Saturday I began taking Master Gardener training through the University of Minnesota extension. What a great way to spend January! The course involves 48 hours of class time, buckets of material to read, and then those of us who are Master Gardener interns will do 50 hours or more of volunteer work in our home counties during the rest of the year. I will be posting regularly about what I learn in the course, though there is so much information, it will be hard to pick and choose what to write about.
Let’s start with the Master Gardener program itself. This is a national program that began in the 1970s in response to a big increase in interest in home gardening — notice how tough economic times and gardening seem to go together. What happened was that county agents, who were used to dealing with questions about commercial agriculture, suddenly were faced with questions about growing squash and where to plant fruit trees, topics for which they felt unprepared. So, they decided to harness the power of volunteers. They trained the gardeners and then relied on these volunteers to answer garden questions — based on university research and recommendations.
In Minnesota, the first class of Master Gardeners were trained in 1977 and the first class was held in the meat lab (!) at the U of M St. Paul campus (this information made me happy to be sitting in the warm, comfortable conference room at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum). Today, Minnesota has 2,000 Master Gardeners volunteering in 81 counties. Nationally, 94,865 people volunteer as Master Gardeners, donating more than 5 million hours of time and expertise with an estimated value of more than $100 million.
The course is intense. Saturday we did an overview of the roles of Master Gardeners, then a fast-paced three hours on soils and compost taught by U professor Carl Rosen. Future topics include botany, diagnostics, lawn care, weed management, trees and shrubs, herbaceous plants, and wildlife among others. This is more science than I have studied since…well, since about the time the Master Gardener program started, but I’m really excited and hope to share the highlights with you. I’ve added the blog of Julie Weisenhorn, the program director, to my blog links, so you can check that out for more information about the program. If you are at all interested, consider applying for the program next year.