6 families and grew quickly to 15. I guess it was an idea whose time had come for me.
Soon, we had so much surplus produce that I decided to be a vendor at our local Farmers Market. Many of my friends enjoy being vendors, but I did not. I brought a turtle puppet to the market and had fun playing with all the children who came to my booth.
On an Organic picking farm people come to the farm and harvest their own produce. They pay for a year in advance which gives the farmer money to buy seed and hire farm help to care for the plants and soil. Our families love giving their children the experience of seeing how food grows and picking their own food. They love spending time in nature as well.
An organic picking farm can also be done on a smaller scale. If your home’s backyard has only a few produce beds, you could start with one or two friends as your pickers. Or, 3 friends could join and each grow a different crop in their small backyards to share with the other two friends. One could grow produce, the second herbs and berries, and the third fruit trees. All sorts of growing combinations are possible. There are all sorts of possibilities when we are inspired by Amma’s guidance to grow our own food and create community.
Turtle Barn Organic Farm has received much publicity for what is considered an innovative farming approach. Below are some of the news articles, links, and a video about the farm. We hope these will show you possibilities and inspire you to take your next step in your gardening journey.
“Amma has encouraged everyone to preserve traditional and native seed varieties as a way to deepen our connection with nature and strengthen the diversity and stability of our food systems.” -Amritapuri.org
Good seeds are more valuable than gold. Even if we have all the gold in the world, we can’t eat it. Amma has been suggesting we grow vegetables for several years. Many people started small garden plots in their yards. One of the most important requirements for a garden is good seeds. Farmers and gardeners of the past saved and even bred their own seeds. Today good seeds are harder come to by. Understanding general seed terms and using discernment to obtain seeds helps us to find good seeds. Then, by saving and sharing seeds, we can help bring back seed saving traditions and preserve crop diversity. We can even help develop seeds that thrive in our changing climates!
Neighbors often traded seeds adding to the genetic diversity and strength of the plants.
A LIVING TRADITION
To begin understanding seeds, we need to understand a little bit about the history of seed preservation. The worldwide tradition of seed saving gave us the multitude of grains and vegetables we grow today. Historically, farmers selected seeds from the most vigorous and healthy plants for the next year’s crop. They carefully chose plants for desired traits like vitality, productivity, flavor, and disease resistance. Neighbors often traded seeds adding to the genic diversity and strength of the plants.
Over time the plants adjusted to local soil, pests, diseases and climate. If a new disease came or the weather pattern changed drastically, someone in the village likely had a variety that was unaffected. Repeated cross-pollination of the survivor with other strains added new features to the genes of these plants. Together plants and humans created a wide and varied gene pool – a shared insurance that some seeds would survive despite environmental threats.
OPEN POLLINATED SEEDS
Migrating peoples brought their most cherished seeds with them to their new homes. Centuries later many of these varieties still thrive. In this way, people all over the world selected and bred increasingly resilient open pollinated seed strains.
Open-pollinated seeds are naturally pollinated by insects, wind, birds, and animals passing pollen from plant to plant. These seeds are a treasure house of immensely varied genetic material – adopted and selected over generations for diverse needs in every growing condition. Open pollinated seeds are good seeds.
In our modern world of climate change and increasing pollution, seeds born of a time-tested gene pool may become the key to survival for future generations. Preserving this treasure house of adaptability should be a top global priority.
“Animals, plants, and trees all contribute to the harmony of nature. It is man’s duty to protect and preserve them.” Amma, PURITY (2007), Part 1, Amma’s Birthday Message 1993, Center for Training the Mind
THE LOSS OF ADAPTABLE SEED STRAINS
In recent times, there is an unprecedented loss of seed varieties. During the past 60 years many traditional country markets and local grocery stores have been replaced by supermarket chains. Crops are bred for storage and easy marketing rather than flavor, nutrition and resiliency. Many small seed companies were swallowed up by larger seed-breeding facilities. These larger facilities could afford the research and specialized equipment to develop new strains for these new demands. Many larger companies were taken over by multinationals whose primary interest was often manufacturing chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Now just four companies, dominated by Bayer (bought Monsanto), Corteva (a new firm created as a result of the Dow–DuPont merger) and rounded out with ChemChina and BASF control more than 60 percent of global proprietary seed sales. Strong and naturally resistant seed strains of the past are of little interest and even detrimental to the business of these companies.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that 75% of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000. This is due to the diminishing use of traditional crops, massive consolidation of seed producers, and large-scale planting of genetically modified crops. It is estimated that 90% of agricultural varieties are no longer available. Farmers and home growers are left with a rapidly diminishing seed pool to draw from. For example, India had nearly 110,000 varieties of rice until 1970. Now only 6,000 – about 5% – of these rice varieties survive. This loss of our diverse genetic seed heritage endangers the world food supply and poses a great threat to the modern world.
To reset the balance on the behalf of seeds, we can gear our seed search towards preserving heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds stand as pinnacles from the hard work of generations of farmers. These seeds are passed down for generations through families or communities unaltered for 50 to 100+ years. Heirloom seeds are open pollinated and hold their parent’s traits which is referred to as being true to type. They are priceless gems in the world of seeds.
