9:52 a.m., Feb. 23, 2011----Vegetable gardening continues to surge in popularity. An estimated one in every three American households grows some type of veggies, whether it's a solitary tomato plant on a deck or a showcase of raised beds with wrought-iron garden stakes, irrigation systems and obelisks for climbing vines.
With all this interest in growing edibles, it was a no-brainer for New Castle County Master Gardeners to choose a program focus this spring. Two thirds of the workshops are dedicated to edibles.
“Our vegetable workshops fill up right away so we decided to offer even more vegetable classes this year,” says Carrie Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “For the second year in a row we'll have separate classes for novice and experienced gardeners. We'll also present specialized sessions, such as a workshop devoted exclusively to growing berries and another on starting vegetables from seed.”
Classes get underway in less than two weeks and continue through May. The majority of the sessions are in March, when gardeners are finalizing their plans, and in the case of some crops, starting to plant.
In Delaware, commercial and home growers typically put seed potatoes in the ground on or around St. Patrick's Day. The Master Gardeners' potato planting demo, on March 19, details the best methods for success, including mounding techniques and container growing.
The demo appears to fill a need, says Gail Hermenau, a Master Gardener and head of the committee that develops the workshop schedule. “Last year, we offered a tour of our demonstration vegetable garden,” says Hermenau. “When we arrived at the mounded potato beds, a number of people said they didn't know potatoes grew like that and wanted more information.”
A new tomato class also was created because of popular demand. “A lot of feedback came my way about holding a workshop specifically on tomatoes,” says Hermenau.
Tomatoes top the list of the most commonly homegrown vegetables (even though technically they're a fruit). Now that more backyard gardeners are growing heirloom varieties, they're combating new challenges. Heirlooms aren't disease-resistant, like most hybrids, and they're more susceptible to cracking and bruising. The March 31 workshop will focus on the pros and cons of heirlooms and other varieties, as well as site selection, seed sources, transplanting, fertilizing and more.
Programming for advanced gardeners includes a workshop on maximizing yields through succession planting, companion planting, crop spacing and other techniques.
Another way to learn about veggie growing is at a Garden Day, held in the Master Gardeners' Native Teaching Garden on the second and fourth Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to noon, April through September.
On these days, Master Gardeners work in the garden, all the while explaining what they're doing - from scouting for pests to the right way to weed. They're happy to answer specific gardening questions, too.
Sussex Master Gardeners also will offer vegetable-oriented programs this spring, including a March 10 session that covers the basics of site location, soil, fertilizing and watering.
“New Gardener in Delaware?,” on May 12, will be useful for vegetable gardeners, as well as those primarily interested in ornamental gardens. This workshop focuses on how to overcome the challenges of growing plants in Sussex's sand, salt, humidity and heat.
“People move here from Connecticut or the D.C. metro area and think that they can garden the same way they did in their old hometown,” notes Tracy Wootten, Extension horticultural agent for Sussex County. “But Sussex is unique. We teach you how to succeed as a gardener here.”
Register by calling 302-831-COOP in New Castle County. In Sussex, call 302-856-7303.
Article by Margo McDonough
Photo by Danielle Quigley