Category Archives: Volunteers

Meet the Farmers Market Garden Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Carol Earle and Margot Thompson

Carol Earle (left) and Margot Thompson are the engines that keep the farmers market Master Gardener outreach project on track.

More than 1300 inquisitive gardeners stop by the Ask a Master Gardener tent every summer at the Cherry Creek and City Park Esplanade farmers markets. Some ask timely questions about pests like Japanese beetles and others just like to chat about their gardens.

Colorado Fresh Markets generously donates the valuable space at each farmers market, and Master Gardeners help the market by gathering customer demographic information.

With every interaction there’s a CSU Extension Denver Master Gardener ready to offer advice, hand out resources or lend a sympathetic gardening ear. Because Ask a Master Gardener starts in May and runs through October, hundreds of volunteer openings need filling. Those volunteers also need a tent, banners, table, reference books, CSU Extension fact sheets, brochures, bookmarks and other materials.

While the Ask a Master Gardener effort runs smoothly now, it wasn’t always that way. When it started in the mid-1990s, scheduling was difficult and staffing was inconsistent. At one point the farmers market organization wasn’t sure it wanted to continue the collaboration.

That was before Carol Earle got involved and helped reorganize the farmers market volunteer project in 2002.

“In those days scheduling was all done manually, on the phone and by hand,” Carol explained. “Master Gardeners could check for a volunteer opening and then call a scheduler to get on a shift. It worked that way for years,” she said.

While scheduling for the farmers market is more efficient now, the need for someone to handle the behind-the-scenes work continues. Carol makes sure there are enough handouts and supplies for the markets, ensures there are enough volunteers to staff the markets, and helps transport equipment when needed.

She also fills in and works the market when there aren’t enough volunteers, like over Labor Day weekend. She spends more hours volunteering for the market than she tracks each summer.

“Carol has been volunteering for the farmers market for about 20 years and is trying to get out of it, but keeps getting sucked back in!” said Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener program assistant.

Carol agrees. “We don’t pay to be there, so I want to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain,” she said. “Now we’re a draw and people look for us at the market. I feel invested in making sure it runs right and we keep our obligation. We now have a reputation to uphold.”

She said she’s able to devote her time and energy to the market because she skips taking vacations in the summer.

“A lot of times I felt I should let someone else have a chance at doing it,” she said. “But I hated to leave the office in a lurch. I can’t cut and run now,” she joked.

“The advantage of volunteering at the farmers market is you learn a lot there, it reinforces what you learn in class, and you learn how to talk with people, answer questions and direct them to resources.”

In addition to her farmers market volunteer commitment, Carol has helped create and maintain vegetable and therapy gardens at the Denver Children’s Home.

She began her Master Gardener training in 1999 when one of her neighbors recruited her, but she was unsure she’d be accepted because of limited gardening experience as an adult. However, when she was 5 or 6 she had worked with her sister to weed their grandfather’s strawberry patch with a little hoe he made specially for them.

It wasn’t until she retired from her marketing job with a mining company that she bloomed as a gardener. Her neighbor helped her learn how to grow native shrubs and perennial flowers. This season she’s growing a ratatouille vegetable garden in a shared plot at the Denver Botanic Gardens Community Garden.

“I love the market, I like working with Master Gardeners, and I like getting to know the apprentices,” she said.

Even though she loves volunteering for the farmers market, she’s ready to let others learn to love it, too.

Last season Margot Thompson offered to lend Carol a hand and took over coordinating the Wednesday markets at Cherry Creek. The two work closely together to make sure materials are in place and the schedule is staffed with the right combination of Master Gardeners and apprentices.

“I like exchanging ideas with other Master Gardeners, getting suggestions from the apprentices and answering different questions every week,” Margot said.

Gardening is in her DNA and she’s been at most of her life. She’s able to answer questions based on her Master Gardener training and her own gardening experience, especially when those questions are about Japanese beetles.

