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Gardeners meet to dish dirt; swap strategies; learn what works here

Anne Morgan, at right, spoke to local gardeners and gardening enthusiasts last week at Riverside United Methodist Church in Park Rapids. She discussed Community Supported Agriculture and a variety of soil and pest issues. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Gardeners must have been brought up right by their parents.

They love to share.

When Anne Morgan addressed the Park Rapids Garden Club last week she'd barely begun to speak about her Community Supported Agriculture project when the hands went up in the room.

Like thirsty plants, the gardening enthusiasts wanted to drink up all the knowledge Morgan had amassed over 30 years of hard work, trials, tribulations, successes and failures.

Ruth Bakken and Anita Berneck attended the public event, Long Lake residents trying to stave off the deer in their gardens.

"They're even eating the shrubs poking out through the snow," Ruth lamented.

"They're everywhere," Morgan told the two dozen people assembled at Riverside United Methodist Church March 17. "They're ruthless. They're the governor's gophers."

The best solution to keeping them out is a high fence, she suggested.

Morgan's farm south of Park Rapids feeds 100 families throughout the region, all the way to Fargo, for the summer and fall.

She brought a vast trove of knowledge to others who love to dig in the dirt.

"We need to grow as much of our own food as possible" to prevent trucking it in from all over the country, Morgan said. "Local food has the most vitamins and minerals."

She explained the value of composting so the soil doesn't wear out," she said. "Compost is like vitamins to the soil." It replenishes the bacterial activity necessary to stimulate growth.

But it also adds to the topsoil base necessary to sustain that plant life, she said.

Should I be putting my wood ash on my garden, one participant asked? Probably not, was the answer, but it makes excellent mulch for strawberry plants and does well in a compost mix.

And so it went.

Because many people are getting interested in gardening, either because they find they have the time, or their economic situation necessitates it, there has been a rise in people buying seeds to grow their own vegetables this summer. Morgan advocates growing from seed, so people can watch the process.

"It's really fun reading seed catalogs and there are so many different varieties you can try," she suggested.

Although many of the gardeners assembled last week are more experienced, Morgan offers the following tips for beginning gardeners:

-Be patient. A good garden can take a year to develop. You may want to clear your garden plot, have the soil tested, make the recommended changes, usually to decrease the acid level, and wait a year to plant. Double dig your soil, to get organic material well entrenched in the layers. It also aerates the dirt.

-"Grow something you like to eat," she suggests.

-Be prepared for deer, rabbits and other predators. Try to fence in your garden, even though there may be plants and sprays that repel animals. Those may only be partially successful.

-Embrace your failures; learn from your successes. As with all endeavors, gardening is dependent on weather and factors sometimes beyond human control. Celebrate what grows and learn what doesn't.

"You're cheering for your plant and loving it."