Master Gardener Program and the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association

Master Gardener Program and the Master Gardener Association
by Ann Guthals

Some Master Gardeners have asked lately what the difference is between the Master Gardener (MG) program and the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association (YCMGA).

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The MG Program was started to extend the effectiveness and reach of the county extension agent by educating many people in the county with advanced gardening knowledge who could then reach out to others. The gardening classes started in Yellowstone County in 1994 and now consist of three levels of classes with tests and volunteer hour requirements for each level. To remain a MG in good standing requires a certain number of volunteer hours each year.

To keep MGs educated and in touch with other MGs, there are also classes, field trips, and social events outside the main series of classes. The MG program is overseen by Montana State University and is part of a national program of master gardeners.

In 2012, a group of MGs wanted to provide a mechanism for receipt of grant funds and other donations to benefit the existing MG program which is dependent on government funding. The hope was that this outside source of funds could help keep the MG program viable even if there were funding cuts and would be a nonprofit vehicle to receive donations to help the MG program.

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These MGs started regular meetings and in 2012 created the YCMGA, wrote Bylaws and Articles of Organization, obtained a 501(3) nonprofit status, applied for grants, and began formal association board meetings. The mission of the Association was to raise funds to support the MG program, to supplement educational efforts for and community involvement by the MGs, and provide ongoing opportunities for connections between MGs. The current association also seeks to educate residents and decision-makers in Yellowstone County of the value of the MG program.

To belong to the Association, a MG must be in good standing as a MG and pay annual dues of $15. About 40% of current MGs are also Association members. Association members may attend Board meetings and run for the Board when vacancies arise. The Association is active in promoting various volunteer programs such as the MG activities at the Metra fairgrounds and community gardens around the city. YCMGA also holds several social events during the year including summer barbecues and a winter Christmas party. The financial and volunteer help from the YCMGA takes some of the load off Amy Grandpre, the extension agent who runs the MG classes, and also allows her more time to pursue other aspects of her extension work.

In addition to helping financially support the MG program with dues and grants, Association members receive discounts at garden-related businesses in Billings and at some MG classes that require tuition. Dues fund some MG projects directly through mini “grants” from YCMGA.

The new Association President is Brian Godfrey who is excited to expand the scope of the YCMGA activities in new ways. He is interested in developing a mentorship program to connect seasoned with beginning gardeners. He would like to see more MGs who complete the courses remain active members and hopes to bring inactive members back into good standing as active volunteers. Brian and the Board are looking forward to celebrating the MG program’s 25th anniversary in 2019. And, having developed a MG project sign, they hope to see all projects display these signs to further educate the general populace about the reach and nature of MG volunteer projects in the community.

If you are interested in joining and becoming involved in the YCMGA, you may reach President Godfrey at 406.606.0184 or you may look up the Yellowstone County Master Gardener Association website (http://www. ycmgamt.com) to see Board members, minutes, articles, and a calendar of events.

Submitted by Ann Guthals

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Brassicas

There are many vegetables in the cruciferous family that we can grow in Montana. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts are some of the more popular ones. (Did you know arugula is also a brassica? Its nickname is rocket because it is quick to bolt in the heat, so remember to plant early and in succession for a longer harvest time.) Brassicas are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. All members of the brassica family have similar nutrient profiles and contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamins C, E, K, and iodine. They have powerful anti-oxidants and they are beneficial eaten raw or cooked.

Here in the harsh climate of Montana, timing is important and the shorter season vegetables and their cultivars will be the most likely to come to full fruition. Most brassicas do best in soil pH of 6.5-7.5, so a little elemental sulfur can be helpful. They prefer firm, very fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost and additional food during the growing season. They require full sun, which is at least 5-6 hours of sun a day and do best in soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees. They do not thrive in hot weather and therefore do better on the shoulder seasons. In fact, they not only tolerate light frost but often become sweeter after a little nip of cold. Furthermore, most brassicas need the stimulation of cold weather to form heads; Brussels sprouts in particular need cold to form the sprouts. Seeds are usually planted six weeks before the last frost. Transplants should be set out in the garden in the middle of May. The following Montguide is invaluable for determining the planting time of all veggies. http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

Working your garden in wet conditions, which we usually have in the spring, is harmful to the texture of your soil, and compaction is difficult to reverse, so it’s best to prepare your beds in fall so you can get into your garden and plant early without causing damage. It’s also best to plant brassicas from transplants that are started indoors, not only to get a jump on the season but to reduce the risk of disease and insect attack. Set your seedlings deep enough to cover the stalk up to the first set of leaves and make sure your hole is deep enough to keep the tap root straight. Press the soil around them gently and water in well. Remember to check your spacing for the different varieties so they don’t grow too close together.

A tip that I have found to be very helpful is the addition of mulch. Using mulch around your plants not only prevents weeds, it also keeps the soil cooler, retains moisture, reduces compaction from the rain, and keeps your plants cleaner. Along with cool soil and lots of nutrients, brassicas need consistent moisture, so remember to water regularly. Eat some of the lower leaves as the plants mature and remove any yellowing lower leaves to provide good air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal disease.

Insects and furry critters can be a real annoyance when growing brassicas. (Think cabbage moth and deer among others!) The least invasive defense against insects is a good squirt of water to the leaves, preferably done in the morning so they have time to dry before nightfall. This will disrupt the life cycle of soft bodied insects without using chemicals. If you are still struggling but don’t want to use chemicals, a floating row cover prevents insect attack and as a bonus keeps the deer and rabbits off too. This is best applied soon after planting to be most effective.

