Master Gardeners offer vegetable garden workshops

February 24, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Vegetable gardening continues to surge in popularity. An estimated one in every three American households grows some type of veggies, whether it’s a solitary tomato plant on a deck or a showcase of raised beds with wrought-iron garden stakes, irrigation systems and obelisks for climbing vines.

With all this interest in growing edibles, it was a no-brainer for New Castle County Master Gardeners to choose a program focus this spring. Two thirds of the workshops are dedicated to edibles.

“Our vegetable workshops fill up right away so we decided to offer even more vegetable classes this year,” says Carrie Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “For the second year in a row we’ll have separate classes for novice and experienced gardeners. We’ll also present specialized sessions, such as a workshop devoted exclusively to growing berries and another on starting vegetables from seed.”

Classes get underway in less than two weeks and continue through May. The majority of the sessions are in March, when gardeners are finalizing their plans, and in the case of some crops, starting to plant.

In Delaware, commercial and home growers typically put seed potatoes in the ground on or around St. Patrick’s Day. The Master Gardeners’ potato planting demo, on March 19, details the best methods for success, including mounding techniques and container growing.

The demo appears to fill a need, says Gail Hermenau, a Master Gardener and head of the committee that develops the workshop schedule. “Last year, we offered a tour of our demonstration vegetable garden,” says Hermenau. “When we arrived at the mounded potato beds, a number of people said they didn’t know potatoes grew like that and wanted more information.”

A new tomato class also was created because of popular demand. “A lot of feedback came my way about holding a workshop specifically on tomatoes,” says Hermenau.

Tomatoes top the list of the most commonly homegrown vegetables (even though technically they’re a fruit). Now that more backyard gardeners are growing heirloom varieties, they’re combating new challenges. Heirlooms aren’t disease-resistant, like most hybrids, and they’re more susceptible to cracking and bruising. The March 31 workshop will focus on the pros and cons of heirlooms and other varieties, as well as site selection, seed sources, transplanting, fertilizing and more.

Programming for advanced gardeners includes a workshop on maximizing yields through succession planting, companion planting, crop spacing and other techniques.

Another way to learn about veggie growing is at a Garden Day, held in the Master Gardeners’ Native Teaching Garden on the second and fourth Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to noon, April through September.

On these days, Master Gardeners work in the garden, all the while explaining what they’re doing – from scouting for pests to the right way to weed. They’re happy to answer specific gardening questions, too.

Sussex Master Gardeners also will offer vegetable-oriented programs this spring, including a March 10 session that covers the basics of site location, soil, fertilizing and watering.

“New Gardener in Delaware?,” on May 12, will be useful for vegetable gardeners, as well as those primarily interested in ornamental gardens. This workshop focuses on how to overcome the challenges of growing plants in Sussex’s sand, salt, humidity and heat.

“People move here from Connecticut or the D.C. metro area and think that they can garden the same way they did in their old hometown,” notes Tracy Wootten, Extension horticultural agent for Sussex County. “But Sussex is unique. We teach you how to succeed as a gardener here.”

Check out the spring Master Gardener workshops online. New Castle County classes are at this website and Sussex County classes are at this website.

Register by calling 302-831-COOP in New Castle County. In Sussex, call 302-856-7303.

Article by Margo McDonough
Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.


Changing seasons provide varied birding opportunities

January 10, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

One of the things that Derek Stoner likes most about living in Delaware is that every season brings new things to see and enjoy outdoors. Birding is a great example of nature’s diversity throughout the year.

“Birding in January, when owls are breeding, is a lot different than birding in July, when shorebirds flock to the Delaware Bay during their southward migration,” notes Stoner, the past president of the Delmarva Ornithological Society.

Here are some of the avian highlights that each season brings. How many of these birds will you spot in 2011?


As the New Year begins, the woods come alive with the calls of owls. Delaware’s most-common woodland owl, the great-horned owl, begins nesting now. Listen for its territorial hooting calls at night. The Eastern screech owl is also active and makes a trilling call. So how do you identify all those trills and hoots? Before heading out, Stoner suggests listening to owl calls at this website.

In February, take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project throughout the U.S. and Canada. Last year’s count tallied more than 11 million birds of 602 species. Beyond the important scientific data that’s collected, the count generates excitement for birders, notes Chris Williams, UD assistant professor of wildlife ecology. Get involved by visiting this website.


In late April and the first half of May, birders flock to White Clay Creek State Park, where warblers, tanagers, orioles and other migrants are attracted to the large expanse of healthy woodlands. The best time to see lots of migrants, says Stoner, is after a night with steady winds from the south.

If you want to see red knots in the spring, there’s one place to go — Mispillion Harbor on the Delaware Bay, which attracts up to 90 percent of all the red knots in the world during this time period. Red knots fuels up on horseshoe crabs at the harbor. Check them out from the observation deck of the DuPont Nature Center. For a map and directions, visit the DuPont Nature Center website.


Summertime to Carrie Murphy means the return of the American goldfinch. This small finch is attracted to native perennials in her garden, including echinacea, black-eyed Susan and hardy ageratum. In its spring plumage, the brilliant yellow-and-black male looks like he belongs in a tropical rain forest instead of a Delaware backyard. Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, says the goldfinch also likes annual sunflowers.

In July, look for blue grosbeaks, gorgeous blue birds with silvery bills. Doug Tallamy finds a pair nesting in his dogwood tree every July. “The male sings from May to September every morning for two hours,” says Tallamy, the chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Applied Ecology.

