Reflection From the Garden

June 15, 2009 by Paris
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gardenParis Marshall Smith arrived at the Ashram in May to take on the management of our organic gardens. She lets us into a world of soil, senses, careful attention, and the cultivation of balance. She also shares an excellent recipe for organic fertilizer! Read on for inspiration both subtle and practical.

A year ago, shortly before dying, my grandmother appealed to me to pay attention to the soil. She stated emphatically, “It is all we have”.

This summer while I work in the ashram garden, I am privileged to have the opportunity to pay attention as I embark on an adventure of growing food and community. Now one month here, much of the focus – as we have been busy planting seeds and starts – has been to prepare the soil and build a strong foundation for abundant growth this year and in future years.

The basic premise from which I am working is that healthy soils grow healthy food. Without vibrant and robust living soil ecologies, we are limiting our capacity to feed ourselves and support the systems that sustain us.

I am learning that one part of paying attention requires increasing my awareness through inquiry. What is the soil saying? Who lives here? What is growing, what is not, what are the colors, textures, tastes and smells? Like the body garden, what does this land reveal… spots of tension, areas of openness?

With my senses open, I find myself in another lesson – trying to maintain the balance between keeping my awareness in the moment and pulling in the lessons of past. I try to listen while also drawing in experience from other gardens, past teachers, the notes of previous ashram gardeners, my mentor Satya, and the writings of 2 great gardeners – Wendy Johnson & Steve Solomon. I am new to this land, engaging in a relationship that requires the use of all my senses and calls on my willingness to take time. It beckons me to pause, breathe and look closely.

tomatoe

What is there?

The ashram garden soil is very sandy with some spots of clay where it was once a marshy bog. Remembering that the soil is a living entity, I want to build up the soil structure, or its heart, which will enhance its ability to hold water and breathe (maintain pockets of air), and so I will add organic matter – steer manure and our kitchen compost. In addition, I want to support the nutritional content by integrating green manures, the addition of a balanced fertilizer (see recipe below) and regular feeds of manure & comfrey teas. We are also experimenting with different tillage and planting strategies – between the practice of plowing, sheet mulching, no-till, rows, mounds, less intense, more intense … the list goes on.

For me, another part of paying attention has been to watch as the dynamics of this relationship emerge and messages regarding the nature of partnership and trust come forward. At this stage I see my role as creating the most hospitable and nurturing conditions (good food, adequate water, comfortable & spacious beds, protection from competition) and then stepping back. Often feeling like an overprotective mother, it is for me a process (and at times a great struggle) of digging in and surrendering, holding and releasing. And I am learning that the trust is not only in the Divine but also in me – that I have done my best to respond with awareness to this moment.

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Steve Solomon’s Certified Organic Fertilizer (COF)

All measurements are in terms of volume, not weight.

3 parts seed meal
1 part agricultural lime
1 part dolomite lime
½ part bone meal –or– 1 part soft rock phosphate
½ part kelp meal

Additional resources
Johnson, Wendy. Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate – At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World. Bantam Books, 2008
Solomon, Steve. Gardening When it Counts – Growing Food in Hard Times. New Society Publishers, 2005
Click here for the Soil And Health Library



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  1. Thanks Paris. Reminds me that there is always room for innovation/re-creation through attention and research: inspiring!

    Comment by lise — June 16, 2009 @ 6:51 am

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