Philosophy and History of the Backyard Gardener - April 25, 2012
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Gardeners are constantly seeking new and better-informed sources of information. In my opinion, there is no better source of this information than our national Cooperative Extension system. Cooperative Extension is available in every state and in most counties within those states. Cooperative Extension provides science-based gardening information which is appropriate for local conditions. In Yavapai County, I am the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Agent tasked with this mission. I am assisted by over 160 trained and certified Master Gardener volunteers whom are also dedicated to that mission. By the way, Master Gardeners are available for consultation in both our Camp Verde and Prescott Cooperative Extension offices.
The Backyard Gardener is a weekly column that helps me reach audiences in the Verde Valley with timely and scientifically valid gardening information. In the Backyard Gardener, I strive to increase reader’s knowledge of sustainable gardening/landscaping practices and local ecosystems. Sustainable practices include reducing unnecessary applications of pesticides and fertilizers, conserving and effectively managing irrigation water, and growing healthy ornamentals and crops that are appropriate for our climate and soils. Understanding local ecosystems leads to better gardening by working in concert with natural processes and beneficial organisms that will positively impact your garden or landscape. In addition, I try to offer sensible mitigation strategies for pests and diseases present in our environment.
Since 1998, I have written over 700 installments of the Backyard Gardener. In reviewing these, I have primarily written about plant health and function, wildlife, insects, diseases, weeds, drought-tolerant landscape plants, fruit and nut trees, and vegetable crops. I think it is very important to understand where we live and to base our gardening and landscaping decisions on our local environment’s opportunities and limitations. Increasing food production in personal and community gardens/orchards and reducing waste and recycling nutrients through composting and mulching is something many of us can and should do. When it comes to pesticides, we should never use them without also employing non-chemical integrated pest management strategies (prevention, exclusion, cultural practices, biocontrol, etc.).
Early on, many readers told me they had cut out my columns and had saved them for future reference. While that made me feel needed, it also sounded like a lot of unnecessary work. So, in 2001, I created the Backyard Gardener website where readers could access all my previous columns. All posted columns are searchable and a feedback form is there for readers to make suggestions and queries. The web-based format had the additional advantage of including photos and links to additional resources. It makes my life easier too – oftentimes an e-mail inquiry asks about something that I had previously written about. I can simply refer them to that column using a link in my e-mail response.
Between 2000 and 2010, US residents with access to the Internet almost doubled (from 41% to 80%, Source: US Census Bureau). The creation of the Backyard Gardener website coincided with this increase. Over the past 11 years, the Backyard Gardener website received an average 247,350 page views per year. Most of these are locally based, but others are outside Yavapai County, Arizona, and the US. I always try to assist with all inquiries and refer those within the US to their local Cooperative Extension office. In case you have not visited the website, the URL is included at the end of this column or you can search the web using “Backyard Gardener Arizona”. You might want to bookmark it in your web browser (wink, wink).
In an effort to keep up with younger, tech-savvy audiences, I started announcing publication of each new Backyard Gardener column using Twitter in 2010. My number of followers has slowly increased, but is still only at 87. This is far below Lady Gaga (23,129,492 followers) and Justin Bieber (20,463,327 followers), but will these followers will still be as engaged in five years? On a serious note, I am planning how to best measure the impact of Backyard Gardener columns on the readership. This will likely involve creating an on-line survey asking readers if they have gained knowledge and/or changed their gardening practices based on Backyard Gardener column information. More to come…until then, thanks for your interest and support!
Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter – use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener help line in the Camp Verde office at 928-554-8999 Ext. 3 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your name, address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.
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Last Updated: April 19, 2012
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