A few weeks ago, my fellow MG trainees and I finished our four-month training program and began in earnest to put in the 60 hours we’ve commited to volunteering in our first year. I’ll be making occassional posts about my experiences as a Master Gardener, but wanted to offer some observations on what I’ve learned so far.

  1. As with any good educational program, I finished it realizing how little I know. Even though I’ve been gardening regularly now for about eight years, all the classes underscored for me how little I really know about gardening and how much I still have to learn. This is a good thing for me, given my tendency to get bored. I stay involved when I’m learning.
  2. The big surprise for me is how my curiosity has been piqued about plant pests and diseases. There are many insects that affect plants–some pests, some beneficial–plus bacteria and viruses that are problems. These are things I ignored in the past, partly because I produce more food than I need so losing some isn’t a big deal to me usually. But, part of the reason is also that I didn’t know what to look for. A withered leaf? A hole in a leaf? I simply never thought much about them. Now that I’m more aware,  I look at these things and immediately start looking for bugs, or flipping leaves over to check for scale. I go out at night with a flashlight, obsessively looking for slugs and earwigs. (This helps, too. I’ve gotten most of my seedlings that were under attack by these critters through their rough early stage and now they are thriving.) I’m realizing that identifying pest and disease problems and solving them (should I decide to do so) will be a large task, especially given the large variety of food that I produce. It will take me a while to get bored.
  3. Gardening can be a fun social activity. I’ve spent many years building out my backyard for food production and re-landscaping my front yard with drought tolerant plants and most of the time it has been a solitary activity. In part, I enjoyed that. Gardening and landscaping provided a wonderful physical respite from a sedentary and intellectual job. But, this is a fun group of people that shares my interest in gardening and it’s great to be involved with them. Given my love of teaching, I also see lots of opportunities for teaching others and sharing my knowledge with them. This also provides good social opportunities. I’m going to enjoy this aspect of my MG time.
  4. I need to say this, and I’ll just say it this one time. If you are considering becoming a Master Gardener yourself in California, be aware that the MG program, which is part of the Cooperative Extension Service, is also part of the University of California. Given that I’ve spent plenty of time in the UC system as a student and teacher, I can unequivocally say that UC is by far the worst bureaucracy I’ve ever been associated with. My experience as a MG haven’t changed that view. The rules and restrictions of the program are mind numbing and enthusiasm sapping at times. So, if you are allergic to bureaucracy and can’t approach it with a sense of humor, this program may not be a good fit for you. But, if you can tolerate some occasional bureaucratic nonsense, then go for it.

I’m already racking up hours of volunteer time, having a good time doing so. I’ll be volunteering at the Alameda County Fair, which I discovered a few years ago. It’s a kick, and I’ll have fun talking to people about gardening and learning from them as well as teaching some things, too.