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Organic Gardening

Learn Organic Gardening online

Organic Gardening is one of eight online courses we offer in our Horticulture Distance Learning Program.

Next course: March 1 to April 25, 2021.

About the course

This online course was developed in response to a strong, growing interest in organic gardening and is intended to examine the basics of small-scale organic gardening. The topics and depth of information offered will help new gardeners learn the basics and feel comfortable getting started, while also offer more experienced gardeners the opportunity to expand their knowledge base. This course may not be ideal for very experienced organic gardeners.  Additionally, students will walk away with a wealth of resources to look into for further study

The course has a strong foundation in soil health and its impact on plant health and a whole systems approach to gardening. The course also explores various techniques for growing different kinds of garden plants – annuals and perennials, food plants and ornamentals.

Participants are required to read assigned material, participate in online group discussions with other students, complete reflective writing/design work and take part in some hands-on activities. Though the class isn’t “live”, it is designed to keep a pace of one topic each week (see outline and syllabus below). New content is posted weekly. You work at your own pace, and assignments are due the following week. Most students spend approximately 5 hours/week with the content, though there are always ample resources and opportunity to do more.

The course is non-credit, and we present a certificate of completion to all those who participate in the whole course. 

Course schedule:

  • Introductory Week, March 1-7:   Introduction: What is Organic Gardening?
  • Week 1, March 8 – 14: Intensive Gardening Methods; Soil Assessment
  • Week 2, March 15 – 21: Soil, Compost and Mulch; Site Assessment
  • Break Week, March 22 - 28  
  • Week 3, March 29 – April 4: Gardening Techniques; Draft Design
  • Week 4, April 5 – 11: Growing Annuals: Vegetables, Flowers and Herbs; Early, Mid and Late Season Crops
  • Week 5, April 12 -  18:  Garden Maintenance and Managing Pests Organically
  • Week 6, April 19 – 25:  Trees, Shrubs and Herbaceous Perennials; Final Design

Organic garden plans

Margaret Deblay's garden plan

Margaret Deblay developed this plan when she took Organic Gardening in Fall 2020.

Organic garden plans

Leonardo Lopez's garden plan

Leonardo Lopez developed this plan when he took Organic Gardening in Fall 2020.

Organic garden plans

Amanda Macejko's garden plan (Year 1)

Amanda Macejko developed this Year 1 plan when she took Organic Gardening in Fall 2020.

Organic garden plans

Amanda Macejko's garden plan (Year 2)

Amanda Macejko developed this Year 2 plan when she took Organic Gardening in Fall 2020.

map showing sample garden design by student
leonardo lopez garden plan
Amanda Macejko year 1 garden plan
amanda'macekos year 2 garden design

Course Overview

Instructor: Chrys Gardener, cab69 [at] cornell.edu

This 6-week online course (7.5, including the introductory period and break week) is intended to examine the basics of small-scale organic gardening. The topics and depth of information offered will help new gardeners learn the basics and feel comfortable getting started, while also offering more experienced gardeners the opportunity to expand their knowledge base. This course may not be ideal for very experienced organic gardeners. Additionally, students will walk away with a wealth of resources to look into for further study. You will also have the opportunity to learn from one another through an open forum in which you can share your ideas with others.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Have a clear grasp of organic gardening techniques and methods
  • Have begun to develop an ecological approach to gardening that includes soil health, water, nutrients and weeds.
  • Become familiar with your garden site’s resources and challenges. Have the opportunity to develop realistic garden design.
  • Feel comfortable applying organic gardening techniques in your own garden.
  • Be familiar with the numerous resources available as you develop your interest and skill with organic gardening.

Note: This is not an organic farming course. The content taught in this course is applicable to small-scale sites, such as a backyard.

Course Philosophy

This course is taught with a systems-thinking approach. Many elements contribute to the health and productivity of a garden and furthermore, a garden is one element of a backyard/landscape. As such, we hope to engage participants in learning a broad and foundational perspective about organic gardening. We believe this will guide you towards being able to design a garden for the long-term so the garden meets your goals; is not an overwhelming amount of work, and so that it becomes less work overtime; and so that it is productive and beautiful.

