Gardening is one of America’s favorite pastimes. Way down south in Mobile County, 4-Hers with the Mobile County Jr. Master Gardener 4-H Club are getting their hands in the soil, getting involved, using their imaginations constructively and beginning to form improved healthful eating habits. Penny Smith is the volunteer leader with Mobile County JMG 4-H Club and is full of ideas and passionate about teaching children to sow the seeds of knowledge through gardening. This year at the Festival of Flowers, you can find a quilt on display, with each quilt square depicting a fruit, vegetable or flower, designed and constructed by 4-Hers. In addition, look for the seed mosaic designed by the 4-Hers reading "Sowing the Seeds of Knowledge."
On the grounds of the Mobile County Extension office you can find wonderful blooming plants as well as the most succulent fruit of the season. Vegetables are a year-round commodity here. All of this is managed and maintained by the Mobile County Master Gardeners.
There is no better place for grandparents, mothers, fathers and 4-Hers than the Mobile County Extension Office to play, experiment and enjoy the "fruits of their labors." Upon arriving at the Mobile County Extension, you might find children and adults shoulder-to-shoulder pruning grape vines and roses in the Demonstration Gardens managed and maintained by the Mobile County Master Gardeners.
Another day, you might find James Miles, Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System; Marshall Colburn, NRCS; Alex Crawford, Farm Service Agency; Penny Smith, Master Gardener; and April Griffin, Mobile County Soil and Water Conservation District, handling the details along with various other interested adults with drills, rebar, landscaping timbers, etc., all working to build a unique Jr. Master Gardener Garden. With a grant for $5,800 from Gulf Coast RC&D Council, a Junior Master Gardener Garden is growing from the ground up.
This JMG garden is an example of a crop rotation garden for home or community gardens. Crop rotation is a vital part of pest management in the vegetable garden. To establish an effective rotation, the garden is divided into units and the children will learn to avoid planting crops from the same family in the same location three years in a row. This JMG garden is an example of seasonal planting using this principle. The garden is divided into eight beds. Each year the crop families are rotated clockwise from bed to bed to ensure a continual rotation of crop families every three years. This garden will be planted, maintained and harvested by 4-Hers and volunteers.
Nutrition begins in the garden. Because children have grown the produce themselves, they are more likely to eat new and different fruits and vegetables. Growing fruits and vegetables in our JMG garden will provide an environment where health, nutrition, food safety and wise decision-making skills will be taught. At harvest time, Amelia McGrew, Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, will take this opportunity to demonstrate fun and exciting ways to prepare and present fresh-grown fruits and vegetables. 4-Hers will then be given the opportunity to try out their culinary skills through demonstration projects using the vegetables and fruits they have planted, maintained and harvested.
The Mobile County Jr. Master Gardener 4-H Club is a great experience and will help children learn about the many benefits and possibilities available through gardening. Children influence their parents. If parents are educated by their youngsters about gardening and growing healthful, nutritious fruits and vegetables, they and their families are more likely to spend more quality time with their children and improve the daily intake of healthful, nutritious foods.
Thanks to the generosity of Gulf Coast RC&D Council with grant money, dedication of caring adults, cooperation with the different agencies and the support of Jim Todd, CEC with the Mobile County Extension Office, the Mobile County Jr. Master Gardener 4-H Club is off to a very successful start, with many good years to come. Through garden projects, children learn to take great pride in their efforts and learn to give back to their community and act as mentors to younger gardeners. It is my privilege to work with such a successful team.
Jane Hartselle is a Regional Extension Agent with 4-H and Youth Development in Mobile and Washington Counties.
Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.