2024 Certified Garden Master Course
About our course:
Most Master Garden courses offered by state universities include large sections about pesticide use and safety and non-organic approaches to gardening. Not so with this course!
With the Certified Garden Master course, you will learn organic, veganic, no-till, and permaculture gardening knowledge and skills. This course will focus on soil and habitat-building for beneficial organisms and systems thinking for gardeners and farmers: how to manage relationships rather than just crops.
Our goal is to understand ecological functions and interactions within plant, soil, microorganism, and insect communities. You will learn how to identify and manage all the relationships that make up a healthy farm-garden-ecosystem--one that does not require pesticides or large off-farm fertilizer inputs .
Not only has Helen Atthowe taught Master Gardener courses for 17 years, she also wrote the manual for her course in Western Montana. Helen studied with Fukuoka and has been learning how to pay attention to the land and apply his farming principles to her commercial organic farms for 35 years, while also adding and developing ecological farming principles of her own. She has grown everything from permaculture food forests to managing a 2,000 acre organic commodity farm.
She has an undergraduate degree in Agro-Ecology, an MS in Horticulture, and research towards a PhD in Entomology on how reduced-tillage affects beneficial organism populations and crop biological control. Paul and Helen have recorded multiple podcasts together, and they are some of Paul's most listened to podcasts, with many people listening to them repeatedly!
Helen is currently writing her own, comprehensive Garden Master book. You can preview the introduction here!
Day 0: Check-In (Sunday, February 4)
Arrival: Register and settle in. Please plan to arrive within this window of time.
Airport pickups - 10am to 5pm.
Arrival by car: 1pm to 5pm.
Get Settled In: Find your bunk or other accommodation and get the lay of the land
Complimentary dinner is served at 6pm.
Evening Session: 7:15 – 8:30 Introduction: Growing Your Diet: the Agroecosystem concept at Woodleaf Farm. Virtual Tour of Helen Atthowe’s Oregon Farm.
Sleep: Try to get plenty of rest. We start early and you have a full day jam-packed with information tomorrow.
Quiet Time: 9:30pm - 6am.
Day 1: Introduction and Overview: Ecological Interactions & how everything is connected. (Monday, February 5)
Session 1: Designing an Agroecosystem or Garden-Ecosystem within Your Environment. Introducing Helen’s Ten Ecological Principles for Managing Ecological Relationships Rather Than Crops. Systems Thinking for Farmers & Gardeners. How Soil & Habitat Building is Connected.
Session 2: Agroecosystem Details:
- Light – cropping diversity and canopy structure.
- Geology, climate, slope, aspect, soil type, and drainage.
- Temperature - plant response to temperature, modifying the microclimate.
- Water - humidity, rainfall, soil moisture content, & irrigation.
Session 3: Choosing Crops: species and variety selection for year-round food production and/or markets.
Evening Session: Paul’s overview of on-site permaculture technology.
Day 2: At the Root of a Healthy Plant Community: Soil, Soil Fertility, Nutrient Cycling, & the Soil Organic Matter System (Tuesday, February 6)
Session 1: Soil Basics, Ecology, and Microbial interactions. Life in the Soil (video).
- How To Read A Soil Test And What It Tells Us.
- How to Optimize Organic Matter Decomposition & Nutrient Cycling.
Session 2: When to Till and When not to.
Session 3: Soil Organic Matter System Walk-About and Questions (bring warm clothes & boots)
Session 4: Cover crops, living mulches, & compost. Grow your own fertilizer. Timing of application and the difference between surface-applied, and incorporated fertilizers.
Session 5: Plant Nutrient Deficiencies ID. Fertigation “Intervention”, Foliar Feeding, and Compost Teas. Mineral Balancing.
Evening Session: Soil Organic Matter System Management Practical Details from Woodleaf and Biodesign Farms.
Day 3: Shifting The Balance to Your Annual and Perennial Crops: Strengthen the “immune system” of your agroecosystem. (Wednesday, February 7)
Session 1: Working with Insects in the farm/garden System & Creating Habitat.
- Common Insect Pests and Their Natural Enemies.
