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Master Propagators

Contact the Master Propagators Committee: MasterPropagators@hcmga.org

Purpose 

The Master Propagators (MP) Chair conducts a multi-day workshop to give Master Gardeners and Master Gardener Interns the opportunity to do hands-on sexual (seeds) and asexual (cuttings) propagation and to provide experience with growing seedlings indoors.  The workshop is intended to provide intermediate-level hands-on propagation education and experience to those who already have elementary knowledge of plant propagation.  It also provides a learning environment that introduces interns to the breadth of opportunities available through HCMGA and encourages their participation.

 History of Committee

(How to Approach Teaching and Learning and the Difficulties Encountered Along the Way OR Making the Most of What Is Handed to You – i.e. there’s some procedure in this section)

Master Propagators is the brain child of two very dynamic women, Carol Jean Locke and Eileen Rickman.  Carol Jean Locke was the Speakers Bureau when I entered HCMGA in 1993.  She was the only one of the 40 members who was willing to talk with outside groups.  Our Ag Agent, Rolla Parsons really appreciated her.  Carol Jean also had a perennial business and raised perennials from seed.  Eileen Rickman trained as a Master Gardener in Niles, Michigan.  She joined us in 1993.  She was involved with raising herbs from seed for Carmel’s Green Space plant sale.

In the fall of 1993, Eileen became president-elect.  At about the same time, Carol Jean donated her perennial seed stock to HCMGA and left the area to work for the government.  We always speculated that her new work was in government intelligence.  Eileen decided that the best use for the seed stock was to establish a Master Propagators group to grow the perennials to 3-5” size, sell them and use the proceeds to fund GrowLabs , a program HCMGA was involved in.

In spring of 1994, Eileen held the first Master Propagators in her unfinished basement in Carmel.  It was a single class of about 12 MGs that met in the morning.  It was loosely organized on the same basis as a card club.  The emphasis was on the mechanics of growing and on maximizing the yield of plants.  Eileen was uncertain about the student’s ability to do everything, so Pattie Chester (involved with the GrowLab program in Carmel Schools) and Eileen’s family pitched in extensively.  About 200 plants of 23 varieties were brought to sale that year.  Eileen celebrated with a pot luck.

Eileen continued MP in 1995 and 1996.  Class size increased to 15, but remained as a single morning class.  Emphasis stayed on mechanics rather than theory.  Numbers and varieties of plants brought to sale increased with ~40 varieties and close to 400 plants at the 1996 sale.  Pattie Chester and Eileen’s family still did a lot of work.  We still had pot lucks to celebrate.

In summer of 1996, not too long after Bill Rice became our Agricultural Educator, Eileen’s family decided to sell their house, move into an apartment and build a new house in the McCordsville area.  Eileen asked Kathryn Mascaro to take on MP temporarily while Eileen was between houses.  Kathryn Mascaro is now entering her 14th year as chair as Master Propagators.

1997 was a year of major changes in the program.  We went from one morning class to two classes – a morning (14) and an evening (17).  The class was restructured to offer theory as well as mechanics.  This took the form of short lectures before each class session rather than a single lecture on procedure before the initial session.

Students were given seed starting tables with information on the germination requirements of individual seeds rather than simply a plant stake with a series of code numbers telling the student how to process the unknown seed variety.   Houseplant cuttings were added to the agenda.  Linda Beal, who had been in all three of Eileen’s propagation groups, offered support.  She helped for the first 4-5 years.  Much less was asked of Kathryn’s family.  We brought ~55 varieties and ~800 plants to sale.  We celebrated at a brunch at Paula Korzekwa’s house, the last celebration we held.

1998 was similar to 1997.  (14 morning & 20 evening) We brought ~60 varieties and ~1100 plants to sale.  This was a challenging year for Propagators because HCMGA expenses were increasing.  HCMGA needed funds to replace two beds that had been demolished in the construction of the exhibition center – AAS vegetables and Daylily, plus replace the lost Iris/perennial bed out at the Farm Bureau.  Our sources of revenue had decreased drastically (no daylily or iris sales).  The emphasis had to be on selling as many plants as possible.

