Wow! Has this year gone quickly or what? In just a little more than a week, we’ll be celebrating Christmas in our household, and a week later, a new year will be upon us. The shortest day of this year (Dec. 21) will have already occurred, and almost imperceptibly the days will grow longer as we begin another circuit around the sun.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we find so many holidays, for the nations that don’t reside near the equator, on the short and cold days of autumn and winter. Being inside, and living on the foods stored from the previous food production season with cold waiting just outside the door, can get downright depressing!
No wonder so many cultures, including our own, have adopted customs that encourage merriment and celebrations that encourage some form of what we now call “cocooning.” Ramping up from Halloween, heading to Thanksgiving Day, then from Christmas and to New Year’s Eve and day is both a welcome and exhausting ritual around here.
It’s also a natural time for reflection, dreaming and planning. If you’re like me, a bit of over-the-top optimism for the next gardening season begins to creep in, too. That’s when I create to-do lists and projects I envision getting done in mere days when the warmth and fair weather returns. In reality, a significant percentage of these projects don’t show up for two or three years, if at all. Enough do, though, to keep the self-deception going full speed from year to year.
Looking back, there was a resolution I made in 2008 and fulfilled in 2009 that changed my life. I was an avid listener to KSL Radio’s Saturday-morning “Greenhouse Show” and really liked the interaction between hosts Tim Hughes and Larry Sagers. Tim displayed enough basic gardening “chops” to have an appreciation for the finer points of being a successful gardener. That enabled him to have great conversations with Larry and ask great questions, to keep things moving along well and to allow Larry to make excellent use of his horticultural knowledge to answer the questions of listeners that called in.
Listening to Larry was a hoot. He answered a steady stream of gardening and landscaping questions and did it succinctly and warmly. He had a wry sense of humor that paid off handsomely as a radio host. When I found he was a neighbor and would be the lead instructor for the upcoming 2009/2010 Master Gardener Class, I was in.
You see, I had done gardening in some form for many years with moderate to strong success. There was a lot of hit and miss, trial and error. While that’s a normal part of learning and improvement, it can also be time-consuming and costly. So, when I started learning through the course, it was exhilarating — and fast! For the first time, I knew WHY some things happened, and made a strong connection to soil health and pH, how and when plants tend to germinate and thrive, and a whole host of other gardening topics that my knowledge of was a mile wide, but only an inch deep.
If this resonates and you find yourself in a similar situation when it comes to the exciting world of horticulture, gardening and landscaping, then this is the year you can take your knowledge, results (and enjoyment) to a new level.
You see, the Master Gardener Class is forming now and it’s filling up fast. The classes begin Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, and are from 6-8 p.m. at the USU Extension facility located at 151 N. Main in Tooele. This is a 14-week, Tuesday-night experience covering a wide range of topics, and taught by a whole host of gardening authorities who are “rock stars” in their areas of expertise.
The cost is moderate as well for this quality learning experience. A single tuition is $150 or $180 for a couple. Your registration includes 14 two-hour live instruction sessions, all class materials and hand-outs, as well as a one-year membership to the Tooele County Master Gardeners Association (TCMGA).
I’ll warn you, though. This is an addicting experience. Getting such great information that will empower you as a gardener, having such great interactions with instructors and fellow class members, and seeing tangible results in your growing efforts will change you from then on.
Part of the class experience and requirement for completion of the course and earning the designation “Master Gardener” is completing a course (open-book) test, as well as completing 40 hours (spread over a year) of volunteering in various opportunities related to the TCMGA. There are many areas to be a part of, including Arbor Day events, the Annual Garden Tour, Farmer’s Market, the County Fair, Gardening Expo, Plant Diagnostic Clinic and educational events.
Once your friends and family find out that you’ve completed the Master Gardener course, the fun begins anew. Many will think that you now know all things horticultural — which is, of course, impossible. There are practitioners and specialists whose whole careers are in specific areas of agriculture or horticulture. Even so, you’ll have a working knowledge of the foundations of gardening, and another huge advantage; knowing where to get information and having great resource material on hand from the course.
Now for a bit more detail. What will you be learning about in the course? PLENTY. Topics will include basic botany (plant structures), soil, composting, turf grasses, plant disease diagnosis and treatment, plant insects (beneficial and pests), tree and small fruits (berries), vegetables, weeds and controls, landscape plants and shrubs, plant disease diagnostics, and irrigation.
Ten different instructors from the state-wide USU Extension Team are scheduled in to teach on these differing topics. I have met and worked with several of them. They are extremely knowledgeable and it’s a real treat to have them be visiting mentors. Many of them are prolific horticultural authors of the gardening bulletins and publications you can find at extension.usu.edu/publications. They know what they are talking about, and they are eager to pass their knowledge on to you!
So, why are Master Gardener courses offered and how do they tie into the USU Extension Program? Utah State University is only one of 106 “Aggie” colleges across the United States. These agricultural colleges operate under the authority of the 1862 Morrill Act. For the historians among us, you would recognize that this was during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln! The legacy continues today, assuring the knowledge and crafts closely tied to ranchers and farmers is emphasized. Even so, getting the knowledge out to those who are most interested or will benefit the most is difficult — they’re usually very busy in their livelihood.
That’s where university extension services and facilities come in. A typical classroom model is not optimal, so services are “extended” in communities via the Extension Service. Like any other state, there are several offices across Utah. In Tooele, the USU Extension Service office is located at 151 N. Main. The Extension Agent in our area is my friend Linden Greenhalgh. Extension Agents and supporting staff act as advisors and can bring resources to bear to assist on any given agricultural issue. Online services and publications are plentiful as well.
The Master Gardener program came into existence in the early 1970s, originally in Washington State, when it became apparent that the Extension Services couldn’t keep up with all the gardening and animal husbandry questions that were coming their way. So, they began training volunteers to assist in answering gardening questions and providing educational events. It was so successful that all 50 states now have the program as well as several Canadian provinces.
Have I convinced you to register for the upcoming classes? I hope so! It’s painless to register; contact Andrea DuClos at (435) 277-2409 or email her at email@example.com. She’ll be glad to get you registered, collect your payment, and assure that your course materials are waiting for you the evening you arrive for the first session.
While we work hard at cultivating our gardens and grounds, this time around YOU are being cultivated. Completing the Master Gardener course and accessing new resources will pay you back for many years to come, and as a bonus, you’ll create some great friendships along the way.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.