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Colorado Master Gardener Program ft. Sherie Caffey

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Show Notes

Join Nicole and Sherie Caffey of the CSU Pueblo Extension office as they talk about the Master Gardener program and tips for new gardeners.

What You’ll Learn

  • What is the Colorado Master Gardener program?
  • What is a state extension program?
  • Why tomatoes stop fruiting in late summer
  • Suggestions for new gardeners
  • Tips for testing your soil
  • Challenges of gardening in the Pueblo, Colorado area
  • Pueblo County Fair information

Our Guest

Today we are joined by Sherie Caffey, who is the Horticulture Agent for the CSU Pueblo Extension office. Sherie is a wealth of information for gardening in Southern Colorado, and heads the Master Gardener program.

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    Announcer: Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from heritage acres, where we talk about all things, backyard, poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.

    Nicole: Good morning everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Backyard Bounty. Today I'm joined by Sherie, who's the horticulture agent for the CSU Pueblo extension office. And today she's here to talk about growing vegetables and herbs. Explain to us a little bit more about the extension office and talk about how we can enter produce in the upcoming Pueblo County fair. So Sherie, thank you so much for joining me today.

    Sherie: Thanks. Thanks for having me, Nicole.

    Nicole: So can you tell us a little bit more about the extension office and what you do there?

    Sherie: Yeah, absolutely. So like you said, I'm the horticulture agent at the CSU extension office here in Pueblo County. And a lot of people don't know about the extension office, so I'm happy to have the chance to let some people know. Extension is a little bit confusing, particularly here in Pueblo County because we have CSU Pueblo. So most people think when they hear CSU that we are affiliated with CSU Pueblo and I am located on campus but I am not. We are located downtown on Court street and we're not affiliated with CSU Pueblo at all, really. We are actually a satellite office of CSU Fort Collins. So most every County in the state has an extension office and it's just as extra confusing in Pueblo because of CSU Pueblo. But we all have, every County has an extension office and the goal of the extension office is basically to take the knowledge that they gained by doing research in Fort Collins and kind of bring that to our communities via classes, answering phone calls, booth side events. I mean we write articles, anything we can do to get that information out to who needs it. I do horticulture. We also have somebody who does agriculture. We have somebody who does family and consumer sciences, so that would be like food preservation, nutrition, cooking, things of that nature. And then 4-H is also ran out of our office. So that's kind of our youth development program.

    Nicole: And so you kind of cover really a huge variety of information. I mean, I know I've used you guys everything from not only growing vegetables but canning food and gosh, there's everything. And then of course, like you said, 4-H which a lot of people use. And so the extension office, it's not just a Colorado thing, right? It's kind of across most States.

    Sherie: Correct. Most States have extension and it will be through their land grant university. So normally that's their state university, like Utah State, New Mexico State, we'll have the extension services through them. And that goes way, way back to like the 1800s, the whole extension thing started. And kind of the more agricultural colleges got the land grants to have the extension offices throughout the States and get that information out to the people who needed it. And it's become more than a rural thing. I mean we do like urban farming in Denver County and stuff like that. So it's really expanded. But yeah, most all States have them. If you contact your local state university or even just give it a Google, there's probably somebody near you.

    Nicole: So if somebody has questions about something that's more specific to their area, whether it's classes or gardening questions, they should probably contact their local office and if they live in Washington it probably wouldn't do them a whole lot of good to call the Pueblo Colorado office.

    Sherie: Exactly. But the great thing about extension is I will totally help them to find their local extension office even if they did call me. So we will help with anything that we possibly can.

    Nicole: Awesome. So being a resource for gardeners and people that have questions really about anything that they could grow on their property, what do you think is one of the most common questions that you receive at the office?

    Sherie: Yes. I mean I get a ton of people bringing in insects, which definitely was not my thing when I first started. But I've become pretty good at ideating in sex, so I get a lot of that. But as far as like the vegetable gardening thing, tomatoes are definitely the number one call and it's a little early for this call, but I will start getting it. I know I get them every year of people, maybe like July, August saying I'm getting flowers but I'm never getting tomatoes. So what's going on? And usually the answer is that it's just really hot here obviously. And when it gets to be really hot in the summer and it gets really hot early, so before 10:00 AM we're getting into the 90 degrees, which we were today, the tomato's pollen isn't viable anymore. So they won't set fruit. So the flowers will just kind of die and dry up and fall off. So that's 90% of the time, the issue that we're seeing. And it's kind of just like a be patient until it starts to kind of cool off and you'll get those late season tomatoes. It's been pretty cool this year and not today, but in general. So maybe that won't be as much of an issue, but that's a huge one that I ended up getting every summer.

