My county's MGs not helpful, how about yours?

ms_minnamouse(7a)June 29, 2011

I was wondering if anyone else experiences this. I've found that my county's MG program is completely not helpful. They're never able to answer my questions (I think I've had a grand total of 4) or they completely ignore what I asked and write about something else instead.

??? Why do they do that? What exactly does the MG program teach if they can't answer anything other than the most basic, beginner's questions (which you can usually find an answer to anyways by searching Google)?

I realize it's a volunteer program and I do appreciate the effort and time they expend for no pay (and I hate that they have to spend money to become a MG, it's like paying to be able to volunteer). But I'm just wondering why this is. I'm not asking complicated or confusing questions or anything like that...

For instance, I told them that I have a plant with verticillium wilt and I wanted to know their recommendation for sterilizing the soil where it was growing and they totally evaded my question and told me to send in a sample so they can do testing. I already KNOW that my plant has it, I said as much.

It's just like this every time. One of the times, I asked about damping off and I listed the methods that I've already tried and their response was to try what I just told them that I already tried..

I don't get it. ??

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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I think they are answering your questions, you just do not like the answers. Did you explain how you were able to be sure your plant had verticillium wilt? Damping off of seedlings is easily avoided, and if you have been unable to do it, you must not be following directions. Future Master Gardeners are willing to pay for their education, just like you pay for any education. Part of that payment is a willingness to help the university teach others. Al

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 2:53PM
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Um, no. Telling me to send something in for testing is NOT telling me how to sterilize soil. I asked how to sterilize soil and nothing else. That was the ONLY question I asked. They never addressed my simple and precise question on how to sterilize soil at all.

Damping off is not easy to avoid in all situations. You can say what you want but I know for a fact that it's not completely avoidable in every environment and growing situation. Have you ever flasked orchid seedlings? Good luck wishing away damping off with chamomile, cinnamon, air circulation (which you can't provide when flasking), and all the other chemical free methods. Even sterilizing is worthless if even one spore gets in, which does happen.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 12:40AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

Although I am now retired after fourteen years as a UC Master Gardener, I will answer your direct questions, to the best of my ability. Assuming you have correctly identified verticillium wilt as your problem, to sterilize your garden without chemicals, which probably would not be available to you without a permit, you will need to dampen the soil well and cover with a clear plastic, preferably no heavier than 2 mils. This plastic will need to be sealed around the edges to prevent heat escape, and left in place for at least six weeks of summer sun. If you live in an area of summer fogs this probably will not heat enough. If you are flasking orchids only a completely sterile environment will work. For most seedling plants a sterile environment is not expected, and avoiding fungus diseases, is accomplished by controlling the environment which I am sure you already know. None of this is secret and yet few are willing to give up a summer of growing in the garden to sterilize their soil. Al

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 9:23AM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

I searched for "how to sterilize soil" on Google and came up with a lot of hits. Same thing for damping off.
Controlling damping off is a pretty basic beginning gardening issue. Did you search for either of these? You might find the answer you're looking for.
I agree with Al, it sounds as if you either don't like the answers you're getting or you're looking for a magic solution.
Why not get a soil test? It'll tell you a lot of things you can't determine any other way.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 11:21PM
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I may be looking for what you call a magic solution but I can't like answers when they aren't answering what I asked. Because that's not what constitutes an answer.

I found that method of soil sterilization as well, the one with the plastic, and I also found that as a method of weed killing. So I have tried that in the past and it didn't even kill weeds. They survived and kept right on growing under the clear plastic, in the summer, under the hot sun. So if it can't kill weeds, then I don't see how it can sterilize soil.

As for damping off, again, you can sterilize your flask silly but it's worthless if one spore gets in and takes hold and multiplies.

It seems as if I'm not the only one who isn't entirely satisfied with Master Gardeners. Just look at some of the posts here.

Again, I don't really care whether they helped or not, especially since they're volunteering their time and they don't owe me anything. It is after all a free service to me. I was simply explaining my experience with them and asking if anyone else had similar experiences.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 1:54AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

It might be true that it's time to look at it another way. Here's a personal anecdote that may relate, from the last garden center I worked at.

An old guy came up to me with a fuchsia basket consisting of the soil, roots and some dead stubble sticking a few inches up. It appeared the fuchsia had dried out or frozen the previous winter - if not a winter or other period of hardship some years prior! - and been quite dead for quite awhile. Apparently thinking it was a bug problem, he asked me what insecticide the store had that he could use. I don't remember my exact response, but it would have had something to do with the plant being dead and soaking it with chemicals not being of any use.

He thanked me and then strolled over to another employee, asked them which insecticide...

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 12:34AM
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Yeah, that's whatever you said for you. However, it has no bearing on reality since that wasn't the case with my questions or their answers. I don't expect insecticides to bring back dead plants but I do appreciate you implying that I'm an idiot because I dared to question the all mighty Master Gardeners.

You're a really pleasant and intelligent individual. You must have a lot of friends and they must all hold you in very high esteem. Though I wonder if anyone can hold you in any greater esteem than what you grant yourself.

If only GW had an ignore feature...

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 4:41AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

The GardenWeb does have an ignore feature, and I think it just kicked in. Al

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 9:33AM
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You're right. I was in the wrong. How dare I defend myself when some one insinuates that I'm stupid! Bad me!

