Demonstration Garden offers learning, sharing

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
Fairgoers visit with area Master Gardeners at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot. The garden is a cooperative effort between the fair and Master Gardeners from three counties — Bingham, Bonneville and Bannock.

BLACKFOOT — Learning and then sharing that knowledge with others is the aim of the creators of the Demonstration Garden at the Eastern Idaho State Fair.

Certified Master Gardeners from three counties tend to a flower and vegetable garden throughout the growing season and then come fair time, they’re on hand to discuss the results with fairgoers. The Demonstration Garden was started eight years ago as a cooperative effort between the professional gardeners and Brandon Bird, fair general manager, said John Lykseh, a Master Gardener of Blackfoot.

“Gardening is a part of agriculture and it fits, since this is an agricultural fair,” Lykseh said. “The garden started out small and has gotten more varied over the years.”

About 12 Master Gardener volunteers from Bingham County are assisted by volunteers from Bannock and Bonneville counties to plant and tend to the garden overflowing with green peppers, orange pumpkins, red tomatoes, green cucumbers, squashes of every color and variety, watermelon, flowers, herbs and much more.

“We have a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Lykseh said. “And we cultivate plants that help with pollination, attract bees and humming birds to the garden.”

The garden is designed to help others improve their gardening skills. Volunteers answer questions from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily throughout the fair.

“We have all kinds of people stop by, many are repeat visitors who have either tried a technique and it worked or didn’t, then we try to help them find out why,” Lykseh said. “It’s really about information networking.”

Gardeners Ervin and Dolores Brubaker, of Pocatello, visited the garden. Their garden is small, with limited sunshine, but they have a few raised beds.

“Ours is a 10th of the size of this one,” Dolores Brubaker said. “I like to garden and I really like the higher raised beds they have here so I wouldn’t have to bend over so far to weed.”

Ervin Brubaker noticed the black meshlike plastic the pros used for weed control. And several watermelons thriving in a far corner.

“The black plastic it’s a nice way to keep the weeds down, but we haven’t had a lot of success with it,” Brubaker said. “I didn’t know you could grow watermelons here.”

Lykseh initiated a community garden on Airport Road and when Bird approached him about moving it to the fairgrounds. He estimates that between 10,000 and 12,000 people visit the garden each year. During the week, the gardeners host a tomato-tasting and offer a photography class in the garden. On the final day of the fair, fairgoers can take some of the vegetables home.

“We wanted to share the produce with others,” Lyseh said. “We give them a bag and they can take home a few vegetables.”

The 14-week Idaho Master Gardener Program is offered by the University of Idaho and prepares individuals to assist other gardeners with their gardening and horticultural questions and problems. It requires 36 hours of classroom time from January to mid-April and 40 hours of hands-on training with an Extension educator. Both certification and university credit is offered.

For more information, visit the UI Extension Southeast Idaho Master Gardener website.