Gardening with Balanced Awareness
There are many wonderful places where one can learn the various
methods for organic gardening. The garden internship I offer at
Karmê Chöling, not only focuses on the methods and
techniques-the nuts and bolts of organic gardening-but also
emphasizes strengthening our mind-body through yoga, meditation,
and an opportunity to study Buddhism.
With yoga and meditation, we familiarize ourselves with our body
and mind on a much deeper level than we can access ordinarily.
Through meditation we can discover that the ideal "me"
does not exist and will never exist. We come to accept ourselves
for who and what we are, which is the starting ground for our inner
As part of strengthening mind-body, I encourage interns to spend
approximately two one-hour meditation sessions per day in group
sittings with the Karmê Chöling community. Each intern
can also meet with a meditation instructor on a regular basis to
Interns also have the opportunity to engage in two forms of
yoga. The first is called lujong. It is a form of twelve movements
drawn from Tibetan yogic practices. The second is Shamatha Yoga,
which uses ten movements to relax and create flexibility in the
Ongoing classes in Buddhism provide a conceptual framework for
our journey of wakeful living.
Similar to meditation and yoga, gardening success begins with
fully accepting our garden site and establishing a proper
relationship to dralas, or energies, in our mind-body and in the
environment. Even the most fertile soils in a mild climate will not
be devoid of problems and challenges. Nor will poor soil in a harsh
climate prevent success, as the famous Findhorn garden in Scotland
In a world where we are moving and changing at an ever-faster
pace, where many people choose "sound bites" over depth
of understanding, and efficiency over quality of life, cultivating
a small garden may form a welcome refuge that allows us to become
responsive to the rhythms of the natural world and unveil a world
of ordinary magic and penetrating brilliance.
Selected Topics of Interest Offered in the
One of the most complex and fundamental areas of study in organic
gardening is soil. At least as far back as 200 A.D., the Romans
appreciated soil fertility well enough to recommend crop rotation,
liming acid soils, adding manure, and growing legumes, which fix
atmospheric nitrogen, converting it to useable nitrates. In the
late-19th century, chemical fertilizers were introduced, making
farming more efficient and productive, but also inviting a host of
problems, including humus depletion, soil erosion, water pollution,
and a dramatic increase of pest insects. After WWII, the
introduction of herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides brought
another wave of increased production, but caused further
environmental damage and severely strained the relationship between
human beings and planet earth.
Organic agricultural research and observation over the past half
century has steadily deepened our knowledge and understanding of
the exquisitely subtle processes that lie at the base of a healthy
(i.e., biologically active) soil.
In the internship, I will present the view of garden topsoil as
a complex wilderness where an incredible diversity of organisms
make up the (so-called) "soil food web." These range in
size from one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa to the
more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods to visible earthworms,
insects, small vertebrates and plants. All these organisms eat,
grow, and move through the soil. They make it possible to have
clean water, clean air, healthy plants, and moderated water
Following that, we will look at the various ways to improve soil
fertility through the use of compost, mulch, cover crops,
irrigation, and other cultural methods.
If you want to get an idea of the natural fertility of the earth,
go for a walk in the woods and look at the giant trees that grow
without fertilizer, without cultivation. So why go through the
trouble of making compost?
" First of all, through harvesting vegetables, we take
nutrients from the soil that need to be replenished.
" Second, we already have vegetable scraps from our kitchen
(which when they end up in landfills cause air pollution) and weeds
we collected from the garden.
" Most important, the positive qualities of well-aged compost
make it the unequaled garden elixir: it improves soil structure and
moisture retention; it can build humus which increases microbial
activity that allows for the gradual return of nutrients to the
soil; and it can be helpful in the prevention of bacterial and
In the internship we will look at compost ingredients and
composting methods, and you will have a chance to build and turn a
compost pile or two.
From Compost to Compost Tea
A recent development in organic gardening is the use of aerobic
compost tea. What has been discovered is that under aerobic
conditions only beneficial bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa
grow. Yippee! When this tea is sprayed over plants or trees, it
prevents the onset of bacterial and fungal diseases. When used as a
soil drench, it activates and rejuvenates a troubled soil.
Water and Irrigation
Too much or too little water has probably caused more failure in
the vegetable garden than any other growing condition. For the
beginning gardener, how to water properly is often one of the most
challenging things to learn, much less truly understand. When? How
often? How much? How? Rules and advice on watering techniques are
often contradictory. In the water and irrigation class of the
internship, we will look at why different soils and crops have
different watering preferences and which irrigation techniques work
Starting from Seed
Starting plants from seed is usually marked by an interesting mix
of great expectation and deep uncertainty about the outcome. This
is especially true when one's livelihood or personal pride are
involved. In many traditional cultures, before any seeds are sown,
fertility rituals are performed to ask permission and blessings
from gods or certain invisible forces. In the internship, we will
take a detailed look at all the factors involved with successful
Pest and Disease Management
Similar to the health and vitality of our human body, the organic
gardener's approach towards pests (from insects to deer) and
diseases (fungal, viral and bacterial) is based on prevention and
minimal impact natural deterrents. In a healthy garden soil,
beneficial organisms will easily outnumber the pathogenic ones.
Plants grown in soils with optimum fertility have shown significant
lower levels of pest damage. These soils help to increase the
natural resistance of plants and foster a rapid increase in the
number of natural predators (e.g., lady bugs, lacewings, and
toads). In the internship we will look at cultural methods such as
garden hygiene, crop rotation, shallow soil cultivation, floating
row covers, and the use of compost and compost tea as our main
strategy for organic pest management.
We will also discuss the use of organically permitted
insecticides against a background, on the one hand, of the Buddhist
ethic of not killing and, on the other hand, our obligation as
gardeners and farmers to feed the human community.
Garden Design and Planning
When you step into a diverse and well-designed garden, you might
first experience a moment of awe and relaxation. But if you start
thinking about the work and planning it took, you might risk
becoming intimidated or discouraged. To find simple enjoyment as
well as satisfying results, the apprentice gardener (all of us!)
will benefit from a good garden design and a clear sense of where
to begin. In the garden design class, each participant will create
their own garden on paper, and learn the steps/aspects to consider,
(1) Site choice
(2) Climate/weather extremes
(3) Budget and
(4) Flower, herb, fruit, and vegetable components.
In the garden planning class, we will examine crop rotation and
The Karmê Chöling Garden
The Karmê Chöling garden is about an acre in size. Along
the walkways and corners of the garden are large flowerbeds to
provide diversity and for use in flower arrangements. Interspersed
with the vegetables are a number of kitchen and medicinal herb
beds. Vegetable produce from the garden supplies the Karmê Chö
kitchen for approximately six months of the year as well as
community supported agriculture (CSA) shares for 22 families in the
This coming year, we will start a large asparagus section plus a
blueberry and raspberry corner. During the summer we will build a
Is This Internship For You?
The program is especially designed for beginning and intermediate
gardeners who want to learn or expand their gardening skills at an
active Shambhala Buddhist community. You are, however, welcome to
come for an outdoor garden experience of a few weeks or months,
combined with yoga and meditation. Garden classes are optional.
The full series of classes lasts ten weeks, which is repeated
three times from spring to autumn. A binder with articles for each
class can be purchased for $25. Participants who choose to stay
longer than ten weeks, will not repeat the same material but will
receive more in-depth materials to study. The internship leaves
ample time for walks in the woods, writing, photography, artwork,
or more intensive meditation practice.
Please feel free to call or email me if you have any questions.
Or for more information, you can also read the interview with me on
Chöling program web site.