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February 2011 Archives

Master Gardeners cultivate healthy environment

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smith.jpgExtension Master Gardeners contributed more than 111,000 volunteer hours in Minnesota communities last year, many of which were spent teaching homeowners environmentally-sound landscaping practices or how to eradicate invasive plant species.

Community-wide programs, such as a long-term partnership with the Ramsey- Washington Metro Watershed District, illustrate what can happen when local alliances take off.

As part of the partnership, Ramsey County Master Gardeners work to revitalize Battle Creek, which drains a large part of the east Twin Cities metro area. As water rises in the creek, it undercuts the banks and vegetation is lost, causing further erosion and loss of animal habitats.

"Master Gardeners were instrumental in selecting long-rooted plants that would best stabilize the shoreline," says Sage Passi, watershed education specialist.

Master Gardeners also mentor Battle Creek Middle School students, showing them how to drive plants into erosion blankets. The school's science teachers are working with Master Gardeners to create a creek research area where students can compare different approaches to erosion control.

Protecting rivers, lakes and streams from yard-waste pollution is another priority for Ramsey County. Runoff from lawn chemicals can enter the waters through storm sewers causing fish kills, algae bloom and plant decay.

To help prevent that, Master Gardeners share tips on low-impact lawn care and composting at the county's yard waste and compost sites. The sites draw more than 500,000 people each season. Master Gardener Kathy Smith coordinates the effort.

"It all comes back to proper management of materials and reducing waste," says John Springman, environmental health supervisor with the St. Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health. "Master Gardeners extend our capacity to hone in on our environmental goals with the public."

A solar heated greenhouse for Grand Marais school

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A $10,000 grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson foundation allowed Cook County Master Gardeners to expand their youth gardening program by building a small solar heated greenhouse onto the Great Expectations School in Grand Marais. This will allow more local food production for the school and provide a space for after-school youth gardening programs.

The Master Gardeners are working with a licensed teacher to develop lesson plans on growing plants in the classroom as well as nutrition education. These grade-appropriate activities will be tied to the Minnesota educational standards.

Master Gardener

In 2010, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners in Anoka County wanted to have a more definitive picture of how much their classes and services affect changes in garden practices by people attending their educational sessions. They conducted an electronic survey of people attending their horticulture day, "Walk in the Garden" classes and diagnostic clinics.

The educational sessions that were evaluated all provided information and recommendations about best practices in home garden and landscape care. There were special themes about environmental impacts that encouraged reduction of water use and reduced chemical usage through practices of integrated pest management (IPM).

An E-survey was sent to 176 individuals. The response rate was 45 percent. Assessment of the survey results showed the following positive impacts:

  • 11% completed a soil test
  • 19% started composting
  • 20% reduced watering from the prior year
  • 26% reduced overhead watering
  • 27% reduced late afternoon/evening watering
  • 21% installed a rain barrel
  • 24% used less pesticides
  • 22% used less fertilizer
  • 40% planted more vegetables than in the previous year
  • 17% removed invasive/noxious weeds from their property
  • 24% changed practices of how they cared for trees
The results of this survey demonstrate that the educational effort of University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteers makes an impact.

Master Gardeners "Grow a Row for the Hungry"

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Several counties promoted and participated in the national "Grow a Row for the Hungry" program. In Pine County, 'Grow A Row' was the theme for the Master Gardener booth at county fair. They handed out information about food shelves in the county, growing vegetables in containers, and how to become a Master Gardener. One Master Gardener alone contributed 1167 lbs. of produce to the local food shelf. Goodhue Master Gardeners got involved in the program for the second year. An average of about 200 lbs. of produce was donated weekly to the Red Wing Area Food Shelf, doubling the amount donated in 2008.

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