Like any seed planted in dormancy, no one knows which one live.
Each time I work in the garden, I’m walking on faith.
My garden is faith in what I cannot see.
In May 2015 I went to a Mindfulness Meditation retreat in the tradition of Community of Mindful Living, where I was reunited with old friends and made some new ones. The road to Ukiah was a long one, as it led to the journey within, to an interior of long-untouched places. There were many surprises, many unexpected openings, and even more healing and flowering of possibilities. Among my awakenings, I learned to care for my inner child with both historic tenderness and fierce protectiveness, both long overdue for my little girl. In the fertile ground of introspective work born of being thrown into close proximity with many people, the idea of equanimity both challenged and unfurled in me, holding my attention as I grappled with the realities of the concept as it applies to my emotional, physical and mental bodies. The question arose in me, What is it to make room for the other, the beloved?
I borrow from Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s book, Embracing the Beloved, for their work of naming the conscious relationships that can unfold and are encompassed when one allows for and embraces the “beloved”. They write that the “Other is the basis of every cruelty, all bigotry and war” for it is a practice that permits us to dis-identify as connected, a state wherein we are “nonfamily, nonfriend, nonrelationship, nonhuman, nonfeeling.” Indeed, these are all the many ways we separate ourselves. We can see this behavior and thinking everywhere. It is the most terrible disease of our modern times. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into this casual Othering and judging. For one, I am the Other, and two, the Beloved is me. The Beloved is all of us, our neighbors and those we don’t wish to hold close or dear: The shooter and the shot. We cannot chose. We must hold all in our center. That is equanimity.
As I breathe into this new-found understanding, I touch hesitation and resistance, discomfort and relief. When we hold the Beloved, the precious one, we hold ourselves all the more tenderly: Our adorable screaming infants, as well as our well-behaved and compliant studious children, held with the same love. We don’t get to choose any more than we select our skin color, birth order or origins. When I get angry, I aim for a smaller tilt and less unraveling. I come back to myself with purpose.
The mindfulness retreat was a place to practice all the things I’ve been studying in Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies for six months. With most of the day spent in silence, the focus turned naturally inward. I found myself utterly depleted after Dharma talks, crying uncontrollably after meditation, enraged by a benign comment. Could I really be carrying all that unclaimed emotion around with me? Yes. In fact, I have been moving in the world, unconsciously acting on a lifetime of unacknowledged feelings, sensations and urges. When feelings are not taken care of properly, they act out on our physical and mental bodies. They will be heard. They will kick, scratch, ache and strain to be seen. By opening the door and committing to my whole self, experienced in the full breadth of my existence on earth, I have felt more than I ever imagined. Part of my work was also attending to my needs: To cry and be held; To laugh and share joy; To risk shame; To open and be rejected; To stand firm in my own convictions. I had no idea of the degree of capaciousness in me, that I could feel so much and not explode, and I found myself alive like a newborn star, delicate, bright, precious.
This process is not surprising to me, since as the years pass, I’m more inclined to look for and invent the path of least resistance. That is not to say that I’m afraid of conflict and confrontation, for I’m learning to deal with both, as they arise, with skillfulness and tact though it is not and has not been easy, and they will doubtless continue to instruct and inform me as firm and loving teachers. Still I look within and without for solutions to the habitual patterns, some destructive, some not, that have kept me from growing spiritually and emotionally, and these are surely the treasure troves of my own renewal.
Even before leaving home for the retreat, some calcified, implacable obstinacy in me had already begun to give way. Perhaps tired of the hunting, I had asked Hal to construct some cages from chicken wire we had in the garage. I had the idea to bury the cages to protect the dahlia bulbs and the broccoli roots in the garden, favorites of the gophers, who seemed to have voracious appetites and greedy spirits for my own favorites. As I returned home to my full self, the container of violence in me seemed to crack open, if only a hairline. I saw the chicken wire as protecting the gophers from me, from my need to control and contain the order of the universe represented as my garden, according to my plans. The chicken wire, then, has become the symbol for my own countermovement away from fighting toward boundaries that allow and invite. After all, what is an organic garden for if the gophers cannot roam there as well? Why has so much hate and violence been activated in me and directed to a creature whose own natural habitat I have cultivated with rare and delicious delicacies?