Our Approach

This course will present a wide range of information including the background of organic gardening as well as organic gardening versus conventional gardening, ecology, landscape design, general technique, and methods for applying the content to your daily life. Participants will read assigned essays and book excerpts, participate in online group discussions with other students, complete reflective writing/design work and take part in some hands-on activities. The class is designed to keep a pace of one topic each week. Most students spend approximately 5 hours/week with the content, though there are always ample resources and opportunity to do more.

Philosophy of the Instructor

This is an online course that you are likely taking for your own personal enrichment and proficiency. As such, I hope that you are intrinsically motivated to complete readings and all assignments, including optional assignments, to devote considerable time to coursework, and to communicate with your colleagues freely and often in an effort to get the most from this course. I will assign readings, and I will assume you read them; I will not "test" you on content because I do not believe that should be your motivation. You will get from the course what you put into it.

Our communication will be positive and will focus on course content. Rude or offensive language, and overly critical commentary will not be tolerated. It is a course taken for enrichment, and the way we communicate with one another will be constructive.

Please be open with your feedback and feel free to contact me with any questions. Open dialogue is encouraged.

Expectations

Though the class is not “live,” participants are expected to keep up with the weekly assignments and discussions. Ideally, you are able to spend some hours of the course (especially during the 2nd week), in your garden space or at least observing your garden. Because the topic each week is a part of the whole approach to organic gardening, skipping a topic one week may cause you some confusion.

No previous experience in the natural sciences, ecology, landscape design, farming, gardening or other subject area is required. Experience in these areas is certainly helpful, but this course will cover a basic to an intermediate level of each topic. Generally, with online or autonomous learning situations, you will get out of it as much as you put into it.

If complex and emotional issues in discussion groups arise, please be sensitive and supportive of other classmates. Please notify the instructors if there is a concern that we have failed to notice or sufficiently address.

Week by week

We start with an introductory period to help you get familiar with the Moodle interface, followed by six weeks of classes with a break in the middle. After the end of the last week, you will no longer be able to access the material in Moodle

  • Introductory Week:   Introduction: What is Organic Gardening?
  • Week 1: Intensive Gardening Methods; Soil Assessment
  • Week 2: Soil, Compost and Mulch; Site Assessment
  • Break Week   
  • Week 3: Gardening Techniques; Draft Design
  • Week 4: Growing Annuals: Vegetables, Flowers and Herbs; Early, Mid and Late Season Crops
  • Week 5: Garden Maintenance and Managing Pests Organically
  • Week 6: Trees, Shrubs and Herbaceous Perennials; Final Design

Lessons

Each week’s lesson will contain a combination of the following components:

  • Selected readings about the topic of the week
  • Activities to carry out at home; some with deliverables to share with the instructor or fellow participants
  • Reflective writing to allow you to develop a thoughtful perspective and a dialogue with instructors
  • Discussion forum questions and topics for discussion
  • Optional additional readings, activities and resources

It is important that you work through each lesson assigned for a particular week. Please complete and submit to the course instructor the required assignments before the stated deadline (generally midnight each Tuesday). Late assignments will be accepted but instructor feedback may be delayed and your satisfactory completion of the course compromised. Consider optional activities only after completing and submitting required assignments.

Reflective writing

Your reflective writing will allow you to have some time to sit with and ponder the information you are learning, and to develop a thoughtful perspective on how to apply it to your gardening approach. It also creates an opportunity for a dialogue with the course instructor. Reflection is something that you can do at home, at work, or during a stroll through your garden. It will encourage you to make more connections between learning in the course and your life experience.

Supplies

  • A computer with reliable high-speed Internet access (to view videos, view readings, submit assignments, and participate regularly in discussion forums).
  • A garden space you’ve worked in or hoping to work in this season
  • You may want to start a binder for assignments, handouts and other resources
  • Optional: A device for scanning the garden design you create and submitting them as .pdf file.

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