    Nicole: I know. I'm embarrassed to admit that I try not to tell too many people that I'm a master gardener because I feel like I don't have enough of a knowledge base to really be able to proclaim that.

    Sherie: You do, I'm sure.

    Nicole: But tomatoes, I feel like I could grow just about anything except tomatoes. I have the hardest time with them.

    Sherie: Yeah. Everyone has their thing that they're good at, but tomatoes can definitely be hard. I have certain things that I never have any success with. Cucumbers for example. I don't know why, I just can't do it. Everyone has their thing.

    Nicole: Of course, I'll just blame it on the weather going forward.

    Sherie: Totally. It is.

    Nicole: So I've talked to other people locally doing some podcasts and stuff and growing pretty much anything here can be challenging. We've got the heat and we've got the wind and of course the hail and just the unpredictable Colorado weather. But what other advice or tips or suggestions do you have for people that are looking to start gardening?

    Sherie: Yeah, it can be hard here. Definitely. Especially, Pueblo West, I get a lot of people out there that have a really hard time and I think it all comes down to amending your soil. It all starts in the soil. So if you're starting a new garden and you can amend that soil beforehand, that's fantastic. Just generally adding some plant-based composts, tilling that down as far as you can. Just breaking things up, loosening it up is going to help you a lot. That's something you can kind of do gradually every year and you'll start to see improvements year after year. If you already have an existing vegetable garden. You could even kind of top dress with compost and it'll start to break down and add organic matter to your soil. And that's generally a really good thing to do. At the extension office, we do have soil test kits and I would really recommend to do a soil test, especially if you've had issues that you just don't know what's going on.

    Sherie: Our soil tests are really good because you can write on there, I'm trying to start a new vegetable garden, here's some issues I've had in the past. You send in your sample and they will send you back a personalized response like, okay, hey, you said you wanted to do vegetable gardening, so we think you need to add this much organic matter or this much nitrogen or they'll give you something very specific and tell you even what's good about your soil. Don't worry about these things, focus on these things. They're very, very good soil tests and the kit is free. Even if you wanted to, anybody could pick one up at any of their extension offices and then you send them to Fort Collins and it's only like $30 which is not bad for the great information that they're going to give you.

    Nicole: Yeah, we did that a couple of years ago and we paid for like the whole every possible test that they could run and I think it was like $50 for that one, just because they did some other tests. But I think I got back, Oh gosh, probably five or six pages of just raw data. And then like you said, it was great because they could say, oh, your soil pH is this and it's this composition. And that's like, well, okay, now what? But they, like you said, go through and tell you if you want this, then do this. And they give you exact amounts, so you don't even have to research it or think about it or even be confused. It's easy, follow the instructions.

    Sherie: It's very easy. It is. And you just really don't know what's going on in your soil. Like I could speculate all day, but you really don't know until you get a test. So I really would recommend that if you're having issues.

    Nicole: It can vary so much even just from one lot to the other. So it's definitely, that would be a great place to start that test or do raised beds.

    Sherie: Yeah, raised beds are great top. Add in that nice soil and you're all set.

    Nicole: Yeah. And what other challenges do you find people around here usually have?

    Sherie: I mean the weather obviously like you said, it's either really, really hot or we're getting hailed on. I just wrote a blog about the hail. So kind of when do you give up hope kind of blog.` Basically if there's still leaves left, I'd wait it out a couple of weeks and kind of see, see what happens. Things can definitely come back. Especially it's pretty early when it comes to vegetable gardening. So the weather. Here in Pueblo, we probably have some of the most variety of pests be in here in the Arkansas River Valley. So I mean we do see season different pests and stuff in the gardens. People call about aphids a lot. This isn't so much a problem with vegetable gardens, but the Japanese beetles have been getting worse and worse every year. Maybe not so much in Pueblo West, but in town they definitely have, particularly near the two large park city park and mineral palace. Those are some of the big ones. Starting later on I'll start getting some calls about things with tomatoes like blossom and rot and some of the more diseases that we might see. So those are a little bit of a problem really. Mostly, most of my calls tend to be about trees so.

    Nicole: So there's so many different issues that somebody could have, whether it's a vegetable or a tree or an herb or a disease or a pest or environmental or whatever. So if somebody in our area is looking for some advice and suggestions, what's the best route for them?