Want to attract blue grosbeaks to your own yard? “Blue grosbeaks like to include snake skins in their nests, so if you hang a snake skin up on a fence, you’re more likely to get them,” notes Tallamy.

Late summer is prime time for migrating shorebirds all along the Delaware Bay. Visit the impoundments at Fowler Beach and Broadkill Road of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge to see black-necked stilts, black-bellied plovers and many varieties of sandpipers.


“I like watching hawks fly out of trees to kill unsuspecting rodents during the fall,” says Brian Kunkel, an entomologist with UD Cooperative Extension. If the thought of watching hawks feasting on rodents makes you lose your lunch, just keep your eyes skyward. The northern tip of Delaware is the place to see hundreds of migrating broad-winged hawks on their way to South America. Check out the Ashland Hawk Watch page.

In November thousands of ducks, geese and swans funnel into the First State to take advantage of the abundant food and resting places. Places like Thousand Acre Marsh, Woodland Beach Wildlife Area and Silver Lake in Rehoboth offer great viewing.

Wrap up the year by taking part in the Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest-running biological survey. Seven Christmas Bird Counts take place in Delaware. Learn more at the Delmarva Ornithological Society website.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.


Master Gardeners Offer Winter Workshops

January 3, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Where do Delaware gardeners go in winter?

A lucky few have second gardens in Florida or other subtropical climes, where they can put their hands in the soil all winter long. But most local gardeners simply go into planning mode, using the cold-weather months to prepare for the growing season ahead. For many, that means attending Master Gardener workshops.

“We never used to offer horticulture programs in the dead of winter; we took a break in between our fall and spring workshops,” says Carrie Murphy, New Castle County Cooperative Extension horticultural agent. “But three years ago, Master Gardeners offered a January series with an environmental theme. The response was overwhelming; gardeners came out in droves. It was very evident that this series filled a need for programming at this time of year.”

The “Keep it Green” series is on hiatus as Murphy and the Master Gardeners revise curriculum. But in its place this January and February is a winter series with an eclectic bent. These New Castle County programs include topics for experienced gardeners, such as espaliers, as well as topics for beginners, like an introductory vegetable gardening program.

The Kent-Sussex Master Gardeners also offer a winter series, by popular demand, says Tracy Wootten, Extension’s horticultural agent for Sussex County.

In northern Delaware, the “Vines and Espaliers” class on Feb. 10 will appeal to those jaded sorts who wonder “so what else is there?” Climb to new creative heights by trying espaliers — the pruning of trees and other woody plants so that they grow flat against a wall, fence or structure. Vines and other forms of vertical gardening also will be discussed.

“Tom Maddux, who is teaching this class, has created a great vertical garden at his garden in Old New Castle,” notes Murphy. “It’s fascinating to see what he has done with vines and espaliers.”

The format of virtually every Master Gardener program encourages interaction. But audience participation is a must at “Garden Line Live” on Jan. 13. This two-hour question-and-answer panel is an in-person version of the phone line that Master Gardeners operate.

Eight Master Gardener experts will field questions on anything garden related — lawn maintenance, insect management, vegetable gardening, composting, plant selection and landscape design. If the panelists get stumped, they’ve got a “life line” in Dick Pelly, a research whiz and longtime Master Gardener who will stand by with research books and Internet access.

Murphy isn’t sure what to expect but if it’s anything like the 1,100 phone calls the New Castle County garden line receives annually, there will be questions about stink bugs (a hot topic this year) and deer control (always the number one question on the phone line).

The winter series also features “Preparing Your Landscape for Spring” on Feb. 16 and “Starting Your Vegetable Garden” on Feb. 23.

In southern Delaware, the Kent-Sussex Master Gardeners will present four winter classes, including a class with a philosophical slant, “Planning/Journaling in the Garden” on Feb. 17. Instructor Jessica Clark was inspired by Fran Sorin’s Digging Deep, to present a planning workshop that’s about more than just obtaining soil samples and deciding when to add compost.

“In the words of Fran Sorin, ‘your garden should be a place where the feeling of your hands in the dirt offers a deep, primordial connection with the earth, where you can learn what can work for you in the physical garden and where it can work in your emotional garden,’” notes Clark.

A Jan. 13 house plant session details common mistakes made in caring for house plants and includes a re-potting how-to. Other offerings include vegetable gardening on March 10 and a garlic class on Feb. 10, featuring details on how to plant, grow and cure two popular cultivars of garlic.

Learn more

In New Castle County, to register or for more information, call 302-831-COOP or go to the website. In southern Delaware, call 302-856-7303.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.


New Castle County Master Gardener training offered

December 15, 2010 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Delaware Cooperative Extension in New Castle County is now accepting applications for Master Gardener volunteer educator training. Training will run Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting March 3, 2011, and continue through May 24, 2011.

Carrie Murphy, Master Gardener program coordinator, Cooperative Extension Services, said of the program, “This training program is designed to make good educators out of good gardeners. Trainees pledge to devote volunteer time to help Cooperative Extension provide research-based information to the gardening public. Without this volunteer program, we could not reach nearly as many people as we do now.”

Training will consist of horticultural and educational topics, with emphasis on hands-on experience and active learning techniques.

There is a training fee of $150. Scholarships are available based on financial need. The application deadline is Jan. 10, 2011.

Details on the Master Gardener program, training, and application materials are available on the Master Gardener website, or by email or phone request to Carrie Murphy, at [] or (302) 831-2506.

This article is also available online on UDaily.