Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gardening in a Buddhist context

Earlier this week, Tricycle profiled a new book titled "Mindfulness in the Garden:  Zen Tools for Digging in the Dirt".  I haven't read it yet, but reportedly, it contains many gathas (verses) intended to help connect readers to the in-the-moment experience of working in their gardens (or at least being present in them). 

With or without gathas, Buddhism places tremendous emphasis on nonverbal comprehension and direct experience.  The perceptual basis for the belief system is predicated on an intimate awareness of the interconnectedness of all things and the endless cyclical arising and ceasing that characterizes every facet of the universe. 

Additionally, as interpreted through certain versions of the Precepts and other historical sources, there is an emphasis on vegetarianism.  In the face of America's growing obesity crisis, "mindful eating" is a current buzz-term of growing popularity, with numerous authorities publishing wisdom tomes on this subject (e.g., here and here).

All of these themes converge and distill through direct experience with a garden, especially if that garden is managed by the individual seeking to cultivate (pun intended) a deepening awareness of the moment, and especially if that garden is used to grow vegetables for personal consumption.

The greater Houston area offers a particularly good opportunity to engage in vegetable gardening because, with its subtropical climate, food can be grown year-round here.   There's no need to interrupt the flow of the practice in order to wait for winter to pass. 

A detailed explanation of what it takes to establish a small personal vegetable garden is beyond the scope of this blog post, but if any readers are interested in pursuing that information, please email me and I can help get you pointed in the right direction (or perhaps I could do a follow-up post). 

In the meantime, here is a small photo tour of some of my own gardening activities over the past year and a half.  I can't tell you how vegetable gardening might affect your life or your perception, but I can relate my own experiences.  I found that, until I started actually bringing my own micro-crops to my family's own table, my personal comprehension of larger systemic food issues (such as those articulated by mindful eating proponents) was simply not well-aligned with reality.  Books were helpful in providing some logistical information on the superficial mechanics of gardening, but in the end, for me, the only true wisdom derived from the absolute wordlessness of the direct experience itself. 

Enjoy the show.  

I started small:
Here is a bowl-sized bunch of lettuce that I planted as a hands-on exercise during a 6-hour "Vegetable Gardening for Beginners" course that I took from the Harris County Master GardenersGalveston County Master Gardeners group also sponsors lectures and workshops.  And Urban Harvest is a great resource for those on the learning curve, particularly if they wish to learn organic and sustainable gardening methods. 

Nothing ever appears or disappears - it simply changes form.  Here is my bowl-grown lettuce changed into the form of a lunch salad.

From humble bowl beginnings, I grew to something just as round but definitely larger:
Because our back yard is so small, I converted a number of livestock watering tanks into raised garden beds (we had no space for an in-ground garden and besides, stock tanks look really cool as landscape design elements).  This particular tank is six feet in diameter and, at the time of this pic, contained broccoli and Swiss chard. 

The large container gardening option has several advantages:
-- It's easy to maintain hyper-fertile soils so that the small space can be made to yield the largest possible volume of food.
-- It minimizes the intrusion of weeds and pests such that it's easier to maintain organic growing conditions (no synthetic chemicals).
-- It prevents pets from messing with the vegetables. 
-- It raises the gardening surface to an accessible height. 

Broccoli leaf with dew at dawn. 
A vegetable garden is not just for eatin' - it's for enjoyin' as well.
One of the harvested broccoli crowns, organically-grown.
Steamed broccoli with a touch of organic butter.  Do you notice how intense the color is?  A carefully-grown crop will look and taste very different from food that is mass-produced using industrial agricultural methods.  This stuff tasted GREAT.  Even if you don't typically like the taste of most vegetables, you may find that you really enjoy the ones you grow yourself because they simply taste so much better.
I tend to be very pragmatic, so one of my biggest winter crops is onions, because they form the basis of so many prepared dishes (everything starts with chopping and frying up some onions).  These are organic Texas 1015 onions in another of our stock tanks, shown near maximum growth size a few days prior to harvest.  After harvesting, they will sit without spoiling on a shelf for about three months.  Onions give great bang for the buck and they are also Texas' largest vegetable crop, so I feel that growing them pays homage to our local geography as well. 
Cherry tomatoes on the vine.
Cherry tomatoes, onions, fresh basil, and fresh oregano, all organic and all harvested from our stock tanks.  This stuff went into some awesome spaghetti sauce.  I make it in massive batches, and then freeze it for future use.
Those crops shown in the first series of photos are cooler-weather crops (fall, winter and spring).  Cantaloupe is a hot-weather crop (only certain fruits and vegetables can thrive in Houston's killer summer heat). 
Cantaloupe diced and ready to be served.
Let's watch okra evolve its form in four easy steps:
Okra plants complementing an integrated landscape design.  This is yet another stock tank planting option - using an oblong tank for a restricted space, rather than round ones. 
Okra harvested from the plants and brought to the kitchen.
Southern-style deep-fried okra. 
Snacking doesn't get much better than this!
All garden scraps and exhausted vegetable plants get composted, so that their transformed remains can be returned to the stock tanks to nourish the next crop. 
Sweet potatoes are also a hot-weather crop that thrives in greater Houston's torrid summers:
Sweet potato plants produce rich broad leaves and a profusion of purple flowers.
Bunch of harvested sweet potatoes.
From tank to table:
Mashed sweet potatoes with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey.
I hope you've enjoyed this colorful tour-de-tank.  If you have any questions, email me via SouthHoustonSangha (gmail). 

No comments:

Post a Comment