Archive for the ‘Educational Resources’ Category

New plant selection program from the U of MN Extension

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Plant Elements of Desing splash pageA new version of the Plant Elements of Design plant selection program is now available from University of Minnesota Extension here:

Designed to encourage plant selection based on site conditions and design requirements, Plant Elements of Design is open to the public and free of charge. Visitors are required only to create a user name and password. To select plants, users identify site conditions (soil, light, zone, etc.) and plant characteristics desired (plant type, size, flower, texture, form, use, etc.), from drop-down menus and click search. A list of plants matching the criteria will be listed. Many plants have images and all images are downloadable. Desired plants can be exported to a spreadsheet to build a plant list. Individual plants data sheets including any plant images, can also be printed for future reference.

Released 09/01/15, the current program features about 2800 woody and herbaceous plants, and about 3500 plant images. More plants and images are being added weekly. Users are encouraged to read the user manual and participate in the user blog. Links are provided in the program.

Contact: Julie Weisenhorn, U of MN Extension educator – Horticulture,

2014 CenUSA Bioenergy Project

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Fond du Lac Community Master Gardeners contribute to CenUSA biochar research and teach kids about growing food, too. 

Welcome back for more of our ongoing coverage of how University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners have been helping to support biochar research as part of the CenUSA Bioenergy project. For our last blog post, Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard talked with volunteers at Minnesota’s three CenUSA biochar test sites in the Twin Cities metro area: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus and in Andover at the Extension County and Regional Center, about their experiences working on the project.

This time, you’ll hear what Extension Master Gardener volunteers working on the Fond du Lac tribal community demonstration garden at the Brookston Community Center in Cloquet had to say when Meleah visited last month. To learn more about things like what biochar is and how the test sites were chosen and planted, check out past blog posts written by Extension Master Gardener Lynne Hagen, the project manager for the biochar demonstration gardens in Minnesota. Read on to find out how things are going at the Fond du Lac biochar demonstration garden.

A Community Garden

October 2014

While the Fond du Lac demonstration garden shares the same layout, plants and mission as the three other Minnesota sites, it is different. Instead of being on a campus or other site with ties to the University, it is tucked next to a community center where it can easily be viewed by people of all ages anytime.

Better still, because of its location, children who visit the community center have been able to learn about gardening from Master Gardener volunteers, and find out more about where food comes from in the process. The kids also like eating the vegetables once they’ve been harvested and weighed. Master Gardeners make sure the kids eat only from the control plot that contains no biochar since the soil amendment is still being tested.

Dawn Newman, a Master Gardener and the Fond du Lac site mentor, says the biochar research project has been a positive way to foster a connection between the community and the University. Currently the American Indian Community Vitality Educator for Extension, Newman is an enrolled Ho-Chunk member from Wisconsin and has worked with the Fond du Lac community for years in various roles.

“It takes a long time to build relationships in Indian Country,” she says. “Historically, research has been done on Native Americans without their knowledge and not with true partnership in mind. This project is giving the community a chance to do real research as well as helping to foster healthier eating habits.” Julie Weisenhorn, an associate extension professor in horticulture and Master Gardener who has helped coordinate efforts at the site, agrees.

“Using gardening as a mean of collaboration is a great, fun way to bring the Fond du Lac community and the University together on a project,” she says. “We’ve talked a lot about how to meet community needs while also meeting the needs of Extension education because having a real partnership is so critical.”

Digging In

Newman is one of six Master Gardeners on the Fond du Lac reservation. She started the group four years ago after approaching Weisenhorn, then state program director, with the idea of starting their own community-based group rather than joining the county group. “I explained that we are a sovereign nation so we should be recognized as our own ‘county’,” Newman recalls. Weisenhorn had been looking for the opportunity to pilot a community-based Master Gardener group, so she jumped at the chance to work with Newman on this new way to organize volunteers. Newman and the other five women who wanted to become Master Gardeners took the core course together. Once they completed their volunteer hours, they jumped into projects centered around the Fond du Lac Reservation with Brookston Community Center, one of three centers operated by the Band, being the main volunteer site.

