Help for first-time gardeners

February 11, 2009
Help for first-time gardeners

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The faltering economy combined with interest in healthy food choices has led to an increase in calls to Oregon State University Extension Service county offices with questions about growing food in home gardens – and more calls are expected as spring approaches.

One of the most compelling phone calls came in late fall of last year, according to Gail Langellotto, statewide coordinator of the Master Gardeners program.

"It was a difficult time as gas prices and subsequently the cost of food surpassed the means of many people," she said. “The man on the phone asked, ‘What can I grow that will produce food for my family right now?’"

The worried caller's options for starting a garden late in the fall were limited. But Langellotto had an answer: A container garden would be easiest, she told him, and leafy greens could survive the winter if the containers were placed in the sun, out of the wind, and wrapped with plastic to keep the soil warm.

People who want to start gardening are concerned not only about the price of food, but growing fresh produce that they know is safe. Many also want to know what grows well in their area and how to participate in community gardens, according to reports from county Extension staff members.

Gardening seminars also have seen increasing numbers. A Benton County lecture in January on planning a garden in the Willamette Valley drew a standing-room-only crowd of 220. The number of names on a waiting list to rent plots in the Portland area's 30 community gardens has grown to 1,000, according to Extension's Clackamas County horticulturist Weston Miller, and landowners are offering to donate land for more community gardens.

Gardening help is available at most county Extension offices from home horticulture experts and Master Gardeners, who are trained to answer questions. More than 3,500 Master Gardeners are active in 28 of Oregon's 36 counties as volunteers and last year donated more than 173,000 hours to helping home gardeners.

"When the Master Gardener program began in 1976, its focus was on diagnosing plant problems and offering solutions," Langellotto said. "While still a major focus, Master Gardener volunteers also provide educational programs on topics such as pest management, composting and sustainable landscaping, as well as getting a garden started.”

OSU Extension's, "Growing Your Own," a practical guide to gardening for first-time gardeners, is available online. Copies of a printed version are available at county Extension offices.

Most Extension offices offer gardening classes on a variety of topics. Check with your local Extension county office for details.

Oregon State University Extension Service county office Web sites

Author: Judy Scott