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2024 Certified Garden Master Course

January 29-February 2, 2024
Near Missoula, Montana

2024 Certified Garden Master Course with Helen Atthowe

click here for prices to 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.

Paul wheaton and Helen Atthowe teaching in Montana

About Helen:
Not only has Helen Atthowe taught Master Gardener courses for 18 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 repeately!

Helen has written her own, comprehensive Garden Master book. You can see all about it and get 35% off here!

helen atthowe people permaculture and polyculture gardening

Event Schedule:

Day 0: Check-In (Sunday, January 28th)
Please plan to arrive the day before the event begins. 10am to 5pm airport pickups, registration and getting settled in.

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: 9:30-pm - 6am

Day 1: Introduction and Overview: Ecological Interactions & how everything is connected. (Monday, January 29th)

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, January 30th)

    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, January 31st)

    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 1st)

    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 2nd)

    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.

    organic, veganic permaculture gardening woman with dog vegetables between fruit trees

    Daily Schedule

    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


    helen atthowe Helen Atthowe -- Instructor

    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.

    Websites: woodleaffarm.org and veganicpermaculture.com

    Youtube: Agrarian Dreams

    Paul Wheaton -- Host/Instructor

    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 ovens, massive earthworks, solar dehydrators and much more.

    For information about where to stay at Wheaton Labs, visit


    Kat Nelson

    We all know how important nutrient-dense, organic food is to permies. So we have brought Kat back to cook for us again. She has filled our bellies full of goodness at a few other events here a Wheaton Labs over the years.

    click here for prices to garden master course

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    Leigh Gates here. I’m buying a 2nd ticket but I missed/didnt see/forgot does the bunk come with the tickets? I dont see a place to pay separately. I am 70 & arthritic, very difficult to climb to upper bunk if they are assigned. Thankyou
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    leigh gates wrote:Leigh Gates here. I’m buying a 2nd ticket but I missed/didnt see/forgot does the bunk come with the tickets? I dont see a place to pay separately. I am 70 & arthritic, very difficult to climb to upper bunk if they are assigned. Thankyou

    Hi Leigh! The bunk does need to be paid for separately. You can check here: permies rentals for prices and options, and please send an email to wheatonlabs@gmail.com with your preference after you purchased your ticket.
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