The Gingko Tree

April 29th, 2016 by Connie Schultz

Carol McPherson, North Carolina State Extension Master Gardener

I’m a North Carolina State Extension Master Gardener Intern Volunteer from Orange County, North Carolina. When I moved to Hillsborough five years ago, I went to the local nursery to buy a ginkgo tree, which I’d always longed to have. The saleswoman talked me out of it, saying that they were very slow-growing and pointing out the sparseness of the branches on the young trees in stock. How I wish now that I hadn’t been so easily dissuaded for there is literally no tree on earth with the history and characteristics of the gingko tree.

 

The word ginkgo comes from the Chinese word ‘xinying’ meaning silver apricot. This refers to the fruit of the female tree, not technically a ‘fruit’ in the botanical sense, by the way, but I’ll use that word today. It’s also called the maidenhair tree because its leaves are similar in shape to those of maidenhair ferns. Less flattering names are the ‘stinkbomb’ tree and adjectives such as “disgusting,” and “repulsive,” are used. But more about that later.

 

In the botanical world, there are only five living groups of seed plants, and ginkgo is one of them. And ginkgo is the only one that consists of only one species. It is utterly unique, not very obviously related to any living plant, but actually more similar to pines than to maples or oaks. Technically, the ginkgo is a gymnosperm, which means that that the seeds are naked—i.e., they are not enclosed within an ovary. Gymnosperm seeds generally develop on the surface of a scale or leaf, or they are modified to form cones. In the ginkgo, they develop on short stalks, each supporting a pair of tiny green orbs called ovules.

The Thrilling Reproductive Cycle of Ginkgoes

Ginkgo Biloba Leaves

Ginkgo-Biloba-Leaves-Black-Background-by-James-Field

It is the reproductive cycle of ginkgo trees that is especially thrilling. Think about a tree being fertilized by swimming sperm… now how unusual is THAT?

 

I’m going to borrow some descriptions here from Nancy Ross Hugo, author of Seeing Trees. She describes how each of the two tiny ovules secretes a droplet of sticky fluid that sits on the surface, grabs the pollen as it floats by on the breeze, and brings it into the female cells. Nothing happens for a couple of months—the pollen is carefully stored within the female tissue. When the time for fertilization arrives, the ovules grow a pollen chamber and fill it with fluid. The pollen grain then extends a tube into that chamber and releases two swimming sperm cells (complete with 1000 flagella) into the fluid. The sperm cells swim toward the narrow entrance to the egg cells, and may the best man win—only one makes its way through the portal, where it fuses with the egg and fertilizes it. The author notes that you can actually see a YouTube video of this primordial pulsing of the ginkgo sperm in the pollen chamber. I was able to find it quite easily online and you could clearly see the whirlpools created by the swimming sperm. Among woody trees, only the tropical, ancient cycads are fertilized by swimming sperm.  Interestingly enough, this fertilization miracle may also occur within unripe fruit that has fallen to the ground, so don’t be too quick to kick aside any fruits littering the sidewalk.

 

 Speaking of ginkgo fruits littering the sidewalk, now we come to the origin of the ginkgo’s nickname, the stinkbomb tree. When the female fruits begin to decay, they are remarkably stinky. Some people compare the smell to rancid butter, but the fruits contain large amounts of butyric acid, which is the primary unpleasant odor of vomit. Virtually no animal today eats the rotting fruit, but it is likely that in the Jurassic period, carrion-eating dinosaurs probably helped to distribute the seeds. Because of the unpleasant odor, most nurseries will only sell and plant male trees. But that, too, has some disadvantages. The pollen from male gingko trees is highly allergenic, rating a 7 out of 10 on the allergy rating scale. Female trees do not produce pollen. Also, planting only male trees means that all the trees are cloned, thus reducing the genetic diversity that keeps a species healthy and resilient.
Golden Ginkgo Leaves

Ginkgo-Leaves-by-Joe-Schneid-Louisville-Kentucky

Ginkgoes can grow to be quite large, normally reaching an adult height of (65–100 feet). The tree has an angular crown and long, somewhat erratic branches. The leaves are unmistakable—they are shaped like a fan and somewhat leathery. Even the vein structure in the leaves is unlike any other tree. Two parallel veins enter each blade from the point of attachment of the long leafstalk and fork repeatedly in two toward the leaf edges. Most leaves are divided into two lobes by a central notch, thus the name “biloba”. The autumn foliage of gingkos can take your breath away. In mid-October an entire tree will go from green to gold in a day or two. And again, ­in mid-November, the tree will drop all its leaves in a single day! I’ve read that if there has been a frost the night before the leaves fall, you can hear them tinkle as they land on each other below the tree.

