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Gardening course helps all levels of experience

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Carol Turse, of Freeville, performs a Mason jar soil test Saturday by analyzing how soil particles settle in water for a beginning gardening class at the Methodist Church in Freeville.

FREEVILLE — Ann Manzano loaded two scoops of dirt, each about the size of a penny, into a plastic tray to test for soil acidity Saturday. It was part of a two-hour course for beginner gardeners.

Manzano, a master gardener through Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, has been leading the six-part class the past two years. She’s been a master gardener since 2005.

The samples she tested were collected from the different areas where the eight attendees planned to plant their gardens.

Suzanne Hoback of Freeville planned to plant a garden in her front yard. Her pH test came back 7.2. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension vegetable gardens are more productive when soil acidity is between 6.0 and 7.0. Any number under 6.0 means the soil lacks in certain nutrients. “I was surprised,” Hoback said. “It was higher than I thought.”

Hoback said after her sample came back she probably won’t use the same soil for the containers she plans to plant in.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County started the Seed to Supper series four years ago to teach people how to grow their own food on a budget, Manzano said.

Carol Turse, a volunteer, aided Manzano in leading the course. For two years she has been growing her own garden and has plans to become a master gardener like Manzano. Master gardeners are trained volunteers who work in partnership with their county Cooperative Extension office to expand educational outreach with research-based information, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Turse said the course teaches people how to start a garden from scratch: preparing the garden site, composting, starting seeds, planting and choosing fertlizer.

While both instructors said it’s better for participants to start from day one, anyone is still welcome to attend. “We wouldn’t turn anyone away,” Manzano said.

Eight people attended the Saturday class. For Hoback it was the first time taking the class. Hoback said she had received master gardening training before in 1989, she was hoping the class would give her new information.

One goal Hoback had was being able to get a good yield on crops. “I’m hoping my tomatoes turn out well this year,” she said.

Turse went over the agenda for the day’s class which included:
* Getting started with healthy soil.
* Building and keeping healthy compost.
* Making garden beds.
* Improving and protecting soil health.
* Avoiding problem spots.

“You’ve got to keep in mind you don’t want to put your garden in a place that gets flooded,” Turse said.

As part of the healthy soil portion, Turse did a glass jar test. The test involves putting a soil sample into a glass jar and filling it with water. The water helps separate the different components of the soil: sand and small rocks; silt; and clay.

All components are needed in the soil, Turse said. However, too much clay and too much water is held in the soil. “Not enough and it’ll drain through,” she said.

Alyson Stevens, who lives in Trumansburg but works in Dryden, was also a first-time attendee. In the past she learned gardening by teaching herself. However, she hoped to learn more through the class. “I don’t want to waste time and money,” she said.

After some back-and-forth thinking over the past few weeks, Stevens said she plans to plant a raised-bed garden. By not having certain equipment like a tiller, Stevens feels getting the ground ready for planting would be a daunting task.

Stevens hopes to bring in a crop of sugar snap peas this year with the knowledge she gains through the course. “They are a big favorite at home,” she said.

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