Master Gardeners help others discover uplifting benefits of nature

November 2, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

When Terry Tse was growing up in Hong Kong, her bedroom was always full of plants. Living in the midst of this exciting yet chaotic city, Tse knew that plants brought tranquility.

“Flowers make you calm,” she says.

Today, Tse is helping clients of the Delaware Psychiatric Center discover the uplifting benefits of nature. She and fellow University of Delaware Master Gardeners assisted in the development of a therapeutic garden at the center two years ago.

The project has grown to include a sensory garden for the visually impaired and a farmer’s market that sells produce fresh from the garden. And that’s just some of what was accomplished at the Department of Health and Social Services New Castle campus. Plus, the Master Gardeners helped to establish a garden at the Delaware School for the Deaf in Newark.

For their efforts, this Master Gardener team received a Governor’s Outstanding Service Award at a ceremony held this past Thursday. In addition to Tse, recipients included Fred Hillegas, Mary Ellen Hillegas, Bill Horne and Carmela Simons. Duane Ashley, who is not a Master Gardener but was an active project volunteer, also shared in the award.

“The Master Gardeners were immediately interested in this project and the potential that these gardens had to impact the clients and staff at these sites,” says Carrie Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “They provided both technical expertise and educational programming. They presented workshops for clients and staff on topics like composting, identifying garden pests and how to enjoy a sensory garden.”

The Master Gardeners also rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty. Bill Horne offered his creative skills for the therapeutic garden’s design but he also pulled weeds and harvested vegetables. Mary Ellen and Fred Hillegas helped the center’s clients run the farmer’s market on Fridays, and when they couldn’t make it, Tse filled in. In the last two years, the market sold 1,693 pounds of produce and what wasn’t sold – 525 pounds in all – was donated to the Food Bank of Delaware.

From the get-go, the Master Gardeners knew that they wanted these projects to be driven by the needs and desires of the clients. At the Delaware Psychiatric Center, a residential client named Jack wanted popping corn in the vegetable garden. Others requested tomatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn and peppers. Clients also helped with the selection of ornamentals. One individual fondly recalled lilac from a childhood home so the Master Gardeners included a lilac bush in the garden design.

As for the sensory garden, it’s a feast of sounds, fragrances and textures, as well as sights. In winter, switchgrass rustles in the wind. In spring, the velvety leaves of lamb’s ear plant beg to be touched. Come summer, the earthy smell of basil entices. And in fall, black seedpods of baptisia rattle loudly at the slightest shake.

Some of the clients who come to the Division of Visually Impaired’s New Castle office for vocational rehab or independent living services are in wheelchairs or have other physical limitations. So the Master Gardeners designed wider pathways to allow for wheelchair access, and many of the beds are raised and feature a grid pattern.

“With a grid pattern, a blind or visually impaired person can, for example, count two squares down and three over and know they’ve found the mint that they wanted to pick,” notes Horne.

The vegetable garden at the Delaware School for the Deaf was installed last November. Tied into grade-level curricula, the garden promotes healthy eating habits and new vocational options.

Mary Ellen Hillegas, who was a counselor at the school before retirement, says the garden also serves an important social function. “Ten to 12 students will be in the garden at any given time and they’ll need to come to consensus on planning tasks and sharing tools and other cooperative behavior,” she says. “The garden has tremendous possibilities as a teaching tool.”

Organizations that collaborated with the Master Gardeners include UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies, Delaware Center for Horticulture, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Delaware Department of Agriculture. For the school garden, the nonprofit group Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids partnered with the Master Gardeners.

Delaware Department of Agriculture staffer Faith Kuehn spearheaded the therapeutic garden projects and she nominated the Master Gardeners for the Governor’s Outstanding Service Award.

“What impresses me most about these Master Gardeners is that it comes from the heart,” says Kuehn. “They aren’t doing it for the volunteer hours or the recognition. They really want to make a difference.”

