master gardeners

Applications Due Soon: 2024 Master Gardener Program

Applications are due on October 13, 2023 for the Master Gardener Program.

three women in a shed with vegetables and blueberries harvested from gardenDo you enjoy horticulture and want to expand your knowledge and also help others? Apply for the 2024 UConn Extension Master Gardener program.  Applications are due October 13, 2023 and classes begin on January 8, 2024. Class locations for 2024 are Stamford, Norwich, Torrington, New Haven, and online.

Students enrolled in this program receive training in an extensive range of horticultural and environmental topics, including botany, plant pathology, entomology, integrated pest management (IPM), herbaceous and woody ornamentals, fruits, vegetables, turfgrass, invasive plants, and diagnostic techniques for the home gardener.

“I have to say that the quality of the instruction was exceptional. Many of the topics brought me back to my time at UConn as a plant science major, classes that took a semester condensed to a single class,” said Althea Langer, a program graduate. “My outlook on my own garden and those of others has definitely been impacted by this course. I’m much more aware of nature and that we need to be guardians of it by how we all treat our own small spaces.”

UConn Extension Master Gardeners are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.

“The program provides the opportunity for beginner, intermediate or experienced gardeners to increase their personal knowledge of the practice of gardening … The program allows you to meet with like-minded people over a common interest – growing plants,” said Ken Sherrick, an Advanced Master Gardener.

The program fee is $495.00 and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

Full UConn Extension Master Gardener program course details and information and the application is available at s.uconn.edu/apply.

Cultivating Education and Food Security with the Master Gardeners

fruit on a persimmon tree with green leaves in backgroundOn Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings from early spring through fall, you can find dedicated groups of Master Gardeners lovingly cultivating an organic Demonstration Vegetable Garden at the Fairfield County Extension Center site in Bethel. By summer, the garden is a beautiful oasis teeming with butterflies, and pollinators as volunteers harvest tomatoes, potatoes, beans, and other organic vegetables to donate to area food pantries. In addition to vegetables, the bountiful harvests include a variety of fresh herbs, and gorgeous annual flowers. Recently, the Master Gardeners have collaborated with Extension’s Food and Nutrition EFNEP and SNAP-Ed programs to provide clients with nutritious recipes in both Spanish and English to accompany their produce. Harvests continue all season long and food pantry drop offs are rotated to share the bounty. Among the area organizations who benefit from the donations are the Brookfield Food Pantry, Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, Daily Bread in Danbury, and the Bethel Food Pantry.

The 3,000 square foot garden was started in 2013 by a group of Master Gardener interns excited to assist food insecure clients, and at the same time educate the public about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and best garden practices. Each year additional Master Gardeners have joined the group and added to the garden’s infrastructure. The garden now has numerous raised beds, an irrigation system, tunnels to protect brassica crops from cabbageworms, and a blueberry enclosure to keep hungry birds at bay.

Advanced Master Gardener, Andrea Sarnik, began working in the garden in 2018. In 2020, Andrea joined Barbara Stauder as a project co-captain. Andrea explains, “The garden’s primary mission is to serve as an educational tool. It does that in a multitude of ways. The garden itself is a showcase of many varieties of vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers. We receive many visitors on Saturdays when we open the garden during the Farmer’s Market. Visitors get ideas on things they might try and get answers to questions regarding gardening from the Master Gardener volunteers. The garden is marked with signs identifying the crops and informational signs such as companion planting and integrated pest management.”

In addition to the educational signage, a small rain garden display hugs the garden shed and a rain barrel system catches water from its roof. A three-bin compost system sits just outside thegraph showing garden produce totals from 2017 through 2022 garden gate. This garden is definitely all about education, but clients are not the only ones who benefit. New interns join the group each year as they pursue their Master Gardener certification. As Andrea Sarnik adds, “Master Gardener interns obtain a broad array of information from the more senior Master Gardeners and even the seasoned gardeners continue to learn as they encounter issues and exchange information.”

Each winter the group of about 30 volunteers meet to plan for the new season. They work to extend the season by careful planning, incorporating more early and late blooming crops, seeking out pest and disease resistant varieties, and discussing other ways to increase harvests and productivity. The enthusiastic group weighs their harvests and tracks their crops with numerous spreadsheets, noting weather and pest issues. “Most years show an increase in total pounds of produce donated with our current top year total of 1365 pounds,” Andrea remarks. Clearly, the Master Gardener’s methods are successful.

three women in a shed with vegetables and blueberries harvested from gardenThis season, the group has already donated hundreds of pounds of produce, having started early harvesting garlic, onions, and cole crops. With the cool, rainy spring, the tomatoes are a bit behind with many green fruits waiting for more sunshine to sweeten and ripen them. This year, over five years after planting, the young native persimmon tree outside the garden will finally fruit. One of the young pawpaw trees also has a few potato shaped fruits for the first time. The Master Gardeners are excited by this development and are already envisioning another abundant harvest to share with their friends at the local food pantries.