Through meditation and the observation of the land and my own habitual reactions, my own vigilance and anger have subsided, and I have begun to see fewer signs of the gophers’ presence though they’re clearly still in residence. The furious hiding, tunneling and unearthing seemed to have quelled into a gentle, beneficial tilling of earth and dirt. With less resistance, I have found that our gophers have eased up on their devouring, ravishing hunger and have become the tunneling resident foragers they’re meant to be. Could this all be my imagination? I don’t think so. I hope not. Hal now puts in shallower cages as we consider the needs of vegetable roots. There’s enough here, a whispering says.
I’ve stopped worrying that the dahlias will be eaten or that the blueberry bushes will disappear one morning. This is life, the very reason I garden, to witness the cycles of life up close, participating in the dance of seasons with the Beloved.
In California, three years of bone-dry, rainless weather are making many of us start to think outside the box. Harvesting greywater is not something most of think of doing. In fact, in this country, we’ve had the luxury of flushing clean, potable water down the toilet for decades now. But, things are beginning to change as more areas experience drought, fire, flooding and other drastic climate change. My latest practices are motivated by my love for my edible garden. So in addition to the many small changes we’ve made this year—simple things like replacing all the faucet and shower heads with low-pressure ones and reducing the number showers we take by half or better—we now keep a 4-gallon bucket in the shower.
This is how to make a bucket work for you. If you run the water to let it warm up before showering, collect that first cold flow directly into the bucket. When the water warms, start the shower and stand in the bucket. Once you’re wet, I recommend you shut the water off while you soap up. Rinse off, and collect a bit more in the process.
When you see the bucket quickly fill with the run off, it inspires you to shorten those showers. After all, the goal is not to fill the bucket, but to see what might have otherwise been wasted. Some of the unexpected benefits of bringing a bucket into the shower are:
After the shower, we cart the bucket to the garden, where we use it to water our vegetables first, and the extra goes to any flowering plants. When you do this, a new mindfulness takes hold, and the garden is happier; I can breathe easier, too, knowing that I’m doing all I can to conserve this precious resource.
You may want to check out other ways to harvest greywater: http://greywateraction.org/greywater-recycling
Hello, all you fresh-vegetable lovers. This message is for you. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s definitely not too late to grow your own greens. This includes collards, kale and broccoli, known as the Brassica—the mustard family. In fact it might be an excellent time to start them, since when it cools down around here, these veggies thrive and the white moths that obliterate them during the summer months seem to disappear altogether.
To start, get yourself some organic seeds at a plant shop or supermarket. I recommend you start the sprouts on a sunny windowsill and transplant them outside once you have a true leaf or two. You can put them in the ground or in a planter box with some organic fertilizer and organic chicken or steer manure. Don’t worry about the foggy weather; these guys love it. You’ll be eating fresh broccoli in about six-to-eight weeks. You could be ready to serve them by Thanksgiving. Imagine that!
I almost forgot: Brassica includes delicious homegrown cauliflower. It’s the best when it goes straight from garden to table. Come to think of it, it’s the only way I really like cauliflower. It’s gotta be fresh.
Let me know how it goes, please.
Everything I learned about grapes, I learned during my visit to Stonebridge Farm in Colorado, where the viticulture is a force of empowerment and a return to the grow-your-own values of self-reliance and sustainability. Even though I know a bit more than I did when I first put my grapevine in pot, I just mostly like eating out of my garden, so I’m also game to learn all I can about how things work. Before I knew what I didn’t know, I put the grapevine on the front walk. The benefits of this are that I can see it as I come and go and give it attention and water as needed. Plus, it gets full sun for most of the day, while still enjoying the relative shelter of the house, which protects it from wind and inclement weather. What a rush it’s been to see the vine reach up toward the sky like an Olympic champion with her arm held up in triumph. This is the kind crazy wonderfulness that I want to live with every day.