1999 we were still pushing for maximum production.  Eileen, now in her new house and working outside the home, offered to host a perennial cutting rather than run MP.  Therefore, cuttings went from a few houseplants to a full class period of cutting perennials at Eileen’s (morning group) and Kathryn’s (evening group).  We made our first attempts at propagating shrubs from seed.  There were 14 MGs in the morning & 17 in the evening.  I had tried a new sign-up procedure of allowing people to sign-up on the night of the plant propagation lecture for the MG class.  This proved to be a disaster because most of those who signed-up made other plans before February. Not realizing this, I had turned people away at the January meeting sign-up only to find myself short-handed.  It was a real scramble to fill the class, and I dealt with a lot of hurt feelings.  I have not taken sign-ups before the January meeting since this time; this is a more equitable system.  I also tried having one experienced helper at each of the three tables with mixed success.  We had ~65 varieties and 1000 plants in the MP sale.

In 2000, Master Propagators introduced Experienced Propagators.  This was a small group of 8 graduates of MP who met one evening at my place to sow trays which they took home and grew under their own lights.  They then returned for a second evening of transplanting to larger pots.  The object was to increase the number of plants going to sale and to give these individuals more hands-on practice.  In 2000, the normal MP classes had 14 MGs in the morning and 18 in the evening. We had ~70 varieties and ~1200 plants in the MP sale.  The first ever Plant Sale followed the MP sale and brought in $5000.  The pressure was off Master Propagators!

In 2001, morning cutting moved from Eileen’s to the home of Pete & Pat McKay.  We tried shrub cuttings for the first time, quite successfully.  I had 4 Exp. Propagators, 18 morning MPs and 19 evening MPs.  We tried a few special annuals from seed for the first time.  They were fairly well accepted.  We brought ~70 varieties and ~1400 plants to sale.

In 2002, morning cuttings were at the Parsons Patch.  I had 8 Exp. Ps split over two nights with 2 not finishing.  There was some discussion whether Exp. P should change to a class of advanced techniques (difficult with my space limitations) or a fast way to learn what Master Propagators teaches (impossible).  Exp P was not changed.   Due to unprecedented demand and limited space, I set a class limit at 18 this year.  I ended up with 17 in the morning and 18 in the evening.  We had ~70 varieties and ~1100 plants at the sale.

In 2003, morning cuttings were at Coleen Widdis’ home.  Her neighbor graciously allowed us to cut in her yard as well.  There were 7 Exp. Ps.  Enrollment was reduced to 16 per session in response to a neighbor and my husband’s complaints about the parking situation.  The morning group had 15 and the evening 16.  We tried vines for the first time.  We had ~50 varieties and ~1500 plants at the sale.

In 2004, morning cuttings were at Cindy Hoy’s home for the first of three (non-consecutive) years.  We tried root cuttings for the first time (little success) and did large numbers of shrub cuttings.  The Exp. P program was discontinued.  I needed the extra time to assist on the 4-H Wildflower Project.  I gave the names of participants in Exp. P to the Plant Sale Committee to help with their seed-starting efforts.  Class size was limited to 15, where it still remains.  There were 12 in the morning group and 15 in the evening.  We had ~40 varieties and ~1300 plants.

2005 was the first time that we sold over-wintered shrubs from the previous year’s cuttings.  We had ~50 varieties and ~1000 plants at the sale (both seedlings and cuttings). There were 14 in the morning group and 15 in the evening group.  Morning cuttings were at Cindy Hoy’s house.  This was the year that I learned of and introduced the concept of grow-on temperatures, resulting in larger plants for the sale.  This was also the year of allopathic vines.  The roots of allopathic plants give off chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants in the immediate area, cutting down on competition.  Whether all plants (even those of the same species) are eliminated or only certain plants are destroyed depends on the allopathic species.  In indoor culture, allopathy presents itself as more than one seed germinating in a pot or cell and then all but one of these plants dying off rapidly soon after the first two leaves are open.  I have not seen any evidence of the allopathic chemical being wicked to other cells through the capillary mats, but I haven’t pushed my luck.