“I remember being 4 years old and picking Japanese beetles off of plants in my parents’ garden in Massachusetts,” she said. “I got paid one penny for every beetle I picked.”

Margot used to have a big vegetable garden at her home in southeast Denver, but the trees have taken over and now it’s mostly a shade garden. She still plants and grows in containers wherever she can find some sun. She also finds time to volunteer at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Margot started as a Master Gardener in 1998 after retiring from a career as a physical therapist. Besides the farmers market, some of her early volunteer assignments included helping with the Habitat for Humanity program and starting community gardens at the Marian Plaza senior apartments.

“We were trying to make sure the residents had fresh vegetables to cook with,” she said. Denver Urban Gardens helped create the garden plots and volunteers worked to buy hoses to help with irrigation, among other tasks. It was a big project, she said.

Margot thinks volunteering at the farmers market “is a great way to share information and for people to give us information we can use, too. We can always learn something.”

She said her favorite time to volunteer at the market is early in spring. That’s when she can give balcony gardeners ideas for growing vegetables in containers. She also likes to help the new-to-Denver transplants who stop at the Master Gardener tent to ask, “How do you garden here?”

Image and text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

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Meet the Garden Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Mark Zammuto

Retirement seems to agree with Mark Zammuto. Gardening, biking, hiking and volunteering keep this “recovering attorney” busy. Mark spent about 25 years working as an attorney in the public sector, including the Colorado Attorney General’s office.

Mark Zammuto and Charlotte Aycrigg are active CSU Extension Master Gardeners in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Mark Zammuto)

His work kept him from doing many of the things he always wanted to do, like becoming a CSU Extension Master Gardener. In 2009 his schedule finally opened up to allow time to attend classes and commit to being a volunteer.

He’s taken that commitment to heart. Many of his volunteer hours are spent organizing the plantings at the Harvard Gulch vegetable demonstration garden. For the last several years, he’s worked at the City Park Greenhouse starting seeds and tending more than 450 vegetable plants before they’re moved to the demonstration garden at the end of each May.

That’s when other Denver Master Gardeners and volunteers from Outdoor Colorado and Grow Local Colorado gather to complete a mass planting in the vegetable bed located at the corner of E. Iliff Ave. and S. Emerson St.

About 1000 pounds of produce are harvested each year and donated to the food pantry at the Community Ministry of Southwest Denver, as well as other food banks in southwest and central Denver.

Mark’s interest in growing plants dates to when he planted little gardens as a kid growing up in Illinois. He had older relatives there that gardened, too, but he credits one of his grandfathers as an exceptional garden inspiration.

“He had an incredible green thumb,” Mark said. “He lived in California and when I’d go out in summers to visit, I’d see him graft trees and other things like that. He was an Italian immigrant and grew all kinds of fruit trees, avocados, lemons, plums and many traditional Italian foods like squash, tomatoes, basil and eggplants.”

A path leads through the many plantings in Mark and Charlotte’s garden. (Photo courtesy of Mark Zammuto)

Mark and his wife Charlotte Aycrigg, who’s also a Denver Master Gardener, have a big vegetable garden, a water-wise perennial garden and whatever else will grow in their yard that’s steadily getting shadier. To make up for that, they have a plot in the Denver Botanic Gardens Community Garden at Congress Park.

When he’s not out hiking and biking with his wife, Mark volunteers with the Botanic Gardens answering questions at the Help Desk, working with the Plant Select division for the DBG plant sale and volunteering at the Steppe Garden.

Interacting with other Master Gardeners is what Mark enjoys most about being a Master Gardener. “They’re all pretty nice people,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot because there’s so much cumulative knowledge.”

If he had to offer advice for other gardeners, he’d say to concentrate on planting the right plant in the right place. That advice is especially important when it comes to the long-term consequences of planting trees, he said.

