Annual Master gardener class draws growing attention

Erin McGroarty/Sun Star Reporter
March 5, 2013
Agriculture and Horticulture Extension Agent for UAF, Steven Seefeldt, explains to the class the importance of healthy soil for planting. This lecture and many others are part of the Spring 2013 Master Gardener class put on by the Cooperative Extension of UAF. Erin McGroarty/Sun Star

Agriculture and Horticulture Extension Agent for UAF, Steven Seefeldt, explains to the class the importance of healthy soil for planting. This lecture and many others are part of the Spring 2013 Master Gardener class put on by the Cooperative Extension of UAF. Erin McGroarty/Sun Star

The growing season in interior Alaska is one of the shortest in the world, lasting only about three months. This, however, doesn’t seem to stop Fairbanksans from gardening.
To encourage interior Alaskan gardening and educate those who would like to learn more about it, the UAF Cooperative Extension service hosts a biannual Master Gardeners in the Fairbanks Community Food Bank Building off of 27th Ave. This year the class was filled to capacity, holding 30 students, both UAF students and Fairbanks community members.
This class has been taught biannually for the past 20 years. However, this is the first year that Agriculture and Horticulture Extension Agent Steven Seefeldt has taught the class.
“We have a wide range of people in this class,” Seefeldt said, “Some have been gardening for a long time and because they really like it, they want to learn more and some have never gardened before in their lives. We still spend a good amount of the class bringing them up to speed on the science of gardening.”
Heather Koponen, a Fairbanks community member, who has been gardening her whole life is taking this class for the first time.
“My family gardened for my entire childhood and I continued that when I grew up,” Koponen said, “We always tried to take notes on which seeds worked better but we never really got around to it, and all of our composting was really half-hearted so I am really excited for the soil unit.”
Along with attracting both beginning and previously experienced gardeners, this class also brings in a group with varying interests, Seefeldt said. Some students are interested in flowers, while others love planting and raising vegetables.
The class will include 40 hours of instruction and students must take a cumulative final exam in order to pass the class.
So far there have only been three class sections this semester. The first focused on weeds that inhabit the interior area and how to control them, with special emphasis on purple vetch, which is a particularly productive weed in Fairbanks. These are the purple flowers usually seen on roadsides around the Fairbanks area. The second class, which took place on Thursday Feb. 28, focused on soil nutrition.
“The first half of the class focuses on basics. These include soil nutrition like we just taught, plant taxonomy, and basic botany,” Seefeldt said before Thursday’s class. “The second half of the series will focus more on gardening tips and information specific to Fairbanks and the surrounding areas, just because the climate is so different.”
Each class is a mix of lecture and hands on activity. At the beginning of the course, each student was given seeds to raise from germination through full adulthood.
At the beginning of each class the students are responsible for making observations of the plants and taking notes on their progress. After this, Seefeldt gives a lecture for the remainder of the three hour class.
“It’s difficult to have more on hands activity in class considering that the series is given the midst of some of the coldest months of the year,” Seefeldt said.
Following the end of the class and the final exam, 40 hours of community volunteer work is suggested to gain more gardening experience. According to Seefeldt, practice is one of the most important aspects of becoming a master gardener and this class provides the perfect stepping stone.
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