“Take care of the seeds and they will take care of you.” -Rowan White, founder of Sierra Seeds
Hybrid seeds are commonly formed by natural or manual cross pollination of different varieties or species of plants. When these plants grow and bear their own seeds they are call hybrid seeds. If you save hybrid seeds, you can’t guarantee the seed traits will be replicated like an heirloom seed. Hybrid seeds are not stable – some seeds may be infertile; most will not produce seeds like the parent (true to type) but revert back to the grandparent seed qualities.
Over time, gardeners and farmers found certain plants to produce great hybrid offspring that have the best characteristics of both parents such as taste, insect, disease or drought resistance. They worked for years to develop stable seeds with these qualities. This is how heirloom seeds are born.
On the other hand, commercial hybrid and Genetically Modified (GM) seeds stand in stark contrast to traditional open-pollinated stable seeds. Corporations invested huge amounts of money in seed research and development of hybrid seeds. The first-generation seed often displays a strong growth known as hybrid vigor. But these Hybrid seeds cannot produce the same standard of plant again when re-sown. Most commercial seed producers find it easier just to produce a new crop of the first generation hybrid from the two parents every year rather than take the time to develop stable seeds. Additionally, many commercial hybrids have parents that are highly inbred which makes them very weak plants. They become easily diseased and attacked by insects. These hybrid seeds often depend on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow. Many commercial hybrid seeds are patented, making it illegal to save seeds without permission or payment to the seed producer. Unfortunately, it is often these commercial hybridized varieties that are available in garden shops around the world.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Genetically modified seeds are GMO’s. They were introduced into agriculture in 1990’s. GMO’s are made by inserting genetic and other materials from one species or substance into the genetic material of another. This material is inserted into the plants in a way that could never occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. The genetic material is chosen for specific qualities from an animal, plant, bacteria, virus or chemical that yield desired results such as increased shelf life and improved harvests in the altered plants. It is important to note that in order to improve harvests, GMO crops are bred to withstand being sprayed by herbicides and pesticides. The chemicals sprayed onto the plants soak into the leaves, stems and seeds. Thus, these chemicals enter our bodies when we eat the vegetables from these plants.
Additionally, GMO seeds float in the wind threatening the purity of seeds everywhere through unwanted cross-pollination. When it comes to seed saving, this cross pollination becomes a big issue. GMO seeds are patented and often must be licensed for use; it is illegal to save seed for use the next season or even research their impact without corporate permission. Some GMO seeds yield plants that have sterile seeds; this could be a problem when they cross pollinate causing other plants to also have sterile seeds. Additionally, GMO seeds and their accompanying herbicides and pesticides have harmful impacts on soil health, beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies and other harmful impacts.
When you look at the issues seeds are up against it can seem overwhelming. But simple life affirming acts can make a huge difference!
Organic refers to a specific way plants and seeds are grown. To earn this label, they must be raised and processed in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program. Organic seeds are grown without chemical herbicides, pesticides or genetic alteration. GMO seeds are not organic seeds. Try to avoid buying conventional or hybrid seeds. Unless seeds are specifically labeled organic, there is a good chance that they may be have been chemically treated. We recommend purchasing organic, open pollinated, heirloom seeds whenever possible.
BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
When you look at the issues seeds are up against it can seem overwhelming. But simple life affirming acts can make a huge difference! Planting, saving and sharing seeds is easy and fun!
Home gardeners around the world have kept traditional vegetable varieties in cultivation. These backyard seed savers are the guardians of a huge store of genetic diversity. Their home saved varieties may have preserved the right genes for dealing with the challenges of our rapidly changing world – tolerance for drought and extreme weather, resistance to diseases, and more.
“Every seed we plant is a tiny loving prayer in action.” -Rowan White, founder of Sierra Seeds
You can become one of them! Buy one package of organic, open pollinated heirloom seeds and you are on the road. Just like that – you are now supporting people engaged in seed saving and seed diversity. Then plant the seeds, even in pots if you don’t have space. Suddenly you are caring for a living being and believe me, life begins to open up. Before you know it the bees, along with a host of other creatures show up. Maybe you’ll have too much lettuce so you share with a friend who has too many beets, so you trade. You grow some flowers and neighbors you never knew stop to talk. Even if you can’t save seeds, plants will do the job. Plants are brilliant at going to seed – many will seed themselves and grow again without your help. You’ll make new friends as you give away your abundant plants and seeds! As time goes on, you’ll wonder who grows more – me or the seeds?
Seed saving and sharing have always been and will always be a vital part of the cultural fiber of community. They are integral for any goal of local food sustainability. Seed saving is a necessity to secure our earth’s magnificent and precious biodiversity. Let us honor this vital responsibility. Plant a seed and begin to make an offering to the future generations of plants and humans in the world.
LET’S GET STARTED!
Winter and Spring
Do some research. Check your local co-op, garden stores, etc. for organic, open pollinated heirloom seed companies. These will have seeds most likely adapted to your climate and soil conditions. My hometown, Port Townsend, WA, now has about 3 small local organic heirloom seed companies! Talk to neighbors and friends who save seeds. Check out seed companies that sell organic, open pollinated heirloom seeds online (several are listed in the resource section). Get some good seeds.
Summer and Fall
If you have a garden, pick a few vegetables or flowers you want to save seeds from. Flowers are an easy way to start. Do a bit of online research and save a few seeds (seed saving info is listed in the resource section). Trade seeds with friends and neighbors. Attend a local seed exchange.
