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Make & Take Workshop: Self-Watering Bucket Tomato

10 Jun

Grow tomatoes in a bucket! This clever design offers a useful repurpose for the classic 5-gallon bucket. Come learn how to turn that bucket into a productive tomato container fit for Pacific Northwest summers.

Saturday, June 22nd @ 10 AM

Dirt Works, Yauger Park, West Olympia

AmeriCorps Master Gardener volunteer, Lisa Gitelman, will lead this free Make & Take workshop. You will leave with a recycled bucket containing a tomato start ready to grow! Simple pre-register by emailing




Workshops this Weekend – Saturday, June 8th

3 Jun

Get out, into the sun and into the garden! This weekend the WSU Master Gardener Program of Thurston County is hosting two great educational hands-on workshops:


Low Pollen Gardening

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

10am at Dirt Works Demonstration Garden, Olympia.

No pre-registration needed.

Do you have or know someone with allergies, asthma, COPD or other respiratory conditions that can limit participation in outdoor activities in the garden?  This class is designed to help you plan a year round garden to provide beauty and    lasting enjoyment with minimal pollen exposures.  We will discuss what to plant, and where to plant it to make your garden a success.


Worms eat your garbage and make glorious soil!

Worm Composting Workshop

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

10am at Closed Loop Park Demonstration Garden, Lacey.

No pre-registration needed.

Composting food scraps with red worms, or vermicomposting, produces rich organic compost for your garden and diverts waste



Questions? Email:

Vote on the new banner for the MGFTC website!

17 Apr

Message from the MGFTC President:

One of the exciting and time-consuming efforts the MGFTS Board has undertaken this year is to update our MGFTC website. Thanks to members of the website committee (Roy Emory, Kaleen Cottingham, Diane Stanger, Bev Postman, Lisa Gitelman, and Cori Carlton) we have a new Foundation website with improved navigability, content, style, and ease of use. Development of this website is just one phase of a larger effort aimed at freshening up the MGFTC’s total ‘brand’ or how we present our organization to our public and customers. We will be developing guidelines on the use of our logo and other graphics on various materials so MGFTC can be identified easily and consistently.

Please help us kick off the new website by voting on a new ‘banner’, the graphic that goes at the top of our website on all of its pages. Please note that this banner is not the logo, it is simply a style component for the website. With our annual Plant Sale just around the corner, we need to be promoting it through our website. Take a moment (before April 27th) to click on the link to the blog (below) and indicate your top pick by use of the voting buttons. Thanks for helping us move this project along and watch for the new website!


Toni Ghazal, President

Master Gardener Foundation Thurston County



Polls will close at midnight on Saturday,  April 27th.  Please submit your vote prior to then.

  • Option 1:


  • Option 2:


  • Option 3:


Earth Day is a Gardener’s Day

4 Apr

Gardeners take notice, Earth Day is approaching! Monday, April 22nd is the official observed Earth Day. It’s a great excuse to take a whole day to consider, appreciate, and applaud our ecosystem as well as our reciprocal role in it, too.


As gardeners, we view every day as Earth Day, truly, but in the spirit of spring and this upcoming holiday, I’d like to dedicate this blog entry to wonderful ecological services Master Gardeners are helping to promote. Maybe some Master Gardeners have not truly considered themselves stewards of the environment, but they ought to.

Gardening is one modern method of connecting to the earth, despite living in a more urban setting. By actively participating in the natural cycles of seeding, germination, growth, and decay, gardeners connect to nature in very profound ways.

Often times around this holiday we are hearing more about ecological concerns. Indeed there is much to be concerned about with issues of climate change only steepening, and other environmental issues. Although true, such negative focus can be paralyzing at times. Not to be willfully ignorant, but out of sincere adoration, I’d like to take this opportunity commemorate all that is being done for the local environment by our Thurston County Master Gardener volunteers for the community.

