2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Special Needs — 1st Place Winner

December 16th, 2015 by Terri James
2 Camp Woodchuck at Demo Garden

2 Camp Woodchuck at Demo Garden

Accessible Gardening for Life

Master Gardeners from Sedgwick County in Wichita, Ks have been busy working  with people of all ages and “abilities” teaching them the many benefits of gardening.  Several Master Gardeners built wheelchair height garden beds making gardening more accessible for many.  Some of these beds are on site and are being used in our demo. garden by clients from various agencies.  Some of the special raised beds have been donated to various groups to use at their facilities.   Another master gardener drew up the design plans for these accessible beds and a pamphlet was published so the public could build their own.

What started with a Workshop for Activity Directors entitled Accessible Gardening for Life has led to new opportunities for us to work with a variety of groups and skill levels.  Several times during the spring and summer we work directly with clients from Assisted Living Facilities and Day Programs helping them select, plant and grow flowers and vegetables.  At one of the facilities, we will have a “Tasting Party” with the clients,  sampling the vegetables they have grown.

Master Gardeners are involved in a Community Garden working with developmental and intellectual “differently-abled” adults.  Time in the garden is “hand on learning” for the clients.  We work together teaching them to water, weed, plant and grow a variety of vegetables and flowers.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Special Needs — 3rd Place Winner

December 9th, 2015 by Terri James

TWICE ON TUESDAY PROGRAM

set up areaThe Sumter County Master Gardeners offer many events and volunteer services to the residents of Sumter County Florida.  One of the most successful is our “Twice on Tuesday” talks offered to the residents of the very active retirement community of The Villages, Florida.  These talks are given at two of the larger recreation centers on the fourth Tuesday of every month.  The topics of the talk’s center on the most asked questions from our plant clinics, held throughout the community.  T on T presentationThe retired residents, of the Villages come from all around the world and are not familiar with the growing conditions here in Central Florida.

Recognizing the need in the community for answers, Master Gardeners of Sumter County developed a program that would provide an opportunity for the busy retirees to gain answers to their many questions.  This program was developed to educate the residents to Florida Friendly Landscaping practices, with topics such as Turf Talk, Palms, Plant this-Not That, Vegetable Gardening in Central Florida, Irrigation, Compost and Mulch presented once a month.T on T audience

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Special Needs — 3rd Place Winner (tie)

December 2nd, 2015 by Terri James

Project GROW Garden

The Project GROW garden began in 2006 as a small native soil plot within the razor wire confines of the multi county juvenile detention center.  “We do a wide range of counseling and intervention with our residents” said Natalie Landon, COYC Superintendent.  “We hoped getting the kids in the garden with positive Master Gardener role models would complement their rehabilitation efforts.  We had no idea how good this would be for our kids” she said.

Since its’ beginning nine years ago, the garden has been expanded to 2000 square feet including six, 4’ x 12’ handicap accessible raised beds.  “We began with typical produce like lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers so these could be used by the kitchen staff for meals at the center” said Al Burnard, Union County MGV who coordinates the garden project. “But with our increased capacity, the garden now produces nearly 30 varieties of vegetables and fruits for use in house or for donation.”

The springtime garden, June 2015

The springtime garden, June 2015

The residents are involved with nearly every aspect of gardening from planting to harvest and routine garden care.  Many have never stepped foot in a garden and have no idea what vegetables look like or how they grow.  To help bridge this knowledge gap, Burnard developed the Master Gardener Minute, a series of 40 vegetable gardening topics providing basic “how to” gardening information.

Each topic is covered in a one-page format consisting of a photo about the topic and five to six brief bullet points.  The bullet points serve as talking points, enabling the MGV’s to fill in the concepts associated with each topic.  “It only takes a few minutes at the start of each work session to offer a quick, informal overview of a particular gardening subject which really helps the kids learn basic gardening practices” Burnard said.  “We’ve also found the kids are very comfortable asking questions when we encourage learning.”

Beginning the work session with the Master Gardener Minute to learn a bit about gardening.

Beginning the work session with the Master Gardener Minute to learn a bit about gardening.

“Another aspect of the garden that has been valuable to the kids is planting and harvesting vegetables to support our area food pantries” said Betsy Hauck, COYC Program Manager.  “We’ve always donated a portion of our harvest.  The awakening moment for us was when so many of the kids appreciated helping others in need.  Many of their families have needed assistance from their food pantry and so they realized the importance of what they were doing.”

