Master Gardeners, demystified
Local Master Gardener Carla Resnick spills the beans on the UC Cooperative Extension-sponsored Butte County Master Gardener program
Carla Resnick is a Master Gardener. For some people, the somewhat Zen-sounding title prompts the question, “What the heck is a Master Gardener?”
“Master Gardeners are volunteers who are trained by the UC system. … What we do is we go through a 17-week training program [in which] professionals in their field come and teach us their specialty on a wide variety of [gardening-related] topics,” Resnick explained recently. The range of topics runs the gamut from soil, compost and fertilizer management and weed control, to plant identification, to entomology and insect taxonomy.
Certified Master Gardeners are then available to the public, specifically to home gardeners, to give information on gardening—everything from pest control to what to plant in a winter veggie garden. Master Gardeners are a familiar sight at the Saturday downtown farmers’ market, where they man a gardening-information booth, and they are on the other end of a gardening hotline (538-7201) set up to answer any and all home-gardening questions without charge.
Master Gardeners are also a first line of defense between the home gardener, who may report a new species of garden pest that has migrated from another area, and the local Farm and 4H Advisor, to which Master Gardeners will report noteworthy information (go to http://www.buttecounty.net/Farm%20Advisor.aspx to learn more about the county’s Farm and 4H Advisor).
Resnick became a certified Butte County Master Gardener in May 2010, after graduating from the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener Training Program.
The Master Gardener program “is an international program,” Resnick said. “It’s in the United States and Canada; it’s in almost every county in California.” Butte County’s program started up in 2008; since then, it has graduated about 110 people, from Chico, Paradise, Durham, Oroville, etc., about 65 of whom are currently active Master Gardeners, responsible for volunteering 50 hours of time annually.
The UC Master Gardener program looks “for people interested in, obviously, learning about gardening,” said Resnick, whose passion for gardening goes back to her childhood.
“I have been gardening since I was a little girl,” she said. “When I was four maybe, I had my own garden plot in our [family] garden. If you put one potato in the ground and you come back some months later, there will be many potatoes—and that’s just magic to a little kid!
“For me personally, gardening has been linked with eating. I grow lots of edible stuff,” said Resnick. “I have allowed a few roses, but my main focus is food.” Resnick likes to create wildlife habitat with edible plants such as lavender and rosemary in her home garden, as well as with “shrubs that make berries,” such as the black- and red-currant patch she currently maintains.
Other local Master Gardeners specialize in different areas—such as plants native to the area, sustainable landscaping, and irises.
“But the main focus [of the Master Gardener program] is giving information to the public, to home gardeners,” Resnick stressed. “You have to be comfortable giving information to the public.”
Say you, as a home gardener, are trying to identify the insect that is mysteriously chewing the leaves of one of your plants—just call the hotline and talk to (or leave a message for) a Master Gardener and she or he will look into the matter.
“Part of what we learn as Master Gardeners is diagnosing the problem,” said Resnick. In the case of the aforementioned leaf-chewing, “it could be actual chewing by an insect,” she said, “or it could be a fungus, or a bird.
“We use UC-based information—it’s been scientifically vetted and tested,” Resnick said. “Pest notes”—glossy info-packed cards on such things as how to best deal with ants, snails and slugs, or the pesky codling moth—are regularly consulted by Master Gardeners, as well as handed out at the UCCE office in Oroville (see column notes for location) and at the farmers’ market. Another go-to resource used by Master Gardeners is ipm.ucdavis.edu, the website of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.
“We help people garden in a way that has been researched, so it’s not people going out using home remedies,” said Resnick. Master Gardeners are taught to practice “IPM—integrated pest management,” which is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as follows: “An effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.”
“If you have aphids, for example, and want to know if you can use whitefly poison [to get rid of them], we will say, ‘No, it won’t work.’ The first thing we will tell you is to do nothing, and see if the problem goes away on its own,” Resnick explained. “The very last defense we would recommend is to use something [such as a pesticide].”
Resnick has fielded all sorts of gardening questions from North-Staters in her role as Master Gardener. “Sometimes people will have an interesting question that we will ponder for a while and research,” she said.
An example of one such question had to do with “a new citrus pest making news in Southern California”—the Asian citrus psyllid. The Asian citrus psyllid causes Huanglongbing Disease—or “citrus greening disease”—which can kill a citrus tree within three to five years. “What it’s doing is it’s turning the fruit into this hard green thing—the fruit is not ripening,” Resnick said.
“Those are the most interesting [questions] because we get to learn something.”