Yeah, that was me you called today at 453-6055. I answered (perhaps poorly) questions about fertilizing lemon trees (you don’t have to- they like crappy soil); getting rid of mealy bugs (neem oil!) and transplanting keiki bananas. All in a days work, on the ol’ MG Hotline.
We have this small but efficient little office over at the Urban Garden Center that has air conditioning (!) and three bookshelves, 4 file cabinets and a wealth of knowledge in the form of veteran Master Gardeners who help us interns answer questions from the common to the obscure.
“What is this plant?!” A walk in guest brings us a bag with some sort of wilted shrubby looking thing covered in fungus.
“What ground cover can I use that is so easy and I can’t kill it?”
“Why are my papayas so hard and taste bad?”
This is the community service aspect of the Master Gardener program, which is the reason the program exists at all! Many years ago it was recognized that university faculty couldn’t possibly help every home gardener with all their questions- so the Master Gardener program was born, at every Land Grant University across the nation. We get training in basic botany, integrated pest management, soils, water, climates and a hundred other relevant topics. Then, we learn by answering questions. Digging around an office or doing online searches for reliable information (hint: add the word “extension” to any plant search) helps us learn a lot more. We also have Plant Help booths at farmers markets, conduct workshops at the Urban Garden Center and are increasingly visible in other community work as our numbers grow.
Today there were challenges with phone connections; one caller had to try three times to get his question across: What do I do about too many limes? Uh, eat ‘em or give ‘em away, I said.
We get at least a dozen calls a day, many are answered on the spot, but others require taking a message, doing some research and then calling the person back. We also mail out paper copies of research publications, especially if the caller doesn’t have internet access- which LOTS of people do not have. The digital divide is still quite real- so referring someone to a website is not always a viable option.
I love becoming a Master Gardener, the friends I make and the things I learn. Today I learned about how I can bring my own dead lawn back to life from a fellow Master Gardener. I might be great at growing vegetables, but I’ve been efficiently killing the grass. And reading all those university publications feeds my nerdy little heart, and I love that even more.