Budding garden masters

Joint horticultural effort helps local 4-H members develop their green thumbs

A PLANTER FILLED with herbs was moved in a demonstration garden by Lindenwood 4-H Club member Timothy Gierach. The garden, a joint horticulture project between 4-H and the Ozaukee Master Gardeners, will be displayed throughout the Ozaukee County Fair next week. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A small, lush garden surrounded by a white picket fence is tucked away next to a building at the Ozaukee County Fairgrounds.

The garden is buzzing, literally, with bees darting among the plants and youngsters giggling as they tend to the vegetables, herbs and flowers.

A joint venture between the Ozaukee Master Gardeners and the county’s 4-H clubs, the garden will be on display when the county fair kicks off next week.

A master gardener will be on hand from 1 to 2 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. each day during the fair’s Aug. 1 to 5 run to discuss the garden with fairgoers.

The plot is literally a teaching garden, and the education is contagious. On Monday, a group of eight 4-Hers scampered about the garden, mulching and checking the plants while sampling a few of the beans, peas and herbs growing in the raised beds.

“Try this,” Hannah Riemer said as she handed her mother a sprig of bronze fennel. “It’s good.”

A long-term project for the six master gardeners and the roughly dozen students,  the group has been meeting monthly since fall to learn the basics of gardening, everything from composting to watering techniques.

The master gardeners taught the youngsters two lessons each night, followed by two hands-on activities — making their own compost to use at home, forcing bulbs and growing garlic, for example.

The classes are so interesting that many of the parents stay, said Barb Pfaff, whose daughter is involved.

“We take away what we learn and use it in our own back yard,” she said. “It’s so interesting. It’s teaching these kids so much.”

In early May, the classes moved outside where the 26-by-19-foot garden plot was just a patch of lawn.

“There was nothing here,” Cindy Behlen, the master gardener who heads the project, said. “We’ve come a long way in a short time.”

Fellow master gardener Jane Spaulding agreed, saying, “When I came out in the snow in April to measure the garden, I did not think we could possibly pull it off.”

Since the summer began, one 4-H family and a master gardener has been assigned to tend to the garden each week on a rotating basis.

Whoever is in charge each week can harvest the vegetables that are ready for picking.

“If there’s too much, we’ll deal with it,” Spaulding said. “It was never our intent to grow massive quantities of anything. It was the variety.”

The garden is overflowing with peas, lettuce, green beans, spinach, peppers, Swiss chard, radishes, watercress, carrots, patty-pan squash, tomatoes and garlic, to name a few, as well as basil, thyme, mint and other herbs, Pollinator-friendly flowers such as zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers are also featured.

“We’ve been battling diseases and insects,” Behlen said, particularly the Japanese beetle.

The garden has several types of raised beds to give people an idea of how they can be used and the costs involved, as well as a compost bin, rain barrel and bee house.  

Behlen, who spearheaded the project, said she got the idea for the demonstration  garden after attending the International Master Gardeners Conference last year.

“A lot of the topics they were offering were on encouraging Master Gardener groups to do more education,” she said. “I got all excited about this.”

The Ozaukee Master Gardeners adopted the horticulture initiative  as a core project, Spaulding said.

“It was a natural partnership to join with 4-H,” she said. “The kids are lovely and enthusiastic.”

Behlen said her goal with the project is to teach the 4-Hers some basic life skills, such as working cooperatively, and to give them an appreciation for the joys and challenges of gardening.

They learn about the hard work involved, as well as the tasty rewards as they sample the vegetables they grow and experience firsthand the difference between grocery-store produce and veggies grown in a garden.

Even farm kids — about half the 4-Hers live on farms — can use the lessons taught in the demonstration garden, Behlen said.

“They understand a lot, but they look at it on a big scale,” she said. “We’re trying to teach them the small scale.”

The lessons seem to be sticking.

Riemer said she helps out with her family’s garden and ultimately hopes to grow carrots and tomatoes in her own garden.

Her favorite part of gardening, she said, is eating the produce.

Timothy Gierach concurred, saying he joined the horticulture project at his mother’s urging but most enjoys sampling the veggies the best.

But Lexi Lasee said her favorite part of the project was making compost. The 4-Hers were sent home with a soda bottle filled with the compost ingredients in January, and she said hers is almost all soil now.

“Every day I shake mine,” she said. “Then I can take it and put the soil in my garden.”

Her garden at home was the reason she joined the project, Lexi said.

“It wasn’t the best. I wanted to learn how to do better,” she said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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