If you are ready to start your seed saving journey, Amritaculture is now offering a seed saving course! Join with fellow devotees and learn how to save seeds.
Thanks to Green Friend’s Lets Grow Seeds for lots of the info in this article.
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, 2nd ed. Deppe, Carol. (2000). Chelsea Green Publishing Thorough, readable book detailing all aspects of seed selection and breeding techniques for creating your own new varieties.
The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. Deppe, Carol. (2010). Chelsea Green Publishing Great info for any gardener in uncertain times!
Lets Grow Seeds. Green Friends. (2014). Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust. A great starter guide to saving seeds, lots of pictures!
Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. (2013). Milkweed Editions. Fantastic book weaving botany, ecology and indigenous wisdom in a world view grounded in reciprocity and gratitude.
Seed: The Untold Story Seed reveals the story of passionate seed keepers around the world as many irreplaceable seeds near extinction. Great interviews. Available to rent on Amazon.
Here are a few places, mostly on the USA West Coast to get heirloom seeds. These sights are inspiring and have great online resources for all things gardening including lots of seed saving info.
https://www.adaptiveseeds.com/ Pacific Northwest grown, open pollinated, organic seeds.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds http://www.rareseeds.com/ Baker Creek has probably the most beautiful seed catalogue around – one is free and the big one – The Whole Seed Catalogue – costs a bit and is filled with lots of fun info. They feature unique heirlooms.
Seed Savers Exchange http://www.seedsavers.org/ The largest public access seed bank in North America. Great seeds. Great resource. Does great work. Become a member!
Uprising Seeds https://uprisingorganics.com/ All seeds are certified organic, open pollinated and grown by small family farms in the Pacific Northwest.
Here are two free online sites with seed saving info. Most of the seed companies listed above and the Organic Seed Alliance also have seed saving info.
Organic Seed Alliance https://seedalliance.org/ A non-profit that advances ethical seed solutions through research, education, and advocacy programs. Doing great work with farmers and advocacy work. They host an incredible organic seed conference for growers. They have a free Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers that you can download. They have some good articles as well: The Sobering Details Behind the Latest Seed Monopoly Civil Eats, January 11, 2019 Kristina Kiki Hubbard, Advocacy & Communication Director, Organic Seed Alliance https://civileats.com/2019/01/11/the-sobering-details-behind-the-latest-seed-monopoly-chart/
Farm Aid https://www.farmaid.org Farm Aid is a non-profit that supports small family farms with good info on farm, seed and food issues. Here’s a quick and easy article on GMOs. GMO’s – Top Five Concerns for Family Farmers https://www.farmaid.org/issues/gmos/gmos-top-5-concerns-for-family-farmers/
Rowan White is a seed keeper/farmer from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and passionate advocate for indigenous seed and food sovereignty. She is the Educational Director and lead mentor of Sierra Seeds, an innovative land-based educational organization located in Nevada City, CA. She is the National Program Coordinator for the Indigenous Seed Keeper Network, an initiative of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, a non-profit leveraging resources to support tribal food sovereignty projects. She is also chair of the Board of Directors of Seed Savers Exchange. the largest public access seed bank in North America. Check her out at https://sierraseeds.org
GLOSSERY of SEED TERMS:
Conventional Seeds: seeds grown with herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. What is commonly sold in stores.
GMO Seeds: Genetically Modified Organism – seeds specifically modified by genetic engineering. Genes from an animal, plant, bacteria, or virus are placed in another species in a way that can’t occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. These seeds are mostly sold to large commercial farmers and are mostly for cash crops like cotton, corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets. Some GMO fruits and vegetables including potatoes, summer squash, apples, and papayas are available. GMOs are in many foods we eat such as corn, corn syrup, corn oil, soybeans, canola oil, tomatoes, potatoes, apples, beets, rice, wheat is on the way and granulated sugar. Most GMO crops grown in the USA are used for animal food. The European Union (EU) outlawed most GMO foods but many EU farm animals are fed GMO feed from the USA.
Heirloom Seeds: Seeds passed down for generations through families or communities unaltered for 50 to 100+ years. Heirloom seeds are open pollinated and hold their parent’s traits (reproduce true to type). Heirlooms are not GMO seeds.
Hybrid Seeds: Hybrid seeds are commonly formed by the manual cross pollination of different varieties or species of plants. Hybrid seeds are not stable – some seeds may be infertile, and most will not produce seeds like the parent but will revert back to the grandparent seed qualities. Hybrid seeds also happen in nature all the time – if a bee travels from one type of tomato to another, the seeds from that plant will have traits from both the parents and be considered a “hybrid” of the two. If you save hybrid seeds, you can’t guarantee the seed traits like an heirloom seed.
Hybrid F1, F2, F3 seeds: F(X) seeds correspond to the generation of the seed – in other words, F1=kids, F2=grandkids, F3=great-grandkids. The more generations, the less the seed genetics will drift or revert making it more likely you’ll have similar plants in the next generation. Over time, with careful selection of seeds, the seeds become stable. Eventually it can be considered an heirloom seed.
Non-GMO: A non-genetically modified organism; genetic modifications were not a part of the plant breeding process.
Open-pollinated Seeds: Seeds naturally pollinated by insects, wind, birds, and animals passing pollen from plant to plant. All heirlooms are open-pollinated plants, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. Both hybrid and heirloom seeds can reproduce through open pollination. Open pollinated seeds are not GMO seeds.