    Sherie: I would start by visiting the website. The Pueblo County extension website would probably be good there. You can find our contact information, which is great because then you could just give me a call and explain to me your problem. But you can also see classes that we have upcoming. Maybe that class is something that would potentially address your issue or having the next one coming up would be a composting class. So maybe you're having trouble with your compost. You can come to that class and probably troubleshoot a little. We also have links to the main extension website, like the state extension website where there is just tons and tons and tons of fact sheets and what we call garden notes. And we have a ton of YouTube videos that you can watch. Also on our website you'll find a link to our Facebook page where I post at least twice a week, kind of an interesting article that's relevant at the time. So that's really good. You can find links to my articles that I put into the public chieftain, which are usually pretty timely for what's happening. So that could help with your questions.

    Sherie: We also have a statewide horticulture blog called the Cohorts Blog, which you can access through the website and there's tons of great blogs on there and a lot of them are kind of fun and they're cool if you're just interested in that topic. But if it's something specific and you're really having problems, I would say just call the office. I'm there pretty much all the time or else you can leave a message. And then we also have master gardener volunteers on the helpline on Tuesdays and Friday mornings. So they can help you out as well. So there's always somebody available to help. And if it's something that I'm not getting it from the phone call, I'm not sure exactly what your problem might be, I can guide you to an arborist and so many arborists are not that good. So I can guide you to somebody who's certified and kind of vetted and somebody who will do a good job. So I can help you to find somebody to help you even if I can't help you.

    Nicole: Awesome. And we'll put a link to all of the resources that Sherie mentioned in the description so you don't have to try to scour the internet to find them.

    Sherie: Yeah. Once you do have your vegetable garden growing really well, we also kind of run County fair out of the Pueblo County extension office. Pueblo County Fair that is not, state fair. Another thing that's super confusing in Pueblo because the other counties don't have a state fair, so it's our Pueblo County Fair kind of gets overlooked a little bit as a state fair. But it's really cool. A lot of it is 4-H heavy and the kids entering their animals and stuff. But we do have a community open class competition where any resident of Pueblo County can answer their fruits or vegetables or herbs. Of course there's also quilts and baking and preserving kind of categories as well. I don't know as much about those but they are there. And that would be also on our website. So that is happening in late July this year.

    Sherie: I believe the competition is on July 21st this year. That's a Sunday. So you kind of just come in with your best vegetables, check them in, we'll do the judging. Odds are really good you'll win a prize, because we don't have a ton of participation. I'm hoping that changes, maybe with this podcast we'll get some more. Particularly in horticulture, we have tons of people entering cakes and quilts and stuff. But I'd love, love, love to see more gardeners entering their stuff because I know there's so many great gardeners out there. So that's kind of how that goes. And if you are going to enter, I would just encourage you to download the rules because we do have unfortunately have to turn people away sometimes because you can't just enter this one like beautiful carrot that you grew. Usually we require like three just to kind of show you're consistently a good carrot grower.

    Sherie: Instead, I'll get one random good carrot. So yeah, unfortunately if you only brought in one we'd have to turn you away. So definitely check out the rules. But it is a lot of fun. It's free to enter unlike state fair, which you have to pay an entry fee and it's just a lot of fun and it's very relaxed and it's not. You don't have to be like this amazing gardener, but if you're like I grew some fantastic peppers this year, bring them down.

    Nicole: Awesome.

    Sherie: And it is at the state fair.

    Nicole: Okay. And that information is online too?

    Sherie: It is. It's all on our website.

    Nicole: Awesome. We'll put a link to that too. I'll have to see what we can drum up. I haven't entered anything yet.

    Sherie: Yeah. Yeah. I have entered and I have to, I watched the judges judge usually and they're like, oh, these don't look good. Those were mine, but I can't tell them that.

    Nicole: Right. Oh funny.

    Sherie: And you can totally watch the judging.

    Nicole: And that's just the one day then?

    Sherie: Yeah, it's just the one day for open class and then we will do a display and we'll keep everything on display all week. And then the next week if you want your stuff back you can come and get it the next week. So people usually don't pick up a lot of their, they'll pick up their ribbons. But a lot of this stuff is kind of spent by that time. But people will pick up their garlic and their onions and things that will keep.

    Nicole: Sure. I imagine a week old carrot in the heat probably.

    Sherie: Exactly. It's kind of hot out there. We also have a lot of fun categories for the kids, especially, prettiest bug, biggest grasshopper, biggest zucchini, which we always have tons of entries in. So we'll weigh them and see who has the biggest zucchini. Vegetable caricature. So if you have a vegetable that looks like president Lincoln or something like that, that would be cool to enter. So there's like the garden fun category and that's a lot of fun too.

