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|Celebrating the Gardeners at Esalen|
|Written by Ann Shepphird|
The article below was first posted on this site on May 5, 2010, after I attended an organic gardening workshop led by three people I call the rock stars of the gardening world: Amigo Bob Cantisano, Shirley Ward and Wendy Johnson (pictured, from left to right). I recently attended another workshop they led up at Esalen Institute, this one called "High Summer in the Full Moon Garden: Growing Food and Ourselves on the Esalen Land." As with the last one two years ago, it was surprising to me -- given the level of knowledge being imparted (one participant said she felt she'd wandered into a Harvard-level education) -- that there were just seven of us taking the workshop. On the other hand, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to spend such quality time with three such amazing people and feel that not only my gardening but my life is fuller as a result. Should they offer the workshop again (and I sincerely hope they do), I highly recommend it. In the meantime, here are some great starter tips for gardeners that I compiled after the last class.
A funny thought occurred to me midway through the organic gardening workshop I took last week up at Esalen: In recent years, we’ve turned a lot of chefs into celebrities or even, really, rock stars. And yet the gardeners and farmers – who are so important in providing the actual materials for that food – remain anonymous. I think that's too bad because, let's face it, I don’t care how good a chef you are, you can’t make a good caprese without a great tomato.
1. Soil. Organic gardeners will tell you that they don’t grow plants they grow soil. And the most important component to that soil is rich organic material and one of the best ways to achieve that is with compost. Compost compost compost. It’s the building block of good soil. If you don’t have the space to make your own compost pile – which, when we made one at Esalen reminded me of making a big (and I mean BIG) ole lasagna -- you can buy it. To make sure it’s good, here’s a test you can use: put a little of the compost into a spoon and then pour hydrogen peroxide over it. If it reacts by bubbling up FURIOUSLY (furiously being the operative word -- even poor compost will bubble a bit) then it’s good compost. Amigo also suggests using your eyes and ears: "Good compost should smell like the forest after a spring rain and your eyes should be see crumbly, soil-like qualities that are dark brown, not black."
Also good for the soil is the use of a cover crop, or green manure, which are crops such as alfalfa, bell beans, barley, buckwheat, clover, grasses, mustard, oats or vetch that, instead of being harvested, are mowed down and into the soil, where they add nitrogen and other elements. A good source of information about cover crops is the Peaceful Valley catalog, which also sells cover crop mixes depending on your needs.
Like I said, this is just a small sample of the kind of information learned at the workshop and everybody's garden is different and has different needs. As Wendy said (quoting one of her teachers), when it comes to gardening "in general, everything is specific."