Jack, who grew his own popping corn this summer, and other individuals who have benefited from the gardens, would say that the Master Gardeners are doing exactly that.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Unified campus food drive to benefit Food Bank of Delaware

September 19, 2012 under CANR News

According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 22 percent of Delawareans struggle to put food on the table. Only two states have higher percentages of residents who do not have enough money for food.

The Food Bank of Delaware distributed 6.2 million pounds of food last year, providing help to one out of every four residents in the First State.

Many partners helped provide the food distributed by the Food Bank. For example, the University of Delaware’s Garden for the Community — a cooperative partnership between UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), CANR Ag College Council, Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and the Food Bank of Delaware — donated 16,484 pounds of fresh, locally grown vegetables in 2012.

While these recent efforts by UD and the Food Bank of Delaware have gone a long way to help those in need, there is still more that can be done.

With this in mind, a new program called Blue Hens CAN has been established, to help the entire UD community join forces to meet the needs of Delawareans straining to afford food.

“Over the years, various UD groups and organizations have successfully organized collections of food throughout the year,” says Susan Hall, deputy dean of the College of Health Sciences (CHS). “Our hope is that this unified, campuswide effort will synthesize all of these individual campaigns and ultimately result in a much larger donation for the Food Bank.”

“Blue Hens CAN is our service mission in action,” says UD President Patrick Harker. “I know this active, engaged campus community — a community that lives the principle of service every day — can come together to help end hunger in Delaware. I’m thrilled that we’re partnering with the Food Bank of Delaware — such a vital organization to so many families — and I’m excited to see the outcome of our efforts.”

“The support we have received from the University of Delaware community has been outstanding,” said Food Bank of Delaware President and CEO Patricia Beebe. “We are looking forward to a coordinated food drive amongst all members of the University in order to collect more food for Delawareans struggling to put meals on the table. We hope the excitement surrounding Blue Hens CAN will bring in not only food, but enthusiasm for helping to alleviate hunger in the First State.”

The program, a joint venture between CHS, CANR and the Food Bank of Delaware, is scheduled for the week of Nov. 12-16.

“The plan is that — thanks to the help of UD Parking and Transportation Services — each day of the week, we will have a UD bus parked at a different campus location for an advertised period of several hours,” explains CANR deputy dean Tom Sims. “Student volunteers, led by clubs in CANR and CHS, will be on hand to accept and record donations from various groups and help load them into the vehicle.”

The bus will be parked on north, east, west, south and central campuses for one day each during the week, with the exact bus locations to be determined at a later date.

Prizes will be awarded for participation, and the hope is that Blue Hens CAN will become an annual event, similar to the UD campus blood drive, where groups throughout the university join together to benefit a single cause.

“There is so much need, even in our small state,” says Sims, “and this is a great opportunity for our students, faculty and staff to make a difference.”

Article by Diane Kukich and Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Aug. 25: NCC Day in the Garden

August 22, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Join the New Castle County Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators for a Day in the Garden.  FREE, and for the entire family.  Saturday, August 25, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm.

Master Gardeners and Master Food Educators will be available in the Vegetable Teaching and Demonstration Garden at the University of Delaware New Castle County Extension Office at 461 Wyoming Road to answer home gardening-related questions and share a taste of the garden harvest.

Displays will offer information on the following:

  • food safety
  • nutrition
  • growing and harvesting summer and fall vegetables and fruits
  • freezing and canning
  • worm bin and backyard composting
  • pollinators
  • seed starting
  • and more….

Samples of fresh salsa, gazpacho, and vegetables, harvested from the garden on that day, will also be available for tasting.

