Heirloom Gardener Blogs > Lettuce's Urban Homestead

Observations and Orientation

Elizabeth StoneThe first rule of Permaculture is to observe. For some reason this has really been in my head the last week or two. My husband had an army buddy over the other day and we sat outside by the BBQ while they got caught up. I took advantage of this to just sit and observe the soon-to-be-garden area. The first thing I noticed was the noise. On the other side of our backyard is a busy intersection and cars drive by all day and night. Being from the country, I am not used to the constant noise so I made a mental note to do more research on plants that help block sound. Our dog also lays under these plants so I will need to ensure they are tall enough that she can still lay underneath. I also want to try to find plants that are edible or medicinal so they have a secondary use besides just blocking noise.

The second thing I wanted to make note of was the sun. The southern side of the property near the house and the northern side near the fence get quite a bit of sun. However, due to the height of the houses nearby, they may not get much sun at all the early spring or late fall. I will need to plan for starting seeds indoors (maybe take over the garage?) and also put the plants that require seeds on the southern side. The plants that can grow with partial shade, lettuce for example, can go on the northern side.

South yard

I also went out and measured the yard. The square footage is not very large so I will need to experiment with either stacked beds or vertical beds. Since we are renting, we cannot attach anything to the side of the house. However, we can build standalone beds that go up as high as we need. However, as I am only 5 foot 5 inches, I suppose the beds cannot go up too high unless I want to constantly be on a ladder.

North yard

I did get another chance to sit back and observe when I went to my first Master Gardeners class yesterday. For those who aren’t familiar with the program, the Master Gardener Extension Program was started in 1972 by the Washington State University Cooperative Extension. The first clinic was held at a booth at the Tacoma Mall. They had such a great turnout that a curriculum was created and training began in 1973.

The purpose of the Master Gardener Program is to train volunteers in gardening and environmental stewardship who then provide information to local community members. They not only answer gardening questions from the community, but they also have several demonstration gardens, donate produce to local food banks and they help low-income citizens learn to grow their own food to become self-sufficient. Nearly every county in every U.S. state (and Canadian province) has a Master Gardener program. In fact, as of 2009, there were 95,000 active Master Gardeners according to the Extension Master Gardener National Survey. If you ever have a garden related question, just send them an email, call or stop by and they’d be happy to help. I also have included a few links at the bottom of this page for those who are interested in learning more about Master Gardening or one of the other many classes they offer.

This first class was mostly an orientation in which we discussed course expectations, how to access the course online, recording our volunteer hours and individual introductions. The class lasted for 7 hours and during this time, I had plenty of time to sit back and watch. It was actually quite enjoyable for me as people watching is one of my favorite activities. I first noticed that everyone in the class looked happy. It never occurred to me before, but I have never met an unhappy gardener. I am going to assume this has something to do with the natural anti-depressants found in the soil. It seemed like everyone there had smile and a kind word when you passed them. Going into this class I did have some stereotypes that I was pleasantly surprised to see were not correct. I assumed that the program would be mostly retirement age students. However, I would say at least a third of the class were in their 30s and 40s with at least one person that appeared to be in her 20s.

The teacher had us each introduce ourselves and it was fascinating to listen to all the stories. I was not the only one who had a family member who was a Master Gardener in the past. Nor was I the only one who had really just started gardening. A few had no gardening experience at all while others have been gardening their whole lives. Everyone had enrolled in the class for different reasons, as well. Some want to learn more about houseplants while others, compost. I personally find grocery shopping to be a huge chore so I would like to learn how to easily grow all the food my family needs in a year (with very little effort, of course). It was a great mix of interests and experience which makes me very excited to get started. I can’t wait to share with you what I learn from everyone in this group.

To find your local extension office, click here.

For a history of the Master Gardener program, go here: History of WSU Extension Master Gardener Program.

Want to see the impact the Master Gardener Program has on local communities? Click here.