By Lariena Nokes

Spring brings with it warmer air and soil temperatures. These ambient conditions make this time of year ideal for garden preparations and setting up planting beds for flowers and vegetables.

Hazel Zink, Hutchinson, is among the master gardeners who work with the K-State Research and Extension office of Newton as a volunteer maintaining the various gardens here on campus.

“This is one of 20 gardens around Kansas for the Prairie Star Annual Flowers Program that is maintained by volunteers,” Zink said.

Today the plan was to work in the test gardens on campus, by the pond.

“We are working at cleaning up, and putting down new mulch,” Zink said

Students such as Nathaniel Hoefer, Hutchinson appreciate the many gardens and the work of the master gardeners.

“I really enjoy the garden when it starts to bloom. I go out of my way to walk by and see what is growing,” Hoefer said.

After finishing the master gardener course, participants in the program are required to donate 40 hours to the project gardens. New master gardeners like Julia Hulsey, Hutchinson, get to apply the skills and knowledge they learned at the extension office in Newton.

“I wanted to hone some skills and learn the correct names of plants,” Hulsey said.

With many hobbies to choose from, Julia followed her heart.

“Gardening is fun. If you have not done it, you should try it,” Hulsey said. “You are always out in the fresh air, and you always get some kind of result from it.”

Like many of the master gardeners in the program, this is a life-long investment in horticulture.

“I have always liked gardening,” Hulsey said. “I make an attempt to grow a garden every year.”

With 26 active master gardeners on the contact list run by Zink, there will be many capable hands managing the HCC campus gardens this year. First year participant Jim Potter, Hutchinson, will be heading up the project blog to document the garden and the participants.

“I wanted to learn about the plants and focus on the native grasses,” Potter said.

Hazel Zink explained some of the tasks to be completed this week.

“The native grasses will be cut back to a height of six inches from the soil, so that they will grow back with the same volume this year,” Zink said.

The future of the HCC campus gardens looks positive, with plans for new projects.

“We are looking forward to including a gazebo and adding garden beds around the new benches,” Zink said.

Having the proper conditions for plants is very important in each of the specific gardens, which are labeled by metal signs. Allen Hirst shared some details about proper planting.

“When the soil is too cold, the plants do not do anything,” Hirst said. “We are expecting 30 degrees for the next three mornings.”

Any viable ground can be reclaimed for gardening, he said.

“Several years ago this was a parking lot, so underground it is all packed clay here. It can take work to get plants to grow happily here,” he said.

Planning garden chores is vital to the success of the plants and to the final results.

“My rule is Mother’s Day. If you plant before that, nothing happens,” Hirst said.

Each gardener has his or her own favorite part of the project.

“I am a vegetable-growing person and I love the native grasses, too,” Hirst said.

When the vegetable garden provides a harvest, students and college staff are welcome to enjoy the bounty of the campus harvest.

“Last year we had cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, and many other vegetables,” Hirst said.

Cheryl Warkentin, JFK librarian, shared her fondness for the gardens.

“During warmer weather I sometimes go and sit out there. I think the garden is a wonderful addition to the college,” Warkentin said.

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