 

Ginkgoes are surprisingly hardy. They are often planted in cities, where they don’t mind having their roots compacted under sidewalks, and where they shrug off air pollution as though it doesn’t exist. After all, they evolved during a tumultuous time for our planet, and they had to learn to thrive despite the sooty, sulphurous air of erupting volcanoes. Ginkgoes are also remarkably insect-resistant. In fact, there is almost no insect that even eat ginkgo leaves. Again, these trees evolved long before today’s leaf-eating insects were around. Ginkgoes are also resistant to temperature extremes and to wind.

 

So as I describe the wonders of this dinosaur-distributed, volcanic air-breathing, swimming sperm fertilized, living fossil (the gingko), I again kick myself for not purchasing that ginkgo tree five years ago. Yes, it was scrawny, but it would be five years older and five years bigger today. The tree is a wonder of nature, the only living bridge between the prehistoric plants of the ancient past and our modern plants of today. I do wish I had one of my own.

 

We end with a portion of a poem from Howard Nemerov, called The Consent. It was published in a book called The Western Approaches published in 1975.

 

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.
This is Carol McPherson and this is Tree Talk.

Carol McPherson, NC State Extension Master Gardener Intern in Orange County, NC

Carol McPherson, NC State Extension Master Gardener Intern in Orange County, NC

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Community Service — 1st Place Winner

February 17th, 2016 by Terri James

Garden Sense

Home landscape water use comprises the majority of home water use.  The University of California Cooperative Extension Sonoma Master Gardeners (SCMG) have been focusing on the sustainable gardening practice of water conservation via the Garden Sense program, a partnership developed between SCMG and the Sonoma County Water Agency. California is famous for its’ arid Mediterranean climate featuring an extended dry season from approximately April through November. However, most home landscapes in this region have been created without any regard to our summer-dry climate, and the public is not at all aware of the water needs of commonly used landscape plants.

Landscape before

Landscape before

The Garden Sense program, launched in September 2013, is available to any Sonoma County resident. SCMG has developed a comprehensive 9 course advanced training for Garden Sense consultants in the areas of irrigation efficiency, sheet mulching and low water use plants.  There are currently 50 trained volunteer consultants who meet with residents in their gardens to evaluate existing irrigation practices and advise how to increase irrigation efficiency, reduce or remove lawns, and create climate-appropriate gardens based on the client’s functional needs.

Landscape after

Landscape after

In August 2014, clients who had received a Garden Sense visit were surveyed; 75% of respondents indicated that the visit was either very helpful in helping them change their home landscape water conservation practices or that they could not have completed their lawn removal project without SCMG’s assistance. Conservative estimates of water savings as a result of Garden Sense consultations in our first year of operation are equivalent to 6 acre feet of water saved annually (nearly 2,000,000 gallons)!

One of our clients who was new to the Sonoma County area stated: “We couldn’t have done it without them . . . their advice and expertise was essential to our successfully creating a low water-use landscape. Thank you so much!”

 

Garden Sense Consultants on a Visit

Garden Sense Consultants on a Visit

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Community Service — 2nd Place Winner

February 10th, 2016 by Terri James

Fairfax Master Gardener Diagnostic Lab: Serving the Public for 34 Years

Fairfax Master Gardener Diagnostic Lab: Serving the Public for 34 Years

The Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association (FCMGA) Diagnostic Laboratory placed second in the Community Service Category of the 2015 International Master Gardener Search for Excellence.

The Lab has been in operation since 1981. Its purpose is to solve difficult plant identification, insect, and disease problems for the general public in Fairfax County, Virginia.  To our knowledge it is the only diagnostic laboratory operated by a Master Gardener group in the state of Virginia.

