These Master Gardeners encourage others to sign up

Farm Forum

Paul Wentzlaff enjoys growing gardeners. Each spring, the Yankton Master Gardener volunteers his time to host a gardening basics workshops at the local library where he gives some of his best pumpkin seeds to youngsters and teaches them how to check soil temperature so they know when it is time to plant, how many seeds to plant and how to care for their pumpkins throughout the growing season.

“If we don’t teach the younger generation to garden, who will,” asks Wentzlaff, whose day job is working as a soil improvement analyst for Mission Hill Farms.

Wentzlaff has gardened since childhood. He continues the tradition today, planting almost an acre full of zucchini, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe and a “bunch of pumpkins” which he donates to local food shelves and sells to area retailers like Sunshine Foods, Pomegranate Market and Hy-Vee.

Giving back to the community through gardening is a large focus of the Master Gardening program, says SDSU Extension Consumer Horticulture Field Specialist, Mary Roduner, who serves as Program Coordinator for this Signature Program for SDSU Extension.

“This training gives gardeners a well-rounded education preparing them to help their communities,” Roduner says.

She explains that to receive their certification, Master Gardeners take the course and then volunteer 50 hours working in their community to promote and teach gardening.

Opportunities include; writing articles, giving talks, working at fair booths, helping in community and school gardens, teaching and answering garden questions. In 2013 Master Gardeners, like Wentzlaff contributed almost 10,000 hours, worth over $160,000 to South Dakota communities.

“I just love working in the soil,” Wentzlaff said. “Being a Master Gardener adds to the enjoyment of gardening because I get excited about helping people by answering their gardening questions.”

Mabel Schmit echoes Wentzlaff’s thoughts. A small business owner in Winner, Schmit says that since she became a Master Gardener, community members frequently stop into her downtown shop, Mabel’s Embroidery & Quilting requesting her gardening advice.

“Even though I’ve gardened since I was a child, I had a lot to learn. The Master Gardener training enhanced what I do,” says Schmit, who has a freezer full of vegetables she raised in her small, backyard garden.

As a business owner, she fits gardening in after work and on the weekends. So, she likes to keep things simple. Thanks to many tips, like using soaker hoses and laying down newspaper, mulch and old carpet between her rows to keep the weeds down, she gleaned while taking the Master Gardener training, Schmit is able to maximize her gardening time.

She adds that volunteering 50 hours in two years really wasn’t that difficult. Schmit donated hours planting a flower garden at the local museum and sharing gardening tips with others.

Hands-on & Online Master Gardener Training Available in 2014

The application deadline for 2014 Master Gardener Training is April 11, 2014 with online lessons beginning April 21. Trainees will be able to study on their own schedule where ever and whenever they have internet access, Roduner explains. “Training is organized into two parts with the first part an eight week series of online lessons. The second part is four days of in-person, hands-on training.”

A new set of lessons will be posted each week and remain available through the entire class.

“Trainees taking the hybrid class in 2013 stated they liked the freedom to study at their own pace and on their own time,” Roduner said.

Although Cleone Thompson didn’t have the online option when she took the Master Gardener course almost 20 years ago, she is excited for the new format which includes online classes covering the following topics: basic botany, soils, turf, trees, insects, fruit, vegetables, ornamentals and weeds. As well as hands on courses to teach skills in pruning, plant and insect identification, turf problems, weeds, soils and ornamental plants.

“Thanks to this online option, you don’t have to be retired to be a Master Gardener,” says Thompson, a Sioux Falls Master Gardener.

Like many of her Master Gardener peers, Thompson grew up gardening with her family. Even when she was working fulltime and raising her family, Thompson found time to garden, saying that for her, gardening is therapeutic.

“As crazy as it sounds, I like pulling weeds,” Thompson says. “I feel so good after gardening. It really gets the endorphins flowing, and, it’s a great workout. It’s such a physical activity that I actually do stretches before I garden.”

She adds that Master Gardener training enhanced her hobby.

“There was so much I didn’t know. It gave me such a good basic knowledge that now I really enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others,” explains Thompson.

All Master Gardener lessons are taught by SDSU Extension field specialists and faculty. The hands-on portion will be held in four locations; Sioux Falls, Huron, Mission and Spearfish beginning the third week of June.

The training cost is $160 with 50 hours of volunteer payback during the first two years after training. To register visit, Applications and payment must be received no later than April 11, 2014.

For more information, application forms and schedules contact Mary Roduner at or 605-394-1722. To learn more about Master Gardeners, visit

To attend the Gardening Basics Workshop hosted by Wentzlaff, visit the Yankton Public Library May 14 at 3:30 p.m. CST. The workshop is designed for middle school age children, with an emphasis on growing pumpkins. Children of all ages will be given pumpkin seeds to take home and plant.