The Master Gardeners take current science-based information, mostly unbiased as it is being conducted on behalf of each state’s respective land grant institution, and implements it into its training program every year. Through the training and the Continuing Education opportunities, Master Gardeners become conduits for credible gardening knowledge, distributing this valuable product throughout the community through volunteer work and simply by being a community member. Our three gardens in Thurston County (Farmers Market, Dirt Works, and Closed Loop Park) are educational sites for gardeners and community members alike. Many view them as focal recreational spaces and gathering spaces. But also, not to forget, they are earth spaces. Because whenever there is a garden instead of a shopping mall, or a parking lot, there is an ecological benefit taking place (assuming the garden is conducted with mindful practices, Integrated Pest Management).

Plants instead of concrete equates to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the air, via photosynthesis. Soil versus impermeable pavement means filtration of rain-water is occurring. Edible plants growing in the community means a reduction the carbon foot-print of shipping foods from far-away places.

Gardening is therefore ecosystem service and a social service. Thank you, Master Gardener volunteers, for beautifying Thurston County, inspiring community members, and acting as stewards to the environment!

Earth day weekend (April 20-21st) will have many of the Master Gardeners busy with activities around the community. Join us for any of the following events:

April 21st:

Oyster Bed Installation

Join AmeriCorps volunteer, Lisa Gitelman, for a demonstration installation of an Oyster Mushroom bed at Closed Loop Park. The bed will serve to re mediate run-off passing through the garden from the dog-park located at the crest of the hill. The installation is simple and easy to learn. You can use the information here to incorporate your own mycoremediation site in your neighborhood or garden or simply grow nutritious, edible oyster mushrooms!

Closed Loop Park

2418 Hogum Bay Rd NE

Lacey, WA 98516

11 am – 12:30 pm 

The Soil That Makes Washington Oh So Evergreen

21 Feb

Can you name the Washington state bird? How about the flower? Okay, now what about our official state soil?


Many residents are completely unaware of the existence of an official state soil. But it exists! What a righteous way to honor the state you live in. The NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) reports that “each state in the United States has selected a state soil, twenty of which have been legislatively established”. Washington is one of those righteous states, that has taken the time and energy to officially declare a state soil. Better know it! It’s the Tokul series.

But what is a ‘soil series’. How can a soil have an identity? Soil is after all, a living body that is constantly changing and developing. A series is the last classifying branch on the soil taxonomy tree. Soils have a taxonomic system, just like living organisms do; it is how soils are named. A soil series is a class of soils made up of soil individuals (like individual trees within a species) that have a common suite of soil profile properties.

The Tokul series is certainly one to take pride in. It is one of the most productive soils in the world! The name ‘Tokul’ comes from a small community and creek in King County. You will find over one million acres of the Tokul series along the Puget trough, from south of Seattle to the Canadian border. This soil fosters the growth of Douglas-firs, Western Hemlocks (our state tree) and other conifers. Therefore, the Tokul soil series is ultimately responsible for Washington’s well-known nickname, the Evergreen State.


The Tokul soil series is found west of the Cascades, in conifer forests along the Puget trough. The areas in green depict where you’ll find this extensive soil series.

The Tokul series has a beautiful profile. It has an organic layer at the surface, due to the coniferous and forest debris. Below that, a dark-brown, organic rich, gravelly loam creates a fertile and well-drained environment for roots to penetrate and thrive. This sub-layer is strongly influenced by volcanic ash, which makes this soil a volcanic soil! Below the beautiful brown-reddish layer of soil (extending about 1-2 feet) you’ll uncover a somewhat cemented layer of soil, of a complete different shade, more of a grey color. This is because this soil formed from a different ‘parent’ material, a dense glacial till, which then was overlaid with volcanic ash and loess (wind-blown sediment). The combination of different geological events leads to a beautiful soil profile.