Weisenhorn asked the new Fond du Lac volunteers to become the fourth Minnesota biochar site. Once a sunny site in front of the Center was chosen, the biochar demonstration garden was prepared and planted in 2013, the second year of the research project. At first, the plants seemed to be doing well—or at least as well as expected in the sandy soil the site had to offer. “Plants were small, but the garden looked beautiful,” Master Gardener Danielle Diver remembers. One thing that was obvious, she says, was that the test plot with the most biochar added seemed to be retaining water better than the other two plots.

Soon, though, the deer moved in and started eating the plants to the point where they needed to put up a fence. But as soon as posts started going in, they hit something hard about a foot below the soil. “It was a cement slab,” Newman recalls, “and we found out we were growing a garden where a house used to be.” So Bryan Bosto, the director of the Brookston Community Center, along with Weisenhorn, Newman, Diver and other volunteers, decided to replant in a different location the following spring.

Getting Kids Involved

Planting Day June 10, 2014

Planting Day June 10, 2014

With help from Weisenhorn, who drove up this spring with all the needed plants and supplies to start again, the group tilled and planted a new demonstration garden, this time next to the Center’s playground.

Though the move put them further behind other sites in terms of data collection, the garden was now much more visible to the kids, many of whom were already participating in the Junior Master Gardener program that Newman and the others had started a couple of years earlier. “It’s a great location for a garden, really quite beautiful,” Weisenhorn says. “I’m so proud of these gardeners and their determination to see this project through.”

Diver, who is also the garden program coordinator at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, enjoys working with the kids in the garden. “They help us weed and water, especially early in the season,” she says. “You think they’re not really paying attention when you talk about the plants, but then they’ll ask a question that lets you know they were listening.”

Inspired by the children’s interest in the ripening vegetables in the demonstration garden, Diver and the other Master Gardeners added Food of the Week to their Junior Master Gardener lineup. Each week, kids work together with the Master Gardeners to prepare a dish using fresh vegetables.

Salsa was a big hit recently, even with those who said they don’t like tomatoes. “The impact we’re having doesn’t always show immediately, but when you see the kids in January and they say, ‘Hey, when is Garden Club (the kids’ name for the Junior Master Gardener program) going to start up again?’ you know they’re missing it and they clearly enjoy it,” Diver says.

Gathering Data

October 2014

October 2014

This will be the first full season of data collection at the Fond du Lac demonstration gardens and as with the other three Minnesota sites, there have been some challenges learning how to measure growth and track observations. But overall, the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners are feeling good about their work on the project and are looking forward to participating again next year.

“Seeing how the plants and soil have responded to biochar has been exciting and it’s nice to see that there is an amendment that might work,” says Nikki Crowe, a Master Gardener who also coordinates the Thirteen Moons Program,

October 2014

October 2014

which helps strengthen connections between Fond du Lac Band members and the surrounding community with Ojibwe culture and natural resources.

While the kids aren’t involved in the data collection process at the garden, they have helped out with planting and harvesting, and they’re also asked for their opinions on how things are doing in each of the three test plots. “We like to have them make their own observations on which plot is doing better or which vegetables they think look healthier or larger, and they really like that,” says Master Gardener Shannon Judd, who is also the environmental education and outreach coordinator for the Fond du Lac reservation.

Like Crowe, Judd is enjoying working on the project because it’s been interesting and exciting to be involved with a research endeavor of this magnitude from the start. In July, Judd and Newman, along with 30 other University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners involved in the research at other sites, attended the annual CenUSA conference held at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The meeting’s focus was on the Extension objective of the grant, and Weisenhorn was glad they were able to attend. “The CenUSA attendees recognized the volunteers at the meeting and applauded their important contribution to the project,” she recalls.

Judd is hopeful that the research results will make a meaningful difference for home gardeners, including those facing tough soil conditions like they have on the reservation. “Seeing all of the things that biochar may be useful for has been really motivating,” she says. “Anything that can be done to help people grow food more easily, especially around here, would be great.”

Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Search for Excellence Award First Place – Workshop or Presentation (2013)

Friday, November 7th, 2014

“In Your Own Back Yard”, Rutgers Master Gardener of Ocean County, New Jersey, USA

Leading the Way for Master Gardener Interns

Towards the end of our interns’ 2012 training period, Rutgers Master Gardeners of Ocean County guided the interns in presenting a program, Fall Garden Day, to the residents of our community. The program informed the residents of good horticultural practices for their home gardens through three PowerPoint presentations and several mini-demonstrations.

Getting the Interns On-Board

A group of master gardeners met with the interns and offered basic ideas of how an outreach program is usually put together by our MG group. They described the various committees needed and asked for two volunteers to act as chairpersons for the project. Enthusiasm built as we put together plans, decided on a title and theme for the program, discussed our modest budget and set a timetable. We encouraged all interns to participate in some way.

Spreading the Word about a Free Horticultural Program for Residents

An intern volunteered to create a flyer advertising the program. Interns and MG’s posted or distributed flyers to community groups, garden clubs, libraries, friends, neighbors, etc.

Attendees at the Demonstrations

Attendees at the Demonstrations

 Selecting Speakers and Demonstrators

The intern co-chairpersons of Fall Garden Day contacted our MG speakers’ bureau and asked for speakers on the topics the interns selected. The co-chairs also asked for volunteers to do mini-demonstrations during a break-out session at the end of the program.

Creating a Feedback Form

A Master Gardener helped the intern who volunteered to put together a feedback form. She offered samples of forms that were used in the past and explained that we need to know if we are meeting our goals and how we might improve the program in the future.

Plants for Attendees

Plants for Attendees

 An Incentive for Participants to fill out our Feedback Form

A committee of interns worked on growing plants for Fall Garden Day participants who handed in feedback forms. The MG’s who work in our hoop house guided this group of interns on the planting and care of about 90 small plants. A separate group of interns was in charge of putting together several baskets for door prizes.

Making it all look Welcoming

Interns on the decoration committee did an amazing job decorating the auditorium and entrance hall with a fall theme. They used some of our stored decorations, added some of their own, and borrowed some more. It looked great and cost very little

Decorations and Exhibits

Decorations and Exhibits

Greeters and Hospitality

Some interns chose to be greeters, welcoming guests, directing them to the auditorium, and ushering them to seats as the auditorium began to get crowded. Interns on the hospitality committee solicited “finger foods” from the Master Gardeners to go along with coffee and tea. They set up a wonderful spread, all from the volunteers.

For Interns who wanted to participate but could not come on Fall Garden Day

These interns put together a folder with a program of the day’s events, informational materials about the Master Gardeners, gardening information and our feedback form. They scheduled their committee to meet at a time convenient for them.

And so it went…

The people came. Our MG presenters were great. The interns did their jobs. Master Gardeners and our MG Coordinator, Linda Schoch, approved all plans and oversaw the event. We had a cleanup committee, but everyone just pitched in and talked about how well the day went. Guided by the Master Gardeners, our interns had their first experience putting together a program for the public. Next year, it will be their turn to help guide the next group of interns to present Fall Garden Day.

Submitted by: Kerren Vallone, Rutgers Master Gardener of Ocean County, New Jersey, USA


Wordless Wednesday – Research Experience, Wasp Nests, Teamwork and Sprinklers Gone Wild

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Yesterday we got an update on the CenUSA biochar test sites in Minnesota today they are the Wordless Wednesday showing what has been happening in their gardens through pictures!


Bio char St. Paul campusBio char  St. Paul Campus plot_planting Bio char first Tomato Harvest Bio char cuke on scale Bio char  cuke harvest Ellen photo Bio char beans6 Bio char  basil harvest 2 Bio char  Basil Harvest 1 Arboretum plot2 Bio char  Arboretum plot Bio char 3rdBeanHarvest Bio Char - _MG_9771To read about the project click here

Research Experience, Wasp Nests, Teamwork and Sprinklers Gone Wild

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Three years on, Master Gardeners talk about the rewards and challenges of volunteering at Minnesota’s three CenUSA biochar test sites

It’s been a while since we offered an update on the CenUSA biochar demonstration gardens. As you may already know, there are four sites in Minnesota: at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus, in Andover at the Extension regional center, and at the Brookston Community Center in the Fond du Lac tribal community (Cloquet).