There is one Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) horticultural agent for Fairfax County, Virginia.  She serves a population of over 1.1 million residents.  Master Gardeners, numbering over 350 in Fairfax County, are a great force multiplier for the extension agent.  The Lab supports this effort by diagnosing problems that require deep knowledge and experience. The Lab is an important adjunct to the weekly plant clinics operated by FCMGA from May to September at 13 farmers markets and 5 public libraries throughout the county.  That’s well over 300 plant clinics per year!  In addition the Lab handles diagnostic requests that come directly from the (VCE) office in Fairfax from residents and landscape companies.  Services of the Lab and FCMGA are available free of charge.

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Lab veterans Ted Stroup and Priscilla Baetke examine a new sample

 

People

The essential ingredient for a successful diagnostic laboratory is expert Master Gardeners with a passion for horticulture and public service.  Our Lab volunteers have an average of 17 years’ experience with FCMGA; the longest tenure is 37 years.  They are among the most knowledgeable Master Gardeners in the FCMGA.  In 2013 14 of FCMGA’s most experienced Master Gardeners volunteered 818 hours of service to this activity.

 Process

Samples that our Master Gardeners are unable to diagnose or identify at a plant clinic are referred to the Lab.  The Lab usually provides identifications, diagnoses, and advice within a week, most often in a report that is emailed directly to the client.  Responses typically contain an explanation of the problem, diagnostic keys to recognizing it, and a tutorial to help the client address the current problem and avoid similar problems in the future.  This advice includes recommended cultural practices and controls.

 

Logistics

Our lab is equipped with two microscopes.  The microscope is a necessity for identifying mites, small insects, various insect eggs, and many fungal pathogens whose fruiting bodies cannot be seen by the unaided eye.  Diagnosticians have access to four computers for report preparation and research. There is a bookshelf containing useful references and a refrigerator for storage of samples. The Lab is housed in approximately 225 sq. ft. of space provided by the Merrifield Garden Center. Finally, the Lab has a variety of forms and instructions developed over the years to facilitate the delivery of its services.

Results

In a typical year the Lab diagnoses over 300 samples (i.e., what is the problem with my plant?).  The diagnoses consist of over 100 different pathogens or causes, primarily fungal diseases (very common here in the humid Middle Atlantic region), insects, mites, and cultural problems.  Prominent among the fungal problems are several types of leaf spot, conifer tip blights, powdery mildew, sooty mold, and downy mildews.

Spider mites of several kinds tend to be the leading invertebrate problem in a dry year. Rose slugs, lacebugs, and various types of scale, led by cottony camellia scale, are the most common insect problems. In a year with unusually high rainfall most cultural problems are related to wet soil.

In a typical year the Lab handles 150 to 200 identification requests (i.e., what plant, insect, mushroom or other object is this?), the vast majority of which are plant samples.

Impact

Each diagnostic report provides a mini-lesson in IPM to the client who submitted the sample.  Fairfax County is located in the watershed of the environmentally threatened Chesapeake Bay. Reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilizers is an important public objective in our area.  Implementation of the Lab’s IPM-based advice means clients are not using pesticides and fertilizers unless absolutely necessary and only using them at a time when they would be effective.  When a pesticide is used, it is one whose effectiveness against the diagnosed problem has been proven through university extension service research.

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Priscilla Baetke performs microscopic analysis.

Some clients reply directly to the Lab’s email report vowing to follow the advice.  Others return to FCMGA’s weekly plant clinics to discuss what they have done, ask further questions, and express their gratitude for the service.  Some return on multiple occasions during the year with more problems for the Lab to diagnose.

 Communications

The Lab publishes a variety of reports based on lab findings.  For the 2013 Plant Clinic season, the Lab prepared a series of “Monthly Preview” documents, each highlighting problems we would expect to see at clinics in the coming month.  The previews are now published on our public website.

In addition, the Lab produces a “Lab Notebook”, usually with the assistance of a summer intern whose salary is partially funded by the FCMGA.  The reports, published every 1 -3 weeks from May to August, describe the lab’s latest findings.  The Lab Notebooks are replete with descriptions, photos and statistics to arm FCMGA master gardeners and professional landscape maintenance personnel who subscribe to this free service with the information they need to deal with the myriad of plant problems we encounter in the Middle Atlantic region.

