As a member of the 2019 Master Gardener training class, I want to share a personal reflection on my experience with this worthwhile program.
2019 was a big year! It was Extension Agent Ashley Troth’s first full calendar year in her position with Durham County Cooperative Extension, and yet she made navigating the ins and outs of the Extension Master Gardener program a breeze. When our class began in January, Ashley proved her skills by teaching one of our first classes: Entomology, the study of insects. We were set up for success from then on! (A fun fact that I learned in that class is — Ashley raises baby shrimp at home.)
I loved the weekly routine of the class. I am a freelance events coordinator, which means that every day is different for me, juggling a variety of clients, meetings and events. The class was a lovely break from an often chaotic lifestyle. Every Thursday, I set my alarm for 7 a.m., had breakfast and coffee at home, and walked 30 minutes to the Cooperative Extension office so that I could free up a parking space for someone else. I turned it my weekly quiz, then took my seat in the back of the room next to classmate Marya. One of my favorite memories was when Marya reminded the whole class that her name rhymes with “malaria.” The classes were engaging with a variety of lectures, activities and role plays. I left each week feeling incredibly overwhelmed with knowledge and incredibly full from all of the amazing snacks that Master Gardeners Margaret and Taka prepared for us.
I looked forward to walking home each week from class, often with an arm full of plants, while people downtown might have stared at me wondering why I was carrying around so many tomatillo starts. I have never met such a generous class of people. I feel that everyone was willing to share plants, seeds, personal experiences, knowledge, or ignorance around an issue we addressed in class. I also don’t think I had to buy a single start or seed for my spring OR summer veggie garden! The seeds Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Cheralyn Berry generously brought in during the class she taught on growing vegetables were quickly buried in my raised beds, and my family ate radishes, cucumbers, and English peas ‘til we were sick of them.
I found an opportunity to combine my day job with my new volunteer services, too. I throw a monthly life science networking event at the Chesterfield Building in downtown Durham, and I invited the Master Gardeners to participate in two events. The first one was in August, and the volunteers brought a diffuser filled with lavender, and answered attendees’ questions about all sorts of garden-related problems. The second one was this month, and the volunteers aptly brought the diffuser filled, this time, with pine, and answered lots of questions about house plants. It was so inspiring for me to see the attendees of my event lining up to ask the volunteers questions! What I didn’t tell the volunteers in advance was that these events attract a pretty stuffy life-science crowd, and they often aren’t very engaging. However, the Master Gardeners were so welcoming, knowledgeable, and had the best table display, that people couldn’t stay away!
This reflection sums up a small amount of what being a part of the 2019 Master Gardener class meant to me. I thank everyone who made the class a success, and I highly recommend the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program to anyone inclined to apply to the next training class.
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is interested in being an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, call our office at 919-560-0528 and ask to be notified when the application process for the 2021 training begins. The process generally begins the previous fall.
Public Events Is your community planning a feast, fair or festival? Add to the excitement by inviting the Master Gardeners to staff a table at which your guests can have their gardening questions answered. Our “Ask an Expert” program travels all over Durham County to provide this service. Call 919-560-0528 to make a request or learn more.
Soil Sampling Statewide, the soil sampling kits and associated paperwork are now available in Spanish and English! Locally, you may pick them up at 721 Foster Street in Durham from the Durham County Master Gardener office.
The season for free soil samples is coming to a close next month. The last day that samples will be collected at 721 Foster Street is November 25, 2019. From December 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020 residents will be responsible for delivery of their soil samples to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences in Raleigh and paying for their soil to be tested ($4.00 per box). Extension will resume accepting soil samples on March 19, 2020. There is much to gain by testing your soil! Learn more.
New Partnership with HUB Farm Durham County Master Gardeners now serve The Hub Farm, a 30-acre farm, forest, and aquatic educational center in Durham whose mission is to improve the academic achievement and well-being of students in Durham Public Schools through experiential outdoor learning. Hub Farm engages students, teachers, and the greater Durham community in environmental stewardship, health and nutrition, and career development. The farm is a program of Durham Public Schools Career-Technical Education Department and is guided by a small staff and advisory board. It is located at 117 Milton Road. Learn more about Hub Farm.