“Before we did the Master Gardener training, we were novice gardeners when it came to planting trees. Looking back, I would’ve made better tree choices but we didn’t know and nurseries were selling trees not suited to this environment.”

If he had it to do over, he said he’d take time to do the research and study what kind of trees to plant for the best results.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Apprenticeship and the Know-Nothings

An emotional dichotomy of actual knowledge vs. expectation.

Image by monica_vatalaro via McKenna Hynes

Hello friends. My name is McKenna, and I’m a plant murderer. There. I said it. Got it out of the way. It’s the sentiment that creeps on me whenever I find myself in the company of OG MG’s. I often feel fraudulent, or like I won’t ever have enough information, or that I’m simply wrong. Vulnerability can be quite uncomfortable, can’t it? So, in this maiden post, before I can publicly embrace my love for gardening, and how I’m still pretty bad at it–I’ve just got to get this one out of the way. Mastery is a misnomer, I’m here to learn and connect, and grow–ideas, feelings, and hopefully some plants.

I am a 2019 Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener and have been patiently awaiting the new growing season (I think we’ve finally made it, right?) by stewing in my own self-doubt and wild ideas. What about moss instead of lawn? Why do my houseplants always struggle–let’s be real, 50/50 shot of survival–after I transplant? I’ve wanted to be a Master Gardener for ten years, and when I finally acquired a flexible schedule, I dove right in and devoured the curriculum. When classes were over, I took pause and thought I don’t feel any smarter. Or better. In fact, I feel like I know less now because now I know the breadth of how impossibly huge the knowledge base for this light, relaxing, and joyful “hobby” can be. Merely dabbling in entomology, ornithology, edaphology, biology, and botany. No worries. No things to be worried about here. Just taking on some of the most vast and complicated sciences for fun on the weekends sometimes. Gulp. Cue the continued fraudulent feels.

Image via McKenna Hynes

I acquired my first hours as an apprentice CMG at the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society’s annual plant show in April. I knew no one and wasn’t a member, but somehow got word of the show and volunteered anyway. The show is magnificent; put it on your calendar for 2020. There was a cactus that was over 20 ft tall, cacti over 25 years in the making, blooms in every shade of wow, and some of the finest ceramicists slinging their genius with complimentary repotting. Ten minutes before the doors opened for the mob to pillage the room, I hear a man in a brightly colored, southwestern-ish shirt and a funky Australian-looking cowboy hat start shouting that he needed a volunteer. I don’t recall his name, but he was one of the vendors who raised and planted gorgeous succulent baskets. He needed assistance in applying the price tags to several flats of plants. While quickly pricing the items, he abruptly asked me if I was a biologist. I nearly guffawed at the thought and said no, but I am an Apprentice Master Gardener. He had no idea what that was and asked what I like about plants. I blurted that I liked knowing about them and learning how to care for them, and I experiment somewhat unsuccessfully. He stopped, made deliberate eye contact with me, and stated with the seriousness of Stalin, that “plants have been thriving for millions of years without us. If there’s something wrong with your plants, it’s your fault.” I was a bit dumbfounded… then embarrassed… then conceded. He’s totally right. What a relief! Somehow, I still find this comforting, and use it to further propel my desire for more discourse. It’s that just keep swimming idea.  

I work full-time so, out of necessity, I needed to find alternative ways to get some hours. I connected with this blog and decided to put my insecurities and self-doubt aside to start posting. I’m going to write about my own path to the garden, Colorado, water-wise gardening, creativity in design and functionality, mindfulness and plant identification, and lawn removal! I flooded my own inbox with ideas and links and resources and then stared into the chaos without blinking for several minutes wondering how a person gets started.

And then, I procrastinated. I sat down to write and couldn’t. Ah yes, again, hello incertitude. All of a sudden, the struggle to get anything down was perpetually defeated by my own insecurity that I have no expertise, I don’t know anything, I have nothing to offer, and I can’t write. And I’m probably a terrible human being. Hold. Up. Take pause, woman! This isn’t real, and it certainly isn’t true. A quick rabbit hole visit to explore Imposter Syndrome, and I’m back in the saddle. Blog post or not, here it comes….