Bio char  Arboretum plot3

U of MN Extension BioChar Project

Extension Master Gardeners have been helping support biochar research at each site since 2012 as part of the larger CenUSA Bioenergy project. Ken Moore at Iowa State University and staff are leading a team of eight institutions that are participating in the five-year, USDA-sponsored CenUSA project. The goal is to investigate the creation of a Midwestern sustainable biofuels and bioenergy products system. (To learn more, check out the 2012 CenUSA Bioenergy Overview YouTube video.)

For this post, we asked Extension Master Gardener Meleah Maynard to write about what it’s been like to volunteer at the metro sites for the past three seasons. In her next post, she’ll turn the spotlight on the Fond du Lac volunteers. Meleah talked with Lynne Hagen, project coordinator for the University of Minnesota Extension biochar demonstration gardens, and Master Gardener volunteers who are currently serving as leaders at each of the sites about their experiences—positive, negative and everything in between. Here’s what they had to say.

Trial and Error

Lynne had never heard of biochar when she went to the initial CenUSA Bioenergy Project meeting at Iowa State University. But once she saw the depth of the project, she remembers thinking that it seemed like an exciting research project to be involved with. “So I put my Extension hat on and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m in!’” Three years later, she feels even more passionate about the project, which focuses on helping to answer the question of whether biochar could be a good soil amendment for use in home gardens.

Lynne has also learned, through trial and error, what it takes to engage and motivate 50 frontline volunteers. And she does that while working closely with everyone to ensure the gardens’ success and the collection of the most accurate data possible “Our project is not hard science,” she told me. “It’s more observational, and instructions for planting, maintaining plants and collecting data can be subjective in terms of how things are interpreted. Kind of like judging an art show.”

By that she means Master Gardeners must do their best to record their observations of the three plots at each site: the control plot with no biochar added, treatment plot 1 with ½ pound of biochar per square foot added and treatment plot 2 with 1 pound of biochar per square foot added. How much did the biochar appear to improve soil structure? Did the vegetables and flowers in the biochar plots do better or worse than those in the control plot? What impact could the weather be having on the data? What differences can be seen between the sites with silt loam soil and those with sandy soil?

Working Out the Details

Data collection processes have been continually streamlined throughout the project, and things are running more and more smoothly over time. Sandra Shill, who co-leads the Arboretum site with Mary Burchette, remembers the first year was especially difficult because everyone was trying to understand how to do everything and do it in the same ways. “Measuring plants sounds simple, but measurements have to be taken in specific ways so there were a lot of nuances to work out,” Sandra says.

For example, she recalls her husband, who went with her to tend to the plot one day, wondering aloud whether she was really supposed to stretch the prickly cucumber vines out straight when taking measurements. She was. But were volunteers supposed to flatten plant leaves out completely when measuring leaf width? Yes. Thankfully, it’s much easier to determine the color of leaves (one of several indicators of plant health) thanks to a color guide that was introduced last season.

Challenges and Rewards

Sandra says she got involved with the biochar project because she grew up in Iowa and “things that make use of crops always attract my attention.” The possibility of using switch grass, corn stalks and leaves and other charred biomass as a soil amendment intrigued her. And like her co-leader, she’s enjoying the research aspect of the project, especially one that could potentially make a difference.

“It’s been rewarding to be involved in every stage of the project,” says Mary, who signed on because she’s always enjoyed science. “In the largest sense, every aspect of this project could have a positive impact on the environment and that’s been extremely rewarding.” That’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges. Scheduling and coordinating volunteers is no easy job, and it’s hard to keep people motivated to continue weeding and picking insect pests off plants once the season starts winding down in August.