Organic: Organic refers to a specific way plants and seeds are grown. To earn this label, they must be raised and processed in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program. Organic seeds are grown with a focus on soil and plant health, with natural fertilizers and pest control. Organic seeds are not GMO’s.
Treated or Pelleted seeds – Come coated and are often brightly dyed to indicate their treatment. Some are treated with herbicide or pesticide to help prevent fungus and insect damage. Some coated seeds are safe to use. These are usually small seeds to make them more easily to handle and may help with germination. Make sure you read the labels on treated seeds if you are avoiding chemicals in your garden.
True to type: Stable seeds produce offspring with characteristics that are similar to their parents’. We call stable seeds true to type because their offspring have the same characteristics as their parents.
Many people living in cities, apartment complexes, or housing communities with little or no yard space think that composting is not possible or practical. However, I will demonstrate that composting is possible in even the smallest city apartment.
Amma has said that there was never a mahatma (saint or Realized Being) that ever existed who wasted anything! This is a humbling thought for those of us seeking true spiritual growth.
In the past, I wrote a blog about red worm composting. Although it is possible to maintain a small to moderate sized worm bin in a kitchen or closet, many city dwellers with small apartments or homes may feel there is not enough space for such an endeavor. In addition, if red worm composting seems too “high maintenance” for your liking, I will suggest some easier methods here.
With urban composting – especially in composting experiments which seem limited by space – the first step to full success is source reduction. One of the biggest environmental issues is the vast amount of food rotting in landfills which releases damaging methane gas into the atmosphere.
Reducing Your Waste
How sad it is that there are so many people going without food – even starving to death – and 30-40 percent of the United States’ food supply is literally thrown away in landfills.
According to the USDA, Source Reduction is the preferred method to reducing food waste and the ultimate pollution it causes – more important than composting itself. Source Reduction means that we consciously monitor and reduce the waste we produce at home and at work. Source Reduction is also more ideal than recycling, repurposing, and upcycling.
To grow spiritually, we must learn to take less from the environment and people; and learn to give more.`
Regarding the environment, “giving more” means using less and buying less food per grocery store trip.
Is Composting On A Smaller Scale Even Practical?
Recently, I noticed a dear friend of mine who is concerned about the environment throw away food scraps and some recyclables in front of me. I gently asked her why she was doing this when she truly was concerned about the environment. She responded: “I am convinced that individuals can no longer make a difference unless major companies change their ways.”
My question would be: Well, who supports these major corporations? We do.
Humans do not like to take responsibility.
It is the Nature of the Ego to want bodily comfort (which generally does not support Mother Nature’s health) and to say: “Well, HE, SHE, or THEY are doing it! What is the use of me trying to compost?” This egoistic idea is, in fact, the impractical, apathetic problem.
In a recent Amritaculture Special Presentation on the “The 5 Elements of Creation,” Swami Shantamritananda Puri spoke on how Amma had said many of Her children would be sent into the world. Swamiji mentioned that Amma said (I paraphrase), “Do not expect to change the world. It is enough if you yourself do not change (in a negative way).” Let us deeply take Amma’s wisdom into our hearts and apply this to Urban Composting!
Do not worry about the scale of your composting experiment. Just do it; and do it sincerely with love for Amma and the Earth. Buy less food per shopping expedition. Notice how much you throw away each day and week. Modify your shopping list as you move forward to reduce your need to compost to the very minimum.
Whatever method of composting you use, even if you compost only a portion of your food waste, multiply that by the 8 billion people on this planet. If we can make it part of our human culture that all humans do this minimal effort, the environment might have a fighting chance to heal. Also, if 8 billion people (or even a quarter of this) decide to not support mega-corporations with no view to environmental protection – how long can those criminal companies stay in business?
Let each of us act on the environmental changes we want to see others doing. Shine for all to see! This is true sadhana (spiritual practice) and true seva (selfless service).
PROS • Bokashi Bins are a very easy method of clean composting that uses minimal kitchen space. • All kitchen scraps (vegetable, meat, and dairy) can go in the bin. Bones are the one exception and moldy foods are not recommended. • It produces a liquid fertilizer which can be added to plants or gardens. • The internal broken-down compost can be added to plants or gardens. • No odors are perceptible.
CONS • There is the ongoing expense of purchasing the Bokashi fermentation mix which you add over layers of compost. Bokashi mix is a sawdust/grain and uses a specially designed micro-organism mix made up of lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, photosynthetic bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi. • This is an anerobic process of composting which does release some methane gas – not constantly; but when the sealed bin is opened. • Ultimately, things break. The hard plastic parts are recyclable. Look for Bokashi Mix refills that are in paper based packaging instead of the plastic one seen in Figure 2.
PROS • There are a lot of electronic composters on the market. • Most brands allow kitchen scraps (vegetable, meat, and dairy) to go in. Bones and fruit seeds (like peach pits) are not permitted for some brands – so read the fine print. • No odors are perceptible.
CONS • They tend to be expensive — $300 USD or higher. You must balance the cost with the ease of use, the fact you do not need repeat purchase of fermentation mixes or liquids, that they do not require bodily strength (like Trench Composting discussed later in this blog), and they are “clean” – no dirt will get on your hands!
