The journey to becoming Citizen Gardeners

We’re on a quest for gardening knowledge – soaking in what we can a little at a time. After reading more about becoming a master gardener (at least 50 hours of training and 50 hours of volunteer service), we decided to start smaller. I found a program in Austin called the Citizen Gardener, about 10 hours of training and 10 hours of volunteer work. Now that sounded doable!

We gave it a shot and completed the 10 hours of training last weekend and are now looking at volunteer opportunities. We learned all about choosing and prepping a site, using square foot gardening and lasagna gardening techniques for raised beds, and turning household trash and scraps into compost – thanks to our great teachers, Jared and Les.

With both techniques, we learned that you should pick a good site (one that gets eight hours of sun a day, is aesthetically pleasing, is relatively flat, etc.) and prep that site. Remove any large rocks; wet the ground thoroughly; start the microbial process of the existing soil by throwing down items high in nitrogen (coffee grounds, food scraps, etc.); lay down cardboard on top of your scraps to act as a weed blocker; and water the cardboard well! Then, you’re ready to place your bed on top of the cardboard.

Square food garden

Don't forget to mulch around your bed!

With square foot gardening, you measure out your bed in square foot sections. We built a pretty portable 4×4 ft. bed, which is typical for a square foot garden. Another principle of this technique is close plant spacing, also a principle of biointensive gardening. I didn’t realize you could pretty much halve the spacing recommendations on seed packets. By planting your veggies closer together, you create a cover of sorts to keep your soil bed moist and prevent erosion. Besides, this is how plants generally grow in nature.

With lasagna gardening, you create a raised bed using layers of compostable items – hay, chicken manure, lawn clippings, coffee grounds, and other items you’d put into a compost bin. This may be a cheaper option if you don’t have compost soil readily available at home because filling an entire 4×4 ft. bed can be expensive when you use good dirt. Having these two beds side-by-side will be helpful for crop rotation during the next planting season.

Composting with Citizen Gardeners

Les, Blair, and Jared working on the compost bin.

We also talked a lot about “growing your own soil,” aka composting – layering browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen) to create good dirt. We got creative with our compost bin, constructing it with five used palettes and some old wire, filling it with plenty of interesting items. Blair, being the only male in the class of about 15-20 women, was tasked to “stir” the bed.

We also learned that you can find usable garden items in the most unexpected places (used palettes from grocery stores, food scraps from a local school cafeteria or your own kitchen, coffee grounds from Starbucks, scrap wood, leaf trimmings, PVC pipe, chicken wire, and even neighbors’ junk). We also learned about a cool Web site (, where people give away things they just don’t want anymore. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure, or so the saying goes.

Despite having some pretty crummy weather for an outdoor class (about 34 degrees our first Saturday morning and raining the second Saturday morning), I think the course was a great hands-on experience for beginner gardeners to learn general techniques for starting or improving a garden. Plus, you get to meet some cool people and hear about their experiences in the garden. We’ll all meet up again in May for a potluck (if we don’t run into each other sooner volunteering around town)!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kathy on February 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

    You know that I have been gardening a long time, but I still learned alot from your blog. Anne and I used pallettes for our composter at the farm, but we only used 3 sides so it would be easier to turn. It worked great!! We mostly put dirt and dead flowers and plants in it. I think I might use that method again in the back of the garage so that only the Holloways can see it. haha The 4 sided composters are difficult to turn for these old hands. I am putting in another raised 4 x 8 bed next to my other one in my only sunny spot so that I can rotate every year. Flowers in one and veggies in the other!


  2. Posted by Chris on February 26, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    So Blair was the only guy out of 15-20 women! He’s really a hero!


  3. Posted by Blair on February 26, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    I agree that using palettes on all sides does make it difficult to turn. I guess the front palette is supposed to detach easily so you can get in there with a fork. At home, I used a sheet of 1/2 ” hardware cloth. I stapled 2x4s on either end and then formed a cylinder. The ends aren’t attached to each other; they just rest against each other. I haven’t turned it yet, but I’m planning to just remove the “container” and mix it up that way. The other option is to have another empty bin ready. We’ll see if that happens…


  4. Posted by hilstreet on March 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

    You two are becoming quite knowledgeable. If Husbanks and I ever fix the backyard, we will consult you!


  5. […] 2010 by Stephanie A few months back, Andria told me about a compost bin she’d built in her Citizen Gardener class using shipping pallets. I was intrigued. I’ve been wanting a compost bin for a while, […]


  6. […] and then you volunteer 10 hours in the community applying and teaching what you learned. I blogged about the class last spring. I would encourage anyone wanting to learn a little more and volunteer to check it out. Spring […]


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