SHERIDAN – Although piles of snow still dot the landscape and cap the mountains, gardeners from around the state will gather in Sheridan next weekend to learn new gardening techniques and swap seeds at the Wyoming Master Gardeners and Farmer’s Marketing Association Joint Conference.
Despite the title, the conference is not only for ‘master’ or accomplished gardeners, but for anyone interested in learning more about gardening.
“The conference is open to the public,” said Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator. “Of course it is something that master gardeners and the farmer’s market growers are going to be interested in. Some of the conference is really geared towards them, but I believe there are 28 different sessions or workshops to choose from so there is really something for gardeners of all interests and all levels.”
Educational sessions offered include growing herbs, arranging cut flowers, growing grapes, common diseases of vegetables and ornamentals, information about bees and pollinators, raising poultry, fruit tree pruning and much more.
Hands-on workshops are also being offered, covering fruit tree grafting, home food preservation techniques and tomato grafting.
“Some of the other things that are happening at the conference, there is a seed swap, so gardeners are encouraged to bring seeds they’ve saved and exchange seeds with other who have done the same,” said Hilgert. “We are particularly interested in plants gardeners have had success with growing in their gardens. There is a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction and master gardeners are donating products (for the auction) from all over the state.”
Hilgert said attendees can register for the full conference or for individual days. To view the full schedule and register for the event, visit www.eventbrite.com and search for Wyoming Master Gardeners.
“This conference is a chance for the Wyoming group to come together as a whole and highlight the best educational and hands-on experiences we offer to help train other Master Gardeners and the general public,” added Hilgert.
There are approximately 534 Master Gardeners in Wyoming, located in 14 counties. They donated 10,904 volunteer hours and 2,216 educational hours in 2013.
The Master Gardener program is a national program offered through county extension offices associated with land grant universities. Though each county has its own unique program, the basic outline is the same, explained Sheridan County Extension Educator Scott Hininger.
“The master gardener program is training for people that want to know more about horticulture,” said Hininger. “It usually amounts to 30 to 40 hours of training and then in order to become a true Master Gardener, you have to give back around 15 to 20 (volunteer) hours the first year, then after that it depends on the county, maybe 15 hours a year. The original concept of the master gardener program was to train volunteers in horticulture so they could help out in the extension office to answer homeowner questions or lawn and garden questions and then to be able to go out in the community and help troubleshoot horticulture problems. It has been really a successful program and it has been emulated in other areas of extension.”
The training thoroughly covers many aspects of gardening in Wyoming, from dealing with short growing seasons and harsh weather conditions, to general information on botany, soils, trees, shrubs, flowers, lawns, vegetables, entomology and diagnosing plant problems and diseases.
Hininger said that although participation in the master gardener classes locally has consistently been high, due to people’s busy schedules, it is much more difficult to get participants to commit to the volunteer requirement of the program. Therefore, he has adapted the program and created the Sheridan Garden Club, which functions similarly to a master gardener club, with each club meeting featuring an educational session on a different topic.
“I thought it would be a slam dunk that we would have one of the larger master gardener programs in the state because of our demographics,” he said. “But that hasn’t been the case.”
Because local residents seem to be more interested in learning about gardening rather than volunteering, Hininger said he has modified the program and offers educational classes through the garden club on a range of topics so participants have the materials and training they are interested in.
Anyone wanting to learn more about the Sheridan Garden Club can contact Hininger at the Sheridan County Extension Office at 674-2980.