For more information, contact Carrie Murphy, Horticulture Educator, New Castle County Cooperative Extension.  (302) 831-2506, cjmurphy@udel.edu

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Sussex County Master Gardeners announce summer and fall workshop series

July 18, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The Sussex County Master Gardeners are pleased to announce their Summer/Fall 2012 workshop schedule. The workshops will be held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown.  Please pre-register by contacting Tammy Schirmer at 302-856-2585, ext 544, tammys@udel.edu  or visit the Carvel Research and Education Center website.  Workshops are free unless otherwise specified. Schedule:

Livable Lawns
Monday, July 30, 2012, Noon, Conference Room 3.
Presented by Valann Budischak.  The goal of the Delaware Livable Lawns initiative is simple – reduce fertilizer and pesticide runoff from lawns. This workshop will provide the necessary information needed to maintain a healthy, beautiful, lawn while partnering in the protection of the environment.

Hypertufa
Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 9 a.m., in the Demonstration Garden and Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 9 a.m., in the Demonstration Garden.
Presented by Barbara Busch.   Hypertufa is a mixture of cement, peat moss, sand and water, formed into a mold to make a container for a plant. It is lighter than terra-cotta and can withstand winter weather.  At the conclusion of this hands-on workshop you’ll have made a pot to take home.  $15 charge for materials, limited to 12 participants (each session).  Bring Heavy-Duty Latex Gloves.

Flavor Up Your Herbs
Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 1 p.m., Kitchen & Conference Room 2.
Presented by Betty Lou Suter.  Welcome to our “Herb Garden” and “Kitchen of Samples”. We plan a walk through the herb garden; see a wattle?….knot?, many culinary and cosmetic herbs, then off to the kitchen for herb ideas for gifts and culinary uses. Sample some goodies made more delicious with herbs; rosemary shortbread, pansy rollups, just to name a few! YUM! Limit 15.

Buzz About Bees
Thursday, September 20, 2012, Noon, Conference Room 3.
Presented by Shelley McNeal.  Bees are a fascinating, social, and endangered group of insects. This talk will focus on the wonder of bees, recent threats to their survival, and the efforts being made to protect them. Shelley will describe her experiences as a beekeeper. Included are landscaping practices that homeowners can easily adopt to help protect our pollinators.

Peter Rabbit is NOT my Friend. Tuesday October 9, 2012, 7 p.m., Conference Room 3.
Presented by Tracy Mulveny.  This workshop will discuss the five most common animal pests in our gardens, deer, rabbits, groundhogs, moles and voles. Some ideas on how to eliminate or co-exist with them will be presented. New ideas are always welcome so bring your own success stories to share.

Raised Bed Construction and Gardening
Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 1 p.m. Conference Room 3.  Presented by Mike Deshaies.  Raised beds have many advantages over traditional garden beds; their soil tends to warm earlier in the season, they tend to have better drainage, the gardener has more control over the soil in the beds, and the placement and design of raised beds can make for easy access. Building a raised bed is a not-too-difficult project that can quickly increase the size and quality of the growing space. This workshop will provide tips and ideas for constructing raised beds for your garden.

Containers for the Holidays
Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 6:30 p.m. Conference Room 3.  Presented by Mary Sue Colaizzi.  There is no reason to put your garden containers away for the winter. Summer containers do not have to look like a “pot full of dirt” during the winter months. With a little imagination and design savvy your containers can offer beauty and pleasure all year round. Come learn how to make a four-season container to get you through the winter blahs.

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. It is Delaware Cooperative Extension’s policy that that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or handicap status. If you have special needs that need to be accommodated, please contact the office two weeks prior to the event.

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Sussex County Master Gardeners offer Livable Lawn workshop

July 18, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The Sussex County Master Gardeners are pleased to invite the public to a workshop entitled ‘Livable Lawns’ on Monday, July 30, at Noon. The goal of the Delaware Livable Lawns initiative is simple – reduce fertilizer and pesticide runoff from lawns. This workshop will provide the necessary information needed to maintain a healthy, beautiful lawn while partnering in the protection of the environment. Delaware Cooperative Extensions Associate, Valann Budischak is the presenter.