• I am suspicious of the length of time these machines last. In our culture, we do not often repair items but through them away. Many areas of the world do not offer electrical appliance recycling. I would hate to see more things piling up in landfills…
To explore more about electronic composters, this YouTube link may be of interest:
Now, we will review urban composting methods which require more effort but have little expense, a onetime expense, or even no expense at all. Not all methods will work for all people.
Soil Crates are easy to use and in some of its variations they are very environmentally friendly. Soil Crates are traditionally made from wood – which requires a simple YouTube search for DIY people! Alternately, you can pay a handy friend to make you one. (See hard plastic versions below.)
If you have a small green space or a balcony, this is a marvelous method of composting that is relatively effortless. You DO NOT need a massive soil crate to make a BIG DIFFERENCE.
Create the bin according to your green space’s or balcony’s dimensions.
Add soil. Add food scraps. Done.
Once a week rotate the compost with a hand shovel or a normal shovel. Add water (keep it moist!) Keep it protected and covered from rain.
Insects and micro-organisms will come to help you! Do not add meat, bones, or dairy – otherwise, you will attract rodents, raccoons, and other undesirable animal friends. The food scraps break down relatively fast. The soil becomes “living soil” which can be used for potted houseplants or blended into your garden’s soil.
Figure 5: You can purchase online hard plastic versions of the same with or without a lid.
Pit Or Trench Composting
I live right in the middle of the bustling capitol of Toluca, State of Mexico, Mexico – our home base for GreenFriends Mexico! I am fortunate to have a small garden in front of my home. I use trench composting all the time. I have a trench dug and I bury a lot food scraps there. The earth worms love me! The food decomposes shockingly fast which creates living soil rich in composted fertilizer. This soil becomes exceptionally sponge-like, and less watering is needed when I plant veggies and flowers along the trench. When I lived at Amritapuri in 2006, I regularly composted via the trench method which is what inspires me even today to continue doing so. You can also reserve one area of your green space to dig a pit and bury the food scraps in the pit. You can use the same pit monthly over and over. The food scraps will be long gone when you come back!
Some people make more elaborate pits if they have larger green spaces and like the idea (see below).
Figure 10: This is a large compost pit dug out in Delhi, India. The dirt is kept aside as food scraps and cardboard are added, a layer of soil is placed on top. A cover of wood or some other device can be used to prevent people from falling in. I have a very small form of this in my front yard in the city of Toluca. Do not ever think that a smaller scale is ineffective! In a tiny pit, I compost a ton of used napkins, food scraps, and cardboard boxes from Amazon or cereal boxes, etc. It works and it works fast! Dried leaves, twigs, and lawn scraps can go in, too!
What Do I Do With All This Compost? I Live In The City!!!
A common concern is what to do with the compost generated in the house. Here are some brief ideas: • Mix your compost in with soil for potted plants in your apartment or urban home • Go on a hike or to a city park and sprinkle it over the grass or at the base of a tree as you chant Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu or your mantra. • Share the compost with neighbors or community gardens in your area. • Trench or pit compost if a small green area is available.
I hope this stimulates many more ideas for you to compost in cities or in homes with little or no green space as this small article does not come close to exhausting all the possibilities out there! Challenge yourself to start a composting experiment today. Offer this to the Divine – without delay!
If you have any questions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Om Amriteshwaryai, With Love, Eknath
Extreme climate conditions have become the norm. They are no longer a thing of the past. As our planet continues to change and warm, we commonly see more droughts, flooding and extremes in temperature. Here in California, we are facing another summer of extreme drought. In order to continue following Amma’s instructions on growing food, the San Ramon Ashram vegetable gardens have implemented some age-old water conservation techniques.
Saving Water Is Easier Than You Think
Anyone can save water in their garden. These ancient methods have been proven to greatly reduce water consumption and still yield excellent harvests. Along with these practices, there are many other simple water-saving techniques every home gardener should implement in order to have a fruitful garden with low water consumption. One of the easiest things to do in the garden to save water is to water in the mornings or the evenings. This avoids the high noon sun which increases water evaporation. At the end of this article we list several water saving gardening practices.
Drip irrigation is thought to be the most water-efficient method of irrigating a garden, however much of this water is still lost in evaporation, particularly in hot, dry weather. Keeping in mind what Amma says that not a single drop should be wasted, the only way to irrigate effectively is to water deep underground. Bringing water directly to the roots ensures that no water is wasted by evaporating on the surface.
There are several buried irrigation techniques, but here at San Ramon Ashram we chose the Buried Clay Pot irrigation method. This irrigation method has been used effectively for over 4,000 years in India, China and Africa. The pots, also known as “ollas”, can be purchased ready-made such as these to the left. If you have budget to spare, they can also be custom made if one has access to a potter. Fortunately, there is also a simple do-it-yourself method that anyone can tackle and is easy on the budget.
We were fortunate here in San Ramon that a local devotee who is also a potter, donated many ollas for use around the ashram, and they are currently being used to successfully irrigate the Rose Garden as well as all the flower bushes at the Main Residence.
How To Make Ollas
For the Lotus Vegetable Garden, we made over 350 do-it-yourself ollas using simple unglazed terracotta flower pots, water-based, food grade silicone and a little duct tape. Here are some simple instructions for making ollas.
First, seal the bottom hole, with a small piece of duct tape on the outside of the pot. You just need enough tape to cover the hole. Then, fill the hole completely with silicone on the inside, thus plugging the hole.