And yes, a volunteer once stepped in an anthill and got ants all over her feet and was hopping around until another quick-thinking volunteer turned the hose on her shoes. But, really, the Arboretum site is largely ideal—except for watering. Unlike other sites that have easy access to sprinklers, volunteers have to use a brass key to hook up to a nearby water source to get their sprinklers going. “If you don’t do it right, you get totally soaked,” Mary says, laughing.

U of MN BioChar Project - First Tomato Harvest

U of MN BioChar Project – First Tomato Harvest

Over at the St. Paul campus site, watering couldn’t be easier because the demonstration garden is equipped with programmable irrigation, says site leader Carol Skalko. Better still, because they’re on campus, they were fortunate the first year because University of Minnesota Extension Plant Pathologist Michelle Grabowski had a research plot right next to the test plot. “It was great because we could ask her questions about plant diseases whenever we needed to,” Carol recalls.

One of the things Carol likes best about being a Master Gardener volunteer is the social interaction with others who share her love of gardening. So she’s especially glad that scheduling has often worked out so that volunteers could work together as a group. “There’s a real sense of community at our site and that’s been significant for me,” she says, adding that everyone has particularly enjoyed getting to know Master Gardeners from other counties.

Like other site leaders, she appreciates how things have gotten easier and more understandable over time. But she continues to worry about making mistakes that could throw off the data: Like this year, when the lettuce crop was considered a failure because it didn’t germinate. “We ignored it because we thought it wasn’t being counted, but it turned out they did want us to collect data on that and I misunderstood,” Carol says.

Everybody Wins

Jeff Stahmann, who co-leads the Andover site with Dave Knapp, is a scientist and engineer who develops medical devices like pacemakers. It was the research aspect of the biochar project that drew him in. While most Master Gardeners are taking knowledge from University-based research and applying it, he likes that in this case, Master Gardeners are providing data for researchers to us. “It would be great if Master Gardeners could get involved in some way with more University-based research projects like this because everybody wins,” he says.
At the same time, as a scientist, he is keenly aware of the “enormous number of variables” that need to be considered when interpreting the data from a project like this: the quality of seeds, the sizes of seedlings, variable weather and different types of soil, to name a few. “It’s a very dynamic environment in which to work for all of us,” as he aptly puts it. And his words sound all the more charitable when you consider what volunteers have faced at the Andover site.
Situated on the Anoka sand plain, the Andover site is by all accounts the most challenging of the three metro-area sites—and not just because of the sandy soil. Unlike the other two metro demonstration gardens, which were established in areas with silt loam soil, this plot had to be carved out of an area of woods filled with underbrush and poison ivy, the latter of which continues to pop up in areas where the volunteers work occasionally. “And then there was the time that wasps got into our supply cabinet and built a nest that we had to get out of there,” Dave says, before adding that gophers have been a problem in past years too.
Even so, he thinks the positives of working on the biochar project always balance out the tough parts. Harvesting the crops is one of the processes Dave likes most because until you actually weigh the kale, Swiss chard, potatoes and other crops, you’ve only got a visual assessment of which crops did better than others in the different plots.
It’s nice too that volunteers get to take home herbs and vegetables once the data has been collected. “For me,” Dave says, “whether what we observe turns out to be of major or minor significance, having the chance to participate in the discovery process has been really rewarding for me.”
Note: CenUSA Bioenergy is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


Using Your Observation Skills for Citizen Science

Friday, February 21st, 2014

IMG_0925Ever find yourself immersed in nature marveling, and suddenly questions begin to emerge? That’s the exciting thing about observing and being interested in science. Observations lead to a question, and more questions follow.

Observing is a critical skill to understanding the garden. Master Gardeners have honed observations skills through years of practice. Other skills include understanding life cycle timing, which species use the garden as a diverse ecosystem, scouting for beneficial species and those that are pests.

Your observation skills are valuable to scientists who need help answering research questions. You may be interested to know there are many ways you can apply your skills to benefit ongoing research. We call this “Public Participation in Scientific Research” (PPSR), a fast-growing field. It includes “citizen science, volunteer monitoring and … organized research in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations: asking questions, collecting data, and/or interpreting results” (definition from Citizen Science Central, Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

PPSR and citizen science help create long-term, useable datasets. Having many observation points increases research capacity, depth and accuracy. It links research and community. And allows participants to increase observation and scientific literacy skills.