The workshop will be held at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Georgetown, Delaware. The workshop is free. Please pre-register by contacting Tammy Schirmer at 302-856-2585, ext 544, tammys@udel.edu. Or visit the Carvel Research and Education Center website.

Master Gardeners are working volunteers and are supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University Extension offices. It is Delaware Cooperative Extension’s policy that that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, veteran or handicap status. If you have special needs that need to be accommodated, please contact the office two weeks prior to the event.

Photo by Bobbie Ranney

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Sussex County Master Gardeners develop accessible gardening program

July 10, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Tracy Wootten knows all about the physical and emotional benefits of gardening. A horticulture agent for University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, Wootten maintains large vegetable and flower gardens at her Seaford home. It gives her a boost to be out in the garden, re-charging her batteries after a long day on the job.

But she also has seen how the pleasure of gardening can turn into frustration for those with physical limitations.

“My mother-in-law has arthritis and certain garden tasks can be challenging for her,” says Wootten. “And, as my own parents age, I’ve seen them face difficulties in the garden, too.”

Helping gardeners cultivate their green thumbs despite mobility issues or other limitations is the goal of Garden Smart; Garden Easy, an accessible gardening program developed by the Sussex County Master Gardeners.

“I would hate to have all the good things associated with gardening — physically, emotionally and socially — taken away from my mother-in-law or any other gardener,” says Wootten. “Garden Smart; Garden Easy helps to remove barriers through creative adaptations of tools, techniques and garden lay-out.”

For example, the Master Gardeners might suggest raised beds for a person who has trouble bending or kneeling. These beds can be made with wide ledges so that gardeners can sit comfortably while they work or high enough so that they can stand (great for people with back trouble). Table-top gardens and container gardening can be solutions for people in wheelchairs or those with other mobility issues.

Impediments to gardening aren’t always readily apparent, notes Wootten. A person might have trouble with eye-hand coordination or fine motor coordination; decreased strength, stamina or flexibility; poor balance; chronic pain; or increased sensitivity to heat, sun or cold.

Even gardeners without these kinds of barriers can find inspiration in Garden Smart; Garden Easy. For example, people who don’t have yards can turn to containers or table-top gardening. And the program is a source of ideas for gardeners like Wootten who are simply pressed for time.

“Garden Smart; Garden Easy suggests drip irrigation over hand-watering as a way to conserve your energy,” says Wootten. “I use soaker hoses to keep up with the garden when life gets extra busy. Otherwise, I’d be out there with a hose at 9 p.m., which is not the ideal time to water.”

Garden Smart; Garden Easy was launched in January 2011, says Bob Williams, chair of the Master Gardeners’ accessible gardening committee. The response from the public has been enthusiastic.

In the first six months of this year, the program reached more than 600 people through workshops at senior centers, garden clubs and therapy groups, as well as public events such as farmers markets and community fairs.

And any day of the week, visitors to the Demonstration Garden at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown can learn more about accessible gardening. Free self-guided tours of the garden are available from dawn to dusk.

The accessible gardening area showcases several types of raised beds, including table gardens that can be moved to suit the needs of the gardener. It also features hanging baskets on pulleys that can be lowered for easy reach; containers filled with lightweight potting soil (sphagnum, moss and perlite reduce the weight); and benches placed in strategic spots for rest and enjoyment of the garden.

An open house will be held at the Demonstration Garden on July 14. Master Gardeners will explain how to use modify existing tools, such as using pipe insulation to increase the diameter of tool handles. Plus, there will be plenty of specially designed products and tools — like wheelbarrows with two wheels in front.

“It’s rewarding to hear how Garden Smart; Garden Easy is making a difference in the lives of area gardeners,” says Wootten. “One gentleman sought our advice on ways to get his mother back into gardening after her physical limitations brought on depression. The Master Gardeners helped him modify his mother’s garden and now she is back to doing what she loves.”

