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Aug. 18, 2022

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Program keeps Vancouver well grounded in gardening basics

WSU master gardeners host vegetable-growing class for beginners

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
12 Photos
From left: Beverly Handlan, Jay Handlan and Eddie Acain plant vegetable seedlings with WSU Master Gardener Carley Wecks at a beginner gardening workshop hosted by the WSU Master Gardener program at Heritage Farm on Saturday. At top: WSU Master Gardener Bekah Marten pulls apart cilantro seedlings for participants to plant.
From left: Beverly Handlan, Jay Handlan and Eddie Acain plant vegetable seedlings with WSU Master Gardener Carley Wecks at a beginner gardening workshop hosted by the WSU Master Gardener program at Heritage Farm on Saturday. At top: WSU Master Gardener Bekah Marten pulls apart cilantro seedlings for participants to plant. (Photos by elayna yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The familiar adage “April showers bring May flowers” — a favorite among gardeners — signals the return of spring’s growing season. This year, though, April showers simply brought more showers. But the extra soggy spring doesn’t seem to have deterred local gardeners.

About 30 people turned up Saturday for an introductory class on growing vegetables hosted by Washington State University’s Master Gardener Program. The day-long class was held at Heritage Farm on 78th Street in Hazel Dell.

Some in the class were old hands at tilling the soil and were looking for answers to their tougher gardening problems. Many were newbies wanting to join the “grow local” movement.

Erika Johnson, program coordinator for the Master Gardener Program, said gardening has always been a popular activity for Clark County residents. Since she joined the master gardener program 10 years ago, she said, there’s been a steady turnout for training to become a master gardener.

“I’ve participated in 11 trainings, and we’ve had about 50 people in the class each year,” Johnson said.

The classes offered to the public have continued to evolve to match the interests of those attending.

Classes for gardeners cover a wide range of subjects, from how to propagate plants to getting the most out of a small garden, from soil basics to protecting against invasive species.

“About four years ago, we started doing a hands-on blueberry pruning class,” Johnson said. “The first time we held it … we had to start turning cars away from the parking lot because it was a madhouse. I had no idea what the interest level would be.”

She said the Master Gardener Program also offers classes to meet a range of skill levels.

“We find that there are a lot of beginners,” Johnson said. “Today … there’s maybe six or seven people who’ve never gardened before, which is kind of amazing. People usually dabble before they come to a class.”

According to the National Gardening Association’s annual survey, gardening’s popularity rose by more than 20 percent at the start of the pandemic. Now with supply shortages and food prices continuing to rise, even more people are taking up the trowel and hoe to help keep costs down.

Rachel Feston, the owner of Urban Snail farms in Vancouver, gave Saturday’s class tips on growing vegetables from seed. She covered how to select seeds, what kind of seeds to choose, how and when to plant them, when to transplant, what soil to use and how to store unused seeds for the next year.

Feston primarily grows peppers and tomatoes at her farm, selling them at local farmers markets and at Second Mile Food Hub. Her experience growing tomatoes comes in handy, as that’s what she said she’s most often asked about.

“Typically, it’s ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes?’ It needs to be transplanted,” she said.

Feston has been a master gardener since 2015.

“I’ve noticed it’s an ebb-and-flow thing. There’s definitely an increase when things get expensive and stressful,” she said.

Starting a garden can be expensive. The cost of buying seeds, fertilizer, pots, soil, lights and other things can add up quickly. But Feston said there are alternatives for those just starting out.

“Look for what you can grow seasonally, as in just throw seeds in the ground, have it grow without having to start everything inside. Work with the season,” Feston said.

Vancouver resident Lang Nguyen was one of several in the class new to gardening. He said he recently retired and finally had some spare time.

“I had a lot of questions,” Nguyen said.

Mandy Dunn, of Camas, said she took the class because she finally has the space to garden and is ready to grow her own food.

“We have five kids, and they’re older now, so not the age where they’ll just fling mud,” Dunn said with a laugh. “They’re all about zombie apocalypse right now, so it works perfect. You have to learn how to grow your food before the apocalypse.”

Dunn said that prior to moving into her home in Camas, she primarily lived in apartments. She said she’s excited about reaping the benefits of a “full on” garden.

Bekah Marten, who has been a master gardener since 2011, has taught many gardening classes through the program. She said there is one question she’s often asked.

“Usually, it’s ‘What can we grow here?’ The answer is a lot!” Marten said. “There’s so much we can grow in our climate here in the northwest. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Marten said that while gardening has always been popular, she has noticed more of an interest in it lately.

“Our workshops are always well attended. But personally, in my life, I feel like I’ve had more and more friends asking me questions about how to get started. Certainly in the last two or three years,” Marten said.

Like Feston, she said the least expensive way to get started is by growing seeds in the ground rather than in pots and transplanting outside later.

“Split the seed packets with your friends. There can be hundreds of seeds in a packet,” she said.

Marten said sharing seeds among a group, with each person buying a different vegetable, can help keep initial costs down. She also recommended the free seed library at Fort Vancouver Regional Library in Washougal.

For more information on becoming a master gardener or upcoming classes and workshops, go to https://extension.wsu.edu/clark/master-gardeners.

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