 Partnerships

The Merrifield Garden Center, one of the leading independent garden centers in Virginia, provides physical space for the Lab and connectivity to the Internet.  Merrifield’s support in the interest of sound horticultural practices contributes significantly to the success of the Lab and to FCMGA in general.

 

 

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Community Service — 3rd Place Winner

February 3rd, 2016 by Terri James

Florence Community Garden

pic 1When this project was first conceived (first quarter of 2013) we knew that this was not going to be a project Extension could tackle alone. With the Shoals Master Gardeners taking a leadership role, partnerships were developed with the Northwest Resource Conservation & Development Council, the city of Florence, the Florence Men’s Club and the Lauderdale County Commission. Planning meetings and conceptual design began January/ February time frame by pulling people together. The biggest obstacle was finding an area with a suitable water source.

Several areas throughout the city were consider potential garden sites but a ready available water source was the limiting factor in each case. After review of several areas we realized the area was right at our door step. The Community Garden’s location is along Veterans Dr. between S. Oak and S. Chestnut Street on property occupied by the Florence Lauderdale Coliseum and the Alabama Cooperative System. The property is owned by the City of Florence. The Gardens are located between the parking lot and Veterans Dr. This project was planned and designed to provide a highly viable facility where veterans, low income and or physically impaired citizens and those with no room or opportunity could have their own garden. We wanted a facility with open public access, adequate sunlight and availability of water. The Extension Office provided ready access water and we ran a drip irrigation system to each bed, on timers, so the gardeners didn’t have to carry water unless they wanted more than we allocated through the system. pic 2The Project Team immediately  choose the raised bed concept for ease of access for challenged individuals, children and predictability for success by having a consistent growing medium within each bed.

Our original plan and budget was to build fifty individual raised beds. We actually built fifty two beds and every one of them ended up with an “owner” who planted, tended, and harvested their crops with great personal satisfaction. Two of the beds were used by the Extension System for ‘Trapped crops” and “Pollinators” (butterfly and humming birds). Two other beds were by the 4-H Club, (Junior Master Gardeners). The Extension system conducted public forums for new gardeners to instruct them in the best practices and methods for them to succeed in growing. The meetings were held during the day and again in the evening to accommodate those working. Every gardener got a condensed lesson in pest management, horticulture practices, seed/plant selection and garden care.

Master Gardeners were available daily (through the Help-Line) and on weekends to provide advice and information to the new gardeners.  The raised bed garden is not a unique concept,however, we did provide a growing medium not previously employed. The Florence city government provided equipment  and transportation for us to move tons of “Cotton Gin Trash” from two separate gins in the county, to our garden location. The Shoals Master Gardeners team wheel-barrowed those same tons, into the fifty-two beds which were  4’ wide x 8’ long x 20” deep. This filling process continued over several work days. Cotton gin trash is the biomass by-product of the business of ginning cotton. This sustainable product, in it’s composted forms yields an inexpensive, micro nutrient rich planting medium.

pic 3The total summer production was over 2100 lbs. Also, there were several gardeners who produced fall gardens.

The project fostered six other Shoals Master Gardener Projects that were able to utilize the same raised-bed and gin trash concept at a nursing home, four schools and a community health clinc. In the near by city of Sheffield, there are plans to establish an entire city block of raised bed gardens in 2016. So, for 2015 we had a 85% retention rate from 2014 and quickly filled up from the waiting list with potential gardeners and the fruits of their labor are seen here. The waiting list continues to grow.

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2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Demonstration — 1st Place Winner

January 27th, 2016 by Terri James

Executive Residence of Tennessee Master Gardeners

When Crissy Haslam, the First Lady of Tennessee, decided to restore the grounds of the historic Governor’s Mansion, she raised the funds privately, and began a complete renovation.  Part of this project was to include a kitchen garden, and she asked a team of Master Gardeners to help. When she first met with us, she asked that the garden include heirlooms from 1929, when the house was built.  She wanted to provide fresh, local, organic vegetables for the Residence and its many guests to emphasize Tennessee products and healthy eating.  However, because of her commitment to children’s education, she wanted the MG’s to provide much more from this garden than vegetables.