My ignore feature just kicked in now too.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 8:43PM
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Your question is far too advanced for the Master Gardeners. Most members have minimal gardening know-how. The Master Gardener course is taught in NJ by Rutgers but the course is equal to sophomore year high school biology.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 8:29AM
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nmgirl(8 S.NM)

If you're flasking orchids you're already in a sphere of horticulture that the MG program is not meant to address. You are laboring under some misconceptions about the program. MG's are there to assist the the Ext. Agent and homeowners with normal gardening issues. Flasking orchids doesn't land in the parking lot much less the ballpark.
Instead of ranting about the MG's and how useless they are, did you contact the Ext. Agent?
There are a lot of orchid forums on the Web. Did you try any of those? As a matter of fact there's an orchid forum here on GW. Have you asked for help there?
No one is insinuating you're stupid, just barking up the wrong tree. If you don't get the help you need in one place look elsewhere. But whining and slamming the door on the way out only makes you look foolish.
Re: Solarizing soil
Solarizing does work and it works well. It's great for nematode control, doesn't eliminate them but does knock them back. Solarizing has to be done correctly and works best in areas of high sunlight. I'm not positive that Maryland falls in that category. And yes, the weeds may grow under the plastic but they won't reproduce. One of the goals of solarizing is encouraging germination but the plants are then steamed to death under the plastic. I imagine one would have to solarize an area for the entire summer in MD.

Re:Education level of MG course
If the NJ MG program is equivalent to a sophomore h.s. biology course, I feel sorry for NJ. Most MGs have extensive gardening experience. The course is not designed for beginners nor is it a learn-how-to-garden class.

bboy: Isn't it amazing the kind of questions you hear working retail? The customers that ask questions and then harangue about what always worked Uncle Bubba or Granny are fun too.

Here is a link that might be useful: GW Orchid forum

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 9:12AM
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Thank you jarnold and nmgirl for your answers that didn't take pot shots at me or insist that the fault lies with me (when I didn't even put all the info out there for that conclusion to be able to be drawn). I appreciated them and they were helpful and insightful.

Maybe I can contact the AG Extension (hoping they may have gone to school for plant science and know more than most (not all) MG's) or one of my gardening clubs to find out about sterilizing the soil and what methods would work in my part of the country. Or maybe I can scoop out as much soil as I can and make a fire in the pit. This is beyond my knowledge however because I don't know how far the pathogen seeps into the soil.

I really wanted a smoke tree in that spot :(

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 4:43PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

The time you've spent writing these tirades disparaging people who are volunteering their time could have been spent searching the internet for solutions to your problems. Not sure I understand the entitlement you feel for free, expert, in-depth advice. You wouldn't expect your physician or car mechanic to offer free info, so why should folks with a different education do so? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't a master gardener program usually contain only 40-50 hours of training?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 10:55AM
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I'm not too interested in what you have to say, therefore I won't be reading your lecture. I hope you had fun writing it though! Feel free to reply with anything you'd like but I'm pretty sure I won't be interested enough then to read that either.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 1:37PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Were I to give a lecture, it would be more than one paragraph. And I did have fun writing, I always do. Just trying to help you put the situation in the proper perspective. You asked for people's thoughts. And I am genuinely curious about how much training is given in a MG class.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 9:25AM
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Umm, this forum is intended for a discussion about MG programs and volunteerism. It is not supposed to be a venting medium for unhappy customers.

That being said, please note that the MG programs in the US have very different levels of training. Some counties may indeed have poorly trained MGs, or just poor communicators. It is unfortunate that minimouse had a bad experience.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 3:39PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I'm sorry you've had bad experiences with your MG. We had 6 or 8 weeks of training. I hope my local Master Gardener's are not above par. We have a horticulturist, a palm professor and a person that has worked in 2 nurseries, plus owned her own nursery for several years. We have two people that could answer any gardening question you have because they have probably had it happen to them in their long lifetimes. We are taught how to research things(If we are unsure of the answer) and not just spout out answers. Google isn't recommended because their answers aren't always right. We were told to look at univ. info. for correct answers. I feel the MG program was well worth the money I paid to take it. I enjoy being with fellow gardeners and helping them with their questions. Happy trails y'all!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 7:13PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

I don't think I can help with the unhelpful MGs. Nor with sterilising your soil. (In olden times desperate gardeners used steam... I don't think I'd want to try.)

However - I would suggest that you check out your soil drainage and its humus content. You could also try using compost tea on your plants to help them build up resistance. And regular side applications of good, aged compost for your plants. A healthy inch or so every quarter would be useful.

Unless you are working with susceptible plant material as part of a breeding programme - try gardening with species that aren't at risk. (No. I'm not being flippant. Sometimes it takes an outbreak of a pest or disease to spark off a whole new way of gardening that means working with the prevailing circumstances instead of flinging chemicals and valuable time at an ongoing challenge.)

For the damping off of flask material - what if you looked at your process... Have you had a change in the medium? Or your temperature regime? Or even your water source? Sometimes a step by step analysis can pinpoint where the weakness actually is.

Hope you find it.

PS no one minds if you have a rant. Just - keep it separate from the request for info, and the folk here who are genuinely willing to share expertise, experience and advice. And - don't feed the trolls.:-))

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 3:35AM
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