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Glean insight into your plants at farmers markets

  • Marie Narlock
  • When I think of the farmers market I think of my shopping list: organic strawberries, fresh greens, local honey. What I rarely consider is the advice that I can garner while I'm there. Tomato plants looking stunted this year? Maybe a tomato farmer can offer advice. Got wilted zucchini? Ask a zucchini grower. If you'd like a serving of advice with your purchases, you can hit up the folks manning individual booths. But what if you have a different kind of gardening question? What if someone has given you a succulent bowl and you have no idea how to water it? How do you figure out what critter is chomping down on your roses? Does that oozing gunk on your oak tree mean it has sudden oak death?

    This is where the Master Gardeners can come in. From Novato to Point Reyes Station, you can count on them to answer your garden questions. They can even take a peek at your problem plant right on the spot, if you've remembered to bring it with you.

    "We've tackled everything from spots on tomatoes to dead branches on pines from our booth," says Master Gardener farmers market coordinator Joan Uhalley. "People love getting their questions answered on the spot. Last year we helped Marin gardeners with over 2,000 separate gardening topics."
    Don't think you need to drag in a plant sample to get help.

    "We provide advice on a wide range of general gardening issues," says Uhalley. "We have on-the-spot tips and handouts to help you stop ant invasions, rats, gophers, mosquitoes and all the other pests who are regular but unwelcome garden visitors. Plus, we can offer general advice on things like replacing your lawn or improving your soil. We can also refer you to the Master Gardener help desk in Novato."

    Sometimes the advice is all about getting started.  "What should I do if I want to start growing my own food?" asks a San Rafael resident.  "I've never gardened before," says a mom with three kids from Mill Valley, "but we just moved here and I really want to grow a beautiful garden."

    In addition to personal and classroom experience, the Master Gardeners have a slew of literature to offer and websites to recommend that have the full scientific backing of the University of California, known throughout the world as agricultural and horticultural experts.

    Visitors to the Master Gardener booth also have the opportunity to sign up for the Leaflet, a free quarterly newsletter. Also, anyone who lives in the Marin Municipal Water District can schedule a free Bay Friendly Garden Walk in which a Master Gardener will visit your garden and provides on-the-spot water conservation suggestions.

    Here's when and where you can find a Master Gardener at farmers markets around the county:

    • Civic Center farmers market: Through mid-October on Thursdays and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
    • Novato Farmer's Market: on Grant Avenue through September on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    • Corte Madera Town Center: First Wednesday of the month through September, noon to 4 p.m.
    • Point Reyes Station: Toby's Feed Barn, 11250 Highway 1, every other Saturday through Oct. 26, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.