The title [Apprentice] Master Gardener holds a lot of expectation, maybe for ourselves, but also for our community. A shift at a farmers market will show you that folks see our sign and make a beeline to talk plants–or honeybees without stingers in Costa Rica; or relatives who work for the Extension Office in another state; or to ask the world’s most complicated diagnostic question, to which you have no idea where to even begin except to breathe and look about furtively for another CMG for backup. But we are also volunteers, and many of us are quite new to the field; armed with eagerness, child-like wonder, and a passion to share what we’ve learned. I’m always amazed when a fellow CMG comrade can pull the most perfect answer out of their hat that is informative, accurate, and easily digestible. So grateful to be in this with folks like you.

Hello, my name is McKenna. I’ve killed a lot of plants. I’ve also learned a lot about them. I’ve shared bold ideas, and resources, and connected with new friends with the information I’m learning. Did you know there is a magical woman in Denver who has a hydroponic garden on top of a building downtown where she is growing oodles of greens to be used in her restaurant? (As far as I’m concerned, she is a mythical creature that I’m trying to track down. PM me with serious leads only, please.) I’ll be posting on this blog here and there to supplement my own education, to investigate some of my wild ideas, and to encourage others to talk to one another and connect and share. That initial writer’s block was plain and simple fear. But I’m finding just noticing it and calling it what it is, helps me realize my goal as a(n) [A]CMG is not at all to be an expert or to provide expertise. I’m here to explore and share what I’ve found. Happy Monday, folks. Let’s do some learning.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Meet the DMG Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Newton Linebaugh

Technically speaking Newton Linebaugh isn’t a CSU Extension Master Gardener apprentice anymore, but he’s not sure when he’ll stop feeling like one. While he completed his apprentice training in 2018, he understands that learning about gardening never stops, no matter where he puts down roots.

Newton Linebaugh signed up for CSU Extension Master Gardener training in 2018. (photo provided by Newton Linebaugh)

Newton moved to Colorado from Florida in the spring of 2017. He agrees that gardening here is more challenging, but he thinks it’s also more rewarding.

“The things we grow as houseplants here, grow into tall trees in Florida,” he said. Tampa Bay and Miami are subtropical and tropical climates that offer special challenges, too. Gardeners there have to cope with moist soil, high humidity and insects like mosquitoes and flying cockroaches.

Florida gardeners face growing challenges with moist soil, humidity and flying cockroaches. (photo provided by Newton Linebaugh)

Newton was a Master Gardener in Florida until 2015. That’s when he retired as director of payroll and benefits for the New York Yankees. The job he held for about 18 years meant he had the responsibility for managing many companies, multiple unions and thousands of employees.

“My partner and I had a business plan for retirement and everything fell into place in a few days,” he said. They moved to Colorado because it was the top choice when they compared it to other parts of the country.

Even though he’s been a gardener for more than 50 years, he signed up for CSU Extension’s Master Gardener program to learn how to garden in a different climate with different kinds of plants.

“When you become a master gardener, you embark on a lifelong learning adventure with plants,” he said. “You’ll be amazed at what works and what doesn’t, and shocked at what you think you know is wrong.”

During his time as a Colorado Master Gardener, Newton has already enjoyed volunteering at the Cherry Creek Farmers market and running the cash register at the annual plant sale.

His earliest gardening experience was helping his grandmother in her Pennsylvania garden. When he was 19 he moved to Florida and had to relearn how to garden there.

While his Florida gardening is decidedly different from planting in Denver, he’s familiar with working in heavy clay from his Pennsylvania days. He also recalls how spring storms there knocked plants down, but then they’d spring back up.

