Gardening

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

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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Eagerness (and cherry tomatoes)

I am looking forward to going out to the garden to forage for things to bring to work with my lunch.  I know there will be at least four or five tomatoes, and I am expecting a small cucumber.  The greens and fresh herbs are a given.  Having exquisite fresh food and making sure I take at least 15 minutes to savor it always makes a hectic day a much better one.

Don’t have time to garden?  Try joining a CSA.

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Pulling Purslane for Breakfast

Look before you weed:  some plants you are throwing out or composting might make a great addition to your diet.

Purslane and dandelion greens make a delicious addition to the other greens in my garden — chard, spinach, arugula, mache, lettuces, amaranth, etc.  Instead of pulling the purslane and dandelions as invasive weeds when they are growing in between the bricks of my patio, I let them get big enough to eat, and then pull them to include in salads and stir fries.  I also pull small purslane plants and relocate them into hanging pots along with my geraniums and into other little empty spaces.  After having been encouraged to volunteer more freely for a number of years, the purslane is now appearing on its own in more places, mostly in places where other plants would not thrive without a lot of watering.

As both purslane and dandelions are volunteers (a/k/a weeds), they are free, hardy, prolific, and drought-tolerant.  I find purslane especially attractive if kept picked as any other forking herb or green.  Both purslane and dandelions are highly nutritious, especially purslane which is a great plant source for omega-3 fatty acids (see link above).

This morning, I threw some purslane into a warmed tortilla, along with avocado, sprouts (I am always sprouting something on the kitchen counter these days), a little local  goat cheese, and a few slivers of vidalia onion.  Densely nutritious, delicious, fairly good for the environment, and satisfying.  What a great way to start the day.

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One Perfect Snow Pea,

a pole bean, and two radiantly golden cherry tomatoes.  I have been waiting months for those four exquisite bites.

Turnip greens and amaranth, included in my morning meal.  Two baby japanese eggplants, one hot pepper, a handful of scallions will go into something with tempeh.

The last of the radishes and two beets will be delightful with vidalia onions — all lightly pickled.

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Gifts of Onions (and Eternal Truth)

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend gave me a box of perfect vidalia onions.  She had been given two boxes.  She said, “These onions were so good; I wanted to give them to someone who would truly appreciate them.  I first thought of you.”  I was delighted, “yes, I’d love some vidalias.”  They are exquisite.  I’ve been making delicate sautes, grilling them, dicing them into salads, and marveling at their sweetness.  I passed a few on to others that both would fully appreciate the onions as a culinary matter and also know my friend, who is a former co-worker.

Last night I went to take class at Willow Street and was talking a little with the work study students at the desk after class before heading home.  “Would you like some onions?” asked one of the work study students, who does great work with the Fresh Farm Markets around town.  “Oh, how lovely, no, no thank you,” I replied, “A friend just gave me a box of vidalia onions and I have shallots, baby leeks, spring onions, and garlic chives in my garden.”  “I think you have enough in the allium family already,” she agreed, “would you like a cucumber?”  “A cucumber?  Yes, that would be great.  I’ve only gotten one ripe one so far; they aren’t liking the cool wet.”  She gave me a cucumber and a zucchini from a farm visit she had done that morning, which made my evening (I am so easily pleased).

This morning I wondered about these offers of onions.  It is not as though it is a regular thing for me twice in a space of a couple of weeks to be given bounteous offers of exquisite onions.  Did it mean something?

Onion comes from the same latin root as “union.”  Unlike garlic, in whose family onions belong, onions grow a single, undivided bulb, which is the likely reason for the development of the word onion.  From sketchy researching on the internet, I find onions are also the symbol of “good” and fullness — hence the onion domes in architecture.  The ancient Egyptions thought the onion a symbol of eternity (layer upon layer of being) and truth.  Yes, I like thinking these onions (those I took home and those that were gifted instead, no doubt, to some other appreciative soul) were meant to bring me to think of good, of union, of the eternal truth in gifts and shared pleasure in sharing delicious, healing, fresh food with friends.

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Six Hours of R&R (A Simple Extravaganza)

I woke completely refreshed this morning, even though it was a very long work week, I taught two classes yesterday, I have lots to do today, and it promises to be a stressful work week coming. The sense of well-restedness is thanks to the six (or was it seven) hours of nurture I gave myself at the end of the day yesterday.

First I walked to a late afternoon appointment with my wonderful massage therapist, Patrick McClintock. My walk to see Patrick  is a beautiful walk 14-block walk through Capitol Hill. I strolled home afterwards, stopping at the grocery store to pick up soy milk and a couple of other items I like to have in the house (no more than I could carry easily), then walking through Lincoln Park on my way home.  Taking my time on my walk, I visited with a few dogs and neighbors who were out.

For dinner, I made a stir-fry of tempeh and radish greens (greens and herbs came right out of the garden).

  • In peanut oil (or other oil that can take high heat; not olive oil with asian flavors); slice a clove or two of garlic, mince some ginger, saute until garlic is translucent; add sliced onions and saute until translucent (when you add onion or onion parts depends on whether you are using onions, green onions, or scallions — white onion or onion parts go in before the greens, green parts go in after bitter/firm greens or with tender greens); add diced tempeh (or tofu or leave it out and add minced toasted nuts right before serving); saute until onions and tempeh are turning golden; splash with rice wine vinegar and Braggs liquid amino protein or soy sauce; quickly stir to integrate flavors; add greens and fresh herbs from the garden; saute until wilted; add splash of sherry, white wine or water; saute until liquid has evaporated. Serve with any grain or asian-style noodles.

After dinner, I read for a bit. Then I gave myself a mini-facial and pedicure. At twilight, I sat out back with an herbal infusion made from mint and lemon balm from the garden and watched the moon rise — it was a glorious moon.

I followed this simple, extravaganza with a long practice of restoratives, supine poses, and forward bends, and took my savasana into bed for the night.

Maybe you cannot fit in this much, and I do not do this much R&R in a single block every week — some Saturdays I want to go out on the town. Try to make part of some of your weekends (especially critical if you, like I, work six days a week, not five)  restful without having to go away — perhaps including one of the Serenity Saturday workshops at Capitol Hill Yoga when you can.

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“Enjoy Your Day, Regardless of the Weather”

So said the meteorologist, when I called to check the weather yesterday before getting ready to go out for work.  I thought, “it is easy to enjoy your day, ‘regardless of the weather’ living in a nice house with enough money for heating and cooling, working inside, and getting food flown in from wherever, if the garden isn’t doing well.”

I am awed and fascinated by the weather, although living this almost entirely protected and secure (from the elements, less so from other people) urban life, it is an almost vicarious relationship.

One of the reasons I love gardening is that it links what the weather — a rainy and cool spring like we are having; a drought, like we had for the past four years; violent thunderstorms; a snowy winter — with what food grows well, how my wildlife supporting little garden in the front thrives, helping to tie me back to the earth.

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Borage and Bee Balm and Licorice Mint

Enjoying some edible flowers (pansies, marigolds, nasturtiums, chive and basil flowers) and found myself wishing I had borage and bee balm in my garden.  I’ve tried in the past, but they tend to take up more space than I have for what they offer.  Perhaps I will try again anyway.

Found a seedling of Korean licorice mint at the Fresh Farm market at Penn Quarter yesterday.  If it takes, it should be a nice addition to the mint, lemon balm, and verbena I use to make infusions (hot and iced).

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