An Informed Answer To ‘How Does Your Garden Grow'

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Want to know how to get rid of those worms that just appeared on your tomato plants? New to the area and not sure what plants will survive in this hot, dry climate?

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Marilyn Castleman is one of the Gila County Cooperative Extension Service's new Master Gardeners. She took the class last fall and is pursuing formal certification. As a member of the High Country Garden Club, she has taken over the responsibility of maintaining the garden at the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce office, where she is a volunteer.

There's an answer to those and all gardening questions at the Cooperative Extension Service.

Payson's extension office is located in the county complex -- in the building on the northwest corner of the property. Go in and get pamphlets and brochures on any number of topics, or call and ask questions. If the staff can't provide an answer, they will direct you to specialists who can.

Residents making use of the extension's treasury, most frequently ask about gardening, said Susan Bolt, the administrative assistant in the Payson office. The office carries a large number of brochures, pamphlets and leaflets on native plants, fruits and vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs.

The extension's Master Gardener program has been going strong for about eight years, Sprinkle said. "There have been about 40 graduates in the last four or five years."

The men and women who complete the program and earn Master Gardener status make themselves available on an on-call basis to assist residents and business with gardening questions and projects.

There are 18 Master Gardeners in the Payson area.

Bolt said people also bring in plants and insects to be identified.

"Those we usually send down to Tucson," Bolt said.

Among the more unusual questions she has fielded: How to get rid of a snake in a wood pile; how to get rid of bees; how to control small wildlife; how to market a barbecue sauce.

Recently, a number of people have been asking why their trees are dying.

"We will look it up or refer them to someone," Bolt said.

The extension service assists residents and groups throughout the entire state with the resources from the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"The extension service is a mechanism by which the land grant universities and agricultural experiment stations get fact-based information to the general population," explained Jim Sprinkle, director of Gila County's extension branch. "We try to provide research-backed information, which has been verified, so consumers can have more confidence in it."

Sprinkle's specialty is animal science and he has done extensive research on the importance of trace minerals in cattle feeding practices.

The county's extension faculty also includes Lani Hall, who specializes in 4-H Youth Development; Christopher Jones, agriculture and natural resources specialist; and Sabrina Tuttle, a specialist in agriculture and natural resources, as well as 4-H youth development.

Meckenzie Helmandollar, a wildfire instructional specialist, is also part of the staff.

The office's efforts in the area of wildfire education was a major project in 2005. Jones was the lead author of "Living with Wildfire: Homeowners' Firewise Guide for Arizona," which was developed in cooperation with the Arizona State Land Department, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Fire Chiefs, the Forest Service and other federal partners. The publication has been distributed throughout the state.

Sprinkle and the extension agents are assisted by support staff in three different offices: Payson, Globe and San Carlos.

Numerous volunteers also keep the various programs operating, including the 4-H leaders and the corps of Master Gardeners.

The Gila County Extension Service also brings in specialists from around the state. During 2005, 35 different experts were drafted to assist in area projects, according to the service's annual report.

In addition to the material carried at the extension office and the information available from experts, Bolt said a great deal of material is available on the Internet at www.ag.arizona.edu.

Perhaps the most public face of the extension service is its 4-H and Youth Development programs. Payson native and former Frontier Elementary School teacher Lani Hall is in charge of the program in northern Gila County. Under her guidance, the enrollment in the 4-H program has seen significant gains. There was also growth in the number of volunteer leaders.

One of Sprinkle's primary projects is "Reading the Range," a program to monitor the rangeland and the effects of management practices and climate on its health.

"We have about 600,000 acres enrolled in the program in Gila County and in the fringes areas of Maricopa and Yavapai counties," Sprinkle said. He has about 16 ranchers participating in the project, and assistance from the Forest Service as well.

"Our hope is the data we gather will be used in making management decisions (on public lands)," he said.

One of the newest programs for the Gila County branch of the extension service is a Master Watershed Steward program, which Jones oversees. The first training was held in Globe, a second one will be offered in Payson this fall, Sprinkle said.

To learn more about the extension service, stop by the office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call (928) 474-4160.

-- To reach Teresa McQuerrey call 474-5251 ext. 113 or e-mail tmcquerrey@payson.com.

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