Photo credit: E. Alderson

Photo credit: E. Alderson

There are many citizen science programs, including everything from food, allergies, climate & weather, space exploration, the ocean, sounds, and transportation. No matter your interest there is likely a citizen science project. Some take a few minutes of time while others are ongoing and offer opportunities to analyze. Local groups may use citizen science to answer regional questions. And many such projects connect people with similar interests.

Some programs have been around for a while. The Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project between the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, began in 1999. It was one of the first online citizen science projects created to record and understand wild bird populations, displaying results in near real-time.

natures_notesbook_rgb_tagline_lrg Many projects share information that can help you, or your Extension Agent, answer local science questions. Benefit from using existing data to answer gardening questions and better understand what’s blooming, who is eating your tomatoes and when, and how certain plants respond to seasonal changes. Check out Nature’s Notebook,, for examples and learn how scientists use observations to understand species response to climate change.

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, or MLMP, tracks declining monarch populations by recording density of milkweed and the monarch eggs and larvae. Information collected helps scientists understand how and why monarch populations vary and increases conservation and awareness.

Interested in the night sky? There are a few projects that let you track light pollution (Dark Sky Meter, or count the number of meteors (

A great place to find projects is SciStarter,, with a listing of projects available by activity or topic of interest. The Scientific American website,, has a growing list of projects. A simple Google search on “citizen science” yields many valuable results.

Whether or not you choose to contribute to citizen science, be mindful that any observations you make are valuable. Use those to ask your own questions and make predictions based on evidence. The best thing we can do for ourselves is learning that observing is experiencing, and sharing those observations is even better! — Contributed by LoriAnne Barnett (Education Coordinator, USA-NPN) and Peter Warren (Pima County Arizona Horticulture Agent).

Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth – Can we prove the benefits of school gardens?

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

All over the country, gardens are increasing access to fresh and healthy foods and promoting exercise.  But is there evidence to show that gardening—particularly school gardening—can lead to improved eating and other health benefits?  That’s what the People’s Garden School Pilot Project, “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” (HGHY) is trying to find out.

More than 4,000 students in low-income communities have taken part in this four-state research project funded by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, and part of the national Peoples Garden program.  Co-led by Washington State University Extension and Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC, with partners Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and the University of Arkansas Extension, HGHY has followed students in 54 elementary schools for the past two years. Data collection was completed in June of 2013 and analysis by the researchers is underway with results expected in spring of 2014.

As part of the project, gardens were installed at half of the schools and students participated in gardening lessons. The other half of the schools served as a control group, receiving no gardens or lessons until the project concluded. After waiting two long years for their gardens, the control schools could hardly wait to get their gardens started – especially Daffodil Valley Elementary.

Daffodil Valley Elementary School in Sumner, Washington is a great example of how community makes a garden successful! When it came time to build the garden, the school formed a garden committee consisting of the school’s librarian, science teacher, after school program coordinator, a parent volunteer, the Sumner High School Agriculture and Future Farmers of America (FFA) Faculty and a Pierce County Master Garden plans to join this committee soon! The committee decided the school would most benefit from a tilled, in-ground garden utilizing the rich soils of the Puyallup Valley, home to many berry and former bulb farms. The committee quickly got to work designing the garden, recruiting youth and community volunteers, and donations from local businesses. Within a few months the garden plot was tilled, a shed and green house were installed, and a fence was raised.  On a sunny day in late May, Daffodil students came out to the garden to plant seeds and transplants. The Sumner High School FFA members participated in each step of the garden installation, from planning meetings to building the fence. Several FFA students completed social science projects inspired by the garden. One Sumner High student completed his Eagle Scout Project by building three wheel chair accessible beds so that all students can garden.

With all the care and attention from the school community, the Daffodil garden produced a bountiful harvest by summer. Everyone is planning for next year’s garden when some of the produce will be sold at a Junior Farmer’s Market – a joint Daffodil Elementary and Sumner High School project to help teach students math and business skills.

