Extension Master Gardeners meet demand for home vegetable gardening information

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of people interested in home vegetable gardening, said Dave Close, Virginia Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture specialist and Extension Master Gardener program director.

The Extension Master Gardener program, a research-based gardening education program with more than 4,800 volunteers across the commonwealth, is pioneering ways to connect these new gardeners with the resources of Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“We have observed a trend toward growing home gardens and have seen many people looking for basic gardening information like ‘How do I build a raised bed?’ or ‘How do I start tomato seeds indoors?'” said Close.

“Growing your vegetables at home contributes to a more resilient local food system and offers considerable benefits, including an opportunity to engage with nature, the chance to try unusual vegetable varieties, and personal fulfillment,” said Close.

If you have questions about growing your food in Virginia, or you’re just wondering how you can get started, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Extension Master Gardener program have several resources to offer. Some of Extension’s gardening resources can be found here.

“We have a new online vegetable growing portal and are doing a weekly Facebook live series for beginning gardeners,” said Close. “We are excited to be partnering with our colleagues at Virginia State University to put together this collaborative series. Find it on Facebook every Thursday through the spring and summer.”

In nearly every county in Virginia, you can find a team of local Extension Master Gardeners eager to offer personalized advice and education.

In Chesterfield, Extension Master Gardeners have moved their usual help-desk online. Help desks are available in most counties throughout the commonwealth and offer members of the public personalized answers to their gardening questions and assistance with plant pathology, entomology, or plant identification.

“You could tell how excited the Extension Master Gardener volunteers were to have an opportunity to be engaged and do what they love, especially by focusing on helping others in a positive way,” said Bethany Eigel, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Chesterfield.

In Hampton, Gaylynn Johnson, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent and coordinator of the Hampton Extension Master Gardeners, developed a vegetable gardening course for beginning gardeners.

“The response has been overwhelming with a flood of questions from beginning gardeners almost every day. It has been an absolute pleasure helping them in the same way an Extension agent helped me as a beginner back home in Michigan,” said Johnson.

“We are offering new gardeners research-based education that’s specific for Virginia. We strive to present the information in an accessible and easy to implement way,” said Close. “What’s special about Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Extension Master Gardener program is that our volunteers, agents, and specialists are not trying to sell anything. We are trying to help Virginians grow healthy and environmentally-responsible landscapes by implementing the knowledge that comes out of our land grant institutions.”

Whether you’re converting your front yard to vegetable beds, propagating indoor plants, reseeding a lawn, mitigating runoff into a local waterway, or planting a rain garden, Extension Master Gardeners can help people of all levels of experience grow plants.

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