Back in the fall, I took an online Master Gardener class through the Cooperative Extension of the University of Arizona. (I think I mentioned it to some of you.) My goal was to learn to grow flowers and veggies here in Northern Arizona. For years I’ve tried and failed in this lovely high desert environment where the climate is one of extremes. On average, over 8 feet of snowfall, starting as early as October and ending as late as June, is followed by months of near single-digit humidity and frequent winds of 40 – 50 mph. And then the monsoons arrive, providing the region with 40 – 50% of its total yearly precipitation in less than 3 months. You might begin to understand the depths of my frustration!
During the class, I learned about the area’s many microclimates, the best ways to amend the soil, effective planting methods, organic weed & pest control, drought-resistant landscapes, composting, and much more, and now that I’m doing the required volunteer work, I’m gaining hands-on knowledge. (To become certified, a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer work is required within 12 months after completing the course.)
According to the website of Washington State University where it all started in 1973, The Master Gardener program, which began as a response to a need for information on gardening and pest management, has evolved into a proactive partner with other agencies in addressing environmental and social issues covering such topics as integrated pest management, natural yard care, and low‐impact development, to name but a few. Now, Master Gardener programs are available across the US, as well as in parts of Canada and South Korea. As of 2018, there were over 86,000 Master Gardeners in this country alone, who volunteered over 5 million hours!
There are many advantages to becoming a Master Gardener (MG), and I’d like to share a few.
- Learn to grow your own food! – This is an obvious one, but it’s becoming more and more important, in my opinion. Each MG program is tailored to fit the region in which you live. (As you might imagine, gardening at lower elevations or in wetter environments is much different than tending plants in the high desert!) You know from my past posts that eating locally & seasonally is the best way to go and that working with the earth is healing. Plus, call me a weirdo, but I find it thrilling!
- Discover useful techniques – I have learned ways of working with plants that I’d never even considered! For example, walls of water are super-effective at absorbing and holding heat for keeping plants warm, whether outside or inside. You can buy small ones made from plastic for use around plants like tomatoes, or make your own to line the walls of your greenhouse by filling milk jugs with water.
- Gain a sense of accomplishment – I’m always in awe when a friend shares some of her/his tomatoes, peppers, or zucchini. Wow, you grew these? I am just waiting for the day I can proudly share my home-grown veggies.
- Meet new friends – I’ve noticed that as I get older, it’s not as easy as to make new friends. (And I’ve heard others say the same.) Since starting the MG program less than a year ago, I’m pleased to say I’ve already made happy connections with a few people that I believe will last.
- Become a part of a caring community – Again, in prior posts, I’ve shared how important it is to be a part of community. (Among other advantages, it improves mental health and increases longevity.) And, the MG community is not just any community; it is one whose members are passionate about working with the earth and sharing information for the benefit of everyone’s gardening efforts. Volunteering at plant sales, garden shows, and public gardens gives new MGs the opportunity to really feel like one of the gang.
The act of becoming a Master Gardener has opened a beautiful new world to me. I am super excited to be a part of this almost 50-year-old tradition. Hopefully, some of you will find its benefits appealing and you’ll want to join me.
Blessings from the Garden,
The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.