Jamie Erickson isn’t a gardener, but her son is. The past three summers, Jack Erickson, 9, would remember to water their plot when she forgot. “He actually doesn’t love eating vegetables, but he loves growing them,” she said.

That’s how the two ended up at the Gardening with Children class recently at the Mount Royal branch of the Duluth Public Library. It’s part of a series offered by the St. Louis County Extension Master Gardeners.

It’s the first time they’ve offered an ongoing program like this, said Bob Olen, extension master gardener coordinator. Classes started in May and run through Oct. 14.

Up next: Watering Wisely on July 8 and 11; Humane Critter Control on Aug. 8 and 12; and Attracting Pollinators on Sept. 9 and 12; and Goodnight, Garden on Oct. 10 and 14. All classes are free.

Blake Witucki, 6, pours soil into a hanging tomato planter held by mother Jessie during a recent Gardening with Children class hosted by St. Louis County Master Gardeners. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Blake Witucki, 6, pours soil into a hanging tomato planter held by mother Jessie during a recent Gardening with Children class hosted by St. Louis County Master Gardeners. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

They’ve always done some form of education at plant sales, the Spring Gardening Extravaganza, but they wanted to focus on a series. And it was Ellyn Wiens who took the lead on seeing it through, Olen said.

Added Wiens: It was a group effort that started last fall.

There are 25-30 master gardeners in the Twin Ports. They brainstormed topics pertinent to Northlanders. They voted and offered to teach classes based on expertise and experience — Wiens included.

She’s co-presenting on critter control in August, and the class aims to deliver homemade solutions that repel small animals and bugs, tips on wood fencing and about native plant selection. (You see native plants around here that aren’t destroyed or eaten, Wiens said.)

They hope to make this an annual series, and they’re taking feedback by way of a comment card during events. Suggestions so far have been to add courses on composting and succulents, Wiens said.

Jory Kandel, 4, sprays water into a glove containing seeds in cotton balls as mother Jill helps and sister Willow, 2, watches. The three were taking part in a Gardening with Children class at Mount Royal Library. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Jory Kandel, 4, sprays water into a glove containing seeds in cotton balls as mother Jill helps and sister Willow, 2, watches. The three were taking part in a Gardening with Children class at Mount Royal Library. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

And turnout has been positive. For their first class on starting your garden, they saw 60 people, and almost ran out of chairs. It was chaos, Wiens said.

Next year, they plan to start in March with a course on starting seeds and soil prep.

It’s an investment, added Olen.

St. Louis County is supportive in supplying resource materials, but the volunteers are doing it with the help of the libraries and their public resources.

During a Monday morning class in early June at the Mount Royal Branch Library, master gardener Lorna West stood at the front of the room with kids, ages baby to 9, and their adults.

She had seedlings started in egg containers, a basket with a fan, a clock — props she’d later use to illustrate for the kiddos what plants need to grow.

West suggested “wiggling” before talking, so she led them in a song with choreographed hand movements mimicking gardening actions.

Later, they made gardens in a glove, and tomato planters out of plastic 2-liter bottles.

“Dirt is rock smashed up. Soil has nutrients that help plants grow,” West said.

She has been a master gardener for about six years. The title makes it sound like they’re an elite group that knows all things gardening, but that’s not true, she said. They all go through the same training, and they have different backgrounds, passions and areas of expertise.

Her expertise is working with children and helping them learn where food comes from and finding joy in that process. Kids love to get their hands dirty, and she likes to help them do that, she said.

Jack Erickson said he’d go to another class like this.

One of the things he learned was just how small tomato seeds are. He’d only worked with blooming sprouts in the past. And they’re the go-to plant in his garden.

Working with tomatoes, you don’t want to overcrowd them, he said after class.

Jamie Erickson saw a flyer for this class at the library. There are five kids in the family, and she said it’s important to introduce them to different activities to see which ones stick — and to nurture their interests.

Her tips for starting kids in the garden is to teach them how to do it, hand off responsibility and start small.

Janelle Wourms heard about the class on Facebook, and she brought daughters, Nora, 10, and Kate, 4. They’ve had a garden in past years that have fallen prey to a groundhog and deer. This year, the family has potted herbs and raspberries, and a gnome and fairy garden outside their Hermantown home.

This class was a no-brainer, Wourms said. Nora is working on her flowers patch in Girl Scouts, and her husband loves gardening and looking through seed catalogs.

They’re “starting a new generation," she said, "encouraging his love of gardening with my kids.”

If you go

What: Watering Wisely, the next Extension Master Gardener event

When and where: 6 p.m. July 8, Mount Royal Branch Library; 6 p.m. West Duluth Branch Library

Cost: Free

More info: Visit http://bit.ly/2ZvYGYQ or call St. Louis County Extension Office at 218-733-2870