Our new grapevine is productive and healthy. She grows quickly, but the shape is wrong at least in my mind. (By the way, most producing plants are female to me, just as all cats are female and all dogs males. That’s just how it is for me. Isn’t it the same for everyone?) I’m thinking about how to prune and train her. We have time to work on these things next year once she’s in the ground.
I found out from Farmer John that because we don’t add hormones, something that is often done to enlarge commercial grapes, they have a thin, delicate skin, which breaks open with the slightest pressure, releasing their sticky-sweet syrup for a finger-licking delight. They’re simply delicious, but there’s no way they’d make it to market. We had only one cluster to sample this year, but the future seems promising. Our plan is to plant the vine in a sunny spot this fall and let the monsoon do its work.
So, the plan is, ahem, rain this fall. (Hope someone out there is listening.)
Grapes are just another of the pleasures of urban farming. Soon I’ll be able to add them to the menu when Hal asks, “What’s for dinner?” I can always say, “There are plenty of greens and grapes in the back.” Today there’s mostly a lot of curly and dinosaur kale and collards, but that’s food. The new lettuce is in, and it’s tender and delicious. Next year we might have grapes to go with our blackberries and the new bed of strawberries we put down. Really, you don’t know what you’ll get until you try.
Here’s a little peek at grapes growing at Stonebridge Farm in Colorado:
By now it’s clear that every seed that we put into the ground is a grand experiment. So too is the question of what will grow in our micro-climate. One, albeit gorgeous, cucumber is simply not a harvest. As we test and shrug off false starts, we learn what we don’t know about our ecosystem. We listen and try to respond to the soil, the weather and the plant’s energy. Among this year’s unforeseen treasures are our tomatoes, which have us nodding with pleasure and delight.
Tomatoes, a plant we fully expected to fail, are not only thriving but are proving to be extremely prolific, prompting us to go out and buy tomato cages late in the growing season. This year we planted only Black Krim and Speckled Roma—both hearty and tasty heirloom varieties. Here’s what we’ve observed about growing these beauties so far:
While we still have a few weeks to go before we’re eating tomatoes in earnest, it’s already obvious we’ll need to share, can and eat them daily—and we only have five plants in the ground . Remarkably this hot, dry San Francisco summer has given us an unexpected bumper crop. What’s more, our two potted plants are prospering despite relative neglect, producing two small tomatoes by the front door, a cheery reminder of what gardening is all about.
This month we have uncharacteristically hot weather after a particularly dry and warm winter season. This means that the garden is a riot of purple and burgundy exploding pea bushes, passionflowers and curly kale. We’re taking out a large colander and collecting vegetables for the table every day. This unexpected bounty feels overwhelming at times, almost like too much. That’s why we share.
I nip a bag of lettuce and throw in kale and broccoli as toppers and give that to a colleague. We eat salad and greens in the same meal. We juice enormous cauliflower leaves before they turn brown and make green smoothies with store-bought fruit. The blueberries are a pluck-and-eat treat, since it’s us or the birds for those jewels.
Even with all the giving and eating, there are times when it feels as if we’ve just got too much, but my heart tells me, Waste Nothing. I lop off the onion flowers low to the bulbs. They’re nearly three-feet long. I decide this unusual seedpod will look very nice in a bouquet of flowers. The compost bin is temporary lighter as we sit around admiring crazy onion flowers that I never even new existed before.
Now, what to do with all those peas?
Remember Plaster of Paris? Gosh, I sure do. I remember a fifth-grade art-class project in which we mixed the plaster powder with water and filled our molds to make three-dimensional reliefs of our choice of animal. I made a butterfly, which had a great big air-bubble dimple on its wing caused by air trapped on the bottom of the mold. I didn’t care a bit. I painted that butterfly, wrote my name on the back of it, and took it home to perch on a windowsill. I was thrilled with my creation. Recently I shared this experience with some girls from my community. What started with a little paint and plaster ended with dancing and laughing.