The garden & its results

Our planting goal was to create a productive and sustainable three-season garden with our approximately 3000 square feet of never-before planted beds. We chose Tennessee heirlooms, plants adapted to our southern climate, things children could relate to and vegetables the chef wanted to serve at the Governor’s table.

We used only an organic product (spinosad, a BT product) for insect control; no other pesticides are used.  In Tennessee, we can have three growing seasons and in 2014, we harvested 2,600 pounds of vegetables.

Educational goals and results

The First Lady wanted us to provide a hands-on learning experience for children.  Our goals were to teach children where their food comes from, to encourage gardening, and to encourage healthy eating.  Over 500 children visited the garden this past year.  We have a hands-on garden activity for each group, decided by what is going on in the garden. In season, they have planted seeds, set out cabbage and herb plants, thinned carrots, pulled radishes, and have even shelled field peas.  The visits end with the chef serving them a healthy snack made with the vegetables from the garden.

Teacher’s Workshop

Many visiting teachers and chaperones spoke of wanting vegetable gardens at their own schools, so we decided to help. With the First Lady’s approval, we planned our first Saturday workshop for teachers & school advisors who wanted to start a garden for their own school.  We limited this first workshop to 44 attendees.  Some of the sessions were Garden Planning, Grant Writing and Resources (Tennessee Farm Bureau, who has grant money available had a representative on-site with applications), School Curriculum in a Garden, and several other topics.  We finished with lunch, which, of course, featured vegetables from the garden.

This year, with the new greenhouse finished, we have even more options for working with the children at all times of the year, and we think we can handle even more teachers at this year’s workshop.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Demonstration — 2nd Place Winner

January 20th, 2016 by Terri James

Sweet Taters

Ssotry tellersMGs were invited to participate in a joint venture with the South Cobb County Arts Alliance, Friends of the Mable House, and Cobb County Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs to create a sweet educational garden project at the Mable House in Mableton: (“sweet” as in sweet potatoes, specifically Beauregards. Doesn’t that just put some South in your mouth?).
On October 18,2014, the Arts Alliance will be hosting its annual Storytelling Festival at the Mable House, located in Mableton in Southwest Cobb County, Georgia . One of the events will be story telling about how to grow sweet potatoes. The Robert Mable family, original owners of the Mable House, grew sweet potatoes commercially during the mid-1800s, storing them in an outbuilding built specifically for that purpose. You can see the building during tours of the Mable House.

During the Story Telling Festival, children participate in activities that replicate those conducted by farming families during the period, including growing and harvesting sweet potatoes and corn shucking. To obtain sweet potatoes, the original plan was to purchase them from local growers, but this changed to using a plot behind the Mable House to grow the vegetables with the help of MGVOCC.

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On May 22nd, several MGs (including Linda Hlozansky, JoAnne Newman, Lisa Jobe, Donna Peppers, and Lallie Hayes) and Friends of the Mable House ( David McDaniel, Nancy Thomas, and Eleanor Wade), installed a sweet potato patch behind the Mable House, planting about 100 Beauregards. This variety was developed at Louisiana State University in 1987. It matures in 90 days, so it would be just in time for the Storytelling Festival.
Participating children learned how the sweet potatoes were grown and saw sweet potatoes that had been rooted and were growing in a glass. They got their own “Mable House Sweet Potato Kit” to take home, using the potatoes grown at the Mable House over the summer.

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This cooperative project demonstrates how Cobb MGs stay involved in serving and educating their community, not only with ongoing projects, but when a special opportunity to serve presents itself.

by Lallie Hayes

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Youth — 1st Place Winner

January 13th, 2016 by Terri James

“The Misadventures of Peter Rabbit in Farmer McGregor’s Vegetable Garden”

Farmer McGregor and Peter RabbitEntering its sixth year, “The Misadventures of Peter Rabbit in Farmer McGregor’s Vegetable Garden,” an interactive and educational puppet show, presented by the Sussex County Master Gardeners, Delaware Cooperative Extension, has reached more than 9,000 children, primarily in the five- to eight-year-old age groups. Older children and adults also indicate they have learned something.