‘A Day in the Garden’ open house 

On Saturday, July 14, visitors can learn all about accessible gardening at this free open house.

Plus, there will be 20-minute workshops on shade gardening, saving money in the garden and how to make herbal vinegar and flavored honey.

A plant sale will feature perennials, shrubs and trees. For children, there will be presentations of Peter Rabbit’s Adventures in Farmer McGregor’s Vegetable Garden” as well as scavenger hunts and other activities.

The event will be held from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. at the Carvel Research and Education Center, 16483 County Seat Highway, Route 9, west of Georgetown. For more info, call 856-7303.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Michele Walfred

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Autumn fern, fringetree win state’s plant of the year title

June 8, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Beauty pageants like to stress that it’s not just good looks but also talent and poise that make a winner. Likewise, the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association Plant of the Year designation isn’t given to just any pretty plant but one “particularly well suited to thrive in Delaware,” notes Valann Budischak, executive director of the association.

That being said, the newly announced 2012 Plant of the Year winners are knock-out beauties – even if these plants weren’t easy to grow you’d want them in your garden. Dryopteris erythrosora, aka autumn fern, sports a copper pink color when its leaves first unfurl in spring, eventually maturing to glossy dark green. And Chionanthus virginicus, commonly known as fringetree, is a Southern charmer, with airy panicles of fragrant, fringy flowers in May.

“Fringe tree is an apt moniker for this delightful, small flowering tree, whose white blossoms do resemble a fanciful white fringe suspended in the spring sunlight,” wrote Landenberg, Pa., landscape consultant Rick Darke, a University of Delaware alumnus, in his 2002 book The American Woodland Garden.

Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania are the northernmost habitat for the fringetree. It also grows in south Jersey, nearly all of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, into the Deep South, and as far west as Texas.

With its ethereal appearance, you’d think fringetree would be a high-maintenance plant. But it’s a cinch to grow in full sun to partial shade. “Fringetree prefers moist, well-drained soil but it also will tolerate extremely dry conditions,” says Budischak. “And it’s especially well-suited to urban sites because of its high pollution tolerance.”

Dozens of fringetrees planted in the I-95 median north of Wilmington to the Pennsylvania state line are exposed to exhaust fumes 24/7 but look just as good as if they were growing in the wild. These trees were installed as part of the Enhancing Delaware Highways project, a joint venture between UD, the state Department of Transportation and Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH).

DCH also has planted fringetree in several spots in Wilmington, including a 911 Memorial Garden on Scott and 14th streets and along a railway embankment on Union Street. At the embankment planting, fringetree was mixed with Eastern ninebark, a hardy native shrub, and a variety of perennials, including false indigo. Fringetree also works well on its own as a specimen tree.

“I like fringetree because it’s very stalwart, very dependable and it’s a good habitat for pollinators and other wildlife,” says Lenny Wilson, assistant director of horticulture and facilities for DCH.

Female (fruit-bearing) fringetrees are especially attractive to wildlife. Bluebirds, thrashers, finch, vireo and eight species of caterpillars enjoy the tree’s dark blue fruit, according to Doug Tallamy, chair of UD’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology. The trees aren’t labeled “male” or “female” at the garden center so the only way to know if you’re getting a female tree is to buy the plant in the fall, after the fruit has appeared.

Unlike fringetree, autumn fern isn’t native to Delaware. However, Budischak is quick to note that autumn fern is not invasive and spreads very slowly over time via creeping rhizomes. An arching, vase-shaped fern, it grows in medium to wet soils, in partial to full shade. Ultimately, it reaches a height of one and one-half to two feet.

June 13 Garden Day

If you have questions about growing fringetree or autumn fern, head to the June 13 Garden Day at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension office in Newark.

Master Gardeners will be on hand to lend their expertise at this event in the Native Teaching Garden. It is held from 9 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month, through September.