 

“We wanted to make sure the kids knew much of the harvest would go to the food pantries so we became affiliated with the Garden Writers Association’s Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) network and added signs and row markers throughout the garden.  We also met with the pantries and asked what we could grow for them” said Landon.  “Their feedback led us to plant asparagus, green beans and strawberries – fresh produce they rarely receive” Landon said.  Since 2013, over 1 ton of fresh produce has been donated to the Marysville and Salvation Army food pantries from the Project GROW garden.

Sharing our harvest with others with over 2000 lbs. donated to food pantries since 2013

Sharing our harvest with others with over 2000 lbs. donated to food pantries since 2013

“It’s always a treat to see the kids trying veggies fresh from the garden and discovering how delightfully good they can be” said Burnard.  “We added a sink and rinsing table in the garden so the kids can sample right there.   We’ll see the feeding frenzy develop when one of the kids samples something they’ve never had before and then tell the others they’ve got to try it too” said Burnard.  “It’s not hard to encourage them to sample strawberries but it’s a hoot to see them get excited about fresh sugar snap peas or sweet peppers” Burnard said.

Enjoying watermelon fresh from the garden!

Enjoying watermelon fresh from the garden!

“While we don’t do a formal assessment of what they’ve learned, we know they are picking up a lot about gardening based upon their questions and the discoveries they’ve made in the garden” said Hauck.  “The kids are always amazed at how fast what they’ve planted germinates and develops, how good it tastes or generally how plants grow.  We’ve had kids who had no idea carrots grew in the ground or that green beans came from something other than a can” Hauck said.  “We also weigh every harvest so the kids see how much they can grow in a backyard garden.”

“Friends and neighbors often ask about our garden at COYC” said Burnard.  “We offered an open house to the public that was attended by nearly 60 people.  The residents served as tour guides, talking about their gardening experience and answering questions.  They really surprised us at how much they had learned in a short period of time.  Needless to say, our visitors were impressed with the garden and especially with the kids” Burnard said.

Project GROW Garden Open House, July 2014

Project GROW Garden Open House, July 2014

“The kids really look forward to being in the garden and are always asking when the Master Gardeners will be back” Landon said.  “Spending time in the garden with good people who don’t judge them has had so many positive benefits.  We just don’t see the flare ups like we did before we started the garden program.  They’ve got a positive outlet.  I just couldn’t imagine us not having this garden for them” Landon said.

 

Written by:  Al Burnard, Union County, Ohio Master Gardener Volunteer

New plant selection program from the U of MN Extension

November 30th, 2015 by Terri James

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: http://www.landscapeplants.extension.umn.edu/

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, weise019@umn.edu

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Innovative Projects — 1st Place Winner

November 25th, 2015 by Terri James

Plant Problem Scenario Training

It takes a while for many Master Gardeners to become comfortable and proficient in face-to-face dealings with clients.  Some never do.  We recognized the need for improved training methods in this area and so, in 2011 Benton County (Oregon) Master Gardeners formed the Plant Problem Scenario Committee and developed a creative new program which uses veteran Master Gardeners playing roles as clients with small groups of trainees.

In order to standardize our message and our delivery, the committee developed notebooks  containing 50 scenarios, taken from the most common complaints found in the Benton County Master Gardener records and adapted them as problems that clients would bring to a Master Gardener table in a request for assistance.

In 2014, the fourth year of the Plant Problem Scenario training, we provided 45 minutes of training on seven Master Gardener training days, from January to March.  Each day the class was split into nine groups of four trainees each and two veterans served as their role-playing clients.

Each scenario, as presented by the role-playing veteran, begins with a request for assistance, much like a Master Gardener might receive while seated at a help desk at the Saturday Market.  The veteran will follow with a slightly more involved description to get the trainees started in the right direction.

A series of questions an experienced Master Gardener might ask are provided as a helpful guide for the role-playing veteran, who may not have personal experience with the problem being discussed.  Depending upon the queries posed by the group of trainees, the veteran may offer one or more of the prepared questions to help guide their search. group photo

It is important to emphasize that a correct diagnosis of the problem is not our goal and in fact, we discourage trainees who recognize the problem from sharing their opinions early in the process. The correct conclusion will reveal itself if their questions lead them in the right direction, and if they are successful in using references. We do not allow the use of computers for the first three sessions; forcing the trainees to use and become familiar with the Pacific Northwest reference books. Computers are encouraged in the final four sessions.

In practice, the first couple of sessions only occasionally result in the correct diagnosis and the veterans have to provide the answer, but it is there that the foundation of insightful, deductive questioning is laid. Later in their Master Gardener training, the trainees usually discover the right diagnosis by their own efforts.

