Local cooperative extension services, despite budget cuts, are still equipped to help educate potential and enthusiastic gardeners. Wincing a bit from the economic pinch, Dick Biggs, horticulture agent with Montgomery County, says, "Our goal is to give bulletins to those people who will use them."
Information that can help a consumer achieve the Cornucopia Project's style of self-sufficiency is available through the extension service in Montgomery and all other Maryland counties, and in Virginia and the District as well.
Everything from "Guide for the Beginning Gardener" to "Preserving Foods," is included in information distributed by D.C. area extension services. The services distribute bulletins (booklets), fact sheets and newsletters with information on home gardening, pest control and food preservation (canning, freezing and drying). Extension agents can help gardeners decide which vegetable varieties would do best in a particular area and will answer telephone calls about immediate problems. Soil testing -- to find out what your soil has and what it needs -- is another available service.
Many Maryland and Virginia extension offices also give what they call "master gardening classes" including 50 hours of lessons -- "almost like a two-year course," says Bruce Whiton of the Alexandria extension service. In return, students use their new expertise for 50 hours of volunteer work.
Master food preservation classes are being planned for many northern Virginia counties, too, says Nancy Pfafflin, a home economist with the Alexandria office. Participants will learn the techniques of food preservation including freezing, drying and canning.
To prepare for spring gardens, "I try to encourage people to collect all the organic matter they can at this time," Biggs advises. Leaves, lightly spaded into the dirt, will decompose through the winter. Gardeners should also get their soil tested now, "so in the spring you're ready to go," says Biggs.
While vegetable crops remain the most popular and the biggest money savers, he says, small fruits are becoming popular with home gardeners these days. Biggs says small fruit growing is "very common. Even people in town houses can plant two blueberry bushes."
Home gardeners who have had success with vegetables are usually the best equipped to begin growing blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and such. Those are the people, says Biggs, who are familiar with the soil and gardening practices, and small-fruit growing apparently takes a little more expertise. Fruit trees have become more popular, too, but Biggs says these may not be cost efficient.
After organic matter has been turned into the soil and the snow falls, the gardener can head indoors to map his garden space and plot his course for spring. "Decide how much space you have and what you want to grow," says Biggs. Right after Christmas, seed catalogs are prevalent and gardeners can begin ordering.
County extension offices often have classes and newsletters to support gardening and food preservation activity. Most of them have telephone numbers listed under county government, except in the case of large, independent cities such as Alexandria, Va., when it's listed under city government. The District's offices are listed under the University of the District of Columbia.
In addition, people interested in the Cornucopia Project's ideals are encouraged to write for information about forming food co-ops, organic gardening, food preservation, cold framing and more. Address all mail to Cornucopia Project, 33 East Minor Street, Emmaus, Pa. 18049.