Grow it Eat It – Maryland’s Food Gardening Network

By Sandra Zunino

Few things are as satisfying as picking a ripe tomato from your own garden, except maybe enjoying the fresh flavor of said tomato, and the University of Maryland’s Master Gardener Program wants to make sure more people enjoy the benefits of growing their own produce through the “Grow It Eat it” campaign.

The Grow It Eat it Network is now entering its second year with more than 5,000 food gardeners in 1,900 Maryland gardens already registered. The idea emerged at a master gardeners’ planning committee when someone suggested that with the rise of vegetable prices more people might be interested in growing their own food, according to Master Gardener Jack Daub of Queenstown.

“We as Master Gardeners could start a program teaching people how to plan a garden and plant fruits and vegetables,” he said. The program, when introduced at an informal meeting a month later, met overwhelming support.

In The Grow It Eat It campaign, Master Gardeners teach classes on basic vegetable gardening skills, demonstrate sustainable gardening techniques and promote food gardening all across Maryland. Maryland gardeners can also register on the Grow It Eat It Network and participate in the interactive blog.

Master Gardeners are volunteers who have successfully completed the Master Gardener Training Program through the University of  Maryland Extension. Their mission is to educate residents about safe, effective and sustainable horticultural practices in general. Jack and his wife, Linda, also a Master Gardener, have conducted six Grow It Eat it classes at the Kent Island, Centreville and Suddlersville libraries this year.

Presentations started in February discussing gardening tools, how to till gardens, seed starting, container gardening, soil preparation, the importance of soil testing and where to send soil samples.

“There’s all different kinds of gardens,” Jack explains, “from a plot in the ground to raised beds where you build the bed on top of the ground and also containers.” Jack says while garden sizes can vary, many beginners often make the mistake of starting with too large of an area. An eight-by-eight foot plot is ideal to feed a family of four, he advises.

As classes continue, gardeners will learn money-saving tricks such as using layers of newspaper to block weeds and canning techniques to handle surplus

As seasons change, crops can be rotated such as lettuce, radishes and peas for cool weather and tomatoes and corn in summer. Not only does the Grow It Eat It program provide handy vegetable growing profiles on its website, there is an informative spring planting guide and a vegetable planting calendar for Maryland.

Master Gardeners also provide advice for community gardens. Through Grow It Give It, vegetable philanthropy comes in the form of providing links to food banks and other organization that accept fresh produce donations for the needy.

On Saturday, May 22, the Master Gardeners will have a Grow It Eat It booth at their third annual Garden Affair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the grounds of the Centreville Library. A free event, there will be demonstrations on container gardening, herb gardening and composting, plant sales and children’s activities.

For more information about Grow It Eat It, view the class schedule or join the network, visit www.growit.umd.edu or call Master Gardener Coordinator in Centreville Rachel Melvin at 410-758-0166.

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