There also will be an evening open house in the garden June 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Call 831-COOP for more info about either event.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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A Bootiful two days at Sussex County 4-H Farm tour in Lewes

May 14, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

In rain and in sunshine, Sussex County 4-H held their annual two-day farm tour at Green Acres Farm in Lewes on Wed. May 9 and Thurs. May 10.  The dairy farm, the largest in Delaware, is owned by the Hopkins Family, longtime 4-H supporters who have opened their barn doors for agricultural education for the past 26 years.

Wednesday’s rain didn’t dampen this year’s exploration as more than 700 children, visited the farm’s many attractions, such as Pig Alley and Calf Lane and a tractor ride.  Sussex County 4-H focuses this agriculture education outreach for students in preschool to grade two. Students register through their schools. Each preregistered student received a free cone from the Hopkins Farm Creamery, which opened in 2009. Students, well-prepared in slickers and rain boots of many colors, confirmed that ice cream tastes as good in the rain as it does in the sun.

Thursday’s total neared 1,000 youth.  Wednesday’s rain had left a few mud puddles for the pigs to play in, delighting the students who watched them frolic in the soft, gushy Delaware soil.  An estimated 1900 visitors including teachers, parents, chaperones, Extension staff and 4-H and Master Gardener volunteers, attended the farm tour on both days.

During the tour, students, who leave the bus pinching their noses, eventually forget the farm aroma and begin to  make the connection between the family farm and the final food product – usually referred to as ‘farm to fork’ in this case was ‘farm to cone!’  Teachers and students have an opportunity to meet the Hopkins family; Walter and his wife Jenny; son Burli and wife Allison; and the next generation of Hopkins farmers, 4-H’ers Michael, Jacob, Grace and Luke who can be seen throughout the tour comfortably hanging out with the pigs, lovingly tugging on a cow’s ear and sharing their farm experiences with visitors.

Burli and dairy farm manager Bob Geiman offered tours of the modern milking process.  School children observed firsthand the all the teamwork efforts that go into producing healthy, nutritious and safe food. Under blue and gold tents Cooperative Extension educators provided additional learning, including exhibits on corn and corn products, healthy beverages and the importance of exercise.  A popular puppet and people show, the Adventures of Peter Rabbit in Farmer McGregor’s Garden was performed numerous times by volunteer Master Gardeners.

Local 4-H youth members brought their project animals, providing  a talkative tom turkey, horse, sheep, goats, ducks and rabbits  for young students to interact with and pet. UD Poultry Extension provided a chick hatchery and baby chick display, the inhabitants of which are now taking a much needed rest after being gently cupped by 1700 little hands.

Any area school or daycare center up to the second grade are invited to attend, with registration opening in late January before the May tour. The event is free.

For more information about the Sussex County Farm Tour contact the 4-H office at 856-7303.  Additional photos of the farm tour may be found at 4-H’s Flickr site: www.flickr.com/sussexcounty4h

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Master Gardeners see increased demand for vegetable workshops

February 28, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

From the time he was a young boy, Clyde Roberts grew tomatoes, cantaloupes and other produce on his family’s farm in Kansas. He earned agronomy degrees at Kansas State and Cornell and worked for DuPont Ag Products. Since retirement, the Hockessin resident has been a UD Master Gardener, teaching vegetable workshops and other gardening classes.

Roberts has long and deep ties to agriculture but he meets other Delawareans who are disconnected from their food source. They know they can find the first tender asparagus of spring at the supermarket but they aren’t quite sure how it got there.

“In our beginner vegetable gardening workshop, I’ve had people who were surprised to find out that carrots and potatoes grow underground,” says Roberts. “They assumed that every vegetable grows on a bush, like tomatoes.”

Roberts is delighted to help the rank beginner as well the more experienced gardener learn the ins and outs of growing their own vegetables and fruits. The only problem he and other Master Gardeners have is keeping up with the demand.