Pre and post-training surveys provided quantitative data about the effect of the training program. These data showed significant increases in the subjects’ confidence and personal evaluation of their own competence with regards to dealing face to face with members of the public. While the quantitative results are impressive, even more impressive are the subjective impacts. When given the opportunity to share their feelings of the Plant Problem Scenario training they’d received, every one of the respondents described the training in positive terms and several said it was the most effective part of the entire Master Gardener Training sequence.

In addition, in 2013 and 2014 between one-quarter and one-third of the MG Class participants have signed up to take part in the Plant Problem Scenario Training Committee in future years. They want to help pass on the training which has benefitted them so much.corn II Corn

The PPS Committee has been popular with veteran Master Gardeners because their own knowledge has been enhanced by their participation.

We have developed an on-line location where organizations and individuals can access and download the entire Plant Problem Scenario Training program at no cost. This also allows us to continue making updates or changes. The information is available at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/benton/plant-problem-scenarios

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Innovative Projects — 2nd Place Winner

November 18th, 2015 by Terri James

Sarah’s Garden

garden ISarah’s Garden is an original, restored 142-year old treasure at the David Davis Mansion State Historic Site in Bloomington, Illinois. The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners of McLean County, through a May 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, partner with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the David Davis Mansion Foundation Board on Sarah’s Garden restoration, care, educational programming, tours and outreach.

This collaboration resulted in Master Gardener development of ever-expanding educational efforts for youth and the public while restoring this unique historic quarter-acre flower garden as a living museum with 7 plants original to its 1872 creation and 70 more documented heirlooms.

While the historic Sarah’s Garden could not be replicated, other Master Gardener groups could easily utilize the educational programs and techniques in their own public or private gardens for local classrooms and youth groups including 4-H. This sharing would contribute to our common goal of teaching adults and children about gardens and gardening.

4H in the garden

This year 23 Home Spun 4-H Club members and their leaders learned about garden care during 6 half-day summer work sessions in Sarah’s Garden mentored by Master Gardeners.

The project exemplifies Extension goals for Master Gardeners to: Distribute horticultural information, Enhance educational programs, and Develop Master Gardener leadership. Specific goals for the project: 1) Promote the historic garden for intergenerational visitors. 2) Restore the garden to its original documented design and plants. 3) Preserve the documented heirlooms 4) Interpret the garden for youth educational programs. 5) Provide Garden access for the public.

The Garden Restoration Committee of Master Gardeners and Davis Mansion staff plans for, implements, documents and evaluates the ongoing restoration, research, and plant cultivation of Sarah’s Garden. It also develops and implements the interpretive educational programs in cooperation with teachers and Illinois State Learning Standards and with the use of University of Illinois Extension research and resources including Jr. Master Gardener materials.

A mentor/mentee program, training manual, hands-on experiences, and prepared program and tour resources assist new Master Gardeners in becoming future project leaders. Nine Master Gardener Mentors lead the program with 29 more Master Gardeners engaged in restoration and educational programming. The Garden is open April through October for Master Gardener work sessions, impromptu tours, educational youth programs and scheduled group tours. Research on the plants and garden restoration as well as power-point presentations continue through the winter. Sarah’s Garden and its programs are free and available with accommodation for all.

The growing success story of Sarah’s Garden is the continued expansion of the Master Gardener-led educational programming in reaching 4 major groups:

  1. Master Gardeners. Sarah’s Garden is a unique educational setting for Master Gardeners to learn about heirloom plants and how to teach audiences about gardens and gardening. Nine Master Gardeners mentored 29 Master Gardeners and 14 community volunteers in the ongoing Garden restoration and care and in the development and presentation of educational programs for youth and community audiences.   Master Gardeners continue research during the winter with 2014 topics focused on spring bulb identification, rose and tree propagation, and a bloom period chart.   Master Gardeners recorded 1377 volunteer hours for the year at Sarah’s Garden.
  2. Youth. Sarah’s Garden provides a unique educational setting in the community for Master Gardeners to teach youth about gardens and gardening. It is our major emphasis for the year.
  3. Adults. Sarah’s Garden is a magnet for adult gardeners and historians in the community. This year, 32 Master Gardeners provided 12 scheduled group educational tours for 407 adults and 39 impromptu tours of Sarah’s Garden for 159 visitors.   Master Gardeners gave added tours for 1374 people during 7 community events at the Mansion including the Glorious Garden Festival, Civil War Days, the Barn Quilt Tour and the Antique Car Show. Each tour taught visitors about the garden, its plants, and its care and also answered visitor questions about their own gardens. Two of the bus tours were Master Gardener groups from other counties.
  4. Historic Garden Outreach. Sarah’s Garden continues as an educational model for other historic garden restoration projects. New in 2014 was outreach to the historic Elijah Iles House in Springfield IL. Master Gardeners presented 2 “Preserving Sarah Davis’ Cutting Garden” workshops for Iles House staff and volunteers, hosted Iles House volunteers to two visits at Sarah’s Garden, and shared techniques and heirloom plants for the Iles House garden.

