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Reaching future gardeners of any age in Crow Wing County

September 13, 2019

Do you get excited—even a bit giddy—about gardening? If you haven’t yet had that experience, then take a moment to become acquainted with Gardening 101, a class offered on Wednesdays at the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd, Minn., by University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners. The joy of gardening quickly becomes contagious.  

cropped image of girl holding up beans in garden
Peyton, a student in the Gardening 101 class taught by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in Crow Wing County, picks her own beans.

Halfway through the summer, one of the students asked me, “Do you know what I told my mom last week?”

“No, I don’t,” I answered. “Tell me.”

“It’s Wednesday,” the student said. “I wish every day was gardening Wednesday!”

Program is growing, succeeding

The Youth Gardening 101 class began in 2015. It’s been growing each year, with 47 students this year. Extension Master Gardener volunteers helped each student plan, plant and maintain their own 3’ x 16’ raised bed garden. As the summer progressed, they reaped the reward of fresh vegetables ranging from lettuces and radishes to tomatoes and corn. 

The morning sessions began with classroom teaching. Topics included reading seed packets, nutrients, pollinators, composting, weeds and more.  

As the students enter the gardens, squeals and comments can be heard throughout the area: 

“I have so many beans!” 

“You should see my cucumbers.” 

“My tomatoes are getting red!”

“Come see this huge zucchini.”

They are incorporating the research-based information we volunteers share with them into their garden tasks, so they almost always see their gardens succeed. They learn the purpose of thinning radishes and carrots to produce larger vegetables. They see that weeding provides room for the plants to grow. 

butterfly chrysalis on sweet corn with fingers at edge of photo
A Gardening 101 student finds a chrysalis (a butterfly pupa) on sweet corn.

They sometimes, rather sadly, learn that tomato plants or corn shouldn’t be planted south of shorter plants, as the shorter plants will be shaded and will not grow as well. 

Many times the students will plant flowers to bring beauty and pollinators to the garden. Their choices include zinnias, sunflowers, and edible flowers such as borage. As a result of their work, they frequently bring home fresh-cut bouquets to share with family and friends. 

In August, students learn how to use their fresh produce to make delicious food. They make basil pesto, zoodles (zucchini noodles), herbed butters for corn on the cob, refrigerator pickles, pickled radishes, salsa, English muffin pizza topped with fresh vegetables and more. Teaching children to grow and enjoy eating fresh vegetables equips them for the future. They bring their knowledge and fresh vegetables home and share with their family. 

Master Gardener with arm around girl in front of garden plants
Tracey Srock, Master Gardener volunteer, and student Elise show Elise's success with her first time planting corn, beans and squash in the Native American "The Three Sisters" method

Gardening 101 is for veterans and other adults, too

This was also the introductory year for a Veterans and Community Gardening 101 program on Wednesday evenings. (For more information, photos and video, see the Brainerd Dispatch.) To assist with access, new elevated gardens were added in spring. The final classroom session culminated in a spaghetti dinner created from what they had grown. 

As with the youth, the adults looked forward to reconnecting each week, visiting their gardens and seeing what they had grown with their own hands. Participants are already looking forward to next year, dreaming about what they should plant and who among family and friends might join the program next year.

Participants come during September to continue picking their produce after the program ends. Unused produce is donated locally. Later, they assist with garden cleanup and prepare beds for the winter.

Although it will soon be time to say goodbye to this summer’s gardening adventures, we will begin plans for next year.  No matter what age or experience level, Gardening 101 has something for everyone in Crow Wing County.

Know someone interested in applying to become a Master Gardener?

Applications are being accepted now through Oct. 1.

Learn more and apply

By Tracey Srock, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Crow Wing County; Dan Lee and Jennifer Lee, University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener interns.

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