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Summer ends with first 4-H Horticultural Camp

By Carole Massey
For the Salisbury Post
All of our favorite things rolled into one fast-moving, project-filled week.
Kids, plants, fruit, vegetables, garden art, drought awareness, bees, birds, butterflies and spiders. Who could ask for more?
That was the question Master Gardener volunteers for the Rowan County Extension Service were asking themselves after the first Rowan County 4-H Summer Fun Horticultural Week.
Every year, Sara Drake, our 4-H agent, plans a plethora of activities for youth. All of the other extension agents in the county contribute their time and talents by planning classes or activities in their areas of expertise. This year, with assistance from horticulture agent Darrell Blackwelder, the Master Gardeners planned a five-day schedule of projects and activities for 4-H campers 9 to 13 years old.
Our week started Monday with the auditorium transformed into a specialty nursery. Class began with an introduction to plant pathology: sun, soil, water, photosynthesis, etc. These kids were all ahead of us. These lessons were important in that they were going to plant a garden in a jar and needed to know the requirements of plants in a terrarium.
After a visit to the Master Gardener greenhouse and several floriculture word games, teams of children and volunteers selected plants and began planting their individual terrariums.
Plants were selected based on size and color, as well as similar requirements for light and water. The end results were further enhanced by strategically placed rocks, seashells and other adornments.
Tuesday began with a van trip to the tomato fields of Patterson Farms. Where else could a child see firsthand hundreds of tomato plants with vine-ripe tomatoes and visualize bottle after bottle of ketchup?
Always the educator, Blackwelder shared the basics of growing acres of tomatoes and was able to show the dreaded tomato blight on a section of plants.
It was a short trip from the fields to the packing house, where the quantity of tomatoes was overwhelming.
After a quick stop at the Patterson’s Farmers Market, where the kids were able to shop among the locally grown produce, it was off to Pinetop Blueberry Farm.
Each child picked a cup full of juicy berries to contribute to a project planned for later in the day. It did not take long for volunteers and kids alike to pick and sample until the container was full.
Our next stop was Harris-Teeter on Jake Alexander Boulevard. The group met Co-Manager Daniel Sloop and got a behind-the-scenes tour of the produce department led by Produce Manager Steve Lippard.
The children were amazed at the variety of fruits and vegetables that come into the store every day. They were told that more produce is being locally grown, which enables stores to provide more fresh, nutritious items to the consumer. Store still import a tremendous variety of produce, and it all meets strict standards of food safety.
As the title of this class was “From the Grower, to the Grocery, to the Kitchen,” it was only fitting that after lunch, the children went to the kitchen, where they met Toi Degree, family and consumer sciences agent, for a cooking and nutrition class. Using the blueberries picked just a few hours earlier, the boys and girls prepared blueberry muffins to take home. What a fitting end to a great day!
It’s always an eye-opener when a bolt of lightning splits the sky above your head, but that sent volunteers scurrying Wednesday morning. The Outdoor Learning Shelter had been set up for the children to construct their festive garden ball, but the rain and wind intervened, and the staff had to move all the materials inside the Agricultural Center.
After a delayed start, kids began the creative task of covering a bowling ball with tile mastic and objects bright and shiny. There were several theme balls:
– Agriculture: a tractor on a path with a corn field on one side and a soybean field on the other.
– Entomology: insects galore, intertwined with spiders and snakes (all plastic) and beautifully decorated objects of art, all sparkly and ready for a place of honor in the maker’s garden.
We began Thursday with another field trip, this time visiting Garden Greenhouses Nursery to select drought-tolerant plants for a xeriscape dish garden. The nursery had several large planters full of succulents as examples.
A stop by the Master Gardener xeriscape garden at Rowan Public Library gave the group other ideas on suitable plants for water-wise gardening. Volunteers and kids alike enjoyed selecting plants and planning the containers that would become their succulent dish gardens. Hopefully, some of these will become Rowan County Fair entries in September.
Friday concluded a week of fun and learning for the children and the volunteers. We held this session at the West End Park and Community Garden on Brenner Avenue, which is maintained by Extension Service and Master Gardener volunteers.
After a garden tour, the children learned about birds, butterflies, insects and spiders. A variety of bird nests were on display, along with photographs of the birds that made them.
The children also saw a collection of different bluebird houses, several of them placed around the Brenner Avenue garden.
The butterfly garden contains plants that act as hosts for caterpillars, as well as food for larva and adults. The children were instructed in making a butterfly nectar feeder to hang to attract butterflies. They learned the basics of bugs vs. beetles, prompting several lively discussions.
The spider segment was the most anticipated one, and the boys were overjoyed to share their experiences with the eight-legged creatures. Each camper took home a wooden spider web frame to place in their gardens. After a picnic lunch, and a multitude of handouts (including a spider chart) the horticulture week was officially over.
More than 50 children and an equal number of adult volunteers participated in this combined 4-H Master Gardener Summer Fun activity. In case you missed this year, or you think you might have a child who would enjoy this activity, contact the 4-H office for more opportunities.
For more information, contact the Extension office 704-216-8970 or e-mail darrell_blackwelder@ncsu.edu.
Carole Massey is coordinator for the Master Gardener program for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.
 

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