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Marin IJ Articles

Organic demonstration garden hosts Master Gardener workshops

  • Marie Narlock
  • I will never forget the first time I smelled a tomato growing on a vine. I was a young child, and the earthy scent was so intoxicating that I couldn’t stop touching the foliage. Why didn’t tomatoes at the store smell like this? Were there other foods that had been stripped of their heavenly fragrance before being shipped to my local grocery store?

    I think about this moment as I harvest tomatoes from my garden today — or when I snip fresh herbs, or dig up a blue potato, or loosen sweet peas from their pods. Growing and eating food fresh from the garden has become a natural part of my family’s routine. We adore the arrival of asparagus spears in spring, long string beans in summer, and plump sugar-sweet grapes in early fall.

    Although this may sound like an episode of “Little House on the Prairie,” the truth is it’s not so hard to grow some of your own food. It just takes a modicum of space and a little bit of know-how. I relied on family, friends, and books to learn how to grow fruits and vegetables. Through considerable trial and error, I feel relatively confident, but I’m also curious about what I’m missing.

    That’s why I’m looking forward to attending the monthly workshops at the new edible demonstration garden at Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden in Novato. UC Marin Master Gardeners have created an inviting outdoor classroom where you can learn how to grow your own food. You can join from 10 a.m. to noon every third Saturday for hands-on instruction, or visit the garden on your own between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The next class, on Sept. 17, is all about fruit tree care and preparation for winter. Cost is $10. Sign up at marinmg.ucanr.edu.

    “This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” says Gael Perrin, who co-chaired the effort with fellow master gardener Sara O’Keefe. “We created the edible demonstration garden to showcase the tips and techniques that Marin residents can easily employ at home to grow healthy, organic food. Our workshops are suitable for new gardeners who want to know where to start, and experienced gardeners looking to hone their skills.”

    No dirt? No problem.

    Workshop participants can expect an expert, customized education. You’re encouraged to bring photos of your garden as well as plant samples that show a problem you’re experiencing with a pest or disease.

    You’ll learn the basics of building soil: what to add, what not to add, and how to tell if yours is in good shape. UC Marin Master Gardeners will provide instruction on what to plant, when to plant it, and how to feed and maintain it. You’ll find out how to start seeds inside or out, nurture their growth, and transplant successfully.

    There are a variety of containers to peruse at the edible demonstration garden — everything from raised beds to barrels to used scrap metal. Even if you only have deck or driveway space, you’ll be amazed at what you can grow in a $10 bale of straw. The demonstration garden currently features beans, eggplants and other edibles growing directly out of straw bales.

    You’ll see what a well-designed, efficient irrigation system looks like, and learn how to put one together yourself. You’ll learn inexpensive techniques for supporting heavy growers like tomatoes and cucumbers, and twining crops such as beans. You’ll learn the correct methods for harvesting and storing fruits and vegetables.

    Never a better time.

    We’re fortunate to live in an area where we can buy organic produce that’s grown locally. But, there’s nothing more local — or economical or healthier or more environmentally sound — than your own backyard. You’ll be amazed at the profound improvement in taste your homegrown food has, not to mention the satisfaction you’ll feel in having grown and cared for it yourself.