Sussex County is Delaware’s most rural, agricultural county. Even though our children are surrounded by farms, most kids know little about where their food comes from. “Are those vegetables real?” is a question we regularly hear from kids. Many children have never held a raw potato, do not know that potatoes grow under the ground, and often do not realize that French fries are potatoes. Additionally, Sussex County has an increasingly multicultural, diverse population, and there are a large variety of ways vegetables are prepared in their homes.

Inspired, but very loosely based on the Beatrix Potter version, this typically 30-minute presentation focuses on bits of botany, agriculture, food culture, nutrition, entomology, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). However, it is quite different from the book we all know. When Peter is tricked by Ripley Rat (he’s not a Beatrix Potter character) and loses his money to Ripley, he faces a moral dilemma until he is convinced by Ripley it is okay to help himself to Farmer McGregor’s vegetables.

The interactive show then focuses on Farmer McGregor, a look-alike Master Gardener, talking with the children about how vegetables are grown and the parts of the vegetable plants we eat. The children learn the “fruits of the vine” (tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers), the leafy vegetables (cabbage, lettuce, greens), the roots, tubers, and bulbs (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions), the seeds (corn, beans, peas), and the flowers (broccoli and cauliflower).

Peter interacts with the children about the nutritional benefits and how the vegetables are prepared (cooked and raw, plain and seasoned, whole and shredded, alone or with other foods). Peter Rabbit Georgetown Farmer and Foodie Festival

 

A busy bee talks about gathering nectar and pollen for the hive, and both the bee and a beautiful butterfly talk about the importance of pollination. A ladybug beetle and a Japanese beetle talk about whether they are “good” or “bad” bugs in the garden, and a large predator, a praying mantis, dispatches a Japanese beetle.

 

When Farmer McGregor returns to find his vegetables gone, the audience admits that Peter stole his vegetables. McGregor threatens to make bunny burgers out of Peter, and a chase scene erupts which the children thoroughly enjoy. The show concludes with Peter admitting his transgression to Farmer McGregor and wishing to work to pay him back. They jointly open an organic vegetable farm stand. Even Ripley Rat is convinced that vegetables are better than candy and “all’s well that ends well.”

sticker

Everyone gets a sticker emblazoned with Peter’s picture and “I love vegetables”

The Peter Rabbit players perform in the Peter Rabbit garden in the Sussex County Demonstration Garden, at libraries, schools, 4-H clubs and other youth groups, daycare centers, farmers markets, churches, garden clubs, community festivals, and anywhere else there are children who love a good story and willingly eat their vegetables.

 

The props are lightweight and portable for “on the road” shows. The backdrop features a photo of the painted fence behind the Peter Rabbit garden in our Demonstration Garden. It’s supported by a simply-made PVC pipe structure for both inside and outside performances. At times, a long table laden with vegetables invites the children to “Please Touch the Vegetables” or in smaller venues, children sit in a circle and the vegetables are passed around. In between shows at festivals, Farmer McGregor, Peter Rabbit, and other puppeteers roam the grounds handing out tickets (produced by a simple Word document) with the show times listed to encourage the children to attend.

 

Costs are minimal with volunteer time and effort. Also included with the script is basic budget information: $100.00 will buy enough puppets to start. $200.00 will buy a menagerie. A backdrop is not necessary, but the cost is around $170.00. Peter Rabbit Georgetown Farmer and Foodie FestivalTo build the PVC pipe support is around $50.00. Stickers could be printed on a home computer or thousands can be ordered for a few hundred dollars. Fresh vegetables and gas money for each performance are minimal.

 

Part of the fun is to ad-lib. All you really need are a few Master Gardeners who enjoy children.

