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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs

On Becoming a Master Gardener (page 2 of 3)

by Margery Guest

A Book That Could Choke a Mule

The biggest surprise to our class was the accompanying "notebook." It was about 4 inches thick and packed with double-sided printed sheets. This volume of materials appears to be typical- "Looks big enough to choke a mule," says another Master Gardener.

We never found much time to goof off, as we often had more material to cover than class time allowed. Most of our instructors weren't cruel enough to keep us after 10 p.m.-just as well, because by that hour, our brains had turned to mush, and we were running on caffeine alone.

Usually, I read the material, about 80 pages, well before each class. I also took notes during class, hoping to retain the material better that way. The instructors often included helpful slides and other visual aids. In the class devoted to vegetables, our guest speaker, a grower, brought in basil plants for a demonstration, and then sent us each home with one.

Because our weekly tests were open book, I usually scored 100 percent. This testing method has advantages and disadvantages for learning. Looking up answers, of course, is much of what Master Gardeners do, so this method makes sense, but it doesn't motivate you to review material you aren't tested on.

Lessons Learned

In the plant science section, I found myself learning about phloem and xylem, words I hadn't heard since eighth-grade science class. We also learned the difference between soil texture and structure, and that weeding certain plants by hand may actually propagate them by stimulating germination of seeds or causing plants to produce runners.

We studied fungal pathogens, such as apple scab, and learned the IPM dictum: The ideal garden is one with an acceptable level of pests, not a garden without any insects or disease. (I used to think the ideal garden was pest-free! Gardens are, by definition, at odds with nature.)

We learned that insects in the larval stage are voracious eaters, and that 99.995 percent of insect eggs don't survive (or only 5 of 10 thousand do survive) to adulthood. We learned that bug zappers not only make noise and annoy people, but they also kill any insect attracted to light, including many beneficial ones.

All About Lawns

The lawn class covered the selection of appropriate species of turf grass for certain areas (particularly the four main kinds suitable for Michigan lawns) and the steps to creating a healthy lawn: site preparation, including ensuring good drainage; soil sampling; killing weeds; removing debris; grading and cultivating soil; and applying nutrients.

Trees and Shrubs

In the woody ornamentals class, we learned about apical dominance (how the terminal bud of a shoot inhibits the growth of side buds), the significance of good drainage, and proper pH levels. The instructor also cautioned us that neither pruning nor fertilizing should be done unthinkingly.

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