Edible Plants Sale in April The addition of a greenhouse at Briggs Avenue Community Garden has enabled on-site seed-starting to flourish. The gardeners hope to share their bounty of seedlings of edible plants at an Earth Day event in Durham in 2020. Stay tuned for more information!
NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox Though still a work in progress, the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox is a great resource. It contains detailed descriptions and photographs of 3,311 plants that grow in and around North Carolina. You can search for a plant by its common name or its scientific name. Use the “Find a Plant” feature to select a plant for a specific location, or try “Identify a Plant” to determine the name of a plant based on its flower and leaf characteristics.
The primary goal of the plant database is to help consumers select plants that will bring them joy, provide a valuable function in their landscape, and thrive where planted. Users are encouraged to consider year-round functionality and potential disease and insect problems as part of their selection process. Access the database at https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/ now and in the future. It will only get better!
Gardener Volunteers commit to spreading research-based gardening practices
within our communities. One of the ways we share knowledge is by teaching kids (grades
K through 5) in afterschool 4-H programs across Durham County.
I spent most of my
own grade school years in South Carolina. Teachers took us on field trips to
nearby cotton fields to learn about the state’s socio-political and
agricultural histories. Holding cotton stalks in my young hands—gently, because
we all know what happens if not—my appreciation developed for the intense
drudgery required to pick and process cotton before modern machinery became
It occurred to me
to create a cotton lesson for the local 4-H kids, replete with actual cotton
stalks, bolls, and fiber samples (after all, show-and-tell is much better
received than a PowerPoint presentation… no matter the age group). A few
email exchanges later with the North Carolina State University Textiles
Building staff, I drove out to Raleigh to pick up some samples they kindly offered
to fortify my cotton lesson.
NCSU’s Zeis Textiles Extension (ZTE) manages five world-class “TexLabs,” all critical to the textile and apparel industries by enabling cutting-edge research and product development. Experienced professionals and faculty at each lab assist students and industry partners in reaching their academic or industry goals.
The Spinning Lab—one of ZTE’s five TexLabs—is designed to help meet the needs of the textile industry in applied research. The lab’s state-of-the-art machinery converts cotton fibers (less than 65mm) into spun yarn. Lab services include evaluating the processability of various fibers and running trials to determine optimum machine settings and speeds.
I recently joined
Senior Lab Operations Manager Tim Pleasants for a tour of the Spinning Lab. Our
time together provided the opportunity to reflect on the major changes
modernization has made to the U.S. textile industry. Tech advancement has
streamlined equipment, fully automated much of cotton processing operations, and
tremendously increased machine speeds. Tim is both an expert and an enthusiast
when it comes to cotton, hailing from a Durham-based cotton family himself.
So what are the steps
of modern cotton processing, from boll to yarn?
Step 1: Ginning is the opening, cleaning, and carding of cotton bolls. The opening of cotton bales at most mills is fully automated. Lint from several bales is mixed and blended together to provide a uniform blend of fiber properties. To ensure that the new high-speed automated feeding equipment performs at peak efficiency, and that fiber properties are consistent, computers group the bales for production/feeding according to fiber properties.
The blended lint is blown by air from the feeder through chutes into cleaning and carding machines that separate and align the fibers into a thin web. Carding machines can process cotton in excess of 400 pounds per hour.
The web of fibers at the front of the card is then drawn through a funnel-shaped device called a trumpet, providing a soft, rope-like strand called a sliver (pronounced SLY-ver).
STEP 2: Drawing, or sliver processing, is when as many as eight strands of sliver are blended together. Drawing speeds have increased dramatically over the past few years and now can exceed 40,000 feet per minute.
STEP 3: Combing makes cotton fibers
nice by making strands more parallel and removing short fibers. This process
can add light crimping for more surface cohesion of fibers.
STEP 4: Spinning, or yarn making, can happen in one of several ways:
Ring spinning is slower than more modern spinning systems—and the end resulting bobbins don’t hold a lot of yarn in comparison to the output of other spinner types—but is a dependable process for producing high quality yarn. Ring spinning first requires roving, which draws the slivers out even more thinly and adds a gentle twist; this process makes the fiber tighter and thinner until it reaches the yarn thickness (or count) needed for weaving or knitting fabric. The yarns can be twisted many times per inch.
