By Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University
Light is shining brightly on home gardening these days – both literally and figuratively. Literally speaking, spring is here; the days are ever longer; and the warm sunshine and explosion of growth brighten our days.
Home gardening is also in the proverbial spotlight. In particular, there's an increased interest in vegetable gardening with the decline in the economy, People are exploring the possibility of saving money by growing some of their own food. Michele Obama’s garden is the trendiest item on the grounds of the White House – except maybe a Portuguese water dog named Bo. And in his new role as Agriculture Secretary, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has planted this year – with much publicity – a “People’s Garden” on the grounds of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
The increased interest in producing food at home has brought a large number of novice or relatively inexperienced hopefuls out into the garden. Where shall they turn for help before investing time and money, or after a season or two of disappointing results? Libraries, bookstores, cable TV, and the Internet are replete with “how-to” items on gardening. These are valuable sources of information, but they do not necessarily address specific garden issues in Iowa.
For local, research-based information, the network of Iowa Master Gardeners and the Iowa Master Gardener Program is a great place to start. This program is an educational and volunteer service program of the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and ISU Extension. The program provides selected volunteers advanced training on many aspects of gardening. Since 1979, The Iowa Master Gardener program has trained more than 9,000 people. In exchange for training, Master Gardeners share their time and knowledge on approved projects in their local communities. Training consists of about 40 hours of Web-based broadcasting and face-to-face experiences at extension offices and on the ISU campus. After training, participants must complete a one-year internship consisting of 40 hours of volunteer service. Additional volunteer hours and ongoing training are required in subsequent years.
Master Gardeners are highly visible volunteers in their counties. You might see Master Gardeners working at local gardens, schools, nursing homes or other community beautification/education projects. You might hear Master Gardeners answering questions on the radio, giving presentations at a gardening seminar or discussing different plant species at a local plant sale. You might talk with Master Gardeners on the phone or via email or at booths at a local farmers' market, county fairs or home and garden shows. The Master Gardener program is unique for its community emphasis and because it directly utilizes the broad research-based resources of Iowa State University.
Please consider Master Gardeners when seeking credible information about home gardening in Iowa. If you are interested in becoming an Iowa Master Gardener, contact your county extension office to find out more information about training in your area. Below is a list of counties that will be conducting training this fall or winter. While the opportunity seems far away, it is this time of year that most gardening questions arise. Plan ahead while the challenges of the season are fresh on your mind! Visit www.extension.iastate.edu for phone numbers and e-mail addresses of your county extension office.
For more information on the Iowa Master Gardener Program see http://www.mastergardener.iastate.edu/becomemg.html.
Counties that will offer Master Gardener training in the fall *: Calhoun/Pocahontas/Sac, Cass, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Clayton, Clinton, Crawford, Delaware, Grundy, Linn/Iowa/Benton/Johnson, Muscatine, Page, Polk, Scott, Story/Boone, Van Buren, Warren/Dallas/Madison, West Pottawattamie, and Woodbury
Counties that will offer Master Gardener training in the spring of 2010 *: Dubuque, Fayette, Howard, Jones, Lee, Mahaska/Monroe/Wapello, Polk, Union, Winneshiek, and Woodbury
* Don’t see your county on the list? Contact your local ISU Extension office and express your interest in Master Gardener training. There is plenty of time to add more counties to fall or spring training.