Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter School 2013 Report - the Education Track, Part I

Winter School is an annual conference for Tennessee Master Gardeners, sponsored by the Tennessee Master Gardeners Advocacy Board and hosted by the Rutherford County Master Gardeners in Murfreesboro, TN every February.  There are two days of instruction offered:  an Education Track on the first day and a Leadership Track on the second day.  In addition to the workshops, attendees can meet and mingle and share ideas with their peers from across the state.  We also recognize the Search for Excellence winners for outstanding MG projects and we recognize individual Master Gardeners who have made outstanding contributions to their local organizations.  The dates for 2014 Winter School are February 19-22, 2014 - more than two days because the format may be tweaked!

I encourage everyone to attend Winter School!  For those of you who couldn't attend this year, I'll try to summarize the workshops, beginning with the Education Track.  Next week we will talk about the Leadership Track presentations.

First, though:  CONGRATULATIONS to Through Our Garden Gates, winner of the Search for Excellence - Workshop or Presentation Award!  And CONGRATULATIONS to Julie Morgan - our all around website/photographer/communications guru (and my boss!) for being recognized as an Outstanding Tennessee Master Gardener Volunteer!  Honors well deserved by both!

Julie Morgan with Dr. Chris Cooper
(and her silver shovel!)

The theme of this year's Education Track was Vegetables Galore.  The goal was to help Agents, Master Gardeners and Interns become more effective communicators to the gardening public through the use of successful presentation techniques and evaluation tools.  There were four workshops and they're presented here in no particular order.

Barbara Bunting, a Knox County MG, discussed "Organic Gardening in Raised Beds."  Her method was "Engaged Discussion with Real Objects." Her goals were:
  • Describe the importance of organic gardening
  • Determine planting time to harvest for basic vegetables
  • Develop and manage an irrigation system for raised beds
  • Make and use compost
Her objectives included:
  • Chart planting to harvest dates for five basic vegetables
  • Diagram and label parts of a drip irrigation system
  • Draw and label compost pile layers
She had a small model of a raised bed, examples of irrigation system components and examples of soil and compost.  Her handouts included planting to harvest charts, examples of the backs of seed packets, and a list of resources for organic gardeners.  She told us that when she presents this workshop, she first has the participants to draw three scale drawings of the size bed they want on graph paper.  Then, using information from the backs of seed packets, she demonstrates how to plan when, where, and how many seeds to plant.  The three drawings end up being labeled Spring, Summer, and Fall.  The participants draw in circles to represent mature plant circumference.  This way, overcrowding and overplanting are avoided because you can see how much room each plant will need.  A byproduct is learning how to understand the information on seed packets.  She cautions the participants that this information is somewhat generic and that asking local gardeners or the Extension Service for information geared to local conditions is a way to fine-tune your plans.

Next Barbara discussed covers for raised beds to extend the growing season.  She demonstrated on her small model how she bends pvc pipe in an arch over the bed and which cover material she likes best.  She actually sews a 2-way separating zipper onto her fabric to make it easier to open on sunny days!  Then she taught us the components of an irrigation system, using the parts she brought:
  1. spigot
  2. vacuum breaker
  3. timer
  4. filter
  5. pressure reducer
  6. tubing (she recommends pressure compensating tubing with built-in emitters)
  7. emitters
She showed us how to calculate the amount of water we need, which I found VERY HELPFUL.  Here's how you do it:

Compute the square footage of your bed.  For example, a 3 x 7 bed is 21 sf.    1"of water per sf = .6 gallons.  When the temperature is below 70, you need 1" per week.  So 21 sf x .6 gal = 12.6 (rounded to 13) gallons per week.  When the temperature is 80-90, your plants need more water, about 1.3 gal per week, so 21 x 1.3 = 27 gallons.  Over 90 is even more!  But I'll let you do that research...did I say I found this part VERY HELPFUL?

You can buy a water meter gauge to measure the water coming out of your hose, or you can time how long it takes to fill a gallon container.  If you're using the emitter system, the emitters are sized to emit .6 gallons per hour.  Barbara recommends the emitters because the slow release means less run-off and more even watering.

Believe it or not, we had just a few minutes at that point to cover soil and compost, so that part went fast!  

But remember that the goal of the workshop was not to teach us about organic gardening in raised beds, it was to demonstrate effective teaching methods so that we could come home and use those methods to teach others.  Toward that end, Barbara reminded us:
  1. All learners have different learning styles.  Use various teaching methods in your presentations.
  2. All learners have various skill levels.  Poll your audience to determine where they are and try to tailor your presentation.
  3. Try to anticipate what your audience doesn't know - also a good polling question.
  4. Try to anticipate what will be difficult for your audience to grasp.
  5. Determine the appropriate format for your audience's learning styles and skill levels.
  6. Choose timely topics.
  7. Prepare well, review thoroughly, practice, practice, practice.
  8. If possible, present your workshop in a real garden for show and tell.
  9. Use real examples if you're not in a garden, even scale models will help.
  10. Provide diagrams and notes when discussing theory, make good use of hands-on exercises, use live demonstrations when possible and appropriate.

Barbra Bunting
Knox County Master Gardener

I've been an organic vegetable gardener since my college days in the 70's.  Even back then I was building compost piles in the woods behind our student housing and constructing cold frames in the parking lot.  In 2003 I moved from a zone 5 garden to relatively tropical Tennessee and immediately became a year-round gardener. Teaching other gardeners about organic vegetable growing is my mission within Master Gardeners. 

Tomorrow:  Hands On Youth Gardening

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