    GS in the garden

    The Girl Scout Workshops at Sarah’s Garden engaged 141 4th and 5th grade girls in half-day garden-related activities to earn their Flowers and Gardener badges. Master Gardeners utilized Extension Junior Master Gardener materials and new Girl Scout program guides to develop the workshops sessions taught by 18 Master Gardeners. Leaders also benefitted from the programs.

 

  • The Fall 3rd Grade program reached 247 students from 5 schools and their teachers/ chaperones. The Spring 3rd Grade program brought 285 students from 5 schools and their teachers/chaperones. Developed by Master Gardeners in cooperation with teachers, each of the 10 half-day programs involve Master Gardener-led rotations to 3 garden-related learning activities in the fall and 3 new activities in the spring.
  • New in 2014 was the pilot 4th grade Art and Architecture program where 8 Master Gardeners gave 25 students and their teachers experiences in photography in Sarah’s Garden and an art table creating garden look-a-like flowers in addition to a Mansion experience discovering the influence of nature on Victorian home décor.
  • New this year was a Seed Planting Activity at Illinois State University’s Family and Science Day where Master Gardeners led several hundred children in planting seeds to take home.
  • New this year was development of a Sarah’s Garden interactive power point presentation to be implemented in 2015 for youth audiences and for children visiting the Mansion with parents.

 

Other Master Gardener developed educational efforts are the Sarah’s Garden power point for community audiences with recorded audio added this year, a Sarah’s Garden brochure, photo albums of all garden plants in bloom, Sarah’s Garden seeds and the power-point for sale in the Mansion gift shop, and Sarah’s Garden plants for the Master Gardener “Plants and More” sale.

Master Gardeners and Extension are recognized for bringing Sarah’s Garden to a prominent status as a community attraction and as an educational center model. The Garden was recognized with a City of Bloomington Beautification Award. Volunteer efforts won the 2010 Illinois State Master Gardener Teamwork Award. sping in the gardenVolunteerism and programming were recognized with a Governor’s Hometown Award in 2011 and was one of 6 finalists for the top award, the Governor’s Cup. The Sarah’s Garden brochure provides visitors with additional interpretation. Sarah’s garden has its own link on the www.daviddavismansion.org website and is regularly featured by posts for 2100 “friends” on the Mansion Facebook page.

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Innovative Projects — 3rd Place Winner

November 11th, 2015 by Terri James

On-line Gardening Chats

Halton Master Gardeners are thrilled to have received 3rd place in the Innovative Category for the 2015 International Master Gardener Search for Excellence application! Imagine our pride at winning recognition for Master Gardener volunteer work throughout the United States, Canada and South Korea!

About Us

Halton Master Gardeners are members of Master Gardeners of Ontario, in Canada. We are a group of about 25 volunteers with members coming from surrounding cities including Burlington, Hamilton, Oakville and Milton.

Our Project- A Perfect Partnership

Our Master Gardener group teamed up with the CBC digital station in Hamilton, Ontario and the provincial noon hour CBC radio program “Ontario Today”. Ontario Today reaches a half million listeners and one of its most popular segments is the weekly phone-in with Canadian celebrity and gardening expert, Ed Lawrence. Our goal, in this evolving digital world, was to share sustainable and up to date gardening advice with the public by embracing the technology that people are using in their daily lives, including Facebook, Twitter, reddit, google+ etc. This removed physical and geographical barriers and allowed the public to participate on mobiles or laptops anywhere in the province or the country and beyond. The Master Gardener team worked from their homes or offices. As two organizations who have strong connections to their communities, Master Gardeners and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were perfect partners.

How We Did It

The first step was to contact the newly opened CBC digital station in Hamilton, Ontario. The original idea was to stage monthly web chats using our own Halton Master Gardeners. We decided to diversify our team by inviting a horticultural expert from an existing local partner, the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG). Carlo Balistrieri, Head of Horticulture for the RBG at the time of the project, happily joined us.
The CBC Hamilton digital station was excited about this opportunity to reach out to the community. As a result, starting in the summer of 2013, Claudette Sims, Donna Parker and Marie Clarke-Davies took part in five monthly gardening chats, along with Carlo, from the RBG. The audience for these hour-long chats, which were moderated by CBC Hamilton, grew steadily throughout the summer.

