The skin is the largest organ of the human body, protecting us from the outside world and eliminating toxins from the body. We also absorb external substances through our skin. So what if the clothing we wear, which touches the skin all day, could help us feel healthy, well, and balanced? Can cloth carry medicinal properties? Did you know this is possible through the practice of Ayurvastra, an ancient spiritual science of dyeing textiles with medicinal herbs?
Ayurvastra is a Sanskrit term. “Ayur” means health and “vastra” means cloth, so the term translates to “healthy cloth.” This is a branch of Ayurveda (the science of life and longevity) stretching back 5,000 years.
Medicinal clothing as a means to protect and heal is a practice described in the Rigveda, a sacred Hindu text first composed in written form around 1,500 BC. Various Ayurvedic works state that even 100 years ago, many people in various parts of India were still practicing natural dyeing, repeatedly dipping their clothing in herb-based washes. In some parts of South India such as Kerala (where Amma’s ashram is), Ayurvedic, herbal-dyed cloths are still used to carry a newborn child. These special cloths have antibacterial qualities.
The creation of Ayurvastra clothing is precisely controlled. One hundred percent organic cotton is hand-loomed with no processing or additives. The fibers must be biodegradable and spun with no chemical finishes. To create subtle, yet beautiful colors, the all-natural cotton or yarn is bleached with a cow urine-based preparation which has great medicinal value. After the fabric is dried in direct sunlight, a gumming substance is applied, which contains extracts of plants such as aloe vera and camphor. The fabric is then cooked for several hours in “kashaya,” a concoction containing up to 60 medicinal herbs, plants, flowers, roots, barks and oils, all specifically selected for their wellness benefits. The fabric is left to dry for three days and then cured for 15 days, allowing the kashaya to settle into the fabric. It is then washed and dried in the shade and allowed to mature for another 15 days. The entire process is organic and environmentally friendly.
Traditionally, people used herbal-dyed cloths to boost immunity, and also to treat specific illnesses like arthritis, skin disorders, and diabetes. For diabetes, the herbal dye might include the “touch-me-not” flower, cumin seeds, champa flowers, and shoe flowers. An herbal dye for arthritis would be prepared with curry leaves; for skin diseases, turmeric, neem, and sandalwood would be combined to create the dye.
Ayurvastra differs significantly from modern textile dyeing — which is typically only for color, with no thought of medicinal value and no concern for the environmental damages created by the dyeing process. In fact, it is estimated that 20% of global clean water pollution comes from dyeing and finishing during textile production.
Ayurvastra differs from modern dyeing because in today’s age we dye for the color, but here in Ayurvastra they treat the garment for the wellness benefits, not so much to obtain a specific color.
By contrast, Ayurvastra not only benefits humanity, it is in every way honoring nature. This beautiful art form, embedded in the rich culture of India, is a practice of living harmoniously with the environment.
We hope you can join us in The Art of Natural Plant Dyeing course, offered with love from Amrita Virtual Academy. It was filmed from our special Saraswati garden in Amritapuri where we do natural plant dyeing year-round.
With a heart full of gratitude, I would like to share my journey into natural dyeing with you. I have been doing seva (selfless service) in the textile department in Amritapuri since 2012. Natural dyeing came to me and opened up a world of beauty and wonder. Growing our own plants helped me deepen my connection with the land and return to my ancient roots and a love for the earth. Rejoining with this cycle of life—from seeding, to tending, to harvesting, to dyeing, to stitching and finally, to wearing—reminds us how we once lived and can live again.
Dyeing with plants is an incredible art form. It’s a way to put forth our love and efforts to restore harmony back to the earth. We see that any small effort made to help to reduce the effects of pollution in the world today can go a long way. This is a devotional, creative approach to natural dyeing, with the hope of using it as a sadhana to deepen our bond to the divine.
Amrita Virtual Academy will be offering a series of classes on dyeing with medicinal plants from our garden, herbs, flowers and plants that we have grown here in Saraswati Garden, in Amma’s Ashram here in Amritapuri. We have been growing bamboo, tulsi, aloe vera, neem, turmeric, rudraksha leaves, henna, and we have other herbs and spices, nonni roots, flowers that give us natural color. We have kitchen scraps that you can also dye with that I will be teaching you, like onion peels.You will learn techniques for dyeing other garments in cotton and silk; and you can also explore your own creative ideas with natural dyeing. I’ll also be offering different techniques such as flower bundles, eco-printing, and the basics in block printing. This is a beautiful experience and I am looking forward to sharing it with you.
“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.
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!
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!