by Debbie Roland, Compost Specialist
I was on my hands and knees searching through the vegetable seed packets at a local big box store this Spring when a person I didn’t know said “You look like you know a lot about seeds, can you help me?” I said of course I’ll help you. I am still amazed that I can do that.
For years I wanted to become a Master Gardener. I looked at the pictures of the newly elected officers and the trainees who had received their certification in the newspaper each year with envy about everything they must know. I couldn’t grow a thing. Every once in a while a lucky plant would catch drips from infrequent rains and somehow make it through another year. I had worked full time for years but in 2011 a family medical emergency had me reconsider my priorities and I retired. After the urgency of that had passed, I again focused on master gardening. I made a call to a friend who was a member and she sent me off on my inquiries about how to apply.
I called the local extension office, filled out my application, passed the required background check, and wrote a check which pays for the books, speakers and reams of handouts I would receive during training. I was accepted and went to orientation in January of 2013. Thereafter I attended class one day a week for twelve weeks. I was given enormous amounts of information from professors and extension agents, as well as local Master Gardeners. My class had sixteen “trainees” and we all had different levels of gardening knowledge. Some were already good gardeners and some had a lot less experience – like me who did not know the difference between compost and mulch. I have to admit that at the end of six hours of Botany I wanted to run for the hills but Master Gardeners who were there to help with the class assured us we would survive it and we did. There are tests every week but we worked together to complete them and passed. Fourteen of us finished the class and are still close friends. It is amazing how close you get when you are digging in the dirt or trying to identify plants in a pasture.
The local chapter of Master Gardeners requires 60 classroom hours of education and 60 volunteer hours the first year. You will need a dedication, willingness, and availability to take extensive training in horticulture so that you can take that knowledge back to the public, and perform the volunteer hours. If you show up for every class and take advantage of opportunities presented to work in the gardens, or help with the annual plant sale, West Texas Food Bank, Home and Garden Show, Kids Kows & More, as well as other projects the chapter participates in, the hours begin to accumulate and you are finished before you know it. All the classes and the other projects you will be involved in not only teach you but prepare you to teach others. Some people are natural born speakers and others “would rather be in the box than give the eulogy”. Don’t worry, if you have a fear of speaking in public, your talents can and will be used somewhere else.
Master Gardeners try to teach the community in the areas needed most. Water conservation through plants requiring less water, irrigation practices, rainwater harvesting, xeriscaping, and even a series on “Backyard Basics” which teaches chicken keeping, worms, and bees, are among some of the topics taught.
It might help you decide if you want to be involved if you understand the history. Started in 1978 the Extension Master Gardener program was established in Washington state. Every Master Gardener program is operated by a state land grant university or that university’s Cooperative Extension Service and equips their volunteers to serve as gardeners, educators and leaders. The local chapter, Permian Basin Master Gardeners which has members from Odessa and Midland as well as outlying areas, trains volunteers in aspects of gardening in an arid climate and operates under the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. program is overseen by the Master Gardener Coordinator, Jeff Floyd, who is our local county extension agent as well.
As a MG you will attend monthly meetings, committee meetings, accept volunteer assignments, keep a record of your education and volunteer hours on a provided system, all the while representing AgriLife in a professional manner.
After you have completed the required hours, you will become a Certified Master Gardener. The requirements to maintain your certification are much easier. You will be required to have 30 volunteer hours and 12 continuing education hours annually. Having said that there are currently members who have 300 volunteer hours and 30 education hours for 2016 and some who are only interested in getting the minimum required. Your level of involvement and commitment is up to you.
When I entered the program I could see myself growing flowers and having a formal well-groomed yard. As I neared the end of my training those things took a backseat to the fascination I had developed about the magic of compost and mulch in a yard. My once empty and struggling flowerbeds now look like a rain forest with soil amendments and plants that will actually grow in West Texas. My Bermuda grass is gone, taken over by more xeric mulch with an occasional ornamental grass or plant. My point is that what you think you want to learn may change as your training continues and you become passionate about other areas.
Every Master Gardener does not know all there is to know since we all have different things we are passionate about. I may not be able to answer every question I am asked, but I have 125 other people, as well as Texas A&M AgriLife, to access to get your answer. If you think you want to volunteer for the program, please don’t be intimidated by members who know so much. They have years of training and experience. In twenty years, it might just be you answering questions you are asked from random community members who see you wearing your Master Gardener shirt around town.
A new training class begins in January. So make the call to the AgriLife office. You’ll be glad you did. Odessa is 432-498-4071. Midland is 432-686-4700. 10-25-2016