Second, glue the two pots together with silicone. Once the silicone on the ollas is dry (this usually takes 24 hours), your ollas is finished.
Third, you can bury the ollas in your vegetable garden. Bury the ollas so that only an inch is left above the soil surface, and place a cap of some sort over the top hole. You can use ceramic tiles, stones or inverted flower pot saucers.
Once in the ground, if the tape deteriorates, that is OK as the silicone will hold in place keeping the hole plugged.
Ideally, one olla made of 2 8-inch pots will hold about a gallon of water, and this will irrigate a 4 square foot patch of garden. So, 1-gallon ollas can be placed 2 feet apart, while larger ones can be 3-4 feet apart.
You can hand-fill the ollas individually if you have a small garden, or you can incorporate them into your drip irrigation system by inserting the drip lines directly into each olla, as we did in San Ramon. Take note of the time it takes to fill the olla. Then set your irrigation timers accordingly.
Ollas Can Even Increase Plant Production
At the San Ramon Lotus Garden we implemented ollas in most of the rows, and were able collect some very strong comparative data as to the conservation of water and productivity of vegetable plants using this irrigation method versus drip irrigation. Two rows irrigated with ollas produced 400 lbs. of vegetables, while comparatively sized rows using drip irrigation yielded only 115 lbs.
Water consumption for the olla rows compared to the drip irrigated rows was roughly 70% less, and due to the fact that the irrigation is strictly underground. In addition, unwanted weeds in the olla rows were almost non-existent compared to the drip irrigated ones due to the lack of surface water.
In the San Ramon Rose Garden, we were fortunate to receive many hand-made ollas from a devotee who is a potter, so these have been buried beside the rose bushes, at least 2 pots per bush, and are providing effective irrigation and greatly reduced water consumption. The roses are thriving!
Due to our warm climate here in San Ramon, the ollas can remain in the ground even through the winter. However, if you live in a northern climate you will have to dig up your ollas, allow them to dry and store them during the freezing months to reuse the next year.
Simple Water-Saving Techniques
If you cannot implement a buried clay pot method, then the following tips will be helpful in reducing your garden’s water consumption, no matter where you live.
Mulch, mulch, mulch! Adding an organic covering to your gardens helps prevent water evaporation. This can be wood chips, straw, or dried leaves. Make sure the mulch is at least a couple of inches deep to provide the appropriate protection to your soil. Here in San Ramon we mulch with wheat straw and also hardwood mulch.
Water at ground level, not sprinkling. Sprinklers typically waste a lot of water as they are subject to evaporation more quickly that allowing the water to immediately seep into the soil.
Measure how much water you need. Buy a soil moisture reader to determine how often you need to irrigate your gardens. By testing the moisture content of your soil at the root level, you might be able to stretch out your waterings.
Water only mornings or evenings, when the day is cooler and the sun is not at its full strength. This will give the water a chance to percolate down into the soil before evaporation begins.
Use shade cloth if you have very strong, hot sun in your gardens all day. We implemented this in some of our raised beds here in San Ramon and were able to grow cool season crops such as lettuces well into the summer!
Put a water timer on your hose to better understand how much water you are using, and continue to tweak and modify your consumption.
Replace high consumption plants and grass with drought tolerant and native varieties if possible. These will have a greater chance of thriving in your garden under water restrictions.
These methods are mostly for more shallow rooted plants and bushes, so for the three fruit tree orchards here in San Ramon Ashram, we are implementing a different system altogether. Look to a follow-up blog post on the details of this method that is specifically for fruit trees and other deep-rooted plants!
Being involved in civic engagement was NOT my plan. As a matter of fact, I despised anything to do with politics as I had deemed the entire institution corrupt and highly unspiritual. For decades I sat on the sidelines while indulging my ego in jaded cynicism. The truth is, other than voting in the primary election, I never cared to understand or be involved in the democratic process because I was comfortable.
In March 2017 my blissful ignorance came to an end when China announced new legislation called, ‘National Sword’. I suddenly became aware that we (developed nations) had been shipping our trash and recycling to developing nations and dumping it on their doorstep. I was devastated. Then in April 2017, we moved to the Oregon Coast. As I walked the beaches, I noticed millions of pieces of microplastics in the sand that Mother Ocean had regurgitated. She was literally choking to death on plastic! The final (single-use plastic) straw came in November 2017 when I went to India for the first time and witnessed the magnitude of the single-use plastic pollution crisis. Unlike the US, India has no way to hide their waste. The truth was out in the open polluting the streets and waterways and destroying nature. My heart was blown wide open and I knew then, my days of sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do something were over. I needed to stand up, be that someone and become civically engaged.
But I was terrified! I was ashamed that at 50 years old, I didn’t know anything about the democratic process! I was afraid my ignorance would be exposed but my love for nature was greater than my fear, so I was willing. Fortunately, I had been a member of the Surfrider Foundation for years and they are experts in advocacy. I became actively involved and shortly thereafter, was asked to be co-chair on the campaign to ban single-use plastic carry-out bags in my city. I accepted and by default, I was required to interact with and get to know my city council members. In doing so, I realized they weren’t the villains I’d made them out to be. They were people just like you and me! A humbling lesson in contempt prior to investigation.
