Gardening

Growing vegetables, herbs, etc. in a small urban space

Roasted Vegetables (and getting ready for vacation)

Yesterday morning, when I was starting to pack to leave for Oregon today, the most critical elements for getting ready (after making sure I had my wallet, camera, and some yoga clothes in a suitcase) were to water the garden well, pull some weeds, pick ripe vegetables, and cook.

I’d given away some produce a couple of days ago, but still had eggplants, peppers, tomatoes from the garden and half an onion from something I had cooked earlier in the week.

I cut everything in half, slathered it in olive oil, sprinkled the vegetables with coarsely ground pepper Himalayan pink salt and put it into the toaster/convection oven (my favorite kitchen appliance).  The vegetables roasted while I was doing other chores.  Now, on my return, I will be able pull from the freezer ingredients for a wonderful pasta sauce.

As much as I am looking forward to a week of yoga and exploration, I’ll be delighted to come back to garden and my own kitchen.  It is almost time to start planting greens, beets, and turnips for fall.

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Tomato Blight (and the web of life)

One of the conjectured reasons for the amazingly quick spread of tomato blight in the northeast this year (besides the crazy weather) is the upsurge in home gardeners.  It is wonderful that so many people are growing their own tomatoes.  If they buy the plants from a “big box” retailer — a retailer that gives less care and attention to the quality and health of the plants and more to easy shipping and cheap prices — then the new plants entering the eco-system are more likely harbingers of disease.

When we do anything, we have to be conscious of how it fits in with the world as a whole.  From seed to meal, how we get our food impacts ourselves and our health.  I am lucky so far with my tomato plants.  I bought seedlings from local, organic farmers.  I am checking them every few days for signs of blight.  My harvest has been delicious and abundent.

In reading about the blight, I am painfully reminded that what we eat impacts the earth, the animal and plant life that was displaced for the growth of food, the humans that labored to bring it to our table.  What we choose to eat, over our life, can dramatically shift our life physically, energetically, and emotionally.

Don’t forego homegrown tomatoes and other easy to grow urban foodstuff, but be careful about where you buy it, how you tend it, and understand that you have entered into the agricultural network.

As Chief Seattle did NOT say, “man does not weave this web of life.  We are but one thread within it.   Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

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Heat Advisory (and Gratitude)

It was already hot when I went out into the garden after I sat for meditation.  I try only to water every third day it does not rain and have used soil supplements such as “soil moist” to make that possible, but it was critical that I water so that the plants survive today’s blazing heat.

Before I went out, while listening to the weather forecast, I drank my second glass of filtered tap water.  I thought how lucky I am to have fresh drinking water from the tap, shelter from the heat, ice if I want it, and water for the garden.  All those warnings to stay inside, keep cool, and drink plenty of liquids are meaningless unless one has access to those things.

I am grateful, too, for my practice.  I know that a slow, quiet practice helps keep me cool and rested,  and that I can get extra enjoyment from the way the heat warms my muscles without any effort at all on my part.  In the heat, stillness is so welcome that sitting is as sweet an activity as I could know.

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An Excellent Sufficiency, Homegrown Tomatoes (and the Isha Upanishad)

The Isha Upanishad starts, “That is fullness (purna).  This is fullness.  Fullness comes from fullness.  Take fullness from fullness, and the remainder is fullness.”

My maternal grandfather died when I was just a toddler, so I never got to know him.  My mother used to tell us that when he had eaten enough at a bounteous meal, he would say “that was an excellent sufficiency and any more would be a superabundency.”

On Sunday I went over to Lovejoy Gardens to my little plot (approximately 3′ X 7′ raised bed on concrete, half shaded by a fence) and harvested tomatoes.  There were about 15 ripe tomatoes.  The first thought was that it was too many tomatoes.  Then I thought of all the neighbors I had who didn’t have their own tomato plants.  I knocked on one neighbor’s door.  He gave me tea while I played with the cat.  I gave him tomatoes.  I went for a massage in the afternoon.  I brought tomatoes.  I was sent home with freshly made spanakopita.  I invited another neighbor over for dinner.  We at pesto with basil from the garden and cucumber and tomato salad (cucumber, tomato, and shallots all from the garden drizzled with a little of the best balsamic vinegar and seasoned with just ground sea salt and pepper).  We had a lovely visit, and I sent him home with tomatoes.  In the next day or two, I will make a batch of tomato sauce and put it in the freezer and have someone over for dinner another night.

There is only “too much of a good thing” or a “superabundency” if we hoard it or try to ingest it all ourselves out of fear, greed, or desire for power or control.  When we have enough ourselves and then share the abundance, we simply create more abundance.  Once again, I am given again from my garden another sweet insight into the yoga teachings.  I am also reminded by this small example that I could share even more broadly from my blessed lot of fullness in global society.

