A very nice article and very nice effort by Shyamagopala Das.
I remember H.H.Bhakti Rasamrta Maharaj had initiated Green temple project
for sub-continent. Might be good to make a database of green temples of
ISKCON worldwide and encourage others to catch on.
D.C. Gardener Encourages City Temples to Go Green
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 19 Jul 2012
As environmentally-friendly living becomes more and more of a concern in a
modern society where Earth's resources are fast running out, ISKCON has an
increasing responsibility to set a good example.
After all, our philosophy is based upon our founder's oft-quoted aphorism
"Simple Living, High Thinking"—the practice of living naturally from the
land while focusing on solving life's mysteries.
This responsibility doesn't fall solely on the shoulders of ISKCON's rural
communities—it's also something city temples can join in on, thus lending
our society much greater credibility in the eyes of the public.
One of those stepping up to the plate is Shyam Gopal, gardener at ISKCON of
As well as offering good advice for other temples interested in going green,
Shyam is walking the walk himself. That's something U.S. First Lady Michelle
who encourages home gardens and planted one on the White House's South Lawn
just 17 miles from the ISKCON temple—would appreciate.
Shyam, 34, comes with quite a pedigree. The son of a gardener and a forester
in Berkeley, California, he studied environmental science at UC Santa
Barbara, worked as a park ranger and an eco-tourist guide, and served at the
ISKCON farm in Mauritius before moving to D.C. in March of this year.
On only one third of an acre at the temple in Potomac, Maryland—a D.C.
suburb—Shyam has already coaxed an impressive bounty from the earth.
"We have heirloom and lauki squash, golden and green zucchini, hybrid and
cherry tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, and Thai, serrano, habanero,
and cow-horn chilis," he says. "We also grow eggplant, cabbage, okra,
bitter-melon, cucumber, cantelopes, pole beans and bush beans, beats,
carrots, mixed lettuce, various pumpkins, and two-foot long watermelons."
He has to pause for breath, before reeling off a spiel that sounds like a
Simon and Garfunkel song. "Then there are all the herbs: basil, sage,
rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill, fennel, fenugreek, and cilantro."
With all these, the garden is ISKCON D.C.'s main source of organic
vegetables, its sole source of herbs, and a considerable supplement to its
overall food purchases.
And that's not all: the temple doesn't have to buy any flowers for its
presiding Deities in the summer time, when rows upon rows of African,
Mexican hybrid and double bloom marigolds, as well as red roses, white Tuber
roses, and even seven-foot-tall sunflowers are available to make beautiful
All this abundance is no accident. Shyam Gopal cares so much about the
plants, which he calls his "children," that he's often spotted talking or
singing to them. In the future, he'd like to set up some outdoor speakers to
play them Srila Prabhupada's kirtan.
This is nothing to laugh at. Shyam's holistic, natural gardening techniques
are no conconction— they're embedded in both scientific and Krishna
"In trying to debunk the old research done on playing music for plants to
improve their growth, researchers, for instance on the TV show Mythbusters,
have only found that they couldn't disprove it," Shyam says. "It actually
Plants, he explains, respond to music of all types—classical, ragas, heavy
metal, and poetry— as well as simply being spoken to, with vigorous growth,
more flowers and larger fruit development. They don't have favorite genres;
they simply like the interaction and are stimulated by the vibration.
"As I'm checking the plants for fungus, damage and pests every day by hand,
I talk to them," says Shyam. "I just say, 'How are you doing?' or 'Oh, you
have a problem here.' And when I harvest from them I say 'Thank you, we
appreciate what you're giving us for the Deities. You're doing a great
service.' After all, they're souls, just like me. I was a plant before. It
was a rough life. So although they may not understand my words, I want them
to feel on some level that they're not living in vain."
Shyam, following the best practices in permaculture, organic gardening, and
is considerate in all areas of his work. Seeing the soil as a living system
full of complex, interdependent relationships, he avoids tilling once his
garden beds have been made so as not to destroy this infrastructure.
Instead, worms, which are carefully protected, do the tilling for him.
He also avoids walking on the beds in order to let the roots breathe. And
rather than feeding the plants directly, he feeds the soil—considered to be
"the stomach" in natural organic farming— with "Actively Aerated Compost
This is made by blowing a household air pump, such as those used for an
aquarium or air mattress, into a tank of water holding a "tea bag" made from
cheese-cloth. The "tea bag" is filled with worm castings, a high quality
compost created by feeding worms vegetable scraps and manure. This liquid
compost mixture is aerated for 24 hours, then molasses and seaweed are
"Molasses increases good bacteria, and seaweed has natural plant growth
hormones, which helps plants to uilize sunlight and photosynthesize better,"
says Shyam. "It also acts like a B complex vitamin, boosting their immune
system and reducing stress when you transplant."
As he develops his garden, Shyam Gopal will also add Rishi-Krishi, the
ancient farming techniques of sages described in the Vedas, to his
Some of these techniques, written about by the great Parashara Muni in
Krishi-Parashara and by Kashyapa in Kashyapiyakrishisukti, coincide with
biodynamic principles, and thus are already being practiced in the ISKCON
For instance, Shyam Gopal works by the lunar calendar, planting seeds as the
moon is waxing, and pruning, transplanting and composting as it is waning.
He also plants different items on the days the waxing moon goes through
different constellations: for vegetables it's the fire sign; for leaf crops,
the water sign; for flowers, the air sign; and for roots, the earth sign.
This, amongst all his other practices, makes for tastier and healthier
Shyam encourages other devotees, at any level of experience, to start their
own natural organic gardens at their temples or homes.
For beginners, he advises, "Start small. Don't get overwhelmed by giving
yourself way too much work. Start organic—there may be a pest or problem you
can't control organically at some point, but at least start organic and
learn that way. And start with things that are easy to grow: herbs,
tomatoes, a few flowers for your Deities."
Specific local knowledge is key in gardening, Shyam says, so get advice from
local gardeners in your area who know the local conditions. Your nearest
university's agriculture extension office or its website can also be an
excellent resource for this.
Another key to gardening is awareness. "Observe how your plants are growing
in different conditions," Shyam says. "Go outside and check the weather
every day. Get to know how reliable your local weather report is, compared
to the actual weather. Get a simple rain guage and measure the rain. Get in
touch with the cycles of the sun, moon, and seasons."
Finally, Shyam encourages ISKCON temples to go green by purchasing
biodegradable silverware and plates, since so many are used at every Sunday
Feast and festival. He also suggests using shredded paper and cardboard
boxes in the garden as mulch, and using all rotten vegetables as compost,
not allowing anything to go to waste.
"Once you get started and build your knowledge base, it only gets better and
better," he says.
Shyam Gopal is happy to help other ISKCON temples go green and increase
their fruit, flower and vegetable production. To speak with him and receive
educational resources which he says have benefitted him greatly, please
contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.