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Seeds of learning
Junior Master Gardeners take their skills into the neighborhoods of Clermont
Wauka Elementary School students studying to be Junior Master Gardeners sit on the front yard of the West family in Clermont, which won Yard of the Month in May.

Attention to residents of the Windmill subdivision in Clermont: Be on the lookout for roaming elementary students in the next few weeks.

And especially, look for them in your gardens.

But don't worry - they're not out to trample petunias and scuff up turfgrass; rather, the kids are part of the Junior Master Gardeners program at Wauka Mountain Elementary School. In May they were set loose upon the neighborhood to judge three yards and award them first, second and third place. Now that the school year has started, they'll be out again to do the same thing.

Windmill resident Betty Mabe said she helps organize the outings as a way to not only give residents an opportunity to spruce up their yards, but also as a way to further the kids' education.

"They're helping to identify plants as well as landscape management, and all of this is helping them at a very young age," she said, adding that she will pick three yards, but the students have their own criteria for judging them.

"I said, I need you to come out and give me first, second and third that you have to come up with on their own agenda," she said. "All of that is in their own criteria; I couldn't tell you what that is, but they did a fine job."

The Junior Master Gardener program, offered through the Hall County Master Gardener program, has been in place at Wauka Mountain for several years.

It has now expanded into about a dozen Hall County schools, including Lakeview Academy and Lula, Sardis, Martin, Lakeview, Chestnut Mountain and Myers elementary schools.

Dave Rusk, president of the Hall County Master Gardeners, said the course involves many aspects of gardening and horticulture. Because the students take it part-time, it takes about three years to become certified, Rusk said.

Students receive instruction in topics such as soil, plant nutrition, pests and insecticides, fertilizing, composting, identifying plants and their parts and photosynthesis.

"It's just a very broad training," he said. "The program is a national program; there are eight chapters (in the curriculum) which cover a variety of the topics, and it's a lot of hands-on activities, so they get a chance to actually plant seeds and plant plants and take care of them."

May's winning yards were the West family, first place; the David Lee family, second place; and the Bailey family, third place.

Mabe added that it's also important for the kids to learn about drought-tolerant plants and ways to keep gardens healthy during our drought.

"It was a win-win situation for everybody. These kids are working really hard," Mabe said. "We treat them to ice cream afterwards."

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