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My First Vegetable Garden
Raised bed

My first raised bed

A huge blessing during this pandemic is that I have been able to work from home. I calculated that I have gained about twenty hours a week that I used to spend getting ready for, shopping for, commuting to and from, and recovering from a full-time office job. All those hours were in addition to the 40 hours I spent in the office. With this gift, there is more time for spiritual practices, Amrita Virtual Academy courses, virtual satsangs and yoga classes, and for starting new projects. I decided to start a small vegetable growing project.

My South Texas ancestors were ranchers and farm laborers. My grandparents and great-grandparents grew vegetables to supplement the food they purchased. Despite that heritage, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never grown a vegetable-producing plant. However, inspired by Amma and by the example set by GreenFriends, I’m changing that this year.

Starting Small

I decided to start small, since I have a lot to learn. My home is situated a few miles west of Austin, Texas, on the Edwards Plateau. Not having enough soil is a big issue here, and what soil there is contains large amounts of crumbled limestone. The thin soil and porous bedrock leads to runoff. Additionally, central Texas has long, hot summers with intense sunshine (July and August highs average 95F), so ample water was a consideration. For these reasons, I decided to use a raised bed to better manage the soil content and moisture. .

The Edwards Plateau
The Edwards Plateau

Getting Started

Texas A&M University has a network of agriculture extension offices around the state that offer many public services to help people grow plants. They offer excellent resources for everything from container gardening to large-scale farm production. There is even a wonderful digital booklet about home composting that I’ll be using to start that project soon.

Using that website, I found a one-page vegetable planting calendar for my county that I used to decide what to plant. Again, being very new I wanted something to help me stay organized. I chose to use some square-foot gardening techniques to take some of the guesswork out of how much to plant and where.

My planning guide

My planning guide

While attending to all these technical details, I wanted to make sure I also remembered to revere the plants and the process of gardening. In her Guru Purnima address this year, Amma said that planting trees is the right thing to do to help heal nature, but that we must also "tune into the divine will". I wanted to remind myself that I am not growing vegetables, they are growing while I serve them.

I planted some seeds: beets, arugula, lettuce, kohlrabi, and carrots. When they were in the ground, I gave each one a few drops of water blessed by Amma, and bowed down to them. Then I prayed to be able to provide the plants what they need to fulfill their role, for their protection from my mistakes while I learn, and for me to remain open to the spiritual lessons that gardening can teach me. After a few weeks, I planted more seeds for a staggered harvest, and then added a handful of transplants: Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, chamomile, tomato, and broccoli.

I expected to be excited about watching the little seeds grow, but I didn’t anticipate that I would be out there seven times a day on my hands and knees, peering into the soil to see if I detected any green. On the fifth day after planting those first seeds, I saw the green edge of the tiniest leaf in the world, and I felt my heart rejoice! Today, there are a few tomatoes forming on the vine and the brassicas are growing heartily.

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Challenges

There have been challenges, of course. Cabbage worms showed up on the Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. I hand-picked them off the leaves multiple times a day. I started to worry I wouldn’t keep up with them, and bought a non-toxic pesticide. However, I was determined to use that only as a last resort. After about seven days of removing them by hand, I stopped seeing them appear! I read that rosemary deters cabbage moths, so plucked several tall sprigs and stuck them in the soil around the plants, like sentries. I’m not sure how effective it is, but it smells wonderful.

Cabbage worm dammage
Cabbage worm dammage
Transplanting store-bought scallions
Transplanting store-bought scallions

Grow Your Own Vegetables

We all know Amma has been encouraging all her children to grow some food. In her recent birthday address, she even provided some garden design guidance for small five- and one-cent parcels of land (I learned that one “cent” of land is 1/100th of an acre). On one level, growing our own food helps the environment and encourages our health. On another level, I am finding there are deep spiritual lessons available in the practice of mindfully tending to these plants.

Amma is teaching me attention with providing daily water, devotion while picking off cabbage worms, and surrender with each lost seedling. I’m still learning as I go, but I’m already planning on tripling the number of beds next year, and adding more containers indoors and out. I’ve even started re-growing store-bought scallions and yellow onions.

I know so many around the world are facing real threats to their lives and livelihoods, and that so many have been or are sick. I know many people who are afraid right now. I know people are also worried about when we will see Amma again. I confess I don't share their fears for myself. Carrying out her request to grow vegetables has helped me feel a physical connection to her. Increasing my spiritual practice and watching all the live satsangs has increased my awareness that she dwells in our hearts..

I feel closer to Amma now than I ever have. I feel like I'm living a householder’s life at an ashram. And that may be one of the biggest blessings of GreenFriends: that we can encourage each other to do practical things that benefit the world while aiding our spiritual progress.

May all of Amma’s children feel her warm embrace.

Nanda - Austin, Texas

Read Trench Composting from the Winter 2020 newsletter >>

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