To learn more about the Extension Master Gardener Program, which is offered in multiple locations throughout the state, visit our website at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/. Applications will be available by the end of August for the 2024 program.

Article by Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator

Master Gardener Plant Clinic at the Darien Library

The Master Gardener program offers a Plant Clinic at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford, one of our program locations. Pat Carroll, Coordinator for the Bartlett Arboretum location, wanted to extend their reach since we have Master Gardeners and clients who live in communities ranging from Greenwich to Fairfield and as far north as Ridgefield and Redding.    

Pat met with Joanne Gabriel who is both a Master Gardener and a Darien Library employee. “Joanne shared my enthusiasm of offering Plant Clinic at the library. We decided to run a trial of eight sessions on consecutive Friday mornings in May and June,” she said.

They met with a small group of Master Gardeners to determine the necessary materials, a topic of the day for each session, and a plan for handing off cases that require further research.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm and positive outreach each Friday we were set up at Darien Library,” Joanne says. “Sometimes we had plant cases, sometimes we just talked gardening, garden design, or hot topics. Each week there was a different theme for patrons to learn something new about. Finally, it was a great way for Master Gardeners to socialize, talk and learn from each other, something I think that was lost a bit during COVID.”

During the spring 2023 plant clinics, nearly 200 people stopped in. They had a conversation with a Master Gardener, took the pamphlets being offered, asked a question, brought a sample, brought a donation of a native or rare species (happened a few times!), or listened to the mini-lecture being offered.  While not all ended up being plant clinic cases, each interaction was valuable for both our volunteers and the people they interacted with.

Darien Library offered indoor space during inclement weather, and given the wet year we are having, that was appreciated by all! The library also provided tables and chairs, and assisted with weekly logistics.

The Plant Clinic provided information, pamphlets, live demonstrations, and samples. There are discussions to continue offering some programming for the community in conjunction with the Darien Library. Learn more about the program at s.uconn.edu/gardener.

Why Support Extension During UConn Gives

It’s UConn Gives, a 36-hour giving initiative that brings UConn Nation together to support and celebrate what they care about at UConn. We are asking you to support our Extension programs during this event. Matt Syrotiak and Stacey Stearns share information about the 4-H and Master Gardener programs, and why your support of $5 can help these programs grow and expand:

https://youtu.be/xedJje7h0Fg

https://youtu.be/VjiUH4VkOtU

Support these programs at s.uconn.edu/givetogardeners and https://s.uconn.edu/give4-H23.

Visit Extension at the Gather New Haven Festival

Gather New Haven festival flier

Our UConn Extension Master Gardeners will be at the 1st Annual Gather New Haven Festival on Sunday, September 18th, celebrating health, wellness, and nature. Stop by and visit us to learn more about the program, ask your plant and horticulture questions, or pick up an application for our 2023 class.

The First Annual Gather New Haven Festival is scheduled for Sunday, September 18, 2022,  11:00 AM to 5:00 PM in

Degale Field / Goffe Street Park

in the Dixwell neighborhood of New Haven, CT.

The Gather New Haven Festival (Festival) is a celebration and full day of activities focusing on improving community wellbeing through connections with health, wellness, and nature. The Festival considers our communities’ physical, psychological, social, and environmental health concerns. It seeks to inform and excite community members on how they can live healthier lives through fun and enriching activities centered on the natural world’s resources.

The Festival amplifies the promotion of the benefits involved with spending more time outdoors, fitness, dietary health, food access, community gardening, entrepreneurship, and access to health care resources.

By bringing together an array of resources, speakers, performers, specialists, and vendors, the Gather New Haven Festival will convey a call to action encouraging New Haven’s citizens to work towards being amongst the healthiest cities in Connecticut. 

Cleanup at Sherwood Island State Park

Friends’ Garden Team weeding and mulching one of the 20 native Acer rubrum and Nyssa sylvatica they planted along the East Beach.
Friends’ Garden Team weeding and mulching one of the 20 native Acer
rubrum and Nyssa sylvatica they planted along the East Beach. Photo: Michele Sorenson

Sherwood Island State Park in Westport was Connecticut’s first state park. It is 238-acres of beaches, wetlands, and forest that serves as a public recreation area. 

