2017 Innovative Projects 1st Place – Composting and Worm Composting Video Series, Orange County, CA

UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners harnessed the outreach strength of their website (http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/) to accomplish the Master Gardener educational mission by teaching the public to successfully compost in their backyards, community gardens, and other gardening locations.  Master Gardeners prepared materials to illustrate the process and assist home gardeners in their composting efforts with as a series of videos with step-by-step instructions on how to compost, build a bin, start and maintain a pile and troubleshoot problems.  The short and concise videos provided demonstrations with verbal explanations. A second set of similar videos was prepared to address composting with worms.  By strategically keeping the videos short and covering a single topic in each one, the Master Gardeners offered the viewer the option of finding the exact information needed to answer a specific question, or of watching the entire series to understand the complete process.

Use of the website in this manner for public outreach placed the resources of the University within reach of anyone who visits it.  Viewing the videos prompted visitors to explore other resources such as the Master Gardener Hotline, Radio Podcasts and the Gardening Event Calendar.  The website also provided links to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources sites, and other reliable gardening information. To date, visits to the site number more than 22,000.  Since January 2015 there have been more than 9,796 views of the composting video series and the traffic keeps increasing.

Only University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener educational material and guidelines were used to create the videos. The preferable UC method of composting, the Hot or Rapid Method, was emphasized in the composting video series. Also, because gardeners may be limited by backyard space, availability of materials, or other considerations, an alternative video series, Composting With Worms highlighted its advantages and benefits. Having videos on both methods provided gardeners with choices and helped ensure success for a wider audience.

The team responsible for this project has extensive computer and video filming expertise as a result of their work experiences.  For this team, and for any others with this kind of background, the project is straightforward.  Beginning as an assignment for students in the Master Composting certification class, it consisted of a series of nine videos on the composting process and six videos on worm composting. Taped live in a composting environment, the videos featured narrators who are members of the Master Gardener Speakers Bureau and have experience in giving group lectures.  Once the scripts were written using the guidelines from the Master Composter manual, the videos were shot on site, edited and uploaded to the website.

The availability of these videos addressed the growing questions on the Master Gardener hotline for information and speaker requests on composting, especially in light of the management of solid waste requirements of California Assembly Bill 939. One goal was to reach a wide audience – a must in any gardening active community where time demand is greater than volunteer staff can manage. Using you tube-type capabilities in the form of quick and easy videos allows the information to be made available to a large audience on-demand in an easily recognizable and usable format. 

The decisions on which aspects of composting to highlight, what to cover in the videos, and how to keep it simple, were determined by the members of this team.  To our knowledge, there are no published guidelines for this type of project for Master Gardeners. All videos are available at http://uccemg.com/Soils-Fertilizers-Compost/Composting-Video-Series-386/

 

 

2017 Innovative Projects 3rd Place – The Mentor Approach: Building Community, Snohomish Cty, WA

“My mentor was crucial to my learning experience: she was encouraging, helpful and made me feel a part of a process that I, at first, found a little intimidating. She brought extra material to class and always made sure we had the tools we needed. A truly helpful person.”–Intern “She wasn’t an instructor, but a resource if we needed her.” — Intern

Where We Started: We realized that our MG retention rate was low, particularly after the second-year commitment was met. Interns expressed concern during class and volunteer time:  They had challenges understanding the content, program requirements and where they fit in with the program.

“We had the opportunity to get to know our classmates over a period of three months, as well as some veterans. Making connections is what builds community.”–Intern “Our mentor was an excellent help in explaining things that weren’t clear, helping in hands-on sessions and was available both at the table and on email.” –Intern

Our Solution: We developed a program to use our most valuable resource, our veteran MGs. During the twelve-week training course, each mentor was responsible for three to four students.  They also followed their students’ progress through their first year of volunteer service.  We held training sessions for the mentors on their responsibilities: communicating weekly, monitoring their students’ progress and mastery of course content, leading morning table-talk sessions, and acting as the liaison between students and class coordinator. Each mentor developed his/her own method tailored to their students’ needs.

 

“Always fun to see my mentor and table mates at the demonstration gardens!”—Intern “I had been through Master Gardener training in another state previously and we only met with our mentor a couple of times and they didn’t communicate with us much during the training. This was much more welcoming.”–Intern/Transfer MG “Each intern brought their own interests, questions and experience to discuss which makes the MG training a true exchange of learning.” —Mentor

Results: We experienced a significant jump in program retention. All students completed their minimum first-year requirements and in fact, many earned their hundred-hour pin. Many interns and veterans have requested to become mentors in the future.  Our students graduated knowing more veteran MGs, friendships blossomed and people found their niche.  Several unplanned benefits:  Mentors appreciated the refresher course, the community developed in class extended to the entire Master Gardener community and the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation membership grew significantly.  All of this was done with minimal cost.

2017 Youth 1st Place (tie) – Garden Lesson in a Box, Spokane County, WA

 

Children and Ladybugs

The Washington State University Spokane County Master Gardeners involved in our Youth Program have created seven core gardening lessons geared toward children in Kindergarten through 6th grade.  These lessons were designed to be presented to the Spokane Public Schools after-school child care program called Express, but they have also been presented at a variety of other locations such as public and private school classrooms, church groups, scout troops, and boys’ and girls’ clubs.  Over the past 11 years, we have given these presentations to over 10,000 children.