- Insect Predator & Parasite Enhancement Design. Best plants for beneficial insect enhancement.
- Intervention when insects impact crops.
Session 2: Creating Habitat Walk-About and Questions (bring warm clothes & boots).
Session 3: Working with Diseases in the farm/garden System.
- Identifying the good guys and managing the bad guys.
- Plant disease ecology and management.
- Intervention when diseases impact crops. Rotations, microbial biological control, and plant
systemic acquired resistance.
Evening Session: Practical Examples of Balancing Nutrient Cycling, Habitat Creation, & Disease Suppression from Woodleaf, Biodesign, and Other Farms.
Day 4: Working With Plant Competition in the Farm/Garden System. (Thursday, February 8)
Session 1: What is a weed & how much competition can your specific crop(s) handle? Benefits of weeds & how to design weeds into your system. Enhancing the competitive ability of crops to resist weeds (crop planting timing & microclimate modification). Weed ID and which weeds to encourage and which to manage.
Session 2: Tillage affects weed species dominance and ecology: when to till to manage specific weeds. Cover crops, living mulches, and weed suppression. Intervention when weeds impact crops.
Session 3: Plant Competition Walk-About and Questions (bring warm clothes & boots).
Session 4: Plant Propagation & Seed Saving.
Evening Session: Pest-Resistant Fruit & Vegetable Varieties. Research Results.
Day 5: Growing a Diet Details. (Friday, February 9)
Session 1: Vegetable Crop Details, Troubleshooting, And Intervention. Season Extension. Designing Crop Rotations for Long-Term Pest Prevention.
Session 2: Fruit Crop Details, Troubleshooting, And Intervention. Mineral Mix Bloom Sprays for Tree Fruit Set & Disease Prevention. Spacing & Pruning. Designing Crop Rotations for Long-Term Pest Prevention. Frost Control.
Session 3: Round-Table Discussions of Students’ Garden & Farm Issues, Ideas, and Questions.
7:00am – breakfast
8:00am – summary of the day
8:30am – session 1
10:00am – session 2
noon – lunch
1:00pm – session 3
3:00pm – session 4
5:00pm – cleanup
6:00pm – dinner
7:00pm – evening presentations
9:30pm to 6:00am – quiet time
Arrival: Day Zero (February 4th - the day before the beginning of the event) 10am to 5pm airport pickups, registration and getting settled in. Please plan to arrive within this window of time.
Helen has spent 35 years working to connect farming, food systems, land stewardship, and conservation. She currently farms and does soil- and natural enemies’ habitat- building research on a 211 acre organic farm in Eastern Oregon. Helen and her late husband created educational videos on Agrarian Dreams and did video presentations about their ecological farming methods. Helen has an M.S. in Horticulture from Rutgers University (1987) and has worked in education and research at Rutgers (1986 -1988), Oregon State University (2011-2015) and the University of Arkansas (1984-1985). She was a Horticulture Extension Agent in Montana for 17 years where she designed, taught, and wrote the manual for an Organic Master Garden course. She also owned/operated a 30 acre certified organic vegetable/fruit farm in Montana and a 26 acre certified organic orchard with her late husband in California. Helen wrote grants & conducted several on-farm research projects in Montana and California, including: ecological weed and insect management, organic reduced tillage systems for vegetable and orchard crops, and managing living mulches for soil and habitat building. Helen was a board member for the Organic Farming Research Foundation 2000-2005 and advisor for Wild Farm Alliance in 2018 & 2019. Helen instructed a Master Gardener Program for many years before creating the Garden Master Course at Wheaton Labs, which marries conventional course material with her extensive all-organic farming experience.
Websites: woodleaffarm.com and veganicpermaculture.com
Paul Wheaton, The Duke of Permaculture, is an author, producer, and certified advanced master gardener. He has created hundreds of youtube videos, hundreds of podcasts, multiple DVDs, and written dozens of articles and a book. As the lead mad scientist at Wheaton Labs, he's conducted experiments resulting in rocket stoves and wood ovens, massive earthworks, solar dehydrators and much more.
Samantha grew up weaving and doing needle work with her mother and grandmother. After high school she bought 60 acres of Washington forest land and built an off grid homestead. She attended Wilderness Awareness School and taught youth programs there for many years. She apprenticed with educator, author, artist Heidi Bohan, learning baskets and medicinal and traditional uses of plants. She likes to make her own clothes and grow her own food, living the permaculture dream on 5000 acres of Washington prairie land where she raises Finn sheep and other animals.
Rentals & Accommodations
Camping at Wheaton Labs is complimentary for event attendees, but due to inhospitable and unpredictable weather in Montana in February, most people prefer something a little more indoorsy. We have various bunks and structures for rent, and it's possible to park an rv or stay somewhere nearby as well.
For rental information, please visit permies.com/wiki/rentals.
Note: 80% refund up to two weeks before the event starts. If you are not comfortable with being recorded, please do not attend. Tobacco/drug/vape free campus.
Regular price tickets will be $1250. Super Early Bird expires after the first 10 tickets have been sold, so claim your spot!
Certified Garden Master Course
February 5-9, 2024
Paul will provide three simple meals a day at no charge, but food is not included with your ticket. If you have special dietary needs/desires, you might want to bring your own food and use our rocket cook stoves, ovens, solar ovens and other cooking contraptions.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Where exactly is Wheaton Labs?
If I really love it at Wheaton Labs, can I stick around?
There are many options for continuing your stay!
- You can continue to rent one of our accommodations as part of our SEPPers Program - Seriously Excited About Permaculture Pampering
- Get Deep Roots. This is an alternative to buying land at Wheaton Labs (sorta like lifetime rent)
- Or Shallow Roots - 3 years - acreage rent of a shorter time frame
- Become a Boot! Permaculture Bootcamp - boots to roots is a way to learn and earn an acre at wheaton labs in about 21 months. And, you'll gain a bunch of skills in the process!
- Join Ant Village. This is the main community on the lab where "Ants" each rent an acre on which to build their own home(s) and food systems
Can I bring my kids &/or spouse? Do I have to pay extra for them?
You are more than welcome to bring a spouse. If they also pay for a ticket, they can join in all the activities. However, if they do not pay, they will not be able to take part in the classes. But, they are welcome to stay at your rental and explore the vast expanses of wilderness.
As for kids, they are welcome, too. But, they need to be watched and cannot take part in innovations, meals, or classes, if they have not paid for a ticket. Please note that Wheaton Labs is not childproofed, and with all the experiments and innovations, it's important to keep an eye on your children. You can find out more about kids at Wheaton Labs HERE.
What about my dog?
In a perfect world, we would have systems set up for dogs here at Wheaton Labs. We would love a Dog Village. Alas, we are currently not set up for dogs unless you can insure that they will be super well-behaved (find out more about that here). Perhaps building a permaculture Dog Village here at Wheaton Labs is a project you would like to undertake!
Smokes? Booze? 420 friendly?
Wheaton Labs is a tobacco, vape and, drug-free campus. We don't mind folks have a little hooch from time to time, provided that they pack out the bottles or cans. And we do ask that you go very easy on the hooch -- due to some past events we would like to forget.
What other things are nearby?
There's all sorts of things to do, from organic groceries to theater to bars and hot springs. There's a lot more detailed information HERE.
What should I wear/bring?
Here's some ideas!
- dress for being outside in whatever Montana weather might bring! Layers, hats and boots are recommended
- average temperatures in January range from 34°F to 19°F (or 1°C to 7.2°C)
- the key to working outside when it is cold is layers. Natural materials are best: wool and silk, especially during winter months. Cotton is good for cooling. In a cold climate, there is the expression "cotton kills," although many people seem to do just fine with a lot of cotton.
- bring your own water bottle, travel mug, etc. to stay hydrated, and/or sunscreen
- bring your favorite gloves, safety glasses or tools as you wish - we will have limited amounts available (though be prepared for the tool monster to eat your tools)
- if you are camping on site, bring your camping gear and your own towel for our outdoor rocket-stove-/compost-heated-hot-water showers
- flashlights are recommended!
- (if applicable) bring/use only biodegradable, natural soaps and other toiletries (low to no scents are appreciated, too)
More about what to bring: HERE.