Upgrade Your Gardening Skills With This Free Program

Upgrade Your Gardening Skills With This Free Program


Gardening is all about experience, which makes getting started more than a little intimidating. Even something as simple as planting tomatoes brings up a million questions if you haven’t done it before: Do I need a raised bed? When should the seeds go in the ground? Is this too much light, or not enough? Hang on—do tomatoes even grow in this climate?

If any of these questions ring a bell, you should get familiar with your local university’s extension services. Cooperative extension services, also known as extension programs, are basically community outreach and education programs for agriculture. A collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and public state universities, these programs been around in one form or another since 1914. According to the old Farmer’s Almanac, the USDA wanted to “provide farmers across the country with advice from local experts regarding all things agriculture and farming,” and figured state universities were the perfect way to do it. They were right—the program was an immediate success, and all 50 states have extension services today.

You don’t have to be a farmer or even live near your state’s university to take advantage of its extension services. Most programs maintain physical offices in multiple counties, which you can easily locate using the USDA’s Land-Grant University Website Directory. Once you’ve found your local office, check out their website to see what they’ve got going on.

It might be a lot to take in at first. Extension service websites are, as a rule, absolutely stuffed to the gills with useful information, making them the perfect reference for any project you can dream up. But they’re more than Wikipedia for local gardening tips—they’re primarily event calendars. Remember, extension services were invented with the sole purpose of teaching people in the community how to do cool stuff. Before the internet, they did this exclusively through lectures, courses, workshops, and general community outreach, all of which they’re still doing today. This means there’s an extension services class on everything you could ever want to learn, from building chicken coops to the history of local agriculture to getting your Master Gardener certification, and it’s all free.

Listing every single thing you can learn from extension services would be impossible, but suffice it to say that they should be your first stop for any questions you have about planting, raising, harvesting, cooking, and preserving food in your specific area. The people who work there are seasoned locals with all the answers, and they’ll gladly share them with anyone who asks.



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