Ranch Foods Direct retail manager Melissa Hahnenberger is currently enrolled in a six-month permaculture design course, “Through the Seasons,” offered by Becky Elder, owner of Blue Planet Earthscapes. Here, Melissa, who maintains the demonstration garden at the Ranch Foods Direct retail store, shares some of the highlights of her experience so far. The course ends in October.

WHAT IS PERMACULTURE: Permaculture, short for “permanent agriculture,” is a shift away from mono-cropping of annual crops toward growing perennials that naturally re-seed. Even though Melissa grew up gardening, she’s learning principles that turn many common gardening assumptions upside down. The usefulness of raised beds, for example.”You don’t want raised garden beds. You’re better off with a ground garden because it doesn’t dry out as quickly,” she says. Over-weeding is also discouraged. “Unless it is a true pest plant, don’t pull it. Let the wildflowers go. The more biomass there is, the more moisture you’ll be holding in your soil.” Diversity of plants is beneficial, with legumes like beans and peas adding nitrogen back into the system. It’s all about observing what works in natural systems and finding ways to apply it.

HELPFUL RESOURCES: “Almost every community has a permaculture club, but it’s like a little underground society: you don’t know about it unless you’re looking for it,” she says. For beginners, she recommends Gaia’s Garden, published by Chelsea Green. “It’s very informative and covers all of the basics. From there, you can find lots more to explore.”

MOST INTERESTING GUEST LECTURER SHE HEARD DURING THE COURSE: Mike Essam, president of the Pikes Peak Mycological Society, a mushroom forager.

FAVORITE PLANTS: Lemon balm and comfrey herbs; purple green beans; easy-to-grow cosmos flowers. And trees: “If I won the lottery, I’d spend it on trees.”

DID YOU KNOW? … Melissa is available at the store most days to discuss various healthy soil amendments and other gardening supplies that are offered for sale at Ranch Foods Direct. Or ask any other sales associate.