Tokul soil profile. A volcanic ash and loamy layer overlays a dense, slightly cemented glacial till sub-layer. In this case, the top layer reached a depth of three feet! The very top layer, taking on a dark brown color (from 0-1/2 ft) is due to organic matter accumulation.


Official NRCS Soil Series description:

USDA publication on Tokul:

Microscopic Soil Life Means Macroscopic Soil Life

17 Jan

It is relatively common knowledge that having a diverse plant community drastically improves a farm or garden’s resilience to invasive pests, weeds, and disease. Having diversity, as opposed to a monoculture, makes it difficult for a plant-specific pest to wipe out an entire plot, bed, acre,…etc. As it turns out, diversity in the soil is just as important. Healthy soil is teaming with biological activity, much of it however, invisible to the naked eye. These microscopic soil dwellers are critical for the support and livelihood of the plants that share the soil with them.

Healthy soil is relevant for all humans on the planet. Whether you are a recreational gardener, a farmer, or just a consumer, healthy soil is key! Composting is not just an environmentally friendly way to deal with our consumer waste products, but the ultimate method for building healthy soil.

Compost has many wonderful functions in aiding soil health – chiefly, fostering a diverse and robust microbial community. But what do microbes do for our soil and ultimately the plants that sprout from it?

When organic matter in the form of compost is added to soil, the microbial soil community has an abundant food source. Plants naturally ‘know’ this and pump a portion of their home-made sugars made above ground via photosynthesis down to their roots, releasing what the scientific community calls ‘root exudates’:  sugars that feed and support the local microbial community. This creates a micro-society about the root called the rhizosphere (the soil in close proximity to the roots). The bacteria that live here are specifically called rhizobacteria and are generally plant growth-promoting. These rhizobacteria enhance nutrient uptake and help ward off plant diseases. In general though, soil microbes eagerly breakdown organic compounds and take all of that organically bound nutrient content such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and sulfur and makes them plant-available. Plants can take up nutrients only if they are in a certain form. Microbes promote such conversions. Hey, that’s pretty nice! This is a service that is purely a byproduct of the breakdown of the food they need to survive (organic matter).

The flow of nutrients. When organic matter is added to soil, microbes are the first players in breaking down the material and releasing nutrients in a plant available form.

The flow of nutrients. When organic matter is added to soil, microbes are the first players in breaking down the material and releasing nutrients in a plant available form. Image via

Other essential elements such as iron and manganese are largely controlled by microorganism activities. Microbes also protect plants from toxic levels of these elements by converting them to a form that is un-available to plants.

Ever wonder what gives healthy looking soil that good fresh smell? That would be the welcomed presence of actinomycetes. These are fungi-like bacteria. These feed off of decaying organic matter and have the important role of decomposing organic matter and liberating its nutrients. They also have the ability to breakdown tougher organic compounds (cellulose, chitin, and phospholipids) . They occur in the later stages of breakdown, since they can attack those more complex organic compounds. That’s why ready compost smells good. Thanks, actinomycetes!

The breakdown of organic matter into simpler sugars and such in turn provides glue-like organic substances for which to aid healthy soil structure. Good soil structure means aggregation: amorphous and diversely sized clumps of soil that remains stable under moist conditions. Aggregation simultaneously provides aeration, root pathways, and water retention.

There is much more that can be said about the importance of soil biology diversity, however the bottom line for soil health management points to one mantra: ADD ORGANIC MATTER.

Did you know that just a teaspoon of humus (organic matter, i.e. compost) contains more organisms than there are people on this planet? Yes, billions of microorganisms! So compost it up!

The WSU Master Gardener program as well as the Master Composter & Recycling program both teach various composting methods. There is still space in the Master Gardener 2013 class! Sign up, bring a friend! Drop by one of the following pre-orientations to find out more:

  • January 18th 10:30 AM – 12 PM
  • January 24th  4:30 PM – 6 PM

At the WSU Extension Office in West Olympia:

5033 Harrison Ave NW

Olympia, WA 98502

Questions about the WSU Master Gardener program? Contact program coordinator Cori Carlton: (360) 867 – 2162, or email her at

You can also visit our website at  Click on the “Master Gardener” heading.