Improving Habitat for Wildlife Work & Learn is a year-round outreach project that teaches Master Gardeners, interns and the public to create, improve and maintain a natural habitat for wildlife. The group meets at Sherwood Island State Park three times per week in the growing season and once a week the remainder of the year. In the winter, we focus on removing invasive plants. Areas at the park where we work include the sand dunes, the pollinator garden, the three sister gardens and throughout the park as needed. Park Superintendent, John Guglielmoni, is fully supportive of wildlife habitat improvement using native plants. Visit MasterGardener.uconn.edu for more information on our programs.

By Michele Sorenson, Master Gardener Volunteer and Project Coordinator 

Extension Donor Support is Growing Statewide Programming

high school student sitting with a notebook by the Fenton River
Photo Kara Bonsack

The work of UConn Extension serves thousands of people across Connecticut. UConn Extension educators work in all 169 cities and towns helping Connecticut residents to solve problems in their communities and provide transformational learning experiences to program participants. This couldn’t be done without the financial support of generous donors, many of whom have experienced Extension programs firsthand. 

Donations for Extension programs are made through the UConn Foundation which is an independent nonprofit organization that operates exclusively to promote the educational, scientific, cultural, research and recreational objectives of the University of Connecticut and UConn Health. Housed within the Foundation are funds specifically earmarked for Extension programming that provide critical support to these programs and make it possible to develop innovative programming for Connecticut residents. Here are some examples of programs made possible by the generous contributions of UConn Extension donors.

David E. and Nancy H. Bull CES Innovative Programming Fund

A generous gift from Nancy H. and David E. Bull provides funding to support innovative programming in Extension through a competitive application process open to personnel with a full or partial Extension appointment. Applications must explicitly identify the innovation proposed and the risks involved along with the potential to influence future program delivery. Some of the projects funded include:

UConn CAHNR GMO Team received funding to address the lack of science-based information for citizens regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A multi-faceted educational approach provided unbiased information which included a web site, a panel discussion on the Storrs campus, development of curriculum for youth audiences, and short videos on GMO subjects.

Assistant Extension Educators Abby Beissinger and Shuresh Ghimire received funding to establish a hot water seed treatment program to combat seed-borne pathogens that cause early infections in fields. Identified in 2019 listening sessions as a top agricultural priority in Connecticut, Dr. Ghimire and Ms. Beissinger shared the hot water treatment protocols and workshop curricula and work collaboratively with other states to contribute to best practices.

UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy program leaders received funding to address equity and inclusion within community conservation practices. NRCA implemented a series of participatory processes to co-design local conservation projects with multiple community stakeholders in the metro-Hartford area. The goal of this project is to allow communities to meaningfully contribute to the development of conservation that is most in demand within their community.

Master Gardener Fund

UConn Extension’s Master Gardener Program began in 1978 instructing participants in science-based horticulture practices and garden management, after which students apply their knowledge by engaging in community education, including lectures, educational displays, demonstrations, and plant clinics, as well as various outreach projects throughout Connecticut. Donations to the Master Gardener Fund within the UConn Foundation are critical to the ongoing training and community outreach that they provide. Donations contribute to salaries of the Master Gardener coordinators housed in each of the local Extension Centers in Connecticut. Donations literally keep the program going and also allow for increased accessibility and flexibility in learning modalities which combines online learning with traditional classroom instruction. 

4-H Centennial Fund

The 4-H Centennial Fund was created in 2002 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the national 4-H program. Donations to the fund ensure that participants in the UConn 4-H program have the opportunity to participate in unique and exciting state, regional and national 4-H events. Many 4-H alumni remember their experience at Citizenship Washington Focus or National 4-H Congress. These trips provide important leadership and civic engagement experiences that youth don’t get elsewhere. A delegation of youth once again attended the 2021 National 4-H Congress and plans are underway for the 2022 Citizenship Washington Focus. 

Donations to UConn Extension through the UConn Foundation have made it possible to reach more people with unique and innovative programming that solves problems in communities and enriches the lives of Connecticut families. Donors can rest assured that their contributions matter and significantly impact the lives of Connecticut residents. 

Please consider supporting Extension at s.uconn.edu/GiveToExtension

Article by Nancy Wilhelm

Volunteer Spotlight: Dr. Lynn Keller

UConn CAHNR Extension typically holds Bug Week in July; however, this year Extension has designated July as Bug Month. The UConn Extension Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns participate. Bug Month is an educational outreach activity that promotes insects in the environment (bugs.uconn.edu/). Volunteers like Dr. Lynn Keller make this educational event fun and successful. In order to become a Master Gardener people need to attend and complete the Master Gardener program that includes coursework, office hours, and community service. The training allows them to become knowledgeable about various gardening topics.