Our Halton Master Gardener Team

pic-1 pic-2 pic-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That successful introduction inspired the decision to bring in a new partner, CBC Radio. So in July 2014, our MG group teamed up with CBC Hamilton once again to launch a series of weekly, rather than monthly web chats, this time tied to Ontario Today and its weekly gardening phone-in. During this live program, Ed Lawrence — gardener to Canada`s Governor-Generals for 35 years and author of `Gardening with Ed Lawrence` — takes calls from listeners. In a half-hour segment, Ed can only answer a very limited number of questions. After we paired up with Ontario Today, listeners were told by the host or by Ed Lawrence that Master Gardeners were also standing by to take their questions on-line. This message was repeated throughout the live program. It was a partnership made in heaven!

Click on the audio button of the web link to hear the interview with Claudette and the Ontario Today program with Ed Lawrence!

Click on the audio button of the web link to hear the interview with Claudette and the Ontario Today program with Ed Lawrence!

Our team of gardening experts were able to increase the show’s ability to answer questions from the public. It worked well for Ontario Today who were keen to reach a wider audience. It worked well for the public whose questions were answered. The program became so popular that we had to recruit more Master Gardeners from across the province to answer the increasing number of questions. Our team now consisted of our original Halton MG members, as well as Linda Hugli from Sudbury Master Gardeners (representing a different climate zone), Tena van Andel of Toronto Master Gardeners (representing a huge urban and multicultural population) and Jon Peter, Curator and Manager of Plant Documentation at the RBG.

We were delighted that the first Ontario Today program we were part of, kicked off with a radio interview with Claudette Sims. Later Ontario Today programs included repeated mentions of the Master Gardeners waiting to answer garden questions online. As new panelists joined our group, they were named and welcomed on the live radio part of the program. Paul Zammit, Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, hosted one week and had special praise for the work done by Master Gardeners.

 

It was a good thing we had such a large group of MGs standing by, because we needed all hands on deck to keep up with the deluge of questions. Even then, it was tough to keep up! After a few weeks, the on-line team was handling in the neighbourhood of 30 questions per hour. Questions requiring further research were referred to the Halton Region Master Garderner email and the RBG helpline.

Here’s a sample of what the garden chat looked like. See more at our August 2014 chat.

Here’s a sample of what the garden chat looked like. See more at our August 2014 chat.

 

2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Research — 1st Place Winner

November 4th, 2015 by Terri James

Researching Biochar

Now that the Extension Master Gardener biochar demonstration gardens 2014 annual report is finished, what have we learned?

Since 2012, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners and Iowa State Master Gardeners have been helping researchers answer the question: “Is biochar (charred organic matter) a good soil amendment for home gardens?” To do that, Extension Master Gardener volunteers have been testing the productivity of vegetables and flowers in gardens amended with biochar at four sites in Minnesota and three sites in Iowa.

Each year, the demonstration gardens are planted with common vegetable and bedding plants such as tomatoes, green bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, zinnias, salvia, chrysanthemums and roses. Master Gardeners and youth volunteers maintain the gardens throughout the season, and Master Gardeners take growth and yield measurements at designated times. Results are compared across sites to help determine the effects of biochar, which was applied to all but each garden’s control plot in the first year of the project. No additional biochar applications have been made, and no additional organic amendments have been used in order to gauge the effect of biochar as a stand-alone additive.

2014 was the third of four years that Master Gardeners will be involved in what is known as the CenUSA Bioenergy project. Led by Ken Moore at Iowa State University, the five-year project includes institutions in several states and is funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The aim is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as greenhouse gas emissions while increasing local renewable energy. (More information can be found at Iowa State’s website)

Written by Lynne Davenport-Hagen, CenUSA Biochar Research and Display Garden project coordinator, and Julie Weisenhorn, associate extension professor at the University of Minnesota, the 2014 annual report shows mixed three-year results. While there were notable growth differences in some plants, others seemed unaffected by biochar. For example, chrysanthemums appeared more robust in plots amended with biochar while shrub roses showed no significant differences.