Many schools across the country in Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth benefited from the guidance and expertise of Master Gardener volunteers. Master Gardeners taught gardening lessons, provided guidance in garden installation and planting and are now helping with the long term sustainability of the gardens through continual support. A Washington State University Pierce County Master Gardener has been partnered with Daffodil Valley to provide garden education to students and guidance to the garden committee.

To learn more, visit the HGHY website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Enjoy schools’ garden pictures Wed., Oct. 30, as an Almost Wordless Wednesday post.


Submitted by Kerri Wilson

WSU Pierce County Extension

Consumer Horticulture iBook Publication Contest Winner Announced

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Mary Free, a Northern Virginia Master Gardener, is the winner of the Virginia Cooperative Extension 2012 consumer horticulture iBook publication contest.

Her publication, For the Birds, Butterflies & Hummingbirds: Creating Inviting Habitats, is now available for download as an iBook, as well as in PDF and ePub formats, on the VCE publications website,

“I’m excited to be able to share this information with a wider audience,” Free said. “Education is a priority for cooperative extension, and I’m glad to be able to contribute to that.”MaryFreeCover

The 2012 contest, designed to get VCE Master Gardeners involved in the creation of VCE publications to use with their clientele, was the first of its kind. To give added incentive for Master Gardeners to submit their manuscripts, an iPad2 was offered as the prize for winning.

“A few years ago we began encouraging Master Gardeners to submit articles,” said Dave Close, Consumer Horticulture and Master Gardener Specialist. “The idea for the contest was to potentially attract more entries with the intent of making them available as Extension publications in the new iBook and ePub formats.”

Contest submissions were accepted from active VCE Master Gardeners and judged on educational content, creativity, use of multimedia resources and quality of illustrations. Free’s publication won the statewide contest.

“When the contest was announced I looked on the VCE website and saw there were no publications about birds and butterflies,” Free said. “There were some on one or the other, but not both.”

Free said her winning manuscript is a natural progression of the publications she has been doing since becoming a Master Gardener in 2010. While volunteering in the shade garden at Bon Air Park in Arlington, Free did the photography for educational posters and pamphlets about birds, butterflies and other insects in the garden.

“Our brochure was popular so I thought there would be a need for a publication about it and that other people would enjoy it,” Free said.

Although she had been involved with the creation of these Master Gardener publications about birds and butterflies in the garden, Free admits she had to do a lot of research to complete the manuscript for the contest. The photography, on the other hand, was something she already had. Almost all of the nearly 70 photos for the publication are ones she has taken.

“The photographs that Mary submitted helped her entry stand out from the others,” said contest judge Mark Sumner, Senior Information Technology Analyst for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “I had no problem visualizing how the iBook would turn out with the text and photos that she submitted.”

The publication contest is being held again this year, with an iPad4 being offered as the prize for the winner. Submissions will be accepted until November 27, 2013.


For more information contact:
Dave Close, Consumer Horticulture and Master Gardener Specialist
(540) 231-4026


7 Steps for Keeping a Consistent (and Useful) Garden Journal

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

I have been journaling this summer; have you?

Some days it isn’t as easy as others to sit down and write what was going on in my garden, and on those days I take a lesson from the Extension Master Gardener Blogs’ “Wordless Wednesdays” and add some photographs I have taken. In these cases, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Using a computer to expedite journal entries

Other times the words just fly from my fingers onto the keyboard. And this is why I prefer to do my journaling on the computer. Gone are the days when “Ladies of Leisure” had the time to sit and write their thoughts in a beautifully bound, lovingly designed paper journal, perhaps with a quill pen and some perfumed ink. Who has time for that in 2013?

So the computer comes to the rescue because – even as slow as I type – I can type faster than I can legibly write.

The computer has some other benefits, too. I can add my digital photos right into the document. They can be sized to what I need to make my point, or they can be deleted and replaced if I take a better photo tomorrow. Besides, if you are reading this blog, you are computer-literate enough to create one of your own.

Garden Journal, Entry August #6

Garden journal entry , August 6

Garden Journal entry

Garden journal entry,  August 7

It’s simple.

Step 1) Start by opening a new document and saving it as “Garden Journal, 2013” or whatever name you choose.

Step 2) Optional. Add a header and use some clip art to jazz it up (if you want to get fancy)

Step 3) Set a page aside for each month. This is another benefit to computers: if you need more pages in any one month, just keep typing. The computer adjusts for you. Some months I have as many as six pages; in the winter that may dwindle to a half a page instead. I do try to add something each month, even if it’s only rainfall amounts or a plant I saw in a catalog that I want to try next year.

Garden Journal Entry

For July, I added some clip art and a header. I also set-up this page to prompt me to add drawings and notes.

Step 4) Be sure to include the date and year in each entry. This helps keep you organized.

Step 5) Add some photos by using the “insert” tab. When you are finished writing for the day, add photos. You can use the formatting tool to adjust the size, crop the photo, wrap the text around it or add a caption. Captions can be helpful to identify the plant in the future.

Step 6) Save the document!  It should go without saying to be sure to save the document when you are done!

Step 7) Print when you have completed each month or year.   At the end of the year, I print my year’s journal entries and keep it in a three-ring binder for future reference.


3 Ring Binder Garden Journal

My 3 ring binder garden journal

Using tabs to mark the years is a helpful organizing tool, too. And I bought some photo sleeves so I can add pages with my plant labels as well as some hand-drawn maps of plantings, too.

Garden Journal page

Garden journal with plant tags,  August 3

Garden Journal Page Aug. 5

Garden journal with more plant tags,  Aug. 5

Other pages of gardening information from magazines or newspapers can also be included. It’s your journal; include what you need!

In a few years, you will be amazed at how much information you have been able to gather by being the least little bit organized on a daily basis.

~ Carla Albright, Tillamook County Oregon Master Gardener

Have you started a garden journal yet? What are you including? What format do you use?

Work With Nature Rather Than Against It – What is Permaculture?

Monday, October 14th, 2013

The term permaculture seems to be bubbling up everywhere these days.  An uptick in interest is being seen in Utah, where new things sometimes seem to take awhile to take hold. Utah State University’s Extension Sustainability recently brought in restoration and permaculture specialist Joel Glanzberg of the Regenesis Group for a workshop to help kickstart a campus permaculture garden.

Permaculture was started in the 1970s by Australian biologist Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is essentially an applied design method or system that uses an ecological systems and patterns approach to solving environmental problems. The idea is to “design human settlements while preserving and extending natural systems.” (Mollison, 1988, Permaculture:  A Designer’s Manual).

David Holmgren offers a more updated definition of permaculture. “A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is ‘Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.”

Mollison’s Permaculture Design Principles
About Permaculture: Holmgren Design; permaculture vision and innovation

Permaculture principles can be applied to a wide variety of situations and scales using a variety of techniques.These techniques, simulating patterns found in nature, can be used to create self-sustaining gardens, farms, and communities. Some of these patterns include the spiral, using “keyholes” to increase the amount of edge in a garden, and creating “guilds” of plants, animals, and/or people, all of which fulfill different but complimentary roles in the system.

Various vegetables in a permaculture garden

Companion planting techniques are used to get the most out of relationships among edible garden plants.
Photo credit: Milkwoods
Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The spiral is a pattern that occurs frequently in nature and is used here to create a basin for infiltrating stormwater. Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden Photo credit: D. Patrick Lewis, Flickr CC BY 2.o

The spiral is a frequently occurring natural pattern and is used here to create a basin for capturing and  infiltrating stormwater. Scottsdale, AZ Xeriscape Garden
Photo credit: D. Patrick Lewis, Flickr CC BY 2.o

A wealth of information is available online. For more information and in depth discussion of Permaculture Principles and practices please see the following resources.

Pattern Literacy – Toby Hemenway
Permaculture Institute
CRMPI – Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Research Institute



Susan Buffler: Cache County Extension Master Gardeners (Utah)

disclaimer: Extension Master Gardeners does not endorse any of these sites. They are for reference purposes only.