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GTPulse: Become a Certified Master Gardener in Time For Summer

This time last year I was still in college. School spirit has never been my strong suit (I don’t care about sports, or Greek life) but a big source of pride for me was the campus greenhouse. The greenhouse was a large glass dome attached to the science building where plants of all variation dwelled. The biological sciences students and faculty were in charge of maintaining the plants, but the greenhouse was open for everyone’s enjoyment. It was the best secret on campus, and every time I felt exasperated by having to walk from building to building in the bitter, winter cold I would stop in the science building and visit the plants. The air was warm, humid and smelled like sun-warmed soil and green leaves. It felt like a secret portal out of winter and into late spring. I think plants bring people happiness for a lot of reasons. They provide oxygen and beauty, for one, and it’s nice to have something to take care of. I’m not allowed to have a pet where I live, but I’ve kept a handful of house plants alive for eight months and I enjoy taking care of them. One day I’ll have a backyard of my own that I can turn into the garden of my dreams, but a garden is a lot more to take on than a handful of houseplants.

If you’ve ever thought about creating a garden of your own but didn’t know where to start, the task can feel overwhelming. The Michigan State University Extension Program will certify you as a master gardener if you sign up and complete their 14-week program master gardening program.

Nathaniel J. Walton is the MSU Extension Program’s consumer horticulture program instructor. He’s put together the course, and even instructs some of it himself.

“This will be my third time running this workshop. I’m really excited to teach the program, currently what I do is coordinate it. I don’t teach all of the classes. We have specialists from downstate that work for Extension and are experts in each topic. Each week is a different instructor.”

Nathaniel has a Ph.D. in entomology and instructs the classes that focus on pollinators, pests and insects roles in a garden. However, the class will educate students on a range of gardening subjects and will be taught in a progressive manner. Students will be taught about soil before being taught about differences in planting perennials and other ornament plants versus planting fruits and vegetables. Students will learn skills like how to propagate plants and make their own potting soil. Each class meets once a week at the Grand Traverse Regional Arts Campus and is a four-hour class. Don’t worry, it’s not four hours of lecture.

“There’s a break in the middle for a snack. The instructor each week will plan some kind of interactive activity. It’s not an intensive course where people have to memorize things. We have quizzes every week but they’re take home. They’ll use the manual to find out the information they need.”

The class costs $325 dollars but scholarships to offset the cost are available for lower-income individuals who are interested. The class comes with a 1000 page gardening manual that will be used in the class but will also be a helpful reference tool long after the class is over. Before becoming certified as a master gardener, students must dedicate 40 hours of volunteer time to community gardening projects within a year of completing the course.  They’ll also have to maintain their master gardener certification every year.

“They have to maintain that certification, so every year following they have to do another 20 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of education. They educate themselves to keep up to speed on the latest in gardening.”

The program’s students have gone on to create beautiful gardens of their own, for the community, and they’ve also taken away friendships from the class.

“There’s a whole range of people that end up enrolling in our program. I work with all four generations. The people in the class really get to know each other well and a lot of times make new friends and connections that last for years. We really encourage that because it keeps people in the program and volunteering. The program doesn’t end on the last day of class, it’s really the beginning.”

The class has room for 50 students, and about half of the seats are already filled. The deadline to sign up for the class is February 21st, and the deadline to apply for a scholarship is February 16th. Applications are available , and the course runs from March 5th to June 11th so you’ll have all summer long to get your hands dirty.

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