    Nicole: Oh cool. And if somebody wanted to kind of just invest in their own education and be a little bit more self sufficient maybe and have the resources to help the community, then the master gardener program would be a great route for that. So can you tell us some more about that program?

    Sherie: Yeah, I would love to. The master gardener program is awesome as you know, you went through the training. And so basically how it works is the whole process kind of starts in the fall. We'll start taking applications and it kind of is a bit of a process to get accepted because we want to have really good volunteers. So you fill out an application in the fall and then we will do a background check. The reason we do a background check is because the volunteers are affiliated with CSU. We want to make sure we're representing the university well and also we do things with schools and things like that. So we want to make sure that we have reputable folks entering our program.

    Sherie: So we'll do a background check and then we'll do an interview. The interview is not anything to be nervous about. It's mainly a get to know you kind of thing. It'll be with myself and a current master gardener and just kind of to feel out what kind of things you would be interested in doing if you get into the program. There is a fee to join in and we haven't gotten our new fees for the 2020 program yet, but that will be online when we do and as well as applications. So once you kind of go through the whole application process, the classes begin in January. And it's a 10 week course. Now, I believe when you did the program it was all in person.

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Sherie: All 10 weeks. So the awesome thing now is we're really trying hard to attract more people who can't come to 10 Thursdays because it's hard as you know, especially if you have a job. So we are about half and half in person and online now.

    Nicole: Oh, cool.

    Sherie: So you'll probably have to come to maybe six weeks of live training. The other ones will be online and you can do them at your leisure, but they're still really, really good programs. So it's 10 weeks and you learn everything. I mean, we'll start with basic botany, we'll move into soils. There's a class on vegetables, a class on trees, there's diagnostics, so like how to diagnose people's problems that they're bringing into you. We'll have a whole day on insects and you'll just learn everything about gardening in Colorado. After that 10 weeks, it ends around April and then you'll have until October 31st to do a certain amount of volunteer hours. And for your first year it's 50 hours, which seems like a lot, but it's really not that bad because we do a lot of fun stuff. As you know, it goes by really fast.

    Sherie: You know, you could volunteer at our farmer's market giving information. We have the helpline that you can volunteer at. If you prefer to write articles, we have a newsletter that we put out. There's just tons of stuff that you can do and it ends up being a lot of fun and the 50 hours go by really fast, most people tell me anyway. So it's a really fun program and then you're out there and you are able to help the community out, share your knowledge. And I think for a lot of the volunteers it's also a social thing. You meet tons of like-minded folks who are interested in gardening. I love, love, love seeing my master gardeners come together and make friends and I hear them doing stuff outside of the program and it builds a stronger program. So we have about 40 active volunteers. I'm always looking for more. Pueblo is probably the biggest program in the South of Colorado Springs, anyway. We train a lot of the other smaller counties too. Like we'll train Fremont County and Otero County and then they can kind of go to their home counties and share the knowledge there. But it's a really great program. It's probably coordinating the master gardener program is probably my favorite part of my job and that I spend the most time on. So that's good.

    Nicole: I learned so much taking that class. It was really kind of information overload. I took a lot of notes.

    Sherie: Yeah.

    Nicole: But it was a great class and I loved it and I really wish that I could just take it about six more times so that I can retain all the information.

    Sherie: Yeah. Yeah. And once you do take it, I mean you're right because especially those first couple, it's a lot. It's impossible to remember it all, but the continuing master gardeners, if you're like, okay, I don't remember anything from soils, I'm going to take it again next year. You can do that and you wouldn't be charged for that. So you can kind of build on your knowledge. And they're also, the continuing master gardeners, we have them take continuing education credits so you can be assured that if you're asking a master gardener a question, they're up on their knowledge. They've been keeping up on current trainings and things like that. So they're just such a great resource and it's a great program to join.

    Nicole: It really is. I love the ability to give back to the community. But even just at home I've been able to use so much and not only from now we have a more productive garden that we get better yields from. But I've learned how to keep our large grass green without using as much water and it's just pest mitigation and just everything. It's been a great program.

    Sherie: Yeah, great. Definitely. It's really cool and you can definitely call down to the office right now and get on a mailing list and we'll shoot out a notice as soon as applications are ready. And it's pretty popular. Usually, a lot of people start coming in and getting them right away. But you could also just keep checking our website and we'll put them up as soon as we have them ready.

    Nicole: Okay, great.

    Sherie: Well we are having a booth at the state fair this year.

    Nicole: Oh, cool.