One of the things that does seem clear so far is that biochar appears to improve soil texture. Volunteers working in the wet spring soil reported that it was easier to plant in the amended plots than the control plots that contain no biochar. This was consistent across all of the sites, even though soil structure varies by location from sand to silt loam. Read on for a closer look at the results.

a graden using biochar

Variables to Consider

Each of the four demonstration gardens contain the same plants, as well as three plots: one with no biochar; one (TRT1) amended with 1/2 pound of biochar per square foot;  and one (TRT2) amended with 1 pound of biochar per square foot. It appears that soil structure differences and other variables have had an effect on the data. For example, plants growing in the demonstration gardens at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the University’s St. Paul campus were clearly more vigorous than those at the Bunker Hills Park site in Andover, Minnesota, and at the Brookston Community Center, Fond du Lac Tribal Community site in Cloquet, Minnesota.

This is most likely due to the first two sites having silt loam soils that better hold moisture and nutrients than the sandy soil at the other two locations. Nutrient deficiency was also evident at the Andover and Fond du Lac sites, which also may be attributable to sandy soil conditions. At all sites, Master Gardener volunteers worked hard to keep diseases, weeds and pest problems under control. No pesticides have been used at any of the demonstration gardens.

Last year, responding to community needs, the Fond du Lac tribal community Extension Master Gardeners worked with staff at the Brookston Community Center to create a gardening education program for youth. As part of that, youth were invited to help care for the demonstration garden and collect data. Before long, the garden became the focus of a 20-week-long Junior Master Gardener program developed by the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners. Students have enjoyed this change in direction, but because it may affect the research, data from this garden was not collected in the same way it was at the other three Minnesota sites.

A Look At the Results

Since the project aims to determine whether biochar would make a good amendment for home gardens, guidelines for data collection are based on growers’ recommended days-to-maturity. Using these optimal recommendations will make it more likely that data can be reasonably compared across sites.

About 35 Master Gardeners took data and recorded results in 2014, and though training was provided, it’s important to note that there are some inaccuracies due to individual interpretations and opinions. Also contributing to problems with data collection were last year’s unusually cold, wet spring, as well as poor germination of some of the plants chosen for testing.

Tomatoes were the biggest surprise when it came to vegetables. Celebrity hybrid tomatoes in the control plots outperformed those growing in biochar-treated plots. This differs from 2013 data showing that tomatoes did best in the TRT1 plots compared with the control and TRT2 plots. Because of this inconsistency, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether biochar affects tomato productivity.

Basil appeared to grow better in TRT1 plots at Andover and the Arboretum. Overall, though, growth and yields were best in the TRT2 plots, particularly at the Andover site. Blue Lake bush beans did well in the TRT1 plots at Andover and the Arboretum, but yields were highest in the control plot on the St. Paul campus. This could be due to the plot’s location, which provides a warmer microclimate that allowed the beans to mature faster than they did at other locations.

The hybrid cucumber, Tasty Green, was tested in all four gardens in 2014, but patterns of growth were inconsistent. So the effects of biochar on the crop could not be determined. The soil amendment’s effect on the kale variety, Blue Curled Vates, also could not be determined.  Black Seeded Simson lettuce and Sweet Treat carrots did not germinate well and both crops were considered a failure. No significant differences were noted between growth and yield of King Arthur hybrid bell peppers or the University of Minnesota’s new potato variety, ‘Runestone Gold’.

Data collected on ornamentals in the demonstration gardens included information on growth patterns, bloom and leaf color. ‘Victoria’ salvia and ‘Uproar Rose’ hybrid zinnia, for example, both showed better growth and leaf color in the biochar-amended plots at the Andover site. This may indicate biochar’s ability to help sandy soil retain moisture and nutrients.

Similar data is collected on perennials and while ‘Gold Country’ chrysanthemums did not do well at any site, the varieties ‘Betty Lou’ and ‘Maroon Pride’ appeared to do somewhat better in TRT1 plots over others. Inconsistent growth patterns of three varieties of shrub roses made it unclear whether biochar had any effect on those plants. Overall, when comparing data over the past three years, there do not seem to be significant and consistent benefits in yields or growth when plants are grown using biochar as a soil amendment.

Going Forward

EMGs working with reaserches in biochar researchMaster Gardener engagement with the biochar project has been beneficial in many ways with volunteers getting firsthand experience with data collection, as well as the opportunity to participate in a high-profile research endeavor. Because the demonstration gardens are visible to the public, the project has also created a welcome occasion for talking about biochar, and many other topics, with gardeners and others who are interested in things like plants, food, soil and sustainability. In this last year of the project, the goal is to gather the most reliable data possible. A new online reporting system has already increased reporting accuracy.

