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
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:
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
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
" 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
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 Karme Choling 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.