The gardening articles you enjoy each week are written by community volunteers who are certified as Master Gardeners by Washington State University. There are currently 30 Master Gardener programs within the 39 Washington state counties. The purpose of the WSU Master Gardener program is to educate volunteers so they can provide and share science-based horticulture, gardening and pest management information within their communities.

So what have been the challenges and how has the Master Gardener program continued to be mission-driven in 2020?

Normally, starting in mid-January we have our in-class lectures, meeting every Wednesday afternoon at the Red Barn at the Ahtanum Youth Park. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we stopped our class lectures in mid-March and began using the Zoom format for our remaining lectures until the end of April. For trainees, these classes are supplemented by a WSU Blackboard online course.

Another primary goal of the Master Gardener program is community service. Our diagnostic Plant Clinic at the WSU Extension office was closed, and as a result all phone calls and email questions from the public were answered by our clinic team from their homes. We were fortunate to be at the Yakima Farmers Market later in the season, of course following their guidelines, and were able to have our usual booth in order to answer gardening questions from the public.

Another volunteer activity included working in the beautiful Demonstration Garden at the Ahtanum Youth Park. There we kept the plant material alive as we worked in an outdoor setting following all safety precautions. We also were allowed to work in our Heirloom Garden, which we converted into a Food Garden in order to donate all our healthy produce to local food banks to help those in need.

We kept our plants alive at the greenhouse after March, following all safety precautions, but for safety reasons we were not able to have our usual plant sale for the public. We were fortunate to have Roots Nursery and Green Garden buy many of our plants and sell them at their locations. We were able to host two of our Spring Symposium classes the first two Wednesday evenings in March but had to cancel the other two speakers. Normally we hold Gardening Classes for the public on Saturday mornings at the Demo and Heirloom gardens, sharing local Master Gardener expertise or having a guest lecturer, but again all classes were canceled.Upon request our Speaker’s Bureau will talk on gardening topics to local groups — this year we were able to have the Seed Saving class in February, but the majority of requests were canceled except a few classes that were offered by the Yakima & Selah Network via Zoom.

Lastly, our youth team that normally teaches gardening practices to children in certain schools and at many local events was not able to carry out its mission. This was as a result of schools closing and events being canceled. But — when given lemons, make lemonade, right? We were able to reach many children with our gardening activity packets and seeds that were handed out at the farmers market.

The one thing that did remain normal was writing gardening articles for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Yakima Magazine. And we upped our game with our WSU Yakima Facebook page, sharing science-based gardening information with the public.

Our goal was to not only keep our Master Gardeners safe but to protect the public as well; we feel we have been successful. We are happy to report that with our approximately 150 members we only had one individual sicken with COVID-19, and that person recovered.

In a normal year we would ask you to submit an application if you would like to join our family of gardeners. But because of continuing restrictions in Yakima County, we felt it would be unfair to applicants to not be able to get the full Master Gardener experience. Thus we will continue to take applications but will most likely not be able to start in January. We will be taking a wait-and-see approach to what happens in 2021. If you do apply to the WSU Master Gardener Program, your application will be kept on file and we will contact you when we can offer training again.

Contact WSU Yakima County Extension by calling 509-574-1604 or emailing www.gardener@co.yakima.wa.us, and ask for the application and information sheet. For more information, visit our webpage at http://tinyurl.com/yakimagarden, where an application and information sheet are available.