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University of Minnesota Extension's Master Gardener program growing in participation

Terry Yockey, volunteer leader for the Goodhue County Extension Master Gardeners, said the pandemic brought an uptick in master gardener participation.

Goodhue County Master Gardeners .jpg
Goodhue County Extension Master Gardeners work on the Prairie Island Indian Community Elder Garden on May 10, 2022 in Welch, Minnesota.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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Master gardeners with the University of Minnesota Extension are here to help new and existing gardeners in the state, and there's more than ever right now.

Terry Yockey, volunteer leader for the Goodhue County Extension Master Gardeners, said the pandemic brought an uptick in master gardener participation.

"We had a banner year last year, in new interns," said Yockey, who has been a master gardener for 25 years. "It was the most we've ever had, and it's just getting better every year."

Interns have to do 50 volunteer hours to become a permanent master gardener. Nancy Berlin, master gardener with the Goodhue County Extension for 11 years, said the training to become a master gardener is unmatched.

"What's great about the program as you're trained by University of Minnesota Extension experts," said Berlin. "So you go through a training course first, and then you do your volunteer hours, and then you get to wear your badge."

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Yockey said the while the type of people participating in the master gardener program "crosses all barriers, and is very inclusive," there is one classification that remains to be the most popular.

"The No. 1 profession in our county (master gardener program) has always been retired teachers," she said. "They like to become master gardeners when they retire, and they're perfect, because they're good at programming and research."

Gardens this year

Yockey said that gardens are behind schedule in growing this year.

"Everything is way behind, and now it's going to be 80 or 90 degrees soon, so yeah, that's stressful for plants," she said.

Berlin said it's all about soil temperature when it comes to planting gardens.

"My garden yesterday was 65 degrees, and one part was 67," said Berlin on May 10. "But it hung in the 50s for a really long time, and you can't plant plant much other than greens and some of the root vegetables."

All that being said, Yockey said plants should still grow OK this year, but gardeners should keep a closer eye on them.

"On top of the drought last year, I'm sure people's gardens will do fine, but you need to be aware that they were already stressed before we went into this hard winter, and then non-existent spring," she said. "I think with the winter and the drought, definitely you're going to have to replant some things for sure."

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Advice for beginners

Yockey's advice for people just getting into gardening is to get in touch with people who know more than them.

"Get ahold of the master gardeners if you have questions, because that's what we're here for," she said. "We work through University of Minnesota Extension."

She said the master gardener program started because Extension didn't have enough employees to cater to homeowners.

"So they started training us," she said.

Berlin's advice for beginning gardeners is start with what you like.

"Plant what you love if you're beginning," she said. "If you love carrots, you can grow carrots — and you can grow them in a container if you don't have a garden, if you just have a little bit of sun."

She said native plants are also a good start, and good for pollinators and wildlife.

"That's another good way to begin," she said.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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