Even though it may seem like a simple thing, mixing plaster can be a challenge. Things can go wrong; the mix can harden quickly on a warm day, or it might never dry. The oldest of my guests, a sixteen-year-old, mixed the plaster with some hesitancy after reading the instructions while the younger girls worked on painting the casts I had poured earlier in the day. As she worked, the plaster alternated between being too thin and too thick before it clumped up, and then when we added more water, it liquefied, but only in places. We were only able to get one viable cast from the mix. As I observed Kea, she was just a little afraid to get her fingers dirty and quite tentative about pouring the thick goop into the mold. “Don’t worry,” I said, “Dive in. Use a rag if your hands get dirty.” She grew slightly more emboldened yet remained guarded. I mentioned that the plaster could also be used to repair a hole in a wall, to which she nodded casually. Of course, being competent is important for a person her age. I wanted to let Kea have dignity, while gently letting her know that making mistakes is only natural when you’re doing something for the first time. I’m not sure she believed me, but she walked away visibly relieved that our time was over. As the oldest girl, I knew I had to let her take the lead with the others in an activity. She had to be in charge.
When Kea rejoined the younger girls, the plaster painting was winding down, and the youngest ones were getting extra silly mixing paint colors for fun. The signal that the activity was over registered, and I began to direct the girls to clean up their areas before heading down to the garage for planting seed starts.
In the garage, I gave each girl a small tray with six cups that I had set out earlier. I showed them how to fill the tray with soil from a large orange bucket that contained potting mix. After the demonstration, I put Lea in charge of managing the soil distribution while I gathered the seed packets from my special gardening drawer. She lined them up by age and had the job done by the time I got back with the seeds. The magic started when I read of the seed choices. Each girl got excited over different seeds. They were sweet and eager and tender with the tiny seeds. I made sure they each took a good look at all the seeds to see just how different a bean seed is from a collard and tomato. They were impressed and focused on the task of planting and observing. They covered the seeds with a light layer of soil and watered them. After labeling their trays, we headed out to the garden so they could see what their seeds would look like in a few weeks with sunlight, care and attention.
In the garden, the second-oldest girl, nine-year-old Kia, was ecstatic. She ate raw broccoli and snow peas and poked her nose into every bush. She was fearless and clearly a naturalist. In the garden older brother and father to Kendall, Eli, who had been weeding and sowing with Hal, watched over the brood and his five-year-old daughter with tenderness. After showing them how to plant garlic cloves, we gave the girls garlic and let them plant them wherever they wanted. Soon Kendall grew jittery with the awareness of the terrifying bugs in the garden and had to retreat to the safety of the house. Lila, on the other hand, was instructing the older girls on how to identify onions and garlic. She’s finally comfortable in the garden. After some pictures, we headed inside for refreshments, followed by show and tell. Big smiles and good-natured teasing flavored the early evening.
In reality, an art project is just an excuse to fill our house with the noises and laughter of children. The girls showed off their art projects while we ate snacks and cranked up the stereo. We laughed at our own foibles and teased each other over our eccentricities. We found the easy place between newness and trust and found we liked what we discovered.
Managing the ecosystem in the garden is one of the biggest jobs for an organic gardener. Too much of anything can mean disaster. The rhythm of the garden commands respect and patience. I mostly serving at the whims of the seasons and try to balance the conditions and needs of the plants with the weather and pest control. Gardening is my time to slow down, a respite from computers, phones and any stress. I retreat into the land, and it holds me steady.
I love to watch bumblebees at home in my garden. They let me know exactly where they are with a nice loud buzz that must be a greeting. I respond with a hearty “Good Morning, Ma’am Bombus. How do you do?” To which I normally get told what area is off limits to me for whatever activity is on my task list. I’ve planted small beds of the bees’ favorite flowers here and there to keep them happy after the lavender is harvested and the blueberries are ripe. This is an opportunity to extend community to my flying insect pals. I work in a different spot from my bee friend in deference to her earlier arrival, chatting amicably all the while. I’m teaching my eight-year-old helper not to run and scream when she sees one, but to say a greeting and watch her skillful work. It’s working. She’s learning not to respond to sighting them with blood-curdling screams. Instead, she now greets them nicely if cautiously. I have to laugh because I was exactly the same way when I was eight.