Lynn Keller in her gardenLynn heard about the UConn Extension Master Gardener program many years ago and completed the program in 2019. She learned about a volunteer opportunity to assist with Bug Week from Gail Reynolds, the Middlesex County Master Gardener program coordinator. Lynn enjoyed her entomology (study of insects) classes in college while studying to be a veterinarian. She also enjoyed the entomology class offered by the Master Gardener program and felt like it would be a good fit for her interests.

As a volunteer, Lynn works with various program leaders to coordinate dates and events during Bug Month in July. These activities include bug kits for youth, photo contests, and educational activities. Part of her role includes finding new leaders for these programs and ensuring they have the proper resources as well as creating content for the Bug Month website (bugs.uconn.edu/). New programs are suggested every year, and Lynn works with the team to implement them in addition to fundraising and finding sponsors. She also promotes Bug Month by writing articles and participating in local radio shows.

Bug Month is designed for family participation, and Lynn enjoys educating families on the importance of insects in our lives. She says, “If we didn’t have insects, we wouldn’t have pollination, which would result in missing out on many of our favorite foods.” Her volunteer work is making an impact because adults and children are learning more about the “integral role that insects play in the food web and in our environment.” She also notes that this program provides suggestions for simple steps families can take to improve beneficial insect habitats in their yards and communities.

One of Lynn’s favorite memories from her time as an Extension volunteer is at Bug Week events in 2019. Many children attended the event at the Tolland Agricultural Center and were excited to participate in the fun activities. Lynn enjoyed seeing the children’s enthusiasm while they were looking at bugs under a microscope and learning about them. She also enjoys continuing her education on native plants and insects which allows her to share this information with family and friends. Her advice to new volunteers is to find an opportunity that you are passionate about and use that passion to make a positive difference in our communities.

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program started in 1978 and consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focuses on the community at large. Master Gardeners devote thousands of hours to organized community outreach projects each year. The Master Gardener program also offers Garden Master Classes for our volunteers and interested members of the general public. More information on the program and classes are available at mastergardener.uconn.edu.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. Learn more about our volunteer programs at s.uconn.edu/volunteers.

Article by Emily Syme

Master Gardeners – COVID-19 Update

Master Gardener logoIn the 40 years of the UConn Extension Master Gardener program, we have never faced anything quite this … unknown. This isn’t a flood, or hurricane, with a clear finish. This pandemic is an onslaught: health, finances, social interactions, and daily routines are all impacted.

What doesn’t change is the incredible value of gardening; of digging our hands into the soil, of the warmth of the sun on our faces, of fresh food and beautiful vistas, of the sounds of the garden and the wild spaces around us.

As a friend, Gary Oppenheimer of AmpleHarvest, said recently, “Gardening has NOT been cancelled”. Our Master Gardener programming and volunteer work will continue as scheduled, although we will have to be creative in some areas.

Here’s where we stand today:

The 2020 Master Gardener class is continuing on schedule. We have moved the remaining five weeks to an all-online format with online discussions replacing the half-day in-class sessions. This allows us to stay on schedule and we will continue to add new content opportunities as we go forward.

As many of you are aware, the CMGA symposium has been postponed until fall. They will update us as more information becomes available.

We are in the midst of arranging Hot Topics. Originally scheduled for May, it is likely that we will now hold a virtual Hot Topics online. My hope is that it will be interactive. Stay tuned….

Outreach and Office Hours:  Many of our outreach projects will not be impacted by the social distancing restrictions, others will. We will adapt as needed to current and evolving restrictions and we will develop new opportunities that best respond to new needs in our communities. If you have thoughts on how we can best respond to the new reality, please don’t hesitate to share them.

Office hours fall within the current recommended group size. Many of our clients may not want face-to-face interactions; we are looking into options such as online “office hours” and promoting the use of email for communication. For anyone who has underlying health concerns (their own or an immediate family member) making face-to-face contact unwise, we will adjust and adapt.

In summary, this is a time of change, adaptation and creative thinking. There are a lot of unknowns, and it’s likely we will be dealing with this reality into at least some of the summer. We are, however, versatile. We are resilient. Gardeners are constantly adapting to the changes in the surrounding environment; this is just one more. Please do not hesitate to share ideas, issues and concerns with me or with your coordinators.

Getting outside into the fresh air and the sunlight is one of the recommendations for offsetting the negative reactions to social distancing. We’re ahead of the curve!

Keep Calm, and Garden on,

Sarah Bailey

State Program Coordinator, Master Gardener Program

sarah.bailey@uconn.edu