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EDUCATING MASTER GARDENER VOLUNTEERS USING A SOIL RESEARCH PROJECT

J. Daugherty. UF/IFAS Extension, Lake County, Tavares, FL; B. Lester. UF/IFAS Extension, Hernando County, Brooksville, FL; K. McCormick. UF/IFAS Extension, Seminole County, Sanford, FL; J. Roberts UF/IFAS Extension, Orange County, Orlando, FL; E. Pabon. UF/IFAS Extension, Osceola County, Kissimmee, FL.

Situation: Master Gardener Volunteers (Volunteers) undergo extensive training to answer homeowner’s questions about their home landscaping needs. One area that is difficult to understand is the importance of soil pH in successful gardening. This topic can be complicated to those new to gardening resulting in a lack of full understanding without hands on experience. One way to gain this practical experience is by testing with easily accessible soil pH testing equipment and comparing the results to Extension office and the Extension Soil Testing Lab (ESTL).

Methods: In a partnership with five Central District Counties (Lake, Hernando, Seminole, Orange, and Osceola), Volunteers participated in soil pH data collection as part of the soil component of their training. Volunteers received one of two types of testing equipment to collect pH data in an area. An informational handout and data collection sheet were provided to give the participants information about the larger experiment and to walk them through soil sampling and collecting data. They then collected a soil sample for testing at the extension level, along with additional data for the experiment. They were also given questions to mimic common Plant Clinic questions surrounding pH testing.  Soil samples were sent to the ESTL as well. All results were compared and shared with participants. Volunteers gained experience in soil sampling and pH testing through the process.  Results: A post project survey was given to all participating (N=18 anticipate N-65) in the project.  To date 92% or more of participants indicated positive learning from this project, planning to use what they learned. This is an on-going program that collects data on a continuing basis. Conclusion: This activity is providing a valuable learning opportunity for Master Gardener Volunteer trainees. This project could be incorporated into the larger Master Gardener Volunteer training curriculum.

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