Now, I’ll be honest, when I read the description about gardening with mindfulness, I had no idea that the small class would actually be transforming an open field into a 36′ x 36′ fenced and gated vegetable garden complete with prayer flag border and central altar. Nor did I expect to end each day wondering how I would ever move again, my joints were so stiff and muscles so sore from unaccustomed heavy labor. But man, am I glad I went.
It was amazing watching the garden take shape and to learn about the seeds that were selected for their local history and drought-resistance (including Navajo Blue Corn, Scarlet Runner Beans, Aztec White Beans, Amaranth, Quinoa, Hopi Dye Sunflowers, and a wide variety of squash). It also felt great to get my hands in the soil again, to manhandle compost, and feed the soil. But the best part, hands-down, was working with so many wonderful people dedicated to both gardening and the reason for this garden, to help the Zen Center and its community take one step closer to food security.
But the best part is, now that the garden is installed, I can volunteer to help it as it grows, learning about this unaccustomed climate as I go.
Across the world people will be planting gardens this weekend to help combat the challenges of our changing climate. Last year Sonoma County, California residents alone planted over 600 food, habitat and community gardens. Visit 350.org and Transition United States to learn more about this and other important climate crisis initiatives.
I will be planting kale, lettuce and sunchokes (in pots since our threat of frost is not yet past). What will you be doing this weekend?
And while we’re on the topic of what to do with all that extra produce, if you find yourself in a giving mood (especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner), check out AmpleHarvest.org. Launched in May 2009, this non-profit connects gardeners with local food pantries in need of fresh produce donations.
This past weekend I went to a lecture given by Golden Gate Gardening author Pam Pierce. The event was part of a promotional tour for the launch of her third edition and focused on sustainable food gardening, specifically, creating a water-wise vegetable garden. Here are just a few of the tips she provided:
Group plants by water use: This allows you to spend valuable water (and the money it costs) only on the plants that really need it and helps prevent over-watering
Amend the soil with compost: The more organic matter in the soil, the better it retains water.
Mulch: Mulching helps prevent evaporation and keeps the soil cooler in hot weather.
Choose your plants wisely: Don’t waste money and water on edibles that end up rotting on the vine. Plant only what you will harvest and eat or share. My tip: Consider choosing smaller, less heavy producers or fewer plants if you can’t keep up with the harvest on something you really love.
And the last one for my fellow temperate climate gardeners: Take advantage of the rainy season by planting, for example, California spring veggies or bareroot trees in February so nature will do the watering for you for several months allowing your plants grow strong roots and first leaves.
In the addition to the great ideas she provides, she also brought a basket full of fruits, veggies, edible flowers and herbs she’d just collected or taken from storage including chard, salad greens, nasturtiums, oca, apples and Bolivian sun root (she even shared the last two). It’s amazing how much food even the smallest garden can provide year-round with the right choices, a little planning and some good storage. And if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, pick up an updated copy of her amazing book. She has made significant revisions including new zone planting guides for San Jose/Santa Clara and Walnut Creek/Contra Costa and a ton more information on sustainable gardening practices.
In case you’re interested, the event was sponsored by the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA — a gorgeous dry garden planted on 4.5 acres of a former walnut farm. Planted mostly with succulents, cacti and South American and Australian natives, the garden is stunningly architectural and features a number of endangered and seriously endangered plants including a bristlecone pine. The garden is now protected by a conservancy and serves as an educational institution as well. If you’re ever in the area, it’s definitely worth checking out.
“Since its inception in 1992, Forget Me Not Farm has helped thousands of at-risk children and youth break the cycle of abuse. Located on the grounds of the Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County, the Farm offers animal-assisted and horticultural therapeutic activities that provide a haven for children, plants and animals to bond, learn and heal with one another.”
On the farm the children interact with animals, grow flowers, fruits and vegetables from seed, harvest the plants they helped cultivate and even cook with the ingredients they grew. The farm experience gives them a safe, non-threatening environment to heal while teaching them valuable skills. Excess produce is donated to local shelters, extending their reach even farther into the community.
“Hidden Villa is a nonprofit educational organization that uses its organic farm, wilderness, and community to teach and provide opportunities to learn about the environment and social justice. Hidden Villa stretches over 1600 acres of open space in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 40 miles south of San Francisco. Our mission is to inspire a just and sustainable future through our programs, land and legacy.”
Hidden Villa is also a working farm, complete with a Community Sponsored Agriculture program. A portion of all harvest go to shareholders, while another is donated to local low-income families.
As part of their educational programs, they offer a large assortment of family-oriented classes and events (including How Does Your Garden Grow?, Cheese Please! and my personal favorite, Manure to Meadow to MMMMmmm!) all at very reasonable prices.
Like most non-profits, Hidden Villa is run by a very limited full-time staff on an even more limited budget (especially now), so they rely very heavily on their hundreds of volunteers to keep things running.
I spent a day volunteering as a horticulture worker, starting shrub cuttings and labeling fruit tree scions while others in the group hacked back overgrown blackberries or mulched garden beds. After, we got a tour of the grounds. For me, at least, the rewards of helping to start new plants alone would have been enough, but knowing it was for a good cause made it even better.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, consider volunteering.