I picked up a fascinating little book called “A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind” in the airport a few weeks back, and it has sort of reset how I view some of the mundane jobs that need to be done around the house and garden. The word ‘chores’ is probably deeply unhelpful to describe these jobs since it has such negative connotations. In his book Buddhist monk Shoukei Matsumoto suggests that keeping the house and garden clean is not a chore at all, but a route to enlightenment. Who knew?
The key to transforming these tasks from repetitive, annoying ‘must-dos’ in to a step something a little more spiritually useful is both simple and infuriatingly tough at the same time: they must be done mindfully. I’ve been practicing in the last few weeks, trying to stay in the moment while pottering around the kitchen or the veg patch and it is surprisingly calming. Staying in tune with your breathing while you are working gets rid of the mental chatter (if only briefly) as well as removing the sense of impatience that often accompanies mundane jobs.
Take sweeping the floor as an example. Our tiled kitchen floor is a great colour for disguising dirt, so it can generally go a few days or longer before it needs a hoover. Since reading the book however, I’ve started sweeping the floor every morning in a mindful way. It takes about 3-4 minutes (I timed it) and it’s delightfully old school and calming at the same time. My daughter thinks it’s hilarious and slags me off about my ‘mindful sweeping’ which she always says while making quotation marks in the air with her fingers.
Out in the potting shed meanwhile I try to stay mindful while seed sowing. A bag of compost opened and tipped out on the sowing bench. Cold black plastic seed trays filled with even colder blacker compost. Seed labels lined up awaiting a scrawl of information. Seed packets fished out from my big box of tricks and ripped open to reveal their bounty. While I work I try to remember whether it’s my 14th or 15th growing season? Then I find myself wondering how many seasons I have ahead of me. Maybe thirty if I am lucky? I pull myself back from such existential thoughts and try to stay in the moment. I plug in the heated cable to start the process of warming the sand beneath the seed pots. I realize I am whistling.
I have shelter from the elements in here in the potting shed but I feel my feet are numb in my wellies and the tips of my fingers are cold. I can see my breath while I work. I would like to luxuriate over this process, particularly today since it’s the first sowing of the year, but it’s too damn cold – so I move quickly. Sow a seed, label it, move on. Before I finish I make a cloche over the pots with some rubber pipe and spread a layer of clear plastic over them, tucking the plastic in beneath them. I am creating a little hothouse for these seeds, which need heat to germinate. It feels a little artificial, but my growing year always starts like this – coaxing Mediterranean conditions from a cold February and trying to warm up the world.
The Basics – The Needs of Seeds
You will probably remember from your science classes back in school, that seeds need some specific conditions in order to germinate and thrive. Most seeds need these 3 conditions:
1) Heat – generally speaking most seeds need a decent temperature to germinate. A warm windowsill in the house or a heated bench in the potting shed is therefore ideal for starting seeds off. There are exceptions, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
2) Light – once germination begins, light is essential. This explains why seeds sown too early in the year often get ‘leggy’ and weak. They are literally straining to reach the light because there is not enough daylight. Some veg like celery and lettuce need light in order to germinate in the first place. Most seeds need 14 hours or so of light in order to thrive. Some growers even use artificial lighting to compensate for the lack of natural light early in the year. I prefer to work with the seasons a little more.
3) Humidity / Moisture – the key when it comes to watering seeds is that they need uniform moisture. Not water-logged, and certainly never allowed to dry out. Gentle watering with a fine rose is essential to ensure you don’t wash the seeds away (or push them too deep in to the soil to germinate).
This Month at GROW HQ
Spring has sprung (just about) and this month at GROW HQ we’ve a range of courses, classes and events to kick off the growing season. We’ve also a range of cookery courses, and special seasonal eating events including a silent mindful lunch and our monthly Friday Feast. For more check out www.growhq.org.