There were many other spiritual lessons along the way. This process exposed some very deep-seated prejudices and negative tendencies in me that needed to be healed and wouldn’t have been revealed while sitting comfortably on the sidelines. I also gained the kind of ‘Self’-confidence Amma talks about. The kind where we realize we are not the do-er, that God is actually doing everything through us, so then what is there to be afraid of?
On April 15th, 2019, through Amma’s grace and the effort of many, Ordinance #2148 was passed, banning single-use plastic carry-out bags in Newport, OR. The sweetest part of the victory was knowing I was an instrument in affecting change that would benefit my community and Mother Nature. Amma says, “Don’t be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your candle and step forward.” And when we do, She will be with us every step of the way.
Om Namah Shivaya, Everyone! Welcome to my blog on Urban Gardening & Composting coming to you from GreenFriends Mexico!
This month we will continue our discussion on Urban Composting; and we will preliminarily conclude the topic in my next blog coming soon in August 2021 with other specific ways to compost if you live in a city or home with limited outdoor and / or indoor (kitchen) space.
Composting Taboos & Fear of Getting Our Hands Dirty. Ewwww! Composting is gross and smelly! Right? Wrong!
If you learn to compost correctly and start your composting experiments off small, there will be absolutely no smell, no insects, no rodents – all false myths about indoor urban composting!
On June 20, 2021, I offered an Amritaculture Live Q&A Session of Red Worm Composting in urban environments with Hugo Bernal. Here is the link to this session and other amazing offerings from Amritaculture Instructors from around the world which can be found in our YouTube channel (please subscribe!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLEzMbuW04U
After the session on Red Worm Composting, a dear friend of mine called me. She requested that I write a blog addressing cultural and personal taboos which keep people from composting – particularly for the Asian Indian population who may be less likely to compost. I thought it was an amazing idea for a blog!
There may be cultural taboos and personal prejudices around composting. To be quite clear: Indians are not the only cultural group that may be resistant to composting! People from all backgrounds fall into this category. For many people of all backgrounds, compost bins are imagined to be dirty, full of smelly rotting food, and just plain yucky – who wants to touch that or work with that?!
I have a confession to make. I was that guy until about 2 years ago when I began to experiment with my red worm composting bin, and I fell in love with process as well as other composting projects I will share with you in my upcoming August 2021 blog! Stay tuned and watch for it to learn more!
Many of Amma’s children are from Mother India. Also, millions of Amma’s children globally have been heavily influenced by the thought-world and spiritual biases of Indian culture even when they may have grown up outside of India! It is well known that many Indians would be resistant to composting in general as it is a cultural taboo for Indians to handle dirty things, trash, and (possibly) compost.
Saucha (a niyama or observance of yoga delineated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) means “purity.” Well-intentioned disciplined spiritual persons from India may be trying to preserve saucha – the conscious practice of inner and outer purity — and that is why they may avoid “dirty work” like composting.
Lord Jesus in the New Testament constructively criticized the spiritual people of His time for being overly concerned about “outer purity.” He smiled to Himself seeing them do lustrations or mikvehs (body washing) before entering the temple (like a devoted Hindu taking a dip in the Ganges three times or more per day prior to doing sadhana).
Jesus pointed out (I paraphrase): “Why are they so worried about washing the outside of the cup instead of the inside of the cup?” By cup, Jesus was referring to the body. We pay more attention to the outside (the body) and not enough to purifying (eradicating) the attachments and aversions which keep us chained to the wheel of samsara.
There is the famous story of Amma realizing the Ashram septic system was failing. None of the early residents wanted to go into the septic tank to clean it and get it working properly. Amma – the Purest of the Pure – jumped in first. Of course, when Amma led by example everyone protested, asked Her to stop doing the dirty work, and offered to do it for Her. Amma reportedly did not stop and did the dirty work of cleaning the septic tank with Her truly Divine Hands…
When we do the “dirty work,” although the hands may become soiled – the more soiled the hands become, the purer the hands become; and, the purer our inner and outer realities become, too.
Doing composting seva (inside an ashram and / or in our homes) will be one of the most purifying spiritual practices we can do to conserve the health of Earth and to help Her to heal from the innumerable injuries each of us has caused Her due to our collective lack of education, lack of awareness, and / or lack of personal effort.
I remember living in Amritapuri. I would sweep the trash and do recycling and composting seva everyday all day long. I loved it! I had the divine privilege of serving Amma by helping to keep Her Body (the Ashram) clean! Most of the people doing these sevas noticeably were not of Indian descent. One of the few Indian people doing the seva (who happened to be coordinating the seva) told me, “Amma often says that she admires Her Western children… because they are never afraid to clean and do ‘dirty’ sevas (selfless service).”
I asked my Indian friend, “What do you mean by this?” She said, “It is a cultural thing. Cleaning and dirty work is seen as unsuitable work for many Indians.” Thus, we see a cultural taboo. This should definitively not be taken to mean that ONLY Indians are averted from dirty work due to whatever reason or philosophy.
I lived in the San Ramon Ashram, which has many Western devotees. It is amazing how many of us avoided or “forgot” to take out the kitchen compost, clean the Temple bathrooms, or sweep the dust and cobwebs out of the Temple… Amma has said (I paraphrase): “He who helps to set up and clean up after a puja attains more merit than he who does the puja.” This means that those who do sevas or tasks they view as “unfavorable” or “dirty” get more merit than those who get to do foo-foo sevas or sevas that may seem to momentarily put them in the spotlight. We must never forget that seva is sadhana (spiritual practice that leads to Liberation of Consciousness from samsara).
