My Master Gardener classes started last week, and so far I love what I’m learning. I was informed during the interview process, “You don’t realize what all you don’t know until you take these classes. And even then, you’ll learn so much in the next several years, if you stick with it”.

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Here we go…

I arrived for our first class feeling nervous and self-conscious. Almost everyone was paired with a seasoned vet, but my partner was unavailable that evening, leaving me to my sheepish self. And little did I know, I was the only student representing Weld County in a class of about 40 volunteers. Although I was flattered to discover that only 40 people were selected from 4 different counties (not 30 per county as I thought), I could feel myself growing anxious as I realized just how fast-paced this class was going to be. I had to practice some serious positive self-talk before I turned to the women next to me and asked, “Do you mind if I work with you guys tonight? My partner’s giving a lecture in Boulder.” And of course, they didn’t mind. They were friendly and welcoming, just as I would be if someone did not have a partner.

For our first meeting, we covered half of the botany chapter in our 740 page manual. The Colorado Master Gardener Curriculum is online and available to the public, if anyone’s interested in reading the material on their own. Apparently we’re learning 6 hours of information in three for each session, and the instructor warned us not to get wrapped up in the details.

“There’s no way you’ll all remember everything. Take a deep breath, relax and try to keep up. We’re more concerned with teaching you guys how to find the information more so than you knowing everything under the sun. In a field this large, that is simply impossible, and we would never expect you guys to have all the answers”.

This was reassuring but daunting nonetheless. So last Tuesday we covered horticulture classification terms, taxonomic classification and plant structures: cells, tissues and structures, roots, stems, leaves and flowers. Needless to say, it’s a lot to take in!!

Last Thursday evening, we finished botany and turned to dichotomous keys and how to identify shrubs and trees. Both nights we were given real laminated samples of plants and practiced as if we were helping actual clients, like we’ll be doing next year. Between the power point lectures and the hands-on practice with our peers, I love being back in the classroom.

This past weekend, Keegan and I drove Peak to Peak Highway beginning in Estes traveling south towards Nederland. We decided to skip Blackhawk, since we were there a few weeks ago. We originally scheduled a camping trip with Brittany and Justin near Crested Butte to see the aspen, but with me still struggling to move past the Adenovirus, I wasn’t about to risk it by sleeping outside overnight at 7,000 feet when I’m finally beginning to feel a little better. It’s way too cold for all that. We opted for a day trip after heeding the suggestion from several websites and friends.

We did not regret this decision. With 55 miles of sprawling wilderness, I figured we were bound to find at least a few golden aspens, even though they allegedly peaked last Thursday at elevations between 6,000-7,000 feet. It’s tricky trying to plan around the colors; last year we missed it by a week, and I was so disappointed. But this year, we nailed it and the highway led us to some absolutely spectacular views.

I had hoped to snip a few shrubs and branches outside of Rocky Mountain National Park and take them home to study, but two things happened: One, some of our states best dichotomous keys are to remain at the library, so I couldn’t rent the materials I needed and two, I left my scissors at home, and couldn’t snip any woody plant samples. My plan was a bust, but I expect to be more prepared for our next outdoor adventure.

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Our first stop was Lily Lake, which Keegan swears we’ve hiked before, but I barely remember. We speed-walked the loop since dogs aren’t allowed and Buddy was in the car. But he had other chances to get out and walk. We would rather him spend the day with us and be in the car for 20 minutes instead of his kennel for several hours.

Next we passed Chapel on the Rock, which was crazy, because I’ve read about it on Pinterest but didn’t realize it was on this highway. I was pretty stoked to see it by chance. The historical relevance of the building is interesting enough, but the structure, architecture and foundation of the church is something else. Throw in the gorgeous backdrop, and you have an absolutely beautiful scene.

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We pulled over so many times, I can’t remember where all we stopped, but these next few pictures were taken at Wild Basin, the last entrance station we had yet to visit at Rocky Mountain National Park. With one lonely booth and a poorly maintained road, we were surprised by how crowded it was. My low-riding Scion made it almost two miles down the pothole-ridden road before we gave up on parking and turned around. But alas, we found parking on the way out near Saint Vrain Creek. This was perfect for Buddy to stretch his legs and walk around.

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Pretty sure the peak in the next photo is Meeker. The one after that is definitely Long’s Peak. I can’t put into words how stunning these pull-offs were. We were in awe of all the golden-yellow hues as we explored Colorado’s oldest scenic highway. Thank goodness we found reliable information online strongly urging readers to see the colors this weekend before more leaves fall during this rainy autumn season.

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My favorite spot in Nederland: A house that is part bookstore, ice cream shop and coffee cafe.

And last but not least, we pulled over in Nederland, quite possible my favorite mountain town. We enjoyed some ice cream at the Blue Owl before we headed west for empanadas at Rincon in Boulder.

We ordered the spicy steak and corn and cheese empanadas and tried the chicken baracoa, queso and onions and wild mushroom empanadas. The queso onion was on point! I think this might be my new favorite hot pocket of ooey-gooey goodness.

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How tf do they make them look so fancy?! Wild Mushroom for the win.

 

When it comes to gardening, I’m looking forward to class on Tuesday, because we’re bringing in soil samples from our yards to practice using test kits. I’m eager to see what type of soil we have and what we can add to it to keep our grass and plants healthy.

It’s only been a week, but I’m already learning how to observe plants differently than ever before. I notice their pedals, the base of the flowers, leaf margins and leaf arrangements on stems. I look for monocots versus dicots, inflorescence and nectar guides. All in all, I’ve learned so much already. I love using my brain and focusing on the task in front of me. Nothing else makes me feel so grounded and focused on what I’m doing than gardening and cooking. I’m so grateful to have been accepted into this program so I can learn about horticulture and share this information with others.

To wrap things up, here’s some late summer/early fall pics from our garden. These don’t include what we gave away to Christine, Jimmy, Brittany and Justin recently, but overall it’s been a great grow season.

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4 tomato plants with tomatillos and jalapenos
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Love the color variety

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My precious tomatillos

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This is only half of what we pulled. I gave the rest to Keegan!!
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Did someone say salsa?