If you grew kale this season, you have probably already been harvesting for a month or more, but if you got a late start like I did, your Brussels sprouts may just be forming. Remember to be patient and keep your brassicas going through our early frosts for a longer, fuller and sweeter harvest! There are so many wonderful varieties of healthy veggies to try; if you didn’t plant any cruciferous vegetables this year, prepare your bed this fall and get ready to enjoy the glorious fruits of your labor next year! Some of the following reference links are live and some are not:

http://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/brassicas-timing-temperature-fertility.html

http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

http://mt.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Brassicas.pdf

https://www.gardenguides.com/96425-vegetables-grow-montana.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/04/04/brassica-vegetables_n_5091657.html

https://www.healwithfood.org/list/healthiest-brassica-vegetables-benefits.php

 

Respectfully submitted by Ann McKean

Gardener’s Market at South Park

Sponsored by Riverstone Health, this Thursday afternoon market is small enough to be kid friendly and big enough to have a good variety of produce, crafts, and flowers. Master Gardeners this year gave away free vegetable and flower seed packets as well as information. There was also a children’s activity each week with the favorite being to sit a spell and color fun garden themed pictures – can you find a puppy hiding in the vegetables? If you didn’t have a chance to work this event, consider it for next year or at least stop by to support these small-scale growers who are sharing their bounty. What’s not to love about a little girl selling posies?

Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Originally posted in the Oct/Nov/Dec issue of the newsletter. Webmaster apologizes for the late posting – check on this for summer 2019!

Yellowstone Valley Food Hub Update

Efforts to launch the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub continue apace. A sold out Chef’s Dinner at the Moss Mansion featured local foods and local chefs. The Last Chance Pub & Cider Mill hosted a hugely popular kickoff for their fundraising project in early summer. Fundraising is expected to continue, but the successes of this summer means the project is on track for a soft launch of the Food Hub this fall.

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The Yellowstone Valley Citizen’s Council initiated the project to link consumers with fresh, local foods grown in South-Central and Eastern Montana. Now that it’s becoming a reality, local food producers are taking up the reins to run the Hub as a collective of family farmers and ranchers. The Hub is initially planning to supply local restaurants and offer seasonal CSA boxes. The Hub’s space for dry/cold storage of produce and meats will make it easier for local producers to get their products to our tables.

The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub is an exciting development for our area and is the first of its kind in Eastern Montana. We’ll have better access to healthier food that’s traveled fewer miles. A reliable supply of local food will bolster restaurants catering to the foodies among us. We will be able to meet our producers, understand how the food was raised, and support our community with our food purchases. Food Hub producers are frequently concerned about methods, promoting minimal use of pesticides and emphasizing ethical and humane care of animals. The Food Hub is a win all around and I’m looking forward to all that it will bring our community.

If you’d like to contribute to the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, you can donate at https:// northernplains.org/yellowstone-valley-food-hub/. For more information, you can contact Annika Charter-Williams at 406-259-1103.

Submitted by Kris Glenn

Swanky Roots Tour

On August 28th, Master Gardener Association members were treated to a tour of Swanky Roots, a new aquaponics business in Billings. Our tour was given by co-owner Veronnaka Evenson, who graduated from Montana State University in 2016 with degrees in Plant Science and Agricultural Education. Veronnaka and mom, Ronna Klamert, are owners/operators of this most clean and modern greenhouse business. (I was most impressed with the requirement of washing our hands and walking on a specially treated mat to be sure no contamination entered the greenhouse.)

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At this early stage of the business it’s mostly lettuce being grown, which is available for purchase if you happen to be out in the area…on the way to Oscars Dreamland. The future will include sales of fish and more produce items, as ongoing research and demand are determined.

As you enter the greenhouse, you see the large blue tanks that are holding the fish (which some of our group got to feed!). The fish water is then cycled to irrigate the plants that are grown through a Styrofoam type mat that floats in aerated bins of water from the fish tanks. The large greenhouse is filled with these long bins of water and plants, with the exception of an area along one side, which has larger plant material grown in a medium of expanded clay balls.

This was truly a unique, first-time tour for our group of a business such as this. We wish them well on this most ambitious business venture.

Food Sharing

The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market is designed to bring healthy, fresh, local, and affordable fruits and vegetables to the community. The market is also a social meeting place to celebrate health and nutrition. Healthy By Design is partnering with Billings Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands to bring the market to the South Park. The Gardeners’ Market is located in South Park on the corner of South 28th Street and Sixth Avenue South in Billings, MT. The season runs Thursdays from 4:30—6:30 from the second week of June through the first week in October.

If you would like to receive a weekly reminder and update about the Gardeners’ Market click here! For more information or if you have questions, leave a message at 406.651.6444 or email market@healthybydesignyellowstone.org. Master Gardener’s can receive credit towards their hours by donating surplus produce to this program. Log into your account and add the pounds.

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The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, a project of the Yellowstone Valley Citizens’ Council, aims to revitalize our regional agricultural system, which once met 70% of Montana’s food needs. The Food Hub strives to link local producers and fresh, healthy food to local consumers and institutions. The food hub will raise awareness about the nutritional, environmental, and economic benefits of local foods.

A food hub is an entity that actively manages the collection, processing, marketing, and distribution of food products from area producers in order to strengthen their ability to satisfy individual, wholesale, and retail demand. We would love to hear your ideas and insights. To learn more, contact Maggie at (406) 248-1154 or email maggie@northernplains.org.

~Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington