Another crop of Master Gardeners ready to grow

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By Claude Lewis

Gardening is a hobby that helps folks relax and be at one with nature.

There is a deep satisfaction in helping and watching plants grow to fruition.

Some are into arranging flowers and shrubs for aesthetically pleasing purposes. Some love to grow their own vegetables and fruits.

The learning curve continues an upward swing for hobbyists who yearn to gain more knowledge about how to get the most out of their green endeavors.

Books and Internet are major tools.

Those who hunger for even more knowledge can attend classes.

There will be a series of gardening courses on Saturdays Jan. 19 and 26 and Feb. 2 at Central Florida Community College-Levy Center. These helpful classes will be instructed by Levy County Extension Agent Anthony Drew.

While this is enough for most green thumbs, there is something else out there for local folks that goes above and beyond.

It's called the "Nature Coast Master Gardener –Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy– program.

The Master Gardeners is a volunteer, non-profit organziation affiliated and managed by the University of Florida's through the three counties'exstension services.

The program educates an increasing number of people on the intricacies of growing things in the tri-county area.

That covers topics like irrigation, fertilization, mulching, pests, disease, yard waste and environment.

There is a lot at stake, according to Drew.

"The main thing is the water,"said Drew, who has been the Levy County Agent for 24 years. "We must educate to protect the pristine and sensitive aquifer."

That means knowing what fertilizers and pesticides to use, efficient water use practices and what and what not to grow in these parts.

Native plants are the choice over exotics.

To graduate, a gardener must get 50 hours of course training.

Graduates from the program then in turn are available to relay their knowledge to others on the area's specific gardening needs. They must volunteer 50 hours to give back. The hope is they keep giving the rest of their lives.

"We're trying to be proactive and ahead of the curve, not chasing the wagon,"Drew said.

Folks can have specific questions answered by Master Gardeners by dialing the hotline toll free at 866-542-4496 or email at savemygarden@gmail.com.

This will be the second time the Master Gardeners program is being offered in the tri-county area –the first 20 people graduated last May.

Drew will take on 20 more eager gardeners who want to earn the "Master" moniker as another series of classes begins Jan. 24 at the Fanning Springs State Park conference hall. Classes will continue every Thursday for nine weeks.