CORVALLIS, Ore. – For decades, Oregon State University Extension Service relied on face-to-face interactions to provide gardening education to Oregonians. That all changed with the COVID-19 crisis and Oregon’s actions to limit the spread of the virus.
To satisfy a public that has become keenly interested in gardening, particularly edible gardening, OSU Extension Master Gardeners are answering questions in many counties via email, phone calls or the internet, according to Gail Langellotto, state coordinator of the program and a professor in the Department of Horticulture.
“We’re working really hard to be of service to our fellow Oregonians during this time when so many are looking to gardening for respite or food,” Langellotto said. “We’re delivering gardening information and education via webinars and online classes, but we’ve also had to find innovative ways to receive gardening questions and distribute them to hundreds of volunteer Master Gardeners who are still available to help gardeners throughout the state.”
A notable example is a vegetable gardening course through OSU’s Professional and Continuing Education unit. The class, which is being made free until May 27, had drawn 15 students from the start of 2020 until March 20. Since then, when the $45 fee was waived, attendance has grown to a staggering 31,000.
That popular self-guided course is just one way to learn about gardening. After completing volunteer training via Zoom, Master Gardeners around the state continue to attract interest for their virtual education offerings. For example, Portland metro Master Gardeners – the largest chapter in the state – held its speaker/lecture series on Zoom, and a recent talk on pollinators drew 230 attendees. Webinars will be posted on the Metro area Master Gardener homepage.
Webinars are happening elsewhere in the state, too. Most are recorded and posted online for anyone to view. In addition to the pollinator webinar from the Metro program, a live Q&A about Willamette Valley lawns will be offered by Linn and Benton counties May 12, and one on rodents in the garden May 28. A whole lineup is on its way. Already, a webinar on Dueling with Diggers: Gophers, Moles, Voles and Ground Squirrels has been posted.
Seed to Supper, a free beginning gardening course for adults on a limited budget held in collaboration with Oregon Food Bank, has also taken to the web. Videos of the four sessions will be available on the Seed to Supper YouTube channel.
OSU Extension in Hood River County pulled together a free multi-week seminar series called Gardening to Save the World. These one-hour seminars will be presented by OSU professors and staff through a Zoom webinar format.
Megan Wickersham, Master Gardener coordinator in Hood River, introduced a new process that allows answering questions remotely. Created by Master Gardener Christie Bradley, the system allows the public to add all relevant information to an online form that is forwarded to a Master Gardener to be answered.
Volunteers in other counties, including Lane, Columbia, Metro and Wasco, have adopted the model and are answering questions via email or phone. Call your county Extension office to find out if Master Gardeners are answering questions is in your area. While staff are working remotely, phone messages are being forwarded to the proper person.
In central Oregon, Amy Jo Detweiler, Master Gardener coordinator in Deschutes County, has given two webinars, one on pruning basics for trees and shrubs and one on growing vegetables in Central Oregon. She will continue to release new ones regularly. In the Central Gorge, Master Gardeners are planning a range of webinars on topics from organic gardening to drought-tolerant plants and gardening for birds.
In western Oregon’s Polk County, Master Gardener coordinator Neil Bell has given two webinars, one on manzanitas and one on nutrient deficiencies and other soil-related plant problems. He’ll continue to roll out new ones.
Down south in Josephine County, plans are to start a family garden club for fourth and fifth graders. Participants will receive a kit with basic gardening supplies for a container garden. Kits will be distributed through schools or garden centers. Weekly online programming will include short lessons and activities sent to families who sign up. Check the Josephine County Extension website for updates to the program, which is expected to start during the second week of May.
More resources abound. Find answers to your questions by submitting them to Extension’s Ask an Expert service. Or peruse the hundreds of publications in the OSU Extension catalog. There are hundreds more gardening stories in the Extension library, and if you’re looking for videos, the 10-Minute University has 57 for your viewing. And Facebook pages can be full of good information. Search for individual pages such as the one by Polk County Master Gardeners.