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Who is a Master Gardener?

Okay, you’ve been reading these weekend on-line articles about plants and insects and gardens and green thumbs.

You’ve been shown how to use water effectively; you’ve been told why certain plants should or should not be cultivated in our area, and you may have even read about interesting bugs and fungi and why your tomatoes have blossom end rot.

But just who are the people telling you all this interesting stuff? Master Gardeners, that’s who. And who are these master gardeners? Well, they may be your neighbor or a friend or someone you talked to last week at the local nursery. In fact, they most likely are very much like you.

Rather than “experts,” they are simply people who like to see things grow well and who choose to apply sound, research-based principles to their gardening. Master Gardeners are University of California-trained and certified volunteer educators, and the approximately 100 master gardeners in Tuolumne County and the 60 in Calaveras County are often contractors, teachers, homemakers, students, or people who retired from professions like those-again, chances are they are just like you.

The Master Gardener Program is administered locally by the county office of UCCE (University of California Cooperative Extension) and is part of the public education arm of the University’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The UC County Director or a UC Advisor administers the program.

There have been Master Gardeners in California since 1979 and in Tuolumne County since 1983. In fact, there are so many in this state that the volunteer hours they donate each year are approximately equal to 142 full time staff.

But what kinds of things are Master Gardeners expected to do?

Certainly they answer questions. You may have seen some of them doing just that at a booth at the Sonora or Tuolumne Farmer’s Market or at their summer table each Thursday at Orchard Supply Hardware and at Lowes. You may have even called the MG Hotline in Tuolumne County (209-533-5912) with a question about powdery mildew, harlequin bugs, or peach leaf curl.

But they do much more than that. Master Gardeners donate a minimum of 25 hours per year (50 the first year) manning demonstration gardens, working on the Annual Spring Garden Tour, helping with school gardens, and responding to inquiries.

Perhaps the greatest thing about becoming a Master Gardener is the wealth of research-based information the gardeners learn and apply to their own gardens. No, they don’t learn all the answers, but, in the process of becoming a Master Gardener, they certainly learn where to go to find most of the answers.

So just how does someone become a master gardener? Alternating between Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, a UC training program is offered each year to interested individuals. The classes meet once a week for 14 to15 weeks and cover topics like soil and water management, pest identification, plant selection and care, plant science, and environmentally-sound gardening practices.

The classes are taught by experts in their fields and include University of California faculty and staff, landscape and nursery professionals, and several local horticultural educators. The cost is $185, most of which simply covers the cost of the wonderful collection of books each student uses in the class and keeps forever.

Still interested? Give your name to one of the Master Gardeners at the Farmer’s Market or call Program Coordinator Debbie Powell at 533-5696 or 754-6473. You can also go online to http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=5551 and and take the Master Gardener Training Interest survey. You will be invited to an orientation for the next class, which begins in January 2013 at the Calaveras County Central Library on Mountain Ranch Road in San Andreas.

Coddling moths infestation? Fire blight on your pear trees? Gray mold on your strawberries? Instead of asking an expert what to do, become an expert yourself. Become a Master Gardener.

Chace Anderson is a Master Gardener who recently completed the Master Gardener training program in Tuolumne County.