By Jack Whittier, Director, UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells – and one darn weed!”
I spent part of Memorial Day in my little garden plot in our backyard in Scottsbluff. While working in the garden, I recalled the above rendition of this Mother Goose Fairy Tale. I believe I learned this version from some rowdy friends in high school. The weekend rain cycles this spring have made it a challenge to plant a garden. Yet the weeds have flourished with the excess moisture.
Nevertheless, I managed to get the standard garden-crop seeds securely settled in the soil. Now I await the miracle of plant biology to transform those tiny seeds into food to enjoy at our dinner table later this summer. No doubt I, along with Contrary Mary, will also need to deal with the plant biology that will cause the darn weeds to grow as well.
This leads me to give a “shout out” to Nebraska Extension’s focus on what we call “Community Environment”. Its purpose is “… to help Nebraskans know more about creating resource- and energy-efficient rural and urban landscapes, protecting and managing water resources, properly managing insect and wildlife pests, and more.”
Community Environment is one of the eight focused educational programs we highlight at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center and in each County Extension office across Nebraska. The other seven educational focus areas are Beef Systems, The Learning Child, Community Vitality Initiative, Cropping & Water Systems, Food, Nutrition & Health, 4-H Youth Development, and Disaster Recovery Resources.
There is a great Community Environment website (https://communityenvironment.unl.edu/) with numerous resources and links to help you deal with gardening and horticultural subjects such as pests, turf and landscape, water, food production, and other related resources.
One important aspect of Nebraska Extension’s focus on Community Environment is the Master Gardner program. The UNL Master Gardner website (https://mastergardener.unl.edu/) describes this program as “Trained volunteers sharing their knowledge with Nebraskans.” Their slogan is to focus on the three Ps of “People, Plants and Partnerships”.
The Master Gardner mission is to “… extend the outreach of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) by providing volunteers with research-based horticulture education, which prepares them to share their knowledge with the citizens of the State.”
The website provides an overall description: “The Nebraska Master Gardener program is a horticulture related volunteer training program based in many counties throughout the state. It has been part of UNL Extension since 1976. UNL Extension faculty and staff train Master Gardener volunteers. They contribute time as volunteers working through their local Extension office to provide horticulture-related information to their community. More specifically, they provide education about sustainable horticultural practices. Participants are required to complete 40 hours of training and 40 hours of volunteer service during the initial year of their involvement in the program. Master Gardener volunteers retain their certification through annual training and volunteering.” The Master Gardner program is open to all and is always looking for additional volunteers. Contact Gary Stone at 308-632-1319 or firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.
The website is also a location for handy links on local conditions such as soil temperatures and a link to the US Drought Monitor. Yet another aspect of the Community Environment Nebraska Extension focus is the Backyard Farmer website and television broadcasts.
You can see that there are many useful components to this area of information and support for urban as well as small acreage and agricultural audiences through the Community Environment program area at Nebraska Extension.
Many in western Nebraska will remember Jim Schild, Extension Educator, as the go-to person for horticulture and gardening in the Panhandle. Jim’s designation was as Community Environment Educator. When Jim retired earlier this year, Gary Stone, a likewise well-qualified expert who has been an integral part of this program for years, assumed the Community Environment duties on an interim basis. Due to budget policies now in place at UNL, filling this Community Environment Extension Educator position requires approval from the IANR Vice Chancellor, Mike Boehm. Our request to begin the search for this position is currently being considered by Mike. We are hopeful that authorization is imminent. Stay tuned.
Good luck with your gardens this summer. If you need some advice, Nebraska Extension is ready and willing to answer questions and provide help. Call your local county Extension office to get started. I hope that the “silver bells and cockle shells” in your home gardens will outpace the “darn weeds” during the current growing season and beyond!
One last comment: All interested folks in the area are invited to come and see our newly constructed student/visiting scholar housing units at the Panhandle Center on north Avenue I. We will host an open house and ribbon cutting on Friday afternoon, June 8th at 4 p.m.
The Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce will be on hand with the ribbon and giant scissors for the event. Following the ribbon cutting, from 4:15 until 6:00, community members and neighbors, Panhandle District and R&E personnel and families are welcome to view the housing units. Also present will be the contractors and builders who have helped make our dream for this housing a reality. I also understand that there are plans by one of the appreciative graduate students who will be living in the units to have freshly made chocolate chip cookies baking in the ovens of each unit for all to enjoy – just to add a homey touch to the event. Please come.