Also of note, in September, 2015, the Extension Master Gardener teams from Minnesota and Iowa will receive the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Award for their work on the biochar project. The award will be presented at the International Master Gardener Conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Though testing biochar for possible use in home gardens is just one small part of the overall USDA-sponsored research project, the results will help determine under what conditions biochar could be recommended as a soil amendment. With one more year to conduct the research, the Master Gardeners hope to see more patterns and consistencies developing.

 

—by Meleah Maynard, Hennepin County Master Gardener

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.

 

2015 Search for Excellence Winners are Announced!

October 28th, 2015 by Terri James

Congratulations to the Twenty-one 2015 Search for Excellence Awards winners!IMGC Logo

Search for Excellence (SFE) is the recognition of outstanding projects by Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States and Canada. These twenty-one awards were presented at the International Master Gardener Conference 2015 (IMGC 2015), Horticultural Horizons in the Heartland.Horticultural Horizons in the Heartland Logo

SFE Awards are presented every two years at the IMGC conference where Master Gardener volunteers, Extension staff and faculty gather to learn from each other, share projects and to network with their peers from around the world. Twenty one Master Gardener programs were recognized for their outstanding achievement from a field of seventy two applications, submissions from twenty six USA states and two Canadian provinces.

First, second and third place awards are presented in seven categories:

• Community Service
• Demonstration Gardens
• Innovative Projects
• Special Needs Audiences
• Research
• Workshop or Presentation
• Youth Programs

All SFE applications must show that significant learning took place. The SFE projects need to be ongoing projects for at least two years; one of the winners this year has been going on for twenty six years. The IMGC Committee judges the applications. Winning projects were chosen on the basis of their originality and creativity; practicality of the program; simplicity of replication by other Master Gardeners and their significant impact on their communities.

First place winners received a plaque and a small stipend to continue their educational projects. The twenty one awarded projects displayed posters of their projects at the IMGC 2015 conference. Congratulations to all the SFE awardees that are involved in these excellent projects.

Beginning next week and continuing over the next several months, this blog will feature stories and pictures from each 2015 Search for Excellence award winners. Watch for the upcoming postings and read about these outstanding projects.

The 2017 SFE awards nominations soon, more information will be found on the 2017 IMGC Webiste.

 

Researching Biochar

September 30th, 2015 by Terri James

Now that the Extension Master Gardener biochar demonstration gardens 2014 annual report is finished, what have we learned?

 

Since 2012, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners and Iowa State Master Gardeners have been helping researchers answer the question: “Is biochar (charred organic matter) a good soil amendment for home gardens?” To do that, Extension Master Gardener volunteers have been testing the productivity of vegetables and flowers in gardens amended with biochar at four sites in Minnesota and three sites in Iowa.

 

Each year, the demonstration gardens are planted with common vegetable and bedding plants such as tomatoes, green bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, zinnias, salvia, chrysanthemums and roses. Arb planting day - blogMaster Gardeners and youth volunteers maintain the gardens throughout the season, and Master Gardeners take growth and yield measurements at designated times. Results are compared across sites to help determine the effects of biochar, which was applied to all but each garden’s control plot in the first year of the project. No additional biochar applications have been made, and no additional organic amendments have been used in order to gauge the effect of biochar as a stand-alone additive.

 

 

 

2014 was the third of four years that Master Gardeners will be involved in what is known as the CenUSA Bioenergy project. Led by Ken Moore at Iowa State University, the five-year project includes institutions in several states and is funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The aim is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as greenhouse gas emissions while increasing local renewable energy. (More information can be found at Iowa State’s website: http://cenusa.iastate.edu/.)

 

Written by Lynne Davenport-Hagen, CenUSA Biochar Research and Display Garden project coordinator, and Julie Weisenhorn, associate extension professor at the University of Minnesota, the 2014 annual report shows mixed three-year results. While there were notable growth differences in some plants, others seemed unaffected by biochar. For example, chrysanthemums appeared more robust in plots amended with biochar while shrub roses showed no significant differences.

 

One of the things that does seem clear so far is that biochar appears to improve soil texture. Volunteers working in the wet spring soil reported that it was easier to plant in the amended plots than the control plots that contain no biochar. ARB Garden-blogThis was consistent across all of the sites, even though soil structure varies by location from sand to silt loam. Read on for a closer look at the results.

 

Variables to Consider

Each of the four demonstration gardens contain the same plants, as well as three plots: one with no biochar; one (TRT1) amended with 1/2 pound of biochar per square foot; and one (TRT2) amended with 1 pound of biochar per square foot. It appears that soil structure differences and other variables have had an effect on the data. For example, plants growing in the demonstration gardens at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the University’s St. Paul campus were clearly more vigorous than those at the Bunker Hills Park site in Andover, Minnesota, and at the Brookston Community Center, Fond du Lac Tribal Community site in Cloquet, Minnesota.