 

 

For More Information: Contact Tammy Schirmer at (302) 856-2585, extension 544 or tammys@udel.edu
Cooperative Extension  programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on non-discrimination regarding race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, national or ethnic origin; physical, mental or sensory disability; marital status, sexual orientation, or status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Cooperative Extension Office.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Youth — 2nd Place Winner

January 6th, 2016 by Terri James

“Garden Candy” A Kindergarten Tomato Planting Project

The Kindergarten Tomato Planting Project has evolved since 2011 when our local hospital (Fisher-Titus Medical Center) invited the Huron County Ohio Master Gardener volunteers to help kindergarteners plant a vegetable to grow at home. garden candy 1This project culminated the hospital’s year long lessons presented in their program called “Game On: The Ultimate Wellness Challenge.” This wellness challenge was designed to help alleviate our county’s major health concerns of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. As Master Gardeners, we used this opportunity to help the children discover that healthy eating can be delicious and that growing their own vegetable can be fun. The vegetable we chose was a sweet, cherry tomato (Basket Boy) which is just the right size for a child to pick and eat. This program started in a small way with just one school. Each year the project grew so that in 2014 we met with a total of 625 students in 23 different classrooms. Those who replicate this program can expect to see smiles, smudges, and the delighted grins of children. The children enjoyed participating in a hands-on planting experience and could look forward to snatching a piece of “Garden Candy” during the summer.

garden candy 2The Master Gardeners conducted a thirty minute program with each kindergarten class. During those thirty minutes, we taught the life cycle of a tomato plant, gave directions and instructions for taking care of a tomato plant, and helped students at different stations plant, water, and package the tomato seedling to take home. Those waiting to plant were engaged by listening to the book Oh, No Monster Tomato by Jim Helmore and Karen Hall and singing an original Master Gardener tomato song. To conclude the program, the students recited the solemn pledge: “I promise…to take care of my tomato plant… to give it water…plenty of sunshine…and to check on it every day. “ We know the impact of this project will be ongoing throughout the students’ lives, and we did indeed help them “GROW!” garden candy 3

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Workshop — 2nd Place Winner

December 30th, 2015 by Terri James

East Austin Garden Fair

What is the East Austin Garden Fair?

The East Austin Garden Fair is a free annual community outreach event designed to engage the whole family in learning about horticulture in a fun, festive and relaxed setting. Educational offerings are geared toward low-income residents of traditionally minority, under-resourced East Austin, with an emphasis on creative, low-cost “do-it-yourself” solutions, interactive learning, managing limited resources and making positive health choices. Master Gardeners offer University-based information to fairgoers on a diverse variety of horticulture topics, while partner organizations provide information on closely-related community services, programs and projects.

Travis County Master Gardener Sue Nazar gives a demonstration on backyard beekeeping at the 2013 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension - Horticulture - Travis County

Travis County Master Gardener Sue Nazar gives a demonstration on backyard beekeeping at the 2013 East Austin Garden Fair.
(File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension – Horticulture – Travis County

What can fairgoers see, do and learn at the East Austin Garden Fair?

Fairgoers can visit booths to get information, ask questions and share ideas, participate in hands-on demonstrations on building a rain barrel, raised bed or compost bin, and learn about waterwise irrigation methods and gardening in containers and straw bales. Kids can build a bird or bug house, make a herb sachet, recycled seed pot or seed ball, play seed identification games, and learn about good bugs and bad bugs. Booths on backyard chickens and beekeeping are a big hit with all ages. During the fair, interpreters circulate through the crowd to accommodate hearing-impaired and Spanish-speaking attendees. After completing an exit survey, attendees may choose a free vegetable seedling to take home, to encourage continued interest in horticulture and healthful eating.

 

Booth topics include:

  • Healthy eating, cooking, canning and preserving
  • Drought, rainwater collection, firewise landscaping and irrigation
  • Composting, recycling coffee grounds and vermiculture
  • Attracting birds, bees and butterflies
  • Backyard chickens and beekeeping
  • Community gardens, food forests and farmers markets
  • Food banks and temporary assistance for needy families
  • Growing fruit, herbs and vegetables
  • Growing native and adapted plants

Who plans the fair and how is it put together?

The fair is a wholly-owned project of the Travis County Master Gardeners Association under the direction of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Horticulture Agent for Travis County and her assistant. Master Gardeners utilize three online tools (Volunteer Management System, SignUp Genius, Yahoo! Groups listserv) and two in-person meetings to plan and execute the fair each spring. A total of 89 Master Gardeners participated in 2013 and 2014, by developing a booth or demonstration that matched their area of expertise, or in a support capacity.