Composting is seva we can and should do for Amma and the planet in every home. Those who see no task (seva) as below them quickly rise to the top and are examples for all. Amma is the perfect example of this for all of us. No work is lowly. All work (all seva) is valuable. Whether we live in an ashram, offer seva at an MA Center around the world, or manage our own apartment in an urban environment, no work is lowly or unsuitable.
If we do not believe this, we need to carefully reflect on the topic. In yoga philosophy, attachment (raga) and aversion (dwesha) are the two sides of the coin of desire. Desire, according to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, leads to suffering, frustration, and lack of spiritual illumination or true spiritual comprehension. If we are seeking spiritual liberation, we must be open to transcending attachment and aversion for the betterment of our families, communities, countries, and the globe.
It is no small exaggeration that if everyone in the world began to compost in their kitchens that we would be well on our way to healing and restoring balance to Mother Nature. To reduce the waste going into landfills should be on the mind of every person (especially if he or she is a devotee of Amma Who constantly is encouraging us to actively participate in source reduction, recycling, tree planting, and organic gardening).
If we are not composting yet because of a negative cultural perception or because we do not want to get our hands dirty, we need to roll up our spiritual sleeves and compassionately observe our egos.
The ego tells us “I want to do only what is comfortable for me. I do not want to do what inconveniences me (composting is time consuming is common false myth). I think it may be smelly or attract bugs or….” We need to educate ourselves, experiment in small ways to see what kind of composting is best for our urban habitats or small modern-day apartments.
In doing so, we will see that if various methods are done correctly in even the smallest confined spaces, there will be no smell, no insects, no rodents, no dirt to speak of. Instead of contributing to the destruction of our planet and the elimination of animal species at a horrifying rate, we can restore Mother Nature’s health and destroy Mahishasura: The Great Ego within all of us.
If any of us truly seeks moksha (union with the Divine), we must go beyond aversion. If we have negative repelling thoughts about urban composting (or composting in general), read about it with a Google search, buy a book on Urban Composting, and learn. What we do not understand we fear or have prejudices about. The world needs you! Let us go beyond all cultural taboos and personal prejudices about composting and give Earth a chance at healing.
The Benefits Outweigh Perceived Issues
Here are some important environmental benefits achieved through composting:
It improves the soil in indoor potted plants and outdoor gardens and green spaces – making the soil “living soil” due to the healthy microbes produced in the compost itself.
* Compost helps to restore and filter local water sources. Compost can retain 5 to 20 times its own weight in water. Adding compost to soil increases the amount of water that can penetrate into the soil. The water can seep all the way down to the impervious rock layer where it wells up and can begin to refill local springs, ponds, and lakes. Via downward drainage through compost, soil, and rock layers, the rainwater is filtered as it makes its way to these water sources.
* Composting Makes Our Oceans Cleaner! All water gradually makes its way to oceans. Compost’s ability to filter water as it penetrates the ground means that the water flowing into the ocean will be cleaner. One of the biggest oceanic pollutants are the nonorganic fertilizers and poisonous chemicals used in farming and gardening.
* Compost reduces erosion of topsoil and “living soil” (that is, soil with compost added to it). One-third of Earth’s farmland has been lost within the last 40 years due to erosion and pollution. Erosion is caused by excess water that is not able to penetrate the ground. Water consequently collects and pools on the surface and rushes down to lower elevations, taking the topsoil with it and depleting the agricultural land. Compost can serve as a sponge and permits much more water to filter down through the ground – thus preserving the topsoil.
* When food waste rots in landfills, it releases methane and carbon dioxide. Organic matter dumped in landfills is the third largest form of methane emission resulting from humans. Composting decomposes our food waste without producing methane emission into the atmosphere.
* Compost reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To retain microbes in our “living soil,” plant roots will release carbohydrates from their roots to both attract and feed the microbes under the soil. Plants siphon CO2 (carbon dioxide) from the air, absorb water through their roots, and via the science of photosynthesis, turn carbon dioxide into carbohydrates (sugars)! The sugars combined with the microbes that consume them produce humus — a part of the living soil that gives soil its structure, nutrients, and moisture. Humus is largely credited for keeping carbon dioxide beneath the soil.
* Composting saves you money! The average household wastes about $2,200 dollars’ worth of food yearly. When we compost at home, we notice how much food and money we throw away. With this awareness we can buy less and save money; or use the money we have been carelessly wasting to feed the hungry in our communities!
* Composting can create millions of jobs! Advocate in your communities for compost pick up (the same as trash or recycling pick up). When this is successfully accomplished, many people can have good paying jobs while at the same time preserving the health of our local environment!
There are so many wonderful reasons and benefits when it comes to urban composting, they simply cannot be listed exhaustively here in one blog.
Doing an online search or visiting a library is a great way to learn more and to heal the Earth if the topic interests you; or if you need further convincing to get started.
Please stay tuned for my August 2021 Blog delineating “cleaner” ways to compost in small spaces (like indoor apartments or urban homes with little or no green space).
We can make this planet Heaven on Earth. But we must have God’s grace, put in personal effort, and be aware of how our personal positive composting habits can make a big difference!