The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and Sarah Bush Lincoln cut a ceremonial ribbon Tuesday and opened a greenhouse that will serve the mission of the Master Gardeners – helping others learn to grow.
The large new greenhouse, equipped with a potting table, sink, water, fans, and heat, will allow the team to start their own vegetable and flower plants onsite. Sarah Bush Lincoln purchased the greenhouse for the group, while it was assembled by Nathan Shirley and Jack Ingram, Master Gardeners.
It began as a partnership that started more than 20 years ago, when the Coles County Master Gardeners created the Idea Garden on the west side of the Sarah Bush Lincoln campus. The Master Gardeners were looking for a project and the SBL Grounds Supervisor, who was also a Master Gardener, helped establish a plot of land near the Emergency Room. Over the years, it has grown into a space for respite and reflection.
While the project has brought joy to many facing crises or seeking relaxation, one of the more important projects is the Plant-A-Row garden on the northeast side of the SBL campus. It has been producing 4,000 pounds of produce for more than 20 years. The produce is all donated to the food banks in Mattoon, Charleston, and Oakland. The newly renovated garden will also serve the community with educational events and demonstrations.
SBL President & CEO Kim Uphoff reflected, “We have completely enjoyed hosting the Master Gardeners on our campus over the years. Countless people benefit from the beauty of the flower and herb garden to the vegetables they nurture and grow. We are pleased to be able to help with the greenhouse. I look forward to what next year brings.”
Master Gardener & Master Naturalist Program Coordinator Jenny Lee explained that this year’s crop was different though. “Due to the poor soil condition, the land wasn’t producing as much as in past years. It’s clay soil and has been compacted over the years it has been worked. We were fortunate to receive a grant from Coles Wind that enabled us to revitalize the land and start a new garden footprint.”
Master Gardeners have work tirelessly on improving the soil conditions with the hope of larger bounties. The group doesn’t like to use chemicals to kill weeds. Instead, it first laid a tarp over the plot to ‘cook the soil’ to eliminate weeds. Then Eastern Illinois University students volunteered through their JumpStart Day helped by aerating the ground. Cardboard was laid on top of the soil and then on top of it, alternated rows of compost that will be used for growing the crop in, and mulch, as the walkways. Raised beds also will be added next year to demonstrate different growing techniques.
Lee added, “We couldn’t have done all of this without the help of Coles Wind and its generous grant. We’re very grateful for it, and of course to Sarah Bush Lincoln purchasing this greenhouse and for the use of its resources.”
The team planted cover crops for the fall including radishes, oats, winter wheat and crimson clover, which were specifically selected to improve the soil. When the wheat is harvested, the Master Gardeners will host a program on how to mill the wheat to make flour.
For more information about the work of Master Gardeners, call 217 345-7034.
Pictured left to right:
Jessie McClusky, U of I Cooperative Extension; Brock Aleshire, SBL Grounds supervisor; Josh Hartke, Coles Wind; Kim Uphoff, SBL President & CEO; Jenny Lee, Master Naturalist Program Coordinator; Jack Ingram, Master Gardener; Terry Smith, Master Gardener; Jeff Swanson, Master Gardener