Each “Garden Lesson in a Box” consists of a syllabus, list of materials, background resource information, and supplies needed for the presentation, all contained within a portable bin which can be easily transported to the presentation site.  The seven lessons with a brief description of each, are:

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:  Garden Creatures:  Using pictures and life cycle models to start, children are introduced to nine different garden creatures (Colorado potato beetles, banana slugs, ground beetles, earwigs, spiders, aphids, praying mantis, ladybird beetles, and pillbugs/sowbugs) and their significance in the garden.  The children then observe and interact with live specimens.  For safety reasons, the children are allowed to handle only the pillbugs/sowbugs which they have to hunt for in open containers of compost. The children color drawings of the creatures and also plant flower seeds in newspaper pots of soil to take home.
  • Three Sisters:  The children act out the Native American story of the three sisters and learn the importance of corn, beans, and squash to the Native Americans and the principles of companion planting.  The children sow seeds of these three vegetables to take home and also color and label pictures of them.
  • Soil:  Children learn the function of plant roots, observe the different components of soil, and learn the value of compost as a soil amendment.  They hunt for living creatures in partially-decomposed compost and learn the function of each in the decomposition process.  The children color pictures of compost creatures and sow vegetable seeds to take home.  Singing along to the song ‘Dirt Made My Lunch’ by the Banana Slug String Band is a fun part of this lesson.
  • Pollination:  Using large felt diagrams of flowers, the children learn the flower parts and their functions, and the role that pollinators play in seed production and food produc
    Three Sisters lesson
    Three Sisters lesson

    tion for humans.  They observe real beehive components and learn how visits to flowers benefit bees.  They sow flower seeds to take home and also color pictures of flowers.

  • The Seed:  Using pictures and large models of bean seeds, the children learn the major parts of a seed which they then identify by dissecting lima beans.  They learn the conditions that seeds need to sprout, and they observe the process of seed germination in pre-planted demonstration materials.  The children create “Personality Pots’ where they sow seeds of rye or radishes in cups of soil on which they have drawn faces (as the seedlings grow, they create “hair” for the face).
  • Vegetable Garden:  We read the book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, a Common Core text exemplar and funny story about the edible parts of plants.  Then the children are shown real vegetables and identify which parts are eaten by humans.  Using a 4’x4’ square of brown felt as a garden plot and vegetables made from felt, the children lay out a vegetable garden, learning about spacing, sun exposure, succession planting, and vertical gardening.  The children sow seeds of vegetables to grow at home and draw pictures of their dream vegetable garden.  We also sing along to two songs by the Banana Slug String Band, ‘Sun, Soil, Water, and Air’ and ‘Give Plants a Chance.’
  • Trees:  The children act out a fable about deciduous and evergreen trees and learn about the value of trees for humans.  They examine cross-sections of tree trunks, identifying the major parts, and estimating tree age. They make crayon rubbings of different leaves, examine various tree seeds, and plant maple seeds to take home.

Our seven garden lessons cover a variety of garden topics, but in each one, children sow seeds in pots that they take home.  We feel that growing a plant from seed and caring for that plant is a crucial experience for children, allowing them both to witness the wonder of nature and to experience the responsibility of nurturing a living plant.

Vegetable Garden lesson
Vegetable Garden lesson

When we first decided to develop these garden lessons, we wanted to create affordable, fun activities that children would like doing. The homemade materials (felt boards and figures, felt vegetables, felt flower diagrams, seed models made from clay) were not difficult to design and make and were constructed by Master Gardeners with no crafting experience.  These materials are intriguing to children who love handling them, thus providing a tactile experience which adds to their learning.  Including songs to sing and stories to act out involves the children on an active level which helps to hold their interest and makes the lessons very enjoyable.

Purchased durable supplies include plastic bins (about $15 each), mesh insect cages (about $10 each), ladybird beetle and praying mantis life cycle models (about $6 each), and a portable CD player (about $20).  Supplies that need to be regularly replenished include seeds, potting soil, zipper-lock plastic bags, styrofoam cups for the ‘Personality Pots,’  live ladybird beetles (about $6), and praying mantis egg sacs (about $10).   Live garden creatures other than ladybird beetles are collected by Master Gardeners from their own gardens and compost piles.  Pots for children to sow seeds in are made from old newspapers by the Master Gardeners.  Handouts and pictures to color are easily found on the Internet and printed out.

Having a self-contained lesson enables a Master Gardener to present a lesson with a minimum of preparation.  These lessons can also be modified by the person doing the presentation.  Some presenters like to add more information and some omit certain activities that they are not comfortable with (such as singing a song).  Although the lessons were originally designed for children in grades K-6, they can be, and have been, modified for younger and older children as well.  The presentations are usually 45-60 minutes in length but can be shortened or lengthened depending on the age and number of the children participating.

Children look forward to our presentations and enjoy the time they spend with us.  We regularly receive charming thank-you notes from the children which include comments such as these:  “I like how you taught us. I liked when we did the play. The bugs were cool.”  “I love the fun active games. I loved learning about pollen and good and bad bugs.”  “I like the song you taught us too!”  “You showed us how plants grow.”

We have a lot of fun with the children in these presentations, and especially enjoy seeing their delight at discovering the joys of gardening.

 

Children and Ladybugs For further information, please contact Tim Kohlhauff at tkohlhauff@spokanecounty.org