His garden plan for this year is grow some of the plants that don’t thrive in Florida, like peonies. He’s also using this season as a test to see how the sun falls on his yard in Congress Park before creating a garden plan for next year.

As a long-time gardener, he’s developed a practical philosophy about gardening. He believes some plants have to grow on their own to see if they survive the environment he provides for them. If not, he plants something else.

“Always plant a garden and plan that it’s going to change because every day is different. Then adapt to that,” he said. “Everything changes and you have to flow with that.”

By Jodi Torpey
Colorado Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Maureen Horton has volunteered with CSU Extension as a Master Gardener since 1999. (Photo credit: Maureen Horton)

Meet Maureen Horton

The first CSU Master Gardener Plant Sale was a small community event on a Saturday in May. Only a few hands planted seeds for the 1400 plants available that year.

Over the last 14 years, the fundraiser for Denver Master Gardeners has grown to include 25 pairs of volunteer hands planting and tending more than 7,200 fruit and vegetable plants. The sale dates are May 18 and 19 this year.

While many things about the sale have changed, there’s something that’s remained the same: the work of Master Gardener Maureen Horton. She’s volunteered every year of the sale since the very beginning. She’s taken on the important task of coordinating all the planting in the City Park Greenhouse for the plant sale.

“I love filling the pots, planting the seeds, nurturing them and watching them grow,” she said. “It’s almost like a mother thing, nurturing them and then they go away, like your children.”

Maureen Horton (left) and a team of Master Gardener volunteers get to work in the City Park Greenhouse. (Photo credit: Merrill Kingsbury)

Maureen joined the Master Gardener program around 1999, but she’s been interested in nurturing plants since she was 5 or 6 years old. Her earliest gardening memories are of walking with her grandmother and uncle to tend the family garden plot in New Hampshire.

She recalls her grandma explaining the shoveling and watering to her, as well as harvesting lettuce and “lots and lots of potatoes.”

Now her Denver garden includes xeric plants, roses and her favorite ‘Purple Cherokee’ and ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes, among others.

Maureen’s approach to her own garden is all about nurturing, too. “Once I plant it, I nurture it to its maturity with care and the proper nutrients to grow the healthiest plant possible. It’s all about loving the soil and earth.”

She must really love the soil to commit to leading the greenhouse planting effort over six months each year, from November to sale day in May.

“We start in November and go through all the seeds we didn’t use the year before,” she explained. “We’re cost conscious and want to use all the seeds we can.”

Then the what-to-grow lists are compiled. One list includes the most popular plants from the previous sale. There’s another list of plants that are researched to find new, reliable varieties to add to the sale. Because of the heat and extreme weather from last summer, heat-tolerant tomatoes were researched for this year.

That list includes favorites like ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Red Brandywine’, ‘Burbank Slicing’, ‘Costoluto Genovese’, ‘Great White’, ‘Green Giant’, ‘Marble Stripe’ and ‘Purple Calabash’.

In addition, two new heirloom marriage tomatoes are now growing for the sale: ‘Cherokee Carbon’ and ‘Genuwine’. Heirloom marriage tomatoes are hybrids that cross two heirloom varieties to produce a tomato with the best qualities of each heirloom, plus the disease resistance and improved yields of a hybrid tomato.

Chile pepper research also figured into the list for this year’s sale. Of 23 pepper varieties, 21 are from New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute in Las Cruces.

“We’ve really babied those peppers,” Maureen said. “We’re introducing 18 new varieties of chile peppers to the sale.”

One of the new varieties is ‘NuMex Trick or Treat’. This pepper looks like a habanero and has all of the flavor of one, but with none of the heat. Another unusual pepper is ‘NuMex Twilight’ chile, an edible ornamental with peppers that mature in color from purple to yellow, then orange to red.

Once the seed order is placed, Maureen figures how many total flats of seeds to plant and the number of flats for each variety. Much of that is determined by how many benches the greenhouse allocates to the Master Gardeners for the sale.