4-H Capital Youth Gardening Specialist Meredith O’Reilly (green shirt) and Travis County Master Gardener Ally Stresing (blue shirt) discuss backyard chickens with fairgoers at the 2014 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension - Horticulture - Travis County/Caroline Homer)

4-H Capital Youth Gardening Specialist Meredith O’Reilly (green shirt) and Travis County Master Gardener Ally Stresing (blue shirt) discuss backyard chickens with fairgoers at the 2014 East Austin Garden Fair. (File photo courtesy of Texas AgriLife Extension – Horticulture – Travis County/Caroline Homer)

An outreach event of this size and scope would not be possible without ongoing input and support from our community partners. These organizations have experience, interest and expertise in community outreach, environmental issues, food and nutrition, gardening, health promotion, home improvement, and sustainability. In 2013 and 2014, we partnered with food banks and food assistance programs, community gardening programs and garden clubs, farmers markets, composting advocates, local health organizations, grocers and retailers. We also partnered with local AmeriCorps, Texas 4-H, and Master Wellness volunteers, in addition to two City of Austin departments: Watershed Protection, and Parks and Recreation. Our partners helped us promote the East Austin Garden Fair through email, radio, community newsletters, flyers and posters.

Funding for this free event comes from Master Gardener association dues, book sales and admission fees from a biennial garden tour. TCMGA budgeted $500 per year for supplies, signs, water and snacks, and came in under budget both years. Annually, Travis County AgriLife Extension covered printing costs of $300 and $125 for food to feed hungry volunteers. All other expenses were covered through donations from partner organizations.

How does the East Austin Garden Fair impact the community?

In 2013 and 2014 combined, Master Gardeners offered over 50 educational booths, activities and interactive demonstrations to over 900 fairgoers. A little over half of those who attended the fair were people of color. Most fairgoers reported they learned something new (95%), found the information understandable (95%), and expected to use what they learned to improve their health (93%).

Master Gardeners installed a raised-bed vegetable garden and a butterfly garden for community use and future fair demonstrations at East Austin’s Parque Zaragosa Recreation Center, the site for the 2013 and 2014 fairs.  Master Gardeners cultivated over 500 herb and vegetable seedlings each year to distribute to fairgoers, and gave away a rain barrel both years.

Exit surveys from fairgoers guide the planning committee’s focus the following year to ensure our outreach remains timely, relevant and specific to the East Austin community.

For more information, visit the Central Texas Horticulture website.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Workshop — 3rd Place Winner

December 23rd, 2015 by Terri James

Seed to Supper

Seed to Supper is a joint program of the Oregon Food Bank and the Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener Program.

Hunger and food security are issues that all communities face. Buying seeds and starts to grow can increase a family’s access to nutritious food. But unfortunately, many people lack the skills or confidence to plant and tend a garden.

Seed to Supper is a comprehensive, 5-week beginning gardening course that gives novice, adult gardeners the tools they need to successfully grow a portion of their own food on a limited budget.

A 96-page workbook was written as a resource for participants to use during and after the class. It contains researched-based information in the areas of

  • Garden site and soil development
  • Garden planning
  • Garden planting
  • Maintaining the garden
  • Harvesting and using your bounty

Because classes are often taught during the cool months prior to the gardening season, in locations that do not have access to a garden, five PowerPoints have been developed to help assisting in the teaching of the material. They follow the five chapters of the workbook and provide a visually stimulating method for teaching outside the actual garden.

The PowerPoints also provide a method to insure quality control from class to class, as different volunteers serve in the roles as garden educators.

While the workbook and PowerPoints provide for a consistent program, Seed to Supper has been designed to be flexible. In their role as gardening educators, teams of Master Gardeners modify the curriculum to meet the needs of their individual audiences. They have changed the number of days taught, added hands-on activities, brought tools as visual aids and grown starts to help people get their gardens started.

After the 2013 pilot year the Seed to Supper program was edited to a more accessible reading level and translated into Spanish to help us engage a more diverse audience.

The programs adaptability and popularity can be seen in the fact that it has spread from the tri-county Portland area where it started in 2013 to being taught in 15 counties this year.

For more information on the Seed to Supper program you can go to the program’s website hosted by the Oregon Food Bank.

 

Submitted by Lynn Cox, Washington County Oregon Master Gardener