Wendy Johnson, a lay Buddhist teacher with the San Francisco Zen Center, has been a gardener at the organic Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Muir Beach since 1975 and active with the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, founded by Alice Waters.

One of Johnson's basic principles is "to garden organically É without relying on chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides."


Johnson, who recently published the book "Gardening at the Dragon's Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World," will discuss "Ecological Gardening From the Inside Out" at the Marin Art and Garden Center on April 2.
What are the advantages of organic gardening?


The experience at Green Gulch Farm speaks to the benefits. George Wheelwright owned Green Gulch from 1945 until 1972, when he sold 115 acres to the San Francisco Zen Center. The soil at Green Gulch was formed from compressed ocean bottom. When farming began in 1976, digging was only possible to 4 inches deep. Now the rich garden soil produces organic fruit and vegetables for restaurants, farmers markets and soup kitchens as well as the Green Gulch's own kitchen.

Many people find that garden-grown vegetables taste better and believe that they have a higher nutritional content than conventionally grown crops. Toxic pesticides are kept out of the water supply and the food chain, which will keep all of us healthier. The soil will be improved by more and healthier microorganisms.
Some gardeners complain
that organic gardening takes too much time, and they don't know how to garden without chemicals. Organic gardening does require more interaction between the gardener and the crop - monitoring for insect damage, for example. Organic farmers do not have some convenient chemical fix for every problem in their garden. By careful observation and understanding of the alternatives available, they can respond to most problems.


Johnson suggests that the most important thing you can do to prevent pest problems is to maintain soil fertility. "When garden land is healthy and in good heart, insect damage is usually minimal," she said.

Cover crops are one way to improve your soil. Plant sweet white clover, Melilotus alba, at the end of your growing season and turn it in to the soil the following spring.
Compost is probably the best way to improve soil fertility and structure for the small plot homeowner. "Making compost is an art - the fine art of arranging garbage," Johnson said. Steer and horse manure are also natural fertilizers that are inexpensive, sometimes even free, and easy to use.
What products or techniques can we choose that are least toxic to the environment? Some effective alternatives are:
- Horticultural oils: The oil used as a spray kills insects on application. It is not toxic to beneficial insects.
- Insecticidal soaps: For aphids on roses.
- Pyrethrums: An extract made from chrysanthemum flowers that is sprayed for insects on vegetables and fruits.
- Neem oil: A broad-spectrum insecticide, miticide and fungicide.
- Beneficial insects: Lacewings, which feed on aphids, mites and other small insects, for example.
- Pheromone traps: For the codling moth caterpillar on apples.
- Hand-picking: Picking armyworms or snails is not a fun job, but it can be effective.


Weeds are another problem that all gardeners have. Weeds can be hand pulled. It is best to do this when they are small, especially before they go to seed. Admittedly, this does take time and is labor intensive. Digging or cultivation is another way to destroy weeds - also time consuming and hard work. By using a thick layer of mulch around plants, you can suppress weed growth and maintain even moisture to your plants.

Mindfulness, tolerance, connectedness to the earth, being present in the moment, balance - these are some of the qualities Johnson finds in Zen meditation and brings to her gardening at Green Gulch Farm. Perhaps we can find some of these in our own garden experience.
- What: "Ecological Gardening From the Inside Out" talk and book signing with Wendy Johnson
- When: 7 p.m. April 2
- Where: Marin Art & Garden Center, Livermore Room, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross
- Cost: $5
- Information: 499-4204