Open-end or rotor spinning uses rotors that, totally automated, can spin 10 times as fast as a ring spinning machine. Rotor spinning is becoming more widespread as it eliminates the roving process; yarn is produced directly from sliver, saving time. The result is a cone of yarn that goes on to create cotton fabric that is coarser than yarn from ring spinning creates.
Air Jet & Vortex spinning (not pictured) eliminate the need for roving, similar to rotor/open-end spinning. Air jet and vortex spinning also address the key limitation of both ring and open-end spinning: mechanical twisting. This method uses compressed air currents to stabilize the yarn, faster and more productive than any other short-staple spinning system. The Vortex spinner at NCSU is its newest spinner and became commercially available in the 2000s.
STAGE 5: Twisting happens after spinning, when the yarns are tightly wound around bobbins or tubes and are ready for fabric forming. In case you’re wondering, ply yarns are two or more single yarns twisted together, while cord is plied yarn twisted together.
You can see this and more machinery in action on the Spinning Lab’s website. The equipment’s humming brings a Zen-type comfort that the resulting cotton fiber does, too.
For the 4-H cotton lesson, Tim Pleasants kindly gave me sliver and other samples representing the different phases of cotton processing. I have no doubt these samples, held in the hands of the students, will awaken them to the complexity of textile production. It’s not simply magic that the cotton cultivated in fields turns into their sweatshirts and jeans—it’s thanks to necessity, technology, and human ingenuity we have the cotton to create everything from dollar bills to baseballs.
All photos were taken by Ariyah April.
Resources & Further Reading
Tim Pleasants, Senior Lab Operations Manager for Zeis Textiles Extension at NCSU
Durham County Cooperative Extension creates opportunities
for lifelong learning and connects residents with resources to improve quality
of life. It is a part of NC Cooperative Extension, an educational partnership
between counties and our land grant universities – NC State and NC A&T –
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bring forth research-based knowledge and
The mission of Cooperative Extension is to partner with communities
to deliver education and technology that enrich the lives, land, and economy of
North Carolinians. The Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, writers of this
Blog, represent just one part of one program of Durham County Extension. Get to
know the others so you can point your family, friends and neighbors to services
that might be useful to them (or to you):
4-H Youth Development – The 4 H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health. The program offers youth clubs, summer camps, special interest programs and life skill activities for children and youth ages 5 to 19. 4-H works with organizations that request services or education workshops and can fine-tune their approach to the needs of the group.
Family and Consumer Sciences – Food and nutrition are the keywords for this program. The FCS agent helps some 60 families at Briggs Avenue Community Garden in East Durham to grow their own food in a safe and enriching environment. She also conducts workshops like Cook Smart Eat Smart where people learn better home-cooking techniques and trains food service industry workers via NC Safe Plates. Engage with FCS and learn to make sensible choices for a lifetime of health.
Welcome Baby – This family resource center offers emotional and practical family support, child development education, and prevention services designed to strengthen families and caregivers with young children ages 0 to 5 years. All services are offered in English and Spanish.
Transportation / Durham County ACCESS – County residents who are senior citizens or individuals with disabilities, as well as residents going to work or the general public in rural Durham County are eligible to receive safe and accessible transportation through ACCESS.
Community Outreach – This program serves youth and adults and builds community capacity that encompasses all program areas. Key programming includes: a multi-week training series that supports parents in navigating their public schools to help their child succeed (offered in English and Spanish), Kids Voting Durham which helps young people understand and believe in the power they have as active citizens and informed voters, and customized training and family services in caregiving, financial resource management, grandparent support, decision making and more.
Agriculture & Consumer Horticulture – Plant and animal producers and green industry professionals receive ongoing support in the form of direct consultation, workshops and classes and professional pesticide certification. Extension Master Gardener Volunteers educate consumers on plant care, landscaping, soil testing and management by answering specific questions via email or telephone, and conducting free workshops, classes and being present at community events.
“Through these program areas and the workshops, training,
and services they provide, Cooperative Extension helps strengthen families and communities.
We are dedicated to improving the quality of people’s lives,” says Donna Rewalt,
Durham County Extension Director.
Contact Durham County Extension: Located at 721 Foster Street in downtown Durham; Phone 919-560-0525; Website durham.ces.ncsu.edu. Facebook.com/durhamextension. Instagram @durhamextension. Twitter @durhamextension. Programs are open to all Durham County residents and many are free or low cost.