Cultivate Your Garden

candide-cultivatingLinda Burton posting from Arkadelphia, Arkansas – Remember high school literature and the French author Voltaire (1694-1778)? He wrote Candide (published 1759), a satire about optimism, his characters adventuring against a worldwide backdrop of horrible disasters and bad fortune. The conclusion measures the “plundering of kings” against the peaceful life of those who simply stay at home and “cultivate their garden.” Here’s a paragraph or two: …news was spread abroad that two viziers of the bench and the mufti had just been strangled at Constantinople, and several of their friends impaled. This catastrophe made a great noise for some hours. Pangloss, Candide, and Martin, as they were returning… met with a good-looking old man, who was taking the air at his door, under an alcove formed of the boughs of orange-trees. Pangloss…asked him orangeswhat was the name of the mufti who was lately strangled. “I cannot tell,” answered the good old man… “I am entirely ignorant of the event you speak of; I presume that in general such as are concerned in public affairs sometimes come to a miserable end…but…I am contented with sending thither the produce of my garden, which I cultivate with my own hands.”

The old man invites them into his house, where his four children proceed to serve them sherbet, candied citrons, pineapples, pistachio nuts, and Mocha coffee, unadulterated, the story goes, “with the bad coffee of …the American islands.” “You must certainly have a vast estate,” said Candide to the Turk; who replied, “I have no more than twenty acres of ground, the whole of which I cultivate myself with the help of my children; and our labor keeps off from us three great evils—idleness, vice, and want.”

logo-uarFeeling the inspiration of the old Turk’s wisdom, as well as some genetic urges from the farmers in my family, heavily salted with powerful tugs of memory (my grandfather set me astride the mule as he plowed the cornfield rows, I still remember the smell as the soft dark earth turned, though I was only six), I announce to you that I’m an official Master Gardener now. I just finished 40 hours of classes, five November Tuesdays butt sore on metal chairs, a notebook filled with everything a Master Gardener needs to know. I kid you not, three inches thick, too heavy for one hand to lift! The title tells it all: Master Gardener Arkansas Handbook, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service. Check out their very useful website, it will likely answer any question you may have about your garden, or your lawn, at least if you live in Arkansas: But anywhere you live, what is the most important thing you need to do?

Test your soil! In Arkansas the testing is free, and if your soil isn’t right for what you want to grow, it won’t. From the Extension website:

Your soil is so much more than just dirt. It’s a matrix that teems with life, both visible and microscopic. The health of your soil — including its composition, its nutrients and its ability to hold water — is all essential to the lives it supports. If your garden or lawn isn’t looking so great, maybe it’s time to see how your soil is doing. Soil testing can be done in the fall or in the spring before the lawn greens up. The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers homeowners free soil testing. Soil testing isn’t complicated and the soil samples you dig up can be taken to your local county extension office for testing.

ext-logo-mgWould you like to become a Master Gardener, as content as that old Turk, proud of the bounty growing just outside your door? Nearly all Master Gardener programs in the United States administer training through a state land-grant university and its Cooperative Extension Service, and are considered Extension Master Gardener programs. Extension Master Gardeners receive and recommend university and research-based information through the Cooperative Extension System. The State Extension Master Gardener programs listed below follow these guidelines:

  • The organization is affiliated with a university for the training and education of their volunteers.
  • The focus of these organizations is to train EMG volunteers to distribute information to the public.
  • The organization recommends research-based information to the public.
  • The organization has a certification program for their volunteers.
  • The organization has an educational focus rather than promoting commercial products or entities.

Several Master Gardener programs in Canada and the U.S are not administered by a state land-grant university or its Cooperative Extension Service, but have been affiliated with the Extension Master Gardener program through their involvement with the bi-annual International Master Gardener Conference (IMGC) and Search for Excellence awards program. Through IMGC, a tradition of volunteer and educational service are honored.

Find a State Extension Master Gardener Program Near You

Nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia have an Extension Master Gardener program. Find an Extension Master Gardener program in your state (listed below in alphabetical order):

A | C | D | F | G | H | I | K | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | U | V | W