“There has been a surge in interest in vegetable gardening workshops in the last four or five years,” says Carrie Murphy, the horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension.

Delawareans aren’t the only ones getting excited about growing their own produce. Nationally, vegetable gardening is on the rise, according to the National Gardening Association, which attributes the trend to rising food prices and health-conscious consumers.

In 2011, an estimated one in three American households grew vegetables, whether that meant a solitary tomato plant on a deck or a large garden, such as Roberts’ five plots, where he harvests veggies from April (radishes and lettuce) until the first frost (bell peppers and tomatoes).

Edibles take center stage in the New Castle County Master Gardener spring workshop series, which kicks off March 6.  While you’ll still be able to learn about such topics as pruning and ornamental container gardening, more than half of the classes are devoted to some aspect of vegetable gardening.

“For the third year in a row we’ll have separate classes for novice and experienced gardeners,” says Murphy. “We’re also offering specialized sessions, such as a workshop devoted exclusively to growing tomatoes and another on growing vegetables in containers.”

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

In Sussex County, spring Master Gardener classes began last Tuesday and continue through late June. Edibles take center stage in several workshops, including Feb. 28, when Darrell Hager explained how to use the web and software to plan and design a vegetable garden. Grape growing will be the focus of a workshop on March 21.

Roberts will teach a tomato class on April 5 that was created last year due to popular demand. Tomatoes top the list of the most commonly homegrown vegetables (even though technically they’re a fruit).  But they’re not always easy to grow, especially the heirloom varieties.

“Heirlooms are all the rage but they’re more challenging,” says Roberts. Heirlooms aren’t disease-resistant, like most hybrids, and they’re more susceptible to cracking and bruising.

“I encourage brand-new gardeners to grow half of their plot with heirlooms and half with hybrid varieties,” says Roberts. “I don’t want new gardeners to give up and get discouraged if they have a crop failure.”

A great way to solve problems before crop failure happens is to attend a Garden Day, held in the Master Gardeners’ Native Teaching Garden on the second and fourth Wednesday from April through September.

From 9 a.m. to noon 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.

Roberts doesn’t contend with crop failure often; instead he usually has an overabundance of veggies. If your harvest is equally successful, do what Roberts does and donate the excess to the needy.

The Master Gardeners participate in Plant a Row for the Hungry, a national program that encourages gardeners to plant an extra row at the beginning of the season and donate this produce to a local food bank. The Food Bank of Delaware is always in need of fresh produce to supplement the canned and packaged foods it receives.

Check out the spring Master Gardener workshops online. New Castle County classes can be found at this website or by calling 302-831-COOP.

For information on Sussex workshops, go to this website or call 302-856-7303.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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March 3: Community gardens

February 6, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension, Events

Are you interested in starting or maintaining a community or school garden? Experts from the University of Delaware, Delaware Department of Agriculture, Delaware Center for Horticulture and Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids will hold an information session on Saturday, March 3, from 9 a.m. to noon, for interested educators, community members and gardeners.

The session will highlight successful, local garden projects and provide information to help participants in their community or school garden, whether that’s a vegetable garden, nature trail or butterfly garden.

“A workshop like this is long overdue,” says Carrie Murphy, educator for ornamental horticulture withUD Cooperative Extension.  “For the last two to three years, we’ve seen a major influx of phone calls, emails and in-person questions about starting and maintaining school and community gardens. Through the workshop, we hope to not only give people the resources that they need, but also give them a space to network with each other.”

In addition to expert presentations, Master Gardeners will have displays on a variety of topics including water conservation, soil testing, attracting pollinators and more.

The information session will be held in 132 Townsend Hall on the University of Delaware campus.  Townsend Hall is located at 531 South College Avenue in Newark.

To register, call or email Murphy at 302-831-2506 or cjmurphy@udel.edu.  Preregistration is required, but the workshop fee of $5 will be collected at the door.  Participants are asked to bring their own mugs for coffee.

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