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 journey.

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 clarify questions.

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 body.

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 shows.

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 Internship:

Soil Fertility
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 flow.

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 fungal diseases.

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 best.

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 germination.

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, which include:
(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 seed ordering.

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 local area.

This coming year, we will start a large asparagus section plus a blueberry and raspberry corner. During the summer we will build a second greenhouse.

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 the Karmê Chöling program web site.


Blue Skies Guesthouse
136 Church Street
Barnet, VT 05821
(802) 633-2320

For registration, please contact Karmê Chöling:
Phone: (802) 633-2384