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From left are Renae Lemon, Crystal Force and Linda Hlozansky. Cobb County Master Gardeners Hlozansky and Force received a 2019 Search for Excellence First Place Award for Research at the International Master Gardener Annual Conference.

Cobb County Master Gardeners Linda Hlozansky and Crystal “Cris” Force received a 2019 Search for Excellence First Place Award for Research at the International Master Gardener Annual Conference held recently in Valley Forge, Pa. The Search for Excellence Award program recognizes outstanding contributions by Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States, Canada and South Korea.

Entitled the “No-Till Mycorrhizal Sweet Potato Garden Experiment,” Force and Hlozansky experimented growing sweet potatoes at the historic Mable House kitchen garden over the course of 2017 and 2018. They tested the effectiveness of the “No-Till” method of gardening as opposed to the traditional 20th century method of tilling the soil before planting. They also tested the effectiveness of applying naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi to the soil instead of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. The third test was to determine effectiveness of planting a cover crop after harvest. Effectiveness was measured in pounds of sweet potatoes grown using each of the test categories. The results were dramatic.

The garden plot was divided in half. In one growing season (summer of 2017), half the garden was designated “No-Till,” meaning planted without turning the soil, and was inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi. No chemicals were applied. The other side was tilled and planted without the use of chemicals. Mushroom compost, bone meal and manure were applied to both sides equally. At the time of harvest, the No-Till with mycorrhizal side produced 96 pounds of sweet potatoes versus only 45 pounds of potatoes on the tilled side.{span class=”print trim”}

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The 2019 Search for Excellence First Place Award for Research.

In the second growing season (summer of 2018) both sides of the garden were left untilled and both sides were treated with mycorrhizal fungi. A “high diversity mix” cover crop (mixture of a variety of annual grasses and seeds) was planted prior to the second growing season on both sides of the garden. Again, results were dramatic. The No-Till side of the garden treated with the fungi for two years produced 191 pounds of sweet potatoes, and the side treated for one season produced 129 pounds. The cover crop was responsible for an additional 33 pounds of sweet potatoes in the harvest of 2018.

Force and Hlozansky concluded that tilling and applications of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides were not only unnecessary to produce a bountiful crop, but also not as effective as leaving the soil untilled, adding mycorrhizal fungi to the soil and growing a cover crop.

There are seven categories in which Master Gardeners may submit their award applications. In order to qualify, applicants must demonstrate that significant learning took place, whether by the Master Gardeners themselves or the general public.

The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County supports the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strives to improve the quality of life in the community through delivering research-based horticultural information, educational programs and projects.

For more information on the Master Gardener program, visit cobbmastergardeners.com or contact the Cobb County Extension Service at 770-528-4070 or notillmycorrhizal@gmail.com.

Sally Litchfield is a longtime Marietta resident. She has written for the MDJ since October 2000. Send Sally news at sallylit@bellsouth.net. Call Sally at 404-713-7318.

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