This week’s big job is hacking back the Mexican Sage, which is prolific and unplanned. It creeps in from under the fence of my neighbor’s yard. It’s not native but the humming birds love it, and I cannot do without their charming presence so I care for the sage as if I had planted it myself. I’m removing the woody dead branches and the spent flowers with mildew tops so that the new growth can be unencumbered by the old. I’m sure the aesthetics of the landscape pleases the birds and bees alike. We are all in good company as the rain promises to see us into an early spring.
While weeding the vegetable beds and I notice two healthy broccoli plants are floppy and wilted. After a careful inspection, I notice the mouth of a burrow that connects where each plant previously stood tall and fertile and the tenderly nibbled roots. This critter wants shelter from the resident hawk, that’s obvious. It also likes to eat well. But if he takes out any more healthy plants, I’ll offer him up to Madam Hawk myself! Who is this new fellow? I ask myself, and How do I make friends? I imagine a plot of carrots secretly devoured and my heart sinks. I’ve got to find a solution quickly! This week I will plant some garlic next to the Broccoli because I heard from a friend that gophers hate garlic. I’m schedule for a Saturday seminar on gopher control, and in the meantime I’ve scooped out a few healthy spoonfuls of cayenne pepper into all the holes I could find. I’m not sure that will work either, but most critters are not running around munching chili peppers for fun. I’m desperate, people, and I don’t want to hurt the gopher, but I do want to eat my broccoli myself! Wah!
Since the rains have started, I’ve noticed some mildew or rot on some of the blueberry branches. I don’t know what this means, but I’m on high alert. So much of Gardening is waiting and responding to nature. My life has become bound to the cycle of growth in the garden, and an interdependency has formed between us. We need each other to survive. I cannot let a day go by without connecting in some small way.
It may be surprising that I love to garden since I have been a city-dweller since birth. Somehow I cultivated this passion on a Canadian farm in Quebec during my teenage years and later as various friends or family members had gardens, I’d throw my heart into the work and get my fingernails caked with dirt. So it shouldn’t be shocking that when we finally found our home in San Francisco, I couldn’t wait to break open the concrete laminating the outdoor space surrounding our house and plant some seeds.
From the start, hours of autumn harvesting the hardy blackberries growing from the cracks in the concrete gave me great pleasure. As blackberries are indigenous to our hillside, they seemed to multiple with every trimming, and we were feeding the neighborhood blackberry cobblers, muffins or baskets of ripe, sweet berries. I soon wanted more vegetation that I could take ownership of and have pride in. That’s when I learned the limitations of my new micro-climate.
|It’s important to mention I live in the fog belt of San Francisco. During the summer months we go weeks without sunshine. In fact, we routinely don’t see the sun between June and September. It tends to be balmy, windy and chilly in the Oceanview. On occasion, the early-morning fog is so thick that we can’t see the houses across the street. It’s no wonder then, that last year my sweet peas didn’t flower, my lavender didn’t root and that my basil rotted on the stem, not to mention my withered broccoli or my stunted peppermint. All of this not withstanding, I remain as of yet, undeterred, especially as I have a new tool in my tote.
Tending to my garden feeds and nurtures my soul. As early spring found me ill and unable to socialize and the long winter began to recede, I was totally ready to get back to my little potted garden. Pulling weeds, planting, beautifying, trimming and cleaning are invigorating. I observed as I repotted that several plants from last year never matured. I spruced, swept and watered. Then, I sat down to give each plant a Reiki treatment. The results have been extraordinary.
|After my impromptu experiment, I read that one should always give Reiki energy to the roots of the plant first and foremost. My approach lacked balance. Apparently, it is possible to overdo it. I found that the plant that was flowering really couldn’t tolerate that much fruit. It might hurt the tree in the long run.
On the other hand, the tree that was almost dead was able to communicate with me about its needs. I understood that it needed a bigger pot and better soil drainage. The plants are teaching me to be a better gardener.
As in all things, we have to let ourselves make mistakes. Even though I felt I had hurt the apple tree with the flood of energy, I could see that with my careful attention and focus on the plant, I could help strengthen the roots and meet her needs by listening carefully. I also sang to the tree, giving her permission to slow down the growth. The leaves have since filled out nicely, growing darker and broader.
The beets that I planted last year are an entirely different challenge. I may need to start over.