 

This is most likely due to the first two sites having silt loam soils that better hold moisture and nutrients than the sandy soil at the other two locations. Nutrient deficiency was also evident at the Andover and Fond du Lac sites, which also may be attributable to sandy soil conditions. At all sites, Master Gardener volunteers worked hard to keep diseases, weeds and pest problems under control. No pesticides have been used at any of the demonstration gardens.

 

Last year, responding to community needs, the Fond du Lac tribal community Extension Master Gardeners worked with staff at the Brookston Community Center to create a gardening education program for youth. As part of that, youth were invited to help care for the demonstration garden and collect data. Before long, the garden became the focus of a 20-week-long Junior Master Gardener program developed by the Fond du Lac Master Gardeners. Students have enjoyed this change in direction, but because it may affect the research, data from this garden was not collected in the same way it was at the other three Minnesota sites.

 

A Look At the Results

Since the project aims to determine whether biochar would make a good amendment for home gardens, guidelines for data collection are based on growers’ recommended days-to-maturity. Using these optimal recommendations will make it more likely that data can be reasonably compared across sites.

 

About 35 Master Gardeners took data and recorded results in 2014, and though training was provided, it’s important to note that there are some inaccuracies due to individual interpretations and opinions. basil harvest 3-blogAlso contributing to problems with data collection were last year’s unusually cold, wet spring, as well as poor germination of some of the plants chosen for testing.

 

Tomatoes were the biggest surprise when it came to vegetables. Celebrity hybrid tomatoes in the control plots outperformed those growing in biochar-treated plots. This differs from 2013 data showing that tomatoes did best in the TRT1 plots compared with the control and TRT2 plots. Because of this inconsistency, it’s difficult to pinpoint whether biochar affects tomato productivity.

 

Basil appeared to grow better in TRT1 plots at Andover and the Arboretum. Overall, though, growth and yields were best in the TRT2 plots, particularly at the Andover site. Blue Lake bush beans did well in the TRT1 plots at Andover and the Arboretum, but yields were highest in the control plot on the St. Paul campus. This could be due to the plot’s location, which provides a warmer microclimate that allowed the beans to mature faster than they did at other locations.

 

The hybrid cucumber, Tasty Green, was tested in all four gardens in 2014, but patterns of growth were inconsistent. So the effects of biochar on the crop could not be determined. The soil amendment’s effect on the kale variety, Blue Curled Vates, also could not be determined. Black Seeded Simson lettuce and Sweet Treat carrots did not germinate well and both crops were considered a failure. No significant differences were noted between growth and yield of King Arthur hybrid bell peppers or the University of Minnesota’s new potato variety, ‘Runestone Gold’.

 

Data collected on ornamentals in the demonstration gardens included information on growth patterns, bloom and leaf color. ‘Victoria’ salvia and ‘Uproar Rose’ hybrid zinnia, for example, both showed better growth and leaf color in the biochar-amended plots at the Andover site. This may indicate biochar’s ability to help sandy soil retain moisture and nutrients.

 

Similar data is collected on perennials and while ‘Gold Country’ chrysanthemums did not do well at any site, the varieties ‘Betty Lou’ and ‘Maroon Pride’ appeared to do somewhat better in TRT1 plots over others. Inconsistent growth patterns of three varieties of shrub roses made it unclear whether biochar had any effect on those plants. Overall, when comparing data over the past three years, there do not seem to be significant and consistent benefits in yields or growth when plants are grown using biochar as a soil amendment.

 

Going Forward

Master Gardener engagement with the biochar project has been beneficial in many ways with volunteers getting firsthand experience with data collection, as well as the opportunity to participate in a high-profile research endeavor. Because the demonstration gardens are visible to the public, the project has also created a welcome occasion for talking about biochar, and many other topics, with gardeners and others who are interested in things like plants, food, soil and sustainability. In this last year of the project, the goal is to gather the most reliable data possible. A new online reporting system has already increased reporting accuracy.

 

Also of note, in September, 2015, the Extension Master Gardener teams from Minnesota and Iowa will receive the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Award for their work on the biochar project. The award will be presented at the International Master Gardener Conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Though testing biochar for possible use in home gardens is just one small part of the overall USDA-sponsored research project, the results will help determine under what conditions biochar could be recommended as a soil amendment. With one more year to conduct the research, the Master Gardeners hope to see more patterns and consistencies developing.

 

—by Meleah Maynard, Hennepin County Master Gardener

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.

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