Future Herb Garden

lama1On a hot day from the back porch of the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram, one can see project director Rico Zook and his team of five volunteers from the Lama Foundation working a large patch of unforgiving ground in the field behind the ashram. Their mission is to turn an expanse of the hard ground, which at present hosts only coarse grasses and bindweed, into the fertile bed of a future herb garden.

lama2To enrich the soil Rico and his team employ a method of fertilization called “sheet mulching” or “sheet composting,” in which an entire area of land is essentially transformed into an in situ composting site. Instead of treating the ground with compost that has already been decomposed and prepared for gardening, the volunteers bring the components of organic compost to the site and let them process on the spot.lama5

They layer manure, green vegetable matter, straw, and cardboard to create an environment in which the carbon and nitrogen of decomposing ingredients fertilize the soil below, which is kept weed-free thanks to the sunlight-blocking cardboard. This year they build on their similar work of last year, and aim to do some planting in tandem with ground maintenance each season until the garden’s completion.

Rico, an experienced permaculture designer, has big plans for the garden-in-progress. The shape of the egg and the crescent moon feature prominently in the layout of the garden’s different sections, and are symbols which represent creation–a fitting theme for what will be a site of much new life. He expects to have the soil ready for its final planting within three to five years, at which point it will stand out as yet another example of natural beauty on the ashram’s grounds, and of the beauty of the selfless service that created it.