Texas Master Gardeners converge in San Antonio for advanced training

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SAN ANTONIO – About 50 Master Gardeners from 27 counties throughout Texas recently came to San Antonio to receive advanced training related to vegetables and vegetable gardening.

“Master Gardeners from the Bexar County Master Gardeners association as well as Master Gardeners from as far west as El Paso, as far east as Houston, as far south as the Rio Grande Valley and as far north as Dallas came to this training,” said David Rodriguez, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture agent, Bexar County.

The group received two days of intensive classroom training at the AgriLife Extension office in San Antonio from agency experts and Master Gardeners with extensive knowledge on planting and growing vegetables.

Some of the topics covered included site selection, soil testing and plant nutrition; Earth-Kind gardening; weed management and mulching; planting and transplanting; insect pest identification and management; growing specific types of vegetables; garden irrigation; plant diseases and pollination.

“There are various challenges in growing vegetables in Texas, especially as relates to the soil types, drought conditions and heat,” said Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Uvalde and a presenter at the training. “One of the things we try to do in the training is to address any preconceived notions the attendees may have about growing vegetables and providing them with good, objective, research-based information so they can be successful in their efforts.”

Grace Emory, president of the Bexar County Master Gardeners association, said the training will help attendees support their county’s AgriLife Extension efforts in gardening, landscaping and educational outreach.

“This gives them a greater depth of knowledge so they can be better-informed speakers and work with both youth and adults to provide practical, helpful information and assistance about horticulture, gardening and landscaping,” Emory said.

The training also included a half-day tour of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, including the culinary garden and the Children’s Vegetable Garden — a joint project of AgriLife Extension, area Master Gardener associations and the botanical garden.

“Some of the botanical garden employees took the training to support their culinary garden area,” Rodriguez said. “In addition to the Children’s Vegetable Garden, we also collaborate with the San Antonio Botanical Garden on various events and our Master Gardeners frequently support them by serving as docents.”

Duddly Hargrove of Mesquite, Texas Master Gardeners president-elect for 2019, was among the attendees.

“The Bexar County Master Gardeners and Texas A&M AgriLife people in this area are known for their experience and affinity for growing vegetables,” Hargrove said. “Each Master Gardener association sets a number of volunteer hours the members must give back to their community.”

He said those getting the advanced or specialist training in vegetables are expected to do an additional 20 hours of volunteer work specific to vegetables, plus on a project oriented toward vegetables. Such projects may include developing or assisting in community vegetable gardens or educational outreach on nutrition at public venues such as schools, churches or community centers.

“In Kaufman County, where I’m a Master Gardener, we’re involved in a Grow a Row effort that works in collaboration with area churches to help grow vegetables in community gardens from which the produce is given to the local food bank,” he said.

Lynn Cox, a Bexar County Master Gardener with 17 years of horticultural experience in Texas and Oregon, said the training provided her with a greater depth of knowledge about vegetable gardening she hopes to share through educational outreach.

“We’d like to expand our educational opportunities for adults and give regular seminars on different aspects of growing vegetables,” Cox said. “We know there’s a desire for that knowledge and hope we can offer such a series of topics in the future.”

Dawn Brubaker of The Woodlands, a three-year Montgomery County Master Gardener who has already been certified as a propagation specialist, said she attended the training to learn more she could apply to her own community gardening effort.

“I’ve learned a lot about proper seeding and planting and what plant diseases to watch out for,” Brubaker said. “I also learned herbicides can be used sparingly and effectively in gardening.”

Another attendee, Duane Robinson, a nine-year Hill Country Master Gardener from Kerrville, had previously received advanced training in the areas of propagation, greenhouse management, composting, landscape design, irrigation efficiency, Texas Superstar plants and fruit tree management.

“I’ve enjoyed these trainings and appreciate the time each of these experts takes to impart their knowledge to us,” Robinson said. “The biggest issue in the Hill Country is the soil, so I’ve been paying attention to information on composting and soil amendments to improve soil quality.”

Also among the attendees were Better Living for Texans program assistants Heidi Lopez and Danny Cuevas of Starr and Cameron counties, respectively, who came to the training so they could share their new knowledge through AgriLife Extension’s Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities initiative.

“In this initiative, we teach people in ‘food desert’ areas of the Rio Grande Valley about proper nutrition and how they can grow their own vegetables,” Lopez said. “In Rio Grande City, for example, there are only three stores that have fresh produce.

“Residents of low-income households living in food deserts have limited ability to access and purchase healthy foods,” she said. “It’s really important we show them how they can improve their nutrition by growing their own fresh produce.”

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