    Sherie: That's new. We haven't had a presence at a state fair and I'm really excited to this year we're going to have a pretty big booth. One of our master gardeners, Tricia, works for the state fair and helped me out to get a booth in there and I'm really excited to give some information at state fair about the master gardener program. And with the population growing, one of the big things that we always hear about is the water issue. So we've been trying to push some classes on rainwater harvesting, which is new-ish.

    Nicole: Yeah, like last year right?

    Sherie: Yeah. Maybe the year before. Time flies by so fast.

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Sherie: Yeah. I mean you can be collecting rain water now and we've been doing one workshop a year where we virtually, we built the rain barrels. The subsequent years we've just been kind of handing out the materials to build the rain barrels. But it's really important I think just with all the new people moving here and there is just not enough water for everybody. So if you're able to save some of your rainwater and use to irrigate your landscape, I think that's a really great idea. So be on the lookout for the rainwater harvesting classes this summer.

    Nicole: I know I found them on like Craigslist or Facebook, but maybe it's not the extension office, but like the El Paso County Water Conservatory or something like that place, they actually sell premade rain barrels.

    Sherie: Yeah, I can't think of exactly who it was either. But yeah, they do. A lot of folks are doing that with the premade barrels.

    Nicole: There's a guy in the County that sells barrels. He has like acres of them.

    Sherie: Oh, really?

    Nicole: He has white and blue and he has food grade and not food grade. And then he has food grade rinsed and then food grade sterilized.

    Sherie: Oh wow.

    Nicole: I bought a barrel for my chickens. I have a lot of chickens and they were going through their water in like three days, so I needed a higher volume thing. And the food grade rinsed was 20 I think. And then the food grade sterilized was 25.

    Sherie: And I've also heard car washes might sometimes have barrels, like they probably have soap in them them so you need to clean them. The ones we get from Coke, like you could definitely tell this one was a Dr. Pepper barrel. This one was a Sprite barrel. They need to be cleaned, but it's cool.

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Sherie: It's pretty fun. So yeah, rainwater harvesting though, it's a good thing to do, with the population growth and everything and it's fun too I think.

    Nicole: I've been wanting to do it, but my husband's like, well first of all we don't get that much rain and then it's going to get like mosquitoes and gross in there.

    Sherie: I will address both of those. I hear that a lot. Like it doesn't rain here, why would I put a rain barrel? I kind of thought the same thing. I set up a rain barrel. It literally needs drain for five minutes and my barrel is full.

    Nicole: Yeah.

    Sherie: It's crazy how much will actually come off of your roof. So it totally does rain here. I mean the small rain event is all you need to fill up your barrel. In fact, most of the time my barrel ends up overflowing. So if it's raining for more than a few minutes, I've got to make sure to go out there and open air. It's just wasted. But yeah, and then the mosquito thing, the laws about the rainwater harvesting, they address that pretty well. So you have to have a covered lid and a screen would be adequate, but it has to have an insect screen over it.

    Sherie: You're supposed to use it within seven days so that they can't lay their eggs. And the tubes, overflow tubes, have to be so long so that they can't go up and lay their eggs in there. So there's a lot and that's why it's so awesome for people to come do the workshop and then you can kind of learn all that stuff about the mosquitoes and kind of squash some of those myths that it's too dry here because I mean it is very dry here. We'd get a lot more if we lived somewhere else, but you really can fill a barrel quite easily.

    Nicole: Sure.

    Sherie: The one thing like swinging back to vegetables and herbs, sometimes not the best thing for edibles, the rainwater. Our rainwater is actually relatively pretty clean here in Colorado. But our roofs are not because it doesn't rain that much, so they get tons of dust and like bird droppings and stuff.

    Nicole: I didn't think about that.

    Sherie: So it's sometimes not the best to water your edibles with. But, and you can look this up on YouTube, there's some amazing ideas for these first flush devices is what they call them, where basically it's kind of a smaller vessel that the initial amount of water will go into. Once that fills up, it'll start going into your barrel. So you kind of rinse your roof off with that first amount and then what goes into your barrel is clean.

    Nicole: Oh, cool.

    Sherie: If you have something like that, you can totally water your vegetable garden. But without it I might be a little cautious.

    Nicole: Sure, that makes sense. Yeah.

    Sherie: That works well.

    Nicole: Thank you Sherie for joining us and sharing all of your knowledge about the master gardener program and thank you all for listening and we'll see you again next week.

    Announcer: Thank you for listening to Backyard Bounty, a podcast by Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show, please email us at, [email protected]. Also find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.

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