Community Gardening Across the Continental U.S.

5 Dec

I stumbled upon an interesting article in the New York Times the other day, covering the state of community gardening in Manhattan and the city in general. It certainly was an area of curiosity for me, simply because of the context. What does community gardening look like in an ultra-urban setting like NYC? The WSU Master Gardener sponsored demonstration gardens in Thurston County are like a bouquet, each one complementing and supplementing one another. Demonstration gardens are like interactive museum exhibitions. They showcase different plants, varieties, and growing techniques. They are sustained by volunteer work, and appreciated by the community. Thurston county’s demonstration gardens include Dirt Works at Yauger Park, the Farmer’s Market garden, and Closed Loop Park’s garden, which is directly on top of an old landfill. It seems that most volunteers have some level of involvement with each garden. What are the differences? What are the similarities? What are the motivations? What are the hurdles? The article is hyperlinked at the close of this blog entry, but I’d like to muse on a few interesting items I took away from the article and delve further into them.

A Master Gardener works with two day-camp attendees at Thurston County's Dirt Works demonstration garden.

A Master Gardener works with two day-camp attendees at Thurston County’s Dirt Works demonstration garden.

Overall, the article focused on the primary issue of acquiring and maintaining volunteers. The notion that it’s not about growing gardens, but more about growing gardeners is something I found to be quite alarming. They estimated that 10% of the 600 gardens in NYC are overgrown with weeds due to lack of volunteer activity.

The gardens, just like the WSU Master Gardener demo gardens, are primarily entirely run by volunteers. The average number of volunteers is about 29 per garden. However about ten percent of the gardens struggle to maintain the minimum 10-head volunteer crew necessary to renew the garden’s registration. This is an interesting conundrum because any acreage in NYC, especially in Manhattan, is valuable. The threat of losing a garden to other more profitable interests must be a much greater concern than it would be anywhere else. People love community gardens, but not everyone makes the time to participate. It is also noted that in most gardens, the bulk of the energy output tends to be on behalf of one or two die-hard volunteers. One of those dedicated volunteers remarked about how certain folks pass by the garden, admire it, but getting them within the perimeter of the fencing and dirtying their hands is difficult.

I personally don’t mind that. In a community everyone has their role, and appreciating a garden is just as important as tending to it. Just like every piece of artwork must have its passive viewer. The appreciation of a garden is an activity that fosters support for the garden. One of the residents interviewed for the article had a complaint that the garden across their apartment building was never open. He lamented how he would have loved to have used the garden as a bonding and educational activity with his son. I think this highlights an important role which gardens must serve in order to truly be part of the community. Opening up gardens for educational purposes makes it all-inclusive.

Part of the problem however is the placement of gardens. There will be pockets of high density gardens yet low density residential. This all leads back to the origins of community gardens during the recession of the late 70s, where communities used gardens to reclaim their neighborhood. Instead of leaving a foreclosed lot to deteriorate and become a dumping site, people turned them into gardens. The shift now however is towards more community shared gardens. Particularly ‘urban agriculture’ has received a lot more attention from a new demographic. Rather than having a garden where individuals took care of their small plot, a more shared garden with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative makes stakeholders out of residents and ultimately improves participation. I feel this point is important. The WSU Master Gardener program fosters not only education about gardening, but a sense of community. The social aspect, working with your fellow community members in beautifying  and vitalizing the land, is a large reason why people join or end up staying in the program for years.

If you are interested in becoming involved in Thurston County’s community gardens, the WSU Master Gardener Program is currently seeking applicants for the 2013 class. Drop in on a pre-orientation session to find out more! No pre-registration is necessary. Follow the link for pre-orientiation schedule:


Original article: