In March there was food wrappers, batteries, scraps of old clothes, and various pieces of plastic where my future garden would be.

Lessons from the field and something you can bring into your classroom.

As the holiday season approaches, it is time to reflect on what we are grateful for and this year—both the health and well-being of those we have and the fond memories of those we have lost are top of mind. In addition to health, I have to say I am so thankful for running water and electricity. It took living without those things for two years while serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa to make me understand the convenience they play. Another convenience I never considered, waste management, until I decided to build a garden in my host family’s yard. The only available space was where waste like batteries and other rubbish, was discarded. Trash disposal options were burning or burying in my community.

Three weeks (and a lot of help) later the space was clean, and there was even a fence to keep roaming animals out.

It took a solid week and the help of a couple friends removing rubbish until I could plan my garden. At that point, I was still a novice, I had received some permaculture training but still did not have a good grasp how tropical plants grew and the kind of spacing I needed to be successful. The first step was to construct a grid of how I would plant things; that went well! The portion I became educated on was how large some of my plants, like squash and watermelons, would grow out. As my garden matured, the squash overshadowed everything else. Do not be like me underestimating the growing power some plants hold! Plan twice, plant once is the path to gaining your green thumb.

By June I was using permaculture design techniques to create large beds and a system to try and catch rain when that season came. You can see my home in the top left portion of the frame!

Thankfully an organized, systematic method exists. With origins in the hot and dry deserts of New Mexico, the Zuni tribe used a grid planning strategy, referred to as waffle gardens, to help conserve water when planting crops. This concept of using a grid to plan inspired, and later became popularized by, Mel Bartholomew who would write books on this as a method (Square Foot Gardening) to plan gardens. Today, we take cues from their method of growing as a strategy to better plan our gardens, no matter the educational environment. Using this method as a background, we have developed a lesson to help students plan how to grow a large amount of food in a smaller space; a great lesson for planning, using grids or introducing concepts from another culture. Check it out!

At the end of August, things grew and it was a great learning experience. If I planned my garden better perhaps I would have prevented squash from taking over!

– Washington County Programs Coordinator, Casey Blake