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Junior Master Gardeners gear up for growing season

The Junior Master Gardener program is a 4-H after-school program but is not a 4-H club. The free program is for third- through 12th-grade students.

We generally meet once a week between mid- to late spring through the final harvest and garden cleanup. Our gardens reside in St. Patrick’s Church community gardens at the corner of Oak Hill Avenue and Cleveland Street in Youngstown.

This coming season begins our fourth year. In the past years we have grown tomatoes, peppers, herbs and annual flowers from plants donated to us. We direct-sow from seed some of our vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, cucumbers, beets and green beans.

Each year, there is a vegetable and flower competition put on by Ohio State University Extension and Good Natured Garden Partners in late summer. The kids love the “dress up the vegetable” competition as well as the display of vegetables and bouquets of flowers and herbs. There is even a sunflower competition.

For 2021, the first thing we will do as a group is a soil test of our gardens. I would like each participant to take part in this. When the results are returned, we will go over it together and determine if any amendments are needed.

This season, I have some new things to try in the gardens. I will be guiding the kids in doing a native American “Three Sisters” garden planting. This garden consists of corn, green bean and squash seeds, all planted in the proper succession. The cornstalks support the vine type green beans, which also provide nitrogen to the soil. The squash plant grows low and long and helps to prevent weeds and maintain soil moisture.

This year, we will participate in The Great Sunflower Project. We plant specific sunflower seeds and when they are flowering, we will do at least three pollinator surveys. This is a “citizen science” project that sounds fun and educational for all ages. This is a good way to identify bees and understand their importance.

I am also considering a pollinator garden specific for monarch butterflies. Learning is so much better with actual visuals rather than pictures. It will be a good learning experience to observe the complete life cycle of this butterfly whose existence is in danger.

Of course, as with any garden, there will be watering and weeding taking place as needed.

We will be strictly following COVID-19 restrictions and taking the proper precautions.

Come grow with us. If you know of any young folks who might be interested or if you simply have questions, please contact the Mahoning County Extension Office at 330-533-5538. The office will obtain your contact information and let me know about it. I will then contact you to join the group.

Shively is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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