I find one of the many benefits of being retired is that there is a lot of latitude in how I choose to spend my days. As a newly-minted member of Lanark County Master Gardeners (I transferred from the sister Ottawa organization in January) I have found a lot of flexibility and support for taking on new projects for which I am very grateful.
With a life-long passion for gardening and deep concern over issues of food insecurity in our society, I have spent much of my spring and summer trying out different approaches to spreading the knowledge of gardening and of growing our own food. Being more of a dabbler rather than a scientist, I set out this year, with a few other area gardeners, in a bit of a hit-and-miss fashion to see where gardening advice might be most welcomed. This is, of course in addition to the regular on-going Master Gardener advice clinics at local Farmers’ Markets and special events such as Seedy Saturday. My focus has been on Almonte and Carleton Place and has included youth centre gardens, community gardens, the food bank garden, retirement homes and group homes. The approach has been quite variable but in general the goal was to have a predictable visit once a week at the same time period.
The response has been extremely variable, gardeners being a rather unruly lot, but in general the reaction has been very welcoming. In some cases the response has been quite small in terms of quantity but large in terms of the quality of response – I always enjoy working with smaller numbers. Dealing with youth has been fascinating – I’m guessing that it is just not cool for young males to take an interest in gardening. However male youth did seem to take a lot more interest when youth of the female gender became involved. And while they seem to hang back, it becomes obvious that they are absorbing more than they are letting on.
Gardening this year has not been particularly easy but it has been a bountiful harvest. Some vegetables have revelled in the abundant moisture; but the real reward for me is seeing new gardeners experience the thrill of harvesting and eating a vegetable that they have grown through their own effort.
One young gardener, Meghan Largy, has been very determined in the face of several challenges. In addition to excessive rain, cool temperatures, poor germination and slow growth she has faced a couple of other daunting challenges.
A mid-season catastrophic visit by deer in the middle of the night resulted in a row of Swiss chard being chowed down to ground level and other vegetables being nipped off. Meghan has fought back as she sprayed a vile concoction of putrescent egg solids and garlic on a weekly basis around the perimeter of her garden – to date the deterrent has been successful, the deer have not come back and the chard has grown back!
She has also been very persistent in digging out bind weed which unfortunately was in the soil in her garden box – it continues to send up endless shoots of new growth from deeply buried roots. Her hard work is paying off now as she is harvesting lots of beans, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and chard!
Lanark Master Gardeners and Ottawa-Carleton Master Gardeners are two of about 30 Master Gardener chapters in Ontario. They are under the umbrella of Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc which is an organization dedicated to providing horticultural information to the public. It began in 1985 as a program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) but it is now an independent non-profit charitable organization. The Master Gardener concept was originally created in Washington State (USA) in 1972 and has spread to many jurisdictions since then.
Master Gardeners are experienced gardeners who have studied horticulture extensively and continue to upgrade their skills through technical training. With this training and continuing education, Master Gardeners provide expert horticultural advice to the general public via garden clinics (many at Farmers Markets), telephone, letters, displays, workshops, television, and radio and newspaper articles and are often asked to be speakers at monthly meeting of Horticultural Societies.
Experienced gardeners are recruited locally, often from Horticultural Societies. After an orientation session, candidates take an eligibility test, and then register for online courses from the University of Guelph or Dalhousie University (formerly the Nova Scotia Agricultural College). For very experienced gardeners, an exemption examination is another option.
I have been a Master Gardener for 15 years – most of that with the Ottawa group before my recent switch to the Lanark County group. I have found it incredibly rewarding – lots of opportunities to learn, to serve the public and to connect with like-minded gardeners.
Go to lanarkmg.blogspot.com or MGOI.ca if you are interested in obtaining more information about becoming a Master Gardener.