In exchange for the space in the greenhouse and the use of a couple of their machines, the greenhouse also benefits from the help of Master Gardener volunteers.

Once the call for volunteers goes out, “people come running. It may be 40 degrees outside, but it’s 72 degrees in the greenhouse,” Maureen said. “It’s wonderful in there.”

While the planting is serious business, there’s always time for a few laughs. “We love it. There’s a lot of camaraderie and there’s a passion for it. Everyone works hard during their three hours to meet the goal of planting 40 flats.”

Once planting is complete, there’s twice weekly maintenance needed right up to the time the plants leave the greenhouse headed for the sale.

Last year the plant sale raised $36,000 to support Master Gardener programs in the community. More than half of that total came from selling the plants grown in the greenhouse.

It’s easy to imagine a high level of stress goes with the responsibility of nurturing more than 7,000 plants for the biggest fundraising event of the year.

“From doing it all these years, there’s not much stress,” said Maureen. “You have to roll with the punches. The only stress is if a flat of seeds doesn’t come up.”

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the DMG Garden Squad

Meet the DMG Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our dedicated volunteers.

Jan Appelbaum has volunteered with CSU Extension Master Gardeners since 2004.

Meet Jan Appelbaum

Most Master Gardeners know the value of making their own compost. But Jan Appelbaum discovered there’s more to compost than a good soil amendment.

“My best success last year grew out of the compost bin. There were three or four tomato varieties that grew out of the compost, and they were prolific.” She harvested hundreds of tomatoes from tomato seeds that decided to sprout and grow on their own.

Jan’s tomatoes planted themselves in the compost bin. (Photos by Jan Appelbaum)

Jan joined the CSU Extension Colorado Master Gardener (CMG) program in 2004, after retiring from a 30-year teaching career in Douglas County. She thought the program would be a good way to provide some structured activity to fill her time.

When she started, the Denver Master Gardeners’ office was located downtown in the Wellington Webb Building. Those were the “good old days” when the pace was quite a bit slower.

“We have the ability to get information faster now, almost instantaneously, and we reach more people now,” Jan said. “But sometimes slow is better, too.”

One of her favorite volunteer activities is interviewing Master Gardener apprentices because there are many different ages, levels of enthusiasm for gardening and levels of expertise. “It’s fun and interesting to hear why people want to be trained to be a master gardener,” she said.

Jan also volunteers as part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) to track precipitation in all 50 states, Canada and the Bahamas. As a CoCoRaHS volunteer, she measures daily precipitation in her yard and keeps track of the results.

She also volunteers at the annual spring plant sale and helps answer questions at the farmer’s market. One of the advantages of volunteering alongside other Denver Master Gardeners is the collaborative spirit. “At the Master Gardener booth, four brains are better than one.”

The farmer’s market is a valuable and sometimes entertaining outreach opportunity. “It’s always fun when people come up to ask a question but have already made up their mind. Or when people from out of town say ‘That’s not how we do it in Michigan.’ But most people appreciate the help we can give.”

Jan grew up in Connecticut where she admits it was easier to garden. She helped in her family’s huge vegetable garden, but had to learn how to garden in a more challenging environment when she moved to Colorado in 1972.

Her advice to new gardeners, and those new to gardening here, is to be patient and learn by doing.

Some of that advice is based on her own early planting efforts. She recalled planting a miniature Japanese maple tree and giving it too much love.

“I thought it needed water because the leaves were curled, and I killed it by overwatering. Eventually I found out they don’t like to have their roots too wet.”

Jan said she’s grateful for the Master Gardener experience because it’s broadened her gardening knowledge. She thinks everyone who gardens should go through the Master Gardener training, too.

“Gardening for me is very therapeutic,” she said. “It helps connect us with the soil and Mother Nature. Having a sense of nature is getting harder and harder to do in the city, but I’m encouraged to see there are more people getting into gardening now.”

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2005