|With summertime approaching its final days and cooler weather on the horizon, now is the time to begin thinking about next year’s gardening season.
There may not be an app for that, but there’s certainly help from local experts.
Rutherford County is chock full of experienced advisors – financial, small business, health and beauty, religious – but there’s a lesser-known group of individuals who provide horticultural guidance to up-and-coming and veteran gardeners, alike.
The Rutherford County Master Gardeners organization is a diverse group of people who share in the love of serving their community through horticultural projects and activities.
“We enthusiastically share our gardening knowledge with those who have an interest in plants, landscaping, and general gardening,” the group’s website explains. “Working with our communities, we identify horticultural projects to enhance and beautify our quality of life.”
A volunteer-based organization, the Rutherford County Master Gardeners provide assistance to the UT Agriculture Extension office in Murfreesboro by offering gardening, landscaping and lawn maintenance guidance to homeowners. This frees up extension agents to focus on producers of livestock, poultry, crops, etc., according to Reggie Reeves, coordinator of volunteer activities for Masters Gardeners at the Rutherford County Farmers’ Market.
“We try to provide technical assistance and guidance in putting in a fruit orchard, a spring, summer or fall vegetable garden, lawn maintenance and landscaping. Not design services, so to speak, but we can provide guidance on what plants might work in what places,” Reeves explains.
The Master Gardeners of Rutherford County also offers a monthly gardening workshop, First Fridays at the Market series, at 9:30 a.m. on the first Friday of each month, June through October.
Topics thus far have ranged from organic approaches to fertilization and pest control to composting. September’s class, Getting Started with Easy to Grow Small Backyard Fruit: Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Figs and Muscadines, will be presented at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. This free and informal workshop is being presented by Rutherford County Master Gardener Ken Kizer.
Nearly anyone can grow some kind of small backyard fruit in their yard, no matter how small, the Master Gardeners encourages.
“Unlike larger fruit trees such as apples, peaches and pears, small backyard fruit take very little space, require much less care and begin producing fruit quickly,” a Master Gardeners announcement states. “Imagine a season of fresh fruit right from your own yard, beginning with handfuls of fresh blueberries in the spring and early summer; blackberries, raspberries and figs in the summer, and ending with muscadines and more raspberries in the fall. Join us to learn just how easy it is to grow and harvest these fruits.”
Reeves explained how fall is a very important time both for gardening and for planting trees and shrubs.
“Success in the spring and summer have a lot to do with fall preparation,” he said.
First-time gardeners can start preparing their soil for next year’s garden, and veteran gardeners can begin adding organic matter – compost or composting manure – to their soil once the crops are harvested.
“You can grow an incredible amount of food in a relatively small garden plot, particularly things like beans, peas, any of the greens, squash, cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers,” Reeves continues. “There are lots of things for the homeowner to grow in their backyard, and more than they probably think they can, if they’ve never done it before.”
More and more consumers are becoming interested in organic, fresh produce and humanely raised meat and poultry. There’s nothing fresher or more nutritious than eating fruits and vegetables grown in your own backyard, says Reeves.
“Lots of vegetables that are commercially produced are picked before they’re ripe (and then artificially ripened),” he said. “If you’re harvesting produce, you’re picking them at their peak, and that’s when the nutritional value is at its highest.”
In addition to providing nutritious produce, gardens also save consumers money at the grocery store; in essence, if you’re growing it, you don’t need to buy.
Those interested in learning more about the Master Gardeners of Rutherford County can visit www.mastergardeners-rc.org/ or stop by the informational booth at the Rutherford County Farmers' Market, a producer-only farmers' market located in the indoor/open air Community Center at the Lane Agri-Park on John R. Rice Boulevard in Murfreesboro.
Gardeners complete a 15-week class of instructional training and 40 hours of community service before becoming a Master Gardener who is prepared to provide assistance and guidance for all things horticulture-related. Additionally, Reeves explains, they must maintain 25 hours of community service and eight hours of continuing education training every year thereafter. In Tennessee, there are 2,000 Master Gardeners in 46 counties.
A five-week basic gardening course that is also offered for those who have an interest in gardening, but aren’t quite ready to become Master Gardeners. This course does not lead to Master Gardeners certification.
Information tables are set up each Tuesday and Friday from 7 a.m. until noon through Oct. 7, and then from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday in November and December. The public is welcome to stop by with gardening questions or to find out more about the Master Gardeners of Rutherford County and the many gardening classes and activities offered throughout the year.