Organic growing, permaculture and biodynamics might seem like a luxury – for those with a farm or a huge garden, but this is not really the case. Even in a tiny garden or an apartment it can be possible to grow food, although it must be conceded that it is somewhat more challenging. As Pagans we are supposed to care about the Earth, to respect nature and the gods of the Earth, perhaps the Earth Goddesses most of all – Gaia, Danu or whoever you choose.
In reality many Pagans fall short in practical application of their good intentions – I have visited the abodes of many Pagans and found both house/apartment and garden sadly bereft of plants, and any sign of a living connection with nature. Perhaps the current COVID-19 crisis is not only a wake up call, but an opportunity to get closer to nature and become more self-sufficent?
Getting into a natural space, especially a wild space, is the easiest and most obvious way to connect physically with the elements and the natural world, but this is not always practical for those in cities and large towns. The other alternative, in this situation, is to bring nature to your home, with an abundance of plant life, that will oxygenate your home, provide food and also provide a direct and practical means to connect with the natural world. Of course we are already part of the natural world, but in our technological age, it is very easy to forget that fact, and for many, the connection to nature is weak or almost non-existent.
Where to start – small gardens
You may have a really tiny garden, but there are creative ways to make good use of what space you have. If you have no ground because of paving or tarmac you can do one of two things – dig it all up (time consuming and difficult) or create raised beds on top of it. Even if you have flower beds or a lawn, you might have terrible soil or a thin layer of soil on top of rubbish/rubble. If this is the case you are probably better off to use raised beds. Assuming your soil is ok, you can dig over the lawn and turn it into a vegetable patch and patios can be repurposed, by using the slabs to make a walkway across your vegetable patch.
If you are still short of space then you can work vertically – a series of troughs or cloth bags fixed to a south-facing wall can serve as a growing medium, when filled up with soil and compost. Hanging baskets can be put up on wires as well as on brackets, again making 3 dimensional use of your space. A raised bed can be made out of railway sleepers, fake sleepers or planks. Ideally planks should be 5-10cm thick and of pressure-treated wood or larch/elm/alder for durability when wet. Three sleepers/planks are needed per bed, with one cut in half to make the ends of the rectangle. The bed should be no wider than twice the length of your arm, so that you can reach the middle! Once constructed the raised bed(s), which are hopefully south-facing (for maximum sunlight) can be filled with soil and/or compost. If your soil is heavy clay you may wish to add some non-salty sand and some lime to make it more workable and improve drainage.
If your soil is sandy you will need to add organic matter such as well-rotted manure or good quality (preferably organic) compost. You can make your own compost from food scraps, even in a tiny garden, by using a dustbin or wheelybin, with air holes or you can try creating one out of wood. A space saving trick to grow spuds is to use a tower of old tyres or a collapsible garden bag. The bottom tyre (or the bottom of the collapsed bag) is filled with soil and 2 or 3 potatoes, hopefully with eyes already, can be planted 3-6cm below the surface. Once the plants are about 10-15cm tall you can bank up more earth around them, leaving just a few leaves sticking out of the new, higher ground level. Once the plants have again reached 10-15cm tall again you repeat and repeat – adding more tyres or raising the bag as necessary. Once you reach the top, leave the plants to grow, keep well watered and fertilize, if needed (tomato feed should do). Harvest the spuds when the plants start to die off. This technique can be used on a balcony as well as in a small garden.
Where to start – apartments
This is more challlenging I have to admit, but not impossible! If you have a balcony this will be your primary growing area, if you don’t have one then south, east and west facing windows will be your growing areas. In an apartment you will have to use containers but on a balcony you can also use grow bags. Pots, window boxes and hanging baskets are all possible inside, as well as on a balcony. With hanging baskets, they can hang off the balcony banister or inside they can hang off of hooks from the ceiling or walls. It is quite surprising how many containers can be fitted into an apartment, within reach of daylight. Of course, you will need to buy in soil and compost, unless you have friends or family that can help out with that (difficult during a lockdown).
Seeds & seedlings
Getting plants started will require either buying ‘plugs’ from a supermarket or garden centre or buying packets of seeds. Plugs are far more expensive but save the job of germinating seed, which might be helpful if this is your very first attempt at gardening. Seeds can be germinated in the airing cupboard, and then brought into the light, otherwise you can buy a cheap electric propagator in certain budget German supermarkets! There is tonnes of online advice on growing from seed, so avail of that for each specific crop that you intend to grow.
You can take a very technical approach to gardening – weedkillers, pesticides, highly ordered and logical or you can be more holistic. However, organic gardening methods work with nature and are more suited to the spiritually minded. Biodynamics is an approach that involves working with nature but also involves a more esoteric element. Even if you decide not to get into more advanced methods, one can take a spiritual and sacred approach. Using eco-friendly and natural techniques is a good starting point, but you may wish to take it further with blessings, prayers and meditations with your plants, or even just talking to them. Watching plants grow is quite an enlivening and inspiring process – to nuture them into life from an embryo (seed) or baby and bring them through their full life cycle is a very direct and powerful connection to the Earth and the life force that inhabits all living things. Having nurtured plants and experienced their life and death, their sacrifice for our benefit, one cannot help but feel enormous gratitude for our food.
Growing your own food puts you directly in touch with the knowledge that all life is sacred and the fact that living beings must die, in order for us to live. Staying positive Growing plants will keep you busy, it can also be great fun and highly rewarding. It is also something that can be done as a family, with even small children taking part. Growing your own food will provide you with food that is fresh, nutricious and full of life energy. Good food is important for both physical and mental health. Gardening requires both mental and physical effort and this in itself is beneficial, especially in times when normal activities are suspended.
Gardening is a skill that can augment your life during difficult times but it is also a skills that is useful for all of your life, and may even become a new hobby for some. Even if it does not appeal as a hobby, it will certainly help you to connect with the Earth on a physical level, if not on a spiritual and emotional level. In these times, change is becoming the new constant – it is likely that life will not be quite the same when this crisis finally draws to an end. We are all having to adapt to difficulties, just as previous generations had to do, although they did so with greater regularity.
We cannot rely on everything going back to normal - now is the time to rely on ourselves and communities we are part of. With ingenuity, faith, hard work and sharing of knowledge, ingenuity and resources we can hopefully all get through this in good shape. Perhaps cooperation, spiritual awareness and resourcefulness are qualites not just for an emergency, but for a better and more humane way of living in the future? The future has not been written yet, so we now have a chance to play our part in how our collective future will unfold – we are not powerless, it is up to us whether we see this as something to be fearful of, or as an opportunity.
Luke Eastwood is an RHS trained horticulturist and a Druid member of OBOD. He is the author of several books, including “The Druid’s Primer” and forthcoming title “The Druid Garden”. You can read more of his writing at lukeeastwood.com