2006 was the year of bad soil.  The bags of soilless mix arrived dripping wet, having been torn when they were stored outside at the retailers.  We had problems with mushrooms and many other types of fungus growing in the trays as well as problems with damping-off and fungus gnats.  After the problems arose, I spread the remaining unused soil in trays on the floor of my basement and dried it with circulating fans for 3-4 days.  I dealt with the fungus by physical removal and sprinkling on vermiculite.  I tend to use as few chemicals as possible because we are dealing with tiny, easily over-dosed seedlings in a very confined environment (indoors under domes) with little air circulation to dissipate the chemical.  I am also concerned about the health of my students in this confined atmosphere.  The fungus gnats were controlled by fly paper.  Damping-off was controlled by removing and throwing in the trash anything affected by it, followed by sterilizing the cells with bleach.   Amazingly we did manage to bring ~45 varieties and ~800 plants to sale.   There were 15 MGs in the morning group and 14 in the evening group.  The morning cuttings were taken at the Parsons Patch.  This year was our biggest success with root cuttings.   In my basement, we made significant numbers of Rex Begonia and Vick’s Plant cuttings for the sale, a return to houseplant cuttings.

In 2007, the morning cuttings were back at Cindy Hoy’s house.  Unfortunately, this was an extremely wet spring (a lot of anthracnose problems) and many of our cuttings from both classes (especially shrub cuttings) succumbed to an incredible assortment of pretty bizarre fungi.  I was constantly tossing cuttings in the trash and sterilizing.  I had to go to the extreme measure of wiping down the basement walls, floor, etc. with bleach rather than simply wiping down the plant light stands, the sink and the benches with bleach.  There were 13 in the morning group and 15 in the evening group.  We brought ~60 varieties and ~1100 plants to sale.

In 2008, we responded to the rapid rise in seed and supply cost by encouraging donations of seed.  We had had some donations all along, but had not actively sought them before.  In the past, I had been quite picky about using some of the donations, since people tended to give us the old stock they were getting rid of “in case there is anything good in there that you might want.”  This year I gleaned a significant percentage of the seed we used from donations.  My ideas on how long different types of seeds are good for (see #15 under responsibilities) were formulated in 2008.  I also learned that native seed tends to have a lower germination rate because the plant is producing not just to propagate itself but also to feed the wildlife.  (I realize that analytically this makes no sense.  But the theory is firmly held by naturalists and does explain the phenomenon we witness.)  This important learning answered the questions of frugal MGs wishing to use their seed stocks as long as possible and answered questions coming from the growing number of MG native plant enthusiasts.  However, the learning did affect our productivity for the year.  We brought ~65 varieties and ~800 plants to the sale.  The morning cuttings were taken at the Parsons Patch just before they began their renovation.

In 2009, we could no longer get peat pots and peat cell-packs.  Peat pots are used for plants which dislike being transplanted, especially plants with tap roots.  They also serve the purpose of supplying acid to plants which need pH 5.5 or lower.  Some peat pellets were still available, but peat pellets tend to be too moist if you’re using domes, causing too much mold and damp-off.  (My basement, unlike a greenhouse, has too little humidity to operate without domes.)  What biodegradable pots were available were coir pots (coconut fiber).  These are neutral pH, and only the matrix that holds the fibers together is biodegradable.  For our purposes, it is best to use individual coir pots rather than coir cell-packs.  The sturdiness of the fibers makes cell packs nearly impossible to cut apart.  Our standard procedure for peat pots has been to place them on a half-inch of moistened soil (to keep the pot and its contents moist and allow the roots to grow through the bottom) rather than on a wet capillary mat (which dissolves most of the lower half of the peat pot).  We tried the moistened soil with the coir pots; it didn’t keep the pot and its contents adequately moist. This procedure needs more work.  We also used tea (sun tea made with one bag per gallon of non-softened water) to water plants needing acid.  This procedure needs tweaking.  2009 was the year to learn that the taboo on fertilizing herbs isn’t accurate for all herbs.  There were 14 MGs in the morning group and 15 in the evening group.  We brought ~70 varieties and ~1200 plants to sale.