Extension Service helps area gardeners prepare for growing season
Published April 2, 2012
March’s unseasonably warm weather has Steve Sagaser’s phone ringing a bit more than usual. The Grand Forks County, N.D., Extension agent said he’s received numerous calls from people asking for advice on how to take advantage of the unexpected spring weather. “They are itching to get their fingers into the soil,” he said.
NDSU’s Extension Service helps get people prepped for the growing season through a series of spring gardening meetings, often called Gardening Saturdays, which has evolved into one of the region’s foremost sources of horticulture information. Attended by nearly 4,000 gardeners, the 20-plus meetings offer something for all experience levels – from the beginner to a master gardener. “No matter how much you know, you can always learn more about gardening,” Sagaser said.
Sagaser’s Gardening Saturday, scheduled for April 14 in East Grand Forks, Minn., is in its 26th year and attracts more than 650 attendees. The event features breakout classroom sessions with speakers ranging from horticulturists, Extension agents, master gardeners and industry experts. This year’s keynote speaker is popular television personality Paul James. “We make this event about education while making it fun and interesting,” Sagaser said. “That plays a key part in the reason we have grown so much and so fast.”
The subject matter varies at each event and changes each year, in response to trends within the gardening community. Previous topics include square foot gardening, lawn care, landscape design principles, propagation techniques, fruits and vegetables for the home gardener, hardy roses, ornamental grasses, beekeeping, container gardening, home winemaking, terrarium construction, houseplant care and selecting and solving common horticultural problems.
Longtime NDSU Extension horticulturist Ron Smith compares the breadth of information to a holiday smorgasbord. “The typical human being is overwhelmed when seeing such a spread. They want to try everything and come out stuffed,” he said. “The same thing happens with Gardening Saturdays. You come out stuffed with knowledge. The only decision is choosing which information you want to apply.”
Sagaser said that while past attendees were largely focused on ornamentals – trees, shrubs and perennial flowers – recent interest has shifted to vegetable gardening. “We try to provide information for people to save money, grow their own vegetables and preserve them,” he said.
Smith attributes the interest to the economy and an increased awareness about nutrition and food origin. “People are looking for fresh, wholesale produce to feed their family,” he said. “The shorter the time from harvest to consumption increases the nutrition.”
While most spring gardening meetings are held on Saturdays, some are held on weekdays and have a narrower focus. Cass County, N.D., Extension horticulturist Todd Weinmann said his area’s 2012 event was on a Tuesday and focused on high tunnel gardening, which features unheated, plastic-covered structures comparable to greenhouses. The event targeted commercial growers and home gardeners and featured keynote speaker Terrance T. Nennich, a high tunnel specialist from the University of Minnesota. “We’re focusing on what people are talking about,” Weinmann said.
Gardening Saturdays typically begin in January and run through early spring. Attendance continues to grow from what started as loosely knit meetings of master gardeners. It was a cold, snowy Saturday 10 years ago when Smith found himself driving on a slush-covered highway to Perham, Minn., to speak at such a meeting. When he pulled into an overflowing parking lot at the local high school, he realized the thirst area gardeners have for information about their craft. “All of these people were crazy about gardening,” Smith said.
Upcoming gardening events include April 14 in Bismarck, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn.; April 21 in Cavalier, N.D.; and April 24 in Fargo, N.D. For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension.