CSU Extension Master Gardener class returns to Roaring Fork Valley

Apr 9, 2015

Instructor and horticulturist Jeff Pieper listens to a question from a student.
Credit Elise Thatcher

  Learning how to grow a high altitude garden can be difficult. Now residents in the Roaring Fork Valley have another option for improving their green thumb. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher has this story

It’s a sunny March day, but these lively gardeners are inside. More than twenty are packed into a classroom at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Carbondale. Jeff Pieper is their sensei, as instructor for this Master Gardener Program. The class has a mix of hands-on learning, like pruning trees, as well as class time and video lectures like this one. It’s taught by an expert in Fort Collins.

“Ok, everybody missed this... So this is Tamela,” Pieper explains, after questions about who the expert is. “This is Tony’s presentation, I think he’s sick. She said this at the very beginning but we were a little raucous.” The class bursts into laughter.

The lecture topic is weeds, and all the ways to prevent them, like using mulch and black plastic liners.

“Now listen, everybody has weeds, everybody needs to learn how to control their weeds,” says Pieper. “[Tamela] hasn’t talked much about organic weed control so that will probably be after lunch.”

Master Gardener classes like this one are offered across Colorado, through the Colorado State University Extension Service. But there hasn’t been one in the Roaring Fork Valley in many years. Carbondale resident Darrell MacAulay is sitting in the front row. This is her first time living at a higher altitude, and she’s gotten lucky with gardening so far.

“Last year was my first vegetable garden, in one of the community gardens around here. And I didn’t know a darn thing and it came out really well. It was really awesome,” MacAuley laughs.

Still, MacAulay wants to make sure she’s doing it right. She moved here a few years ago from the San Francisco Bay area, drawn by a certain gardening technique taught in Carbondale. Although this Master Class is a little different, she says it’s kind of blowing her socks off… in two ways.

“There is just so much actual scientific information, about how to do this gardening thing. But it’s almost like the more I learn the more confusing it gets, because there’s so many more factors to take into consideration,” MacAuley marvels. “And yet at the same time, this is basic. If you put black plastic on the ground, it’s going to get hot! So I guess I’m learning that I knew more than I thought I did from a pretty general standpoint.”

Fellow student Robin Van Norman agrees there’s a lot to absorb. She’s taking the class to prepare for landscaping her new home.

“And I’ve learned about how many things I thought were true, are [actually] false,” exclaims Van Norman. “Just how to plant a tree, for example, we had trees planted, everything I thought about tree planting that I was questioning about [with] the people that were planting them are you going to fertilize it, are you doing this and this, etc. And we found out we didn’t need that.”

Van Norman, who moved recently from Boulder, likes that a lot of class material is scientifically based, tying back to research done at Colorado State University and elsewhere.

“It’s a pretty good way to get exposed to a lot of information very quickly,” says Pieper. He also points out many students already knowledgeable about gardening, who end up sharing their tips in class.

CSU’s extension services are available in Rifle and Eagle-- but haven’t been for a long time in Pitkin County.

“So the Roaring Fork has kind of been neglected by extension services in general,” says Pieper. “This was something that we thought would be really effective to offer in the Roaring Fork [Valley], and so far I think it’s gone over really well. We teamed up with CMC, and it’s been a really nice collaborative so far.”

In fact, so many people wanted to sign up for this class, there weren’t enough spots. But that doesn’t worry Pieper, because there’s another one planned for next winter.