The Crestone Eagle • February, 2021

Garden Guru: Atlanta’s garden

by Matie Belle

According to Joanna Dokson, the name Atalanta means “Learning to live, with personal responsibility, in peace and harmony with all creation”. The name was chosen, by the daughter of Subud’s founder, for the project which is manifesting on 44 acres of land granted by the Manitou Foundation in 1995. Subud is a non-denominational spiritual group that meets weekly (during non-COVID times). The garden is just one part of the project, which also includes goats, chickens, and horses, as well as many human volunteers and collaborators.

The exact location of the Atalanta project was visioned by Joanna many years before she and Eli Dokson and their family moved to this area. It is one of those Crestone stories that helps one understand that “everything is in Divine Order”. Ask her sometime, if you can catch her. She is also a full-time nurse with a specialty in dialysis—one of the few in the valley. She has been very busy nursing victims of COVID-19.

According to Atalanta’s website, www.atalanta.org, “The goals of the cooperative garden span beyond providing healthy food. It is important for people to understand where their food comes from and how to ethically and responsibly grow their own food. Several volunteers of all ages have enriched their lives through work in the cooperative garden. A deeper understanding of the food origin and sustainability can be gained by learning about the local growing season and soil. It is our hope that through education and cooperative farming we can build a more sustainable community and world.”

There are several ways for people to participate in the garden. Working members pay a small fee, but work at least four hours a week during the growing season. Joanna describes it as “gardening in companionship”, as they have a lot of fun doing it. Non-working members subscribe for a certain fee per year and receive a basket of produce on a regular basis. Gardeners also plant extra produce to donate to the Food Bank to assist those who can neither work nor pay. Atalanta also hosts special groups and classes, whose participants both contribute and benefit from the gardening experience.

Typical crops include salad greens, kale, chard, collards and other braising greens, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, root vegetables, peas, beans, tomatoes, herbs and asparagus. I was particularly impressed with the brussels sprouts, which is a long season crop that is challenging to grow here.

Everything is grown organically, and they have a regular source of manure from the stables, the goats, and the chickens. This is composted, and mineral supplements are added as needed. Joanna said there is rarely any problem with pests or diseases, however, last year she bought a squash plant that apparently had a mildew problem that wasn’t evident. After it was planted out into the garden, mildew took over, and even spread to some other squash plants. To avoid infestations like this becoming a long-term problem, they rotate crops regularly.

There is also a small orchard, which is struggling. Besides the wind, which is challenging out in the open, they have had trouble with porcupines eating the young trees. While Joanna and I were looking at the orchard, we discovered a young tree with most of its bark chewed off. Porcupines, along with squirrels, are good climbers and can go right over fences placed around young trees.

Under the water laws of Colorado, since Atalanta owns 44 acres it is entitled to a domestic well, which is allowed to irrigate one acre of land. Joanna said that the Forest Service helped them understand how, by using drip irrigation and soaker hose, they can count just the area that is actually getting wet, and not include paths and spaces in between rows or plants. If they were using an overhead sprinkler, the area that could be irrigated would be much smaller. This means they can water some small trees and shrubs with soaker hoses, as well as vegetables and fruits.

They use a 100 ft. deep well for irrigation. A solar pump moves the water into a tank, then gravity and a pressure pump facilitate the irrigation. Water is distributed both through drip lines and a hose system called Snip & Drip, which easily adapt to yearly changes in spacing of crops.

There is one significant structure on the property, although others are planned. It consists of a root cellar, a larger space with windows housing a kitchen and a meeting/living space, and an attached greenhouse. In front of that is an area enclosed with clear walls, but no longer a roof. This is where they grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and basil—heat-loving crops. Originally, there was a clear roof over the space, but they found that it was easier to control the temperature without the roof. The vertical windows block the wind, and that keeps the plants warmer than outside. There is also a large hoop house for other longer season crops.

When frost threatens, they use frost covers and bring in the tomato plants and hang them upside down in the work room. They were still picking tomatoes when I visited in mid-January. They grow several varieties of cherry tomatoes, along with heirloom varieties of larger tomatoes such as Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter, as well as a green one called Green Zebra (I have to try that one.)

The root cellar and work room are made of straw bales and stuccoed on the inside and outside. The greenhouse on the front of the building has vertical glass windows about 8 feet tall, making for a lot of light. An adobe brick wall collects and holds the heat, while a large water tank covered in black plastic helps. Straw bale walls and a ceiling insulated with wool and denim fibers have created a space that never freezes, even without supplemental heat. Big pots of herbs grow there in the winter. Citronella and mint plants discourage white flies and other greenhouse pests.

One of the goals of Atalanta is education. Over the years, they have hosted numerous groups for educational events. In 2019, they hosted a group called Human Force. This program brought young people, aged 16 to 21, for a two-week service learning program. Youth from all income brackets and nationalities worked on the gardens and root cellar, cared for the goats, and visited other spiritual centers and the Sand Dunes. In their spare time, they painted a really nice mural on a wall of one of the garden sheds. They were planning to return in 2020, but COVID-19 changed their plans. Joanna hopes they will bring another group in 2021.

One of Atalanta’s goals is to construct a dormitory and classroom/meeting space where they can host other workshops and seminars, as well as have a place for Subud gatherings. Atalanta’s garden is considered a Susila Dharma project, meaning “doing good in the world”.