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What Grows in a Very Small Space (and living freely within limitations)

Sometimes when I am blogging about my garden — the joys I experience and its wonderful produce — I feel like I might be presumptuous.  I am no Christoper Lloyd or Alice Waters.  I just have a tiny space behind my urban, rowhouse that I have turned into a personal celebration.

A visitor from out of town graciously commented that in some ways the limits of my garden make it even more wonderful.  In this sense, I know, perhaps best,  from my garden the yoga teaching that ultimately to find freedom in this life we need to celebrate all we are within our limitations to find an inner space of unbounded, liberation.

(Shown here, cucumbers, mint, nasturtiums, peppers, greens, sage, savory, basil, okra, onions, more peppers, red and yellow cherry tomatoes (well picked), brandywine and roma tomatoes, eggplant (slow to start this year), echinacea, lavender, orchid.)

cucumbernasturtium-pepper-mint-eggplantpot-garden

brandywine-romaechinacea-lavenderorchid

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Potage D’Ete Au Mid-Atlantic (and jivan mukti)

potage Could not resist the french name.  More fun than summer local vegetable stew.  An alternative name could be:  how to make three okra and six beans into dinner for two.  Or maybe four.  When I was out in the garden this morning, I simply picked what needed to be picked.  Featured here:  three okra, six beans, one jalapeno, two ancho chiles (one partly dried on the plant), two large tomatoes (both of which are only partly viable), two ripe and one green (fell off while I was picking the ripe ones) roma tomatoes, one very small garlic clove, baby leeks, garlic chives, tarragon, parsley, dill, and herb fennel.  Serve over quinoa, couscous, rice, or pasta, and it is easily a meal for two.  Add some red beans or other dried beans, and it could be dinner for four.

One of the things I like about eating from the garden is the necessity of being creative.  Cooking from a cook book, who wants an ingredient list this long?  I could also be disappointed that no one of my plants is giving me enough to create a dish out of mostly one or two ingredients.  If I were getting these ingredients from the store, I would get more okra or beans or peppers.   There is a great joy in finding a sense of abundance and sparked creativity and celebrating pleasure, art, fulfillment, delight, offerings with what we have been given, whether it is the food from our garden, our bodies, our talents, our families, or the time and place into which we were born.  In finding the highest sense of abundance and creativity within our limitations, we are truly experiencing the yoga concept of jivan mukti, living liberation.

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Observing Another Storm Pass without Raining (and a moment of truth)

The third front in a row.  It is starting to be a long while not to rain in the summer.  It is a tough gardening year:  extreme drought conditions all winter, overly cool and wet spring, now no rain again.

Watching how the erratic weather patterns are impacting my garden, I am reminded that I am not a purist about gardening or food or my impact on the earth.   As much as I enjoy tending my garden and eating its fruits, there is no hesitation in my mind that if my garden does not produce, I will buy more food at the farmers’ market.  If the pickings are slim at the farmers’ market because of local conditions, I am in no doubt that I will buy food from whatever source, even if I try to make sure it is first local, then humanely picked, then organic.

When I write about gardening and eating and yoga, I am sharing what I enjoy, what makes me feel healthy.  I do not think of myself as trying to set an example.  In some senses, my yoga practice is similarly about what works for me personally and no more.  The yoga teachings are fairly clear that the design and purpose of aligning with the subtle energies, including living in a more peaceful, less destructive way, is for the enlightenment of the individual practitioner and not for “making the world a better place.”  If by seeking to live in a healthier, more aligned, more peaceful and compassionate way ourselves also brings more global benefits, that is a bonus.

Looking at our lives from this perspective could cause discouragement.  I hear this question all the time:  “why should I change what I am doing [consuming/eating/driving]?  My behavior is not going to change the world when there are all of those billions not changing.”  In some senses, looking at shifting our behavior from a completely selfish perspective makes it more accessible and meaningful.  If we see our choices having the possibility of making ourselves healthier, happier, and more at peace with ourselves and the world around us, why would we not want to try to live more consciously?

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Choices, A Cardinal in the Grapes, and Viveka

This morning while I was out in the garden, I heard a chirping right above my head.  Within arm’s reach was a bright red male cardinal perched among the grapes effusively talking.  (I planted a tiny red, concord grape vine about six years ago, and it has flourished beyond my wildest dreams).

There were enough ripe grapes for me to pick a handful for myself.  I have bird netting, but I have not put it over the grapes.  They did not do so well this year, many turning brown prematurely because, I think, of the drought-ridden winter followed by the extra wet and cool spring.  I am grateful that I will not be dependent on these grapes as food for myself to survive through next winter (I’m pretty sure; if not, I have bigger things to worry about).

For the joy of having the birds come visit so fearlessly and delightedly, and because the grapes are not fantastic to eat, I leave all, but those I get by the small handful a couple of mornings a week for a few weeks, to the birds.  Maybe next year I will net the grapes, but then I’ll have to have a canning party to make jam.  In the meantime, I’ll marvel that every bird in DC seems to know when my grapes ripen.

