Betty Knight has been a gardener most of her life, learning at the ankles of her mother and her grandfather, who had about three acres of gardens.
But recently, with the pandemic giving her more time on her hands than usual, in addition to putting extra effort into her garden, she’s decided to take her interest to a new level by becoming a master gardener.
Having taken courses through the University of Guelph this last year, she is now a master gardener-in-training. Since master gardeners are expected to inspire and motivate the public about gardening, there are educational and volunteer components to complete to make the title official.
Although doing that during a pandemic presents challenges, with in-person meetings and local gardening events restricted or cancelled, Knight is presenting a virtual workshop through the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library. It’s called Dishin’ the Dirt, and will be held March 11, just in time to share information about how to understand your soil and prepare it for planting.
Knight will also chat about mulching, garden tools, and pruning, “preparing our garden to be the best it can be.”
Knight says at the age of 62, she was a little nervous about going back to school and taking the university courses, but she ended up doing very well, all done virtually. And as she says, she had time on her hands to do it. “With the pandemic, there was nothing else to do.”
She’s also pursued other interest courses and projects, continuing her learning experience, and found herself delving deeper into some subjects than she ever would have expected.
She’s taken a “deep dive” into studying local soils, and the differences to be found in the area.
“Without the pandemic I don’t know that I’d have spent so much time learning about soil,” she says, admitting to learning about the beautiful, rich soils that produce unique characteristics of local wine a fascinating subject.
She’s also learning about biodiversity, and how to plant a garden to attract pollinators.
One of her side journeys was the discovery of the problems associated with the brown marmorated stink bug in Southern Ontario. “I see it all the time,” she says, and was surprised to learn it causes problems to horticultural and agricultural crops, and is the subject of a University of Guelph research project that includes investigating where it’s found.
For Dishin’ the Dirt, Knight wants to share some of what she’s learned about the importance of soil to a garden.
“Think about it like getting a room ready to paint,” she says.
There is more involved than just choosing a colour and purchasing the paint. “You have to wash the walls, fill all the holes, take off the switch plates first. It takes a lot of time before you get to the fun part of painting.”
Making sure the soil is ready also takes time, from simple jobs such as cleaning your tools to the more complex task of understanding the soil. Most people clean away the detritus of their garden in the fall, she says, but she’s learned it’s best to leave it. “I’ve come to appreciate all the beneficial insects that hibernate, and the importance of leaving that detritus for them until spring.”
She has also changed her thinking from the nutrients added to plants to help them grow to the importance of the nutrients in the soil itself, which will feed the plants, producing a healthy garden and a healthy environment.
“I’ve come to appreciate I am being selfish by telling the soil what I want to plant, instead of letting the soil tell me what I should plant. I’m paying more attention to what it’s telling me.”
She’s very excited about the upcoming workshop, and about sharing her passion and what she has learned.
“Because of the pandemic, we know more people are gardening, and spending more time at it,” she says. This workshop will be about what to do before getting to the planting stages, and she’s a little nervous about her first effort, but is also hoping it could lead to a series of workshops.
For more information or to register for Dishin’ the Dirt visit https://notlpubliclibrary.libnet.info/event/4853915.
This virtual workshop is presented over Zoom. Attendance is limited, so register as soon as possible.
For those who are interested, Dishin’ the Dirt will be held the same day the seed library opens.
The free seed project helps create a culture of learning, sharing, and community, and encourages the tradition of seed saving, nurturing locally-adapted plant varieties, and fostering a community culture of sharing. March 11 is the day library patrons can begin reserving seeds. For more information visit https://notlpubliclibrary.org/seedlibrary.