Master Gardeners are in a class of their own: Mark Cullen | Toronto Star column

When it comes to cultivating passion, energy and talent, Canada’s Master Gardeners are standouts.

Master Gardeners are dedicated to the art and science of gardening. And, with their generosity of knowledge and time — on public garden tours, at local horticulture societies, at small shows and big ones such as Canada Blooms and in various online forums — they help sustain a broader community of Canadian gardeners.

The term, or title, Master Gardener is not one that is simply pulled out of the air — or the soil. The real dirt:

In the early 1970s, Washington State University developed the concept that volunteers could get horticulture training they would then share with their communities. The title Master Gardener was borrowed from Germany, where the highest title for horticulture was “Gartenmeister,” which translated to Master Gardener.

Journey North: As the Master Gardener program began to sweep across the U.S. in the early 1970s, Dave Omrod, a plant pathologist in British Columbia was taking note of a problem north of the border: garden centre staff were often ill-equipped with the necessary knowledge to advise backyard gardeners. Omrod joined Bill Peters, a B.C. horticulture specialist, to adapt the Washington State U. curriculum to their west-coast province. They started with a six-week course for willing volunteers. It was an instant success.

With help from a handful of universities and provincial agriculture ministries, the program moved its way across Canada throughout the 1980s.

During the 1990s, provincial governments gradually withdrew financial support, which led to the Master Gardener programs becoming established through independent not-for-profits.

Completing the Master Gardener program is no easy feat.
Completing the Master Gardener program is no easy feat.

Becoming a Master Gardener: There is no shortcut. Achieved through the Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc., the title’s authority is well-earned.

  • Future Master Gardeners start with an entry exam and then are interviewed to assess their potential for “public service and volunteerism.” If they pass, they become “Master Gardeners in Training” (MGiT).
  • Once a MGiT, they must do 30 hours of annual public service and attend a minimum number of monthly meetings. Plus, there’s an educational component that can take up to three years and ends with a comprehensive exam for certification.
  • While a handful of universities offer Master Gardener Certificate programs, regional chapters often have more-affordable self-study options.
  • All Master Gardeners pay a small annual fee to support the ongoing activities of the organization.

Why become a Master Gardener? To borrow an old advertising slogan from American Express: It has its privileges. Those include access to technical updates with industry experts. As well, the designation provides access to a group of passionate, community-minded people with a common interest.

The Master Gardener program was founded on the principle of teaching volunteers skills they could take back to their communities.
The Master Gardener program was founded on the principle of teaching volunteers skills they could take back to their communities.

Where to find them: Master Gardeners are often present wherever gardening touches our lives:

  • Doing speaking engagements at local horticulture or service clubs.
  • At botanical and display gardens across Canada, where they share both their expertise and physical labour skills.
  • Online, where they offer rich resources and answer your questions. Or over the phone, if you prefer the analog approach.
  • Look up a seed exchange or a plant sale, where Master Gardeners are often the driving force.
  • Schools invite Master Gardeners to take part in the teaching curriculum.
  • Townships often call upon Master Gardeners when looking for advice about green initiatives in their communities.

In countless and often invisible ways, Master Gardeners contribute much to the gardening community at large, elevating both our appreciation and knowledge of horticulture over the years. You could call them the superheroes in our midst

Source: Master Gardeners are in a class of their own: Mark and Ben Cullen | Toronto Star

Master Gardeners Contribute to Mind Body and Soul Workshop, Brampton

Mississauga Master Gardeners Phyllis Hall and Susan Quirk represented our group at the Mind Body and Soul workshop in Brampton last month.

Funded by the Employment Social Development Canada’s New Horizon for Seniors Program, the project is designed to prepare the South Asian boomer  population for their social life after retirement, including gardening. Phyllis and Susan held a gardening advise clinic there and spoke to attendees about their gardens and how to become a Master Gardener.

Over the next 10 months, the group will bring experts and professionals to run as many as 20 workshops, seminars, and other events within the cities of Mississauga and Brampton to socially engage South Asian baby boomers in many ways.

On Sunday, June 18, the Mind, Body & Soul hosted its inaugural workshop at Brampton’s Loafers Lake Recreation Centre, where residents over the age of 50 took part in a picture day and networking event. Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon and Brampton-East MP Raj Grewal were also in attendance.

Why you Shouldn’t Till Your Garden if you Love your Soil 

Tillers seem to be that go-to tool we’ve always used for what it was made to do – break up the earth. We till to clear a plot to start a garden, turn weeds under, or just mix up the soil.

But is tilling really the best way to get your soil in shape? While it might be the easiest and fastest way to start, it’s NOT the best way. No-till gardening is where it’s at. If you love your soil, ditch the tiller!

To understand why no-till gardening is the best thing we can do to prepare and maintain an area for planting (and fewer weeds), we need first to understand the consequences of tilling.

The Problems with Tilling

THOUSANDS OF WEED SEEDS ARE BROUGHT TO THE SURFACE. Seeds that were buried and dormant due to a lack of sunlight are brought to the surface and exposed to the light of day. Ironically, we often till to turn under existing weeds. But in the process, we’re bringing up thousands more to take their place.

SOIL INTEGRITY IS DESTROYED. When tiller tines tear into the soil, they destroy nature’s infrastructure to a healthy soil food web. The undisturbed soil consists of a network of billions of beneficial organisms from bacteria and fungi, nematodes, arthropods and insects, and of course earthworms. Collectively they form a thriving, nutrient-rich, yet fragile ecosystem.

PROPERTIES THAT CREATE SOIL DRAINAGE, MOISTURE RETENTION AND AERATION ARE ELIMINATED. In a healthy (undisturbed) soil food web, material that helps soil particles bind together to improve aeration, water holding capacity, and drainage is created. Tilling destroys all of that.

SOIL NUTRIENTS ARE LOST. As the rapidly turning tines mix up soil like a blender, much of the stored carbon and nitrogen is quickly eliminated. The rapid introduction of oxygen sets off a process where sequestered carbon is lost and valuable nitrogen is consumed in the process. The post-tilled soil is far less nutrient rich than before.

No-Till Gardening is the Soil-loving Weed-Hater’s Alternative to Tilling

In a no-till garden, we still have the same objectives: a garden with fewer weeds, improved soil, and continued improvement.

But in a no-till scenario, nature does the soil prep for you. The key though is that it takes more time initially. Ideally, you want to plan ahead, at least by a season. That’s enough time to allow nature to prepare the top surface for planting. From then on it only gets better and better after that.   Read more here

Source: Why you Shouldn’t Till Your Garden if you Love your Soil | joe gardener® | Organic Gardening Like a Pro