We make decisions like this all the time.  With how we shop, what we eat, what work we choose, how we travel, we are making decisions about habitat and environment for ourselves and hosts of other beings.

In yoga, the process of ever refining our understanding so that we can be more in touch with how we act impacts our life force and our relationship with all around us, is viveka, or discrimination.   Just as the more we practice on the mat, the more we develop awareness of what leads us to feel more in tune and more celebratory of life, so too, we want to use that yoga refinement and discrimination to inform our acts off the mat.

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Slowing Down (and vinyasa krama)

I wanted to share this article on “ecotherapy,” a term I had not heard before.  I found the article interesting because for years now, I have gradually practiced all the elements listed in the article as treatment for depression, not because I had been told by a therapist to do so, but because, despite my feeling the repercussions of going against the grain, I felt happier and healthier settling in one place, traveling more slowly, connecting with my pets, and tending a small patch of nature.

These shifts in lifestyle simply feel to me more in alignment with my own nature and that of the earth.  I found, incidentally, it gave me much more time overall to do things.  People ask me how I do so much (usually referring to the day job, the yoga teaching, the gardening and cooking, the volunteer work).  Thinking of the way they live, and what they do, they ask when do I rest?  I say that my life is in fact rather slow and restful.  I rest when I meditate.  I rest when I am taking the time to make a home-cooked meal — every day when I am in town, often two or three times a day.  I rest when I am tending the garden.  I do not think of cooking and gardening as chores, but as ways to nurture myself.

I rest when I am commuting because it is on foot or sitting on the bus or metro (note:  instead of getting anxious or angry when metro is slow, think of it as an opportunity to draw into yourself and meditate, contemplate, or read).

Not having moved or changed jobs in years, even though there have been serious challenges with both where I live and my job, I had the time, money, and energy that would have been used up in a major upheaval, to engage in the study and practice to become a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and before that, to study  drawing and photography and to exhibit my art.  Staying in place, I continue to have time to study and to read (not watching TV helps alot, too, for finding time).  The choices are different with children in the house, but it is still possible to make choices that require less racing around for the family.

This, to me, is a larger aspect of vinyasa krama, the art of sequencing.  When we sequence how we move in space and time in a holistic, sensitive way that honors the rhythms and cycles of our bodies and the earth’s, then we feel less trapped or overwhelmed.  When I was trying to keep up with society, I was often sad and anxious.  Now I am much less so.  I have often attributed it to these choices.  Now, I see, society has given us a word for it —  ecotherapy.  With a word coined for it and put in the press, will people feel more comfortable practicing it?

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Gardening, Cleaning, Cooking (and Vinyasa Krama and Kali)

Vinyasa krama is the art of sequencing.  How a yoga practice or flow is sequenced can determine whether it is uplifting or inward going, exhilarating or calming.  When we are trained and attentive, we start to know the most optimal order to open our bodies and our focus to align with the time of day, the season, the weather, our mood, and our health.  This incredible art helps us be positioned and aligned in a way that we feel free in time and space, rather than being constrained by time and space.

This morning while I was out in the garden, I was thinking a lot about vinyasa krama and the goddess Kali — goddess of, among other things, time and change, and thus, of sequencing.  I woke very early, brought to consciousness by the long light of the solstice even through closed curtains.  As I went about my morning, rinsing the sprouts while heating the water for my morning coffee; cutting back the greens and herbs before starting breakfast; doing the major pruning and clean-up before doing more decorative garden work; finishing cooking before taking out the recycling; applying a facial mask before starting to vacuum; never walking up or down the stairs empty-handed; waiting to gather the bills until after I was clean and waiting for friends to arrive, etc., I realized how important sequencing is to the richness of my days.  By knowing the best way to order tasks for my needs, my day is simultaneously productive, unhurried, and enjoyable.

By the time my friends arrived around noon, I had meditated, taken care of the garden, gathered food for my own breakfast and to share with friends, talked to neighbors, cleaned the house and myself, done a little asana, written in my journal, and sorted the mail.  Had I not known from long experience and conscious attention how to sequence all the different elements, knowing which ones went together, which took longest, which ones if done earlier or later would create double clean up, etc, I would have been tired and the tasks unfinished.  Instead, after brunch, I came home to a tended garden, a freshly made bed, and time to enjoy a quiet evening.

These sequencing principles also apply for me on major projects at work.  If ordered one way, the work is exponentially harder, the deadline a fearsome thing; if ordered another way, everything comes together mostly as it should when it should.  When I order my work with attention (this assumes others cooperate with this endeavor), I have time to do a good, careful job and still take breaks, eat well, and leave the office in time to take or teach yoga class.

Whether you are doing your home yoga practice or cooking or working, choose to sequence the elements of your practice, your activities, or your day, with attentiveness, reverence, love, and respect, and Kali will support you and not show you her most fearsome face.

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