BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. – If you’re looking forward to getting back to your garden this spring, or thinking about starting a new garden, Tamra Reall and University of Missouri Extension are here to help.
Reall is the new MU Extension horticulture specialist in the greater Kansas City area. Her work brings her into contact with everyone from backyard gardeners to commercial horticulture producers.
Through MU Extension, you can have your soil tested, submit your questions to an email and telephone hotline, and take advantage of a variety of learning opportunities, Reall says. She also shares news and information on Twitter and Instagram under the handle @MUExtBugNGarden.
Gardens have always been a part of her life, she says. Reall grew up mainly in Idaho, where her mother maintained a vegetable garden. Her family moved to Columbia when she was in her teens. “We struggled to compete with moles, squirrels and deer, as well as the clay soil,” she says. “But my mom still grew a beautiful flower garden with daisies, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, iris and tall grasses.”
She studied landscape horticulture at Brigham Young University and later returned to Columbia to earn a doctorate in plant, insect and microbial science from MU. As a graduate student and then a postdoctoral research associate for the USDA, Reall researched the biological control of insects, publishing nine peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.
In addition to her scientific knowledge, Reall brings an extensive background in outreach to her job with MU Extension. She mentored high school and graduate students, gave presentations to a variety of audiences and wrote articles for a local newspaper. She earned a minor in college teaching and a certificate in science outreach, and led graduate student groups to win the MU Chancellor’s Award for Public Outreach in 2012 and 2014.
Reall currently writes the “Kids Ask Dr. Bug” column for Kansas City Gardener magazine, answering questions from children about plants and bugs. “I get the best questions from kids,” she says. One child asked if he could get superpowers from an insect bite. (Reall advised against trying to get bitten and instead recommends studying hard in school, eating a healthy diet and doing lots of push-ups.)
Reall says she’s excited to share the “joys and benefits of gardening.” Tending a garden is an opportunity to be active and to connect with nature, which can enhance both physical and mental health. A well-maintained vegetable garden also can be a low-cost source of high-quality fresh food.
Urban neighborhoods might present a challenge to gardeners, but Reall notes that you don’t have to have a big yard to enjoy gardening, or any yard at all. Reall and her family currently live in an apartment, but she’ll be starting tomatoes and herbs in a mini-greenhouse on the balcony. People with just a stoop or a patio, or who have limited mobility, might try container gardening. Participating in a local community garden can be an option for those who have one in their neighborhood.
Reall works extensively with the Greater Kansas City chapter of Missouri Master Gardeners, an MU Extension program that trains and certifies a statewide corps of more than 2,000 volunteers who share their gardening knowledge and experience. Kansas City Master Gardeners maintain a speakers bureau and host events, including bimonthly gatherings on various topics, a spring seminar and advanced workshops.
You can draw on the expertise of Reall and the Master Gardeners by submitting questions to the chapter’s email and telephone hotlines—firstname.lastname@example.org and 816-833-TREE (8733).
While you’re waiting for spring, Reall suggests having your lawn or garden soil tested if you haven’t done so in the last several years. This can save money on fertilizer and make for a more bountiful garden. For information on collecting and submitting samples, visit http://soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil/soilsamples.aspx. The MU Extension soil lab will analyze samples for nutrient levels, soil pH, organic matter content and other properties. You’ll get a detailed report with fertilizer and lime recommendations for various plants, including annual fruits and vegetables and cool- and warm-season grasses.
On March 9, Reall will deliver the keynote address at the Greater Kansas City Master Gardeners’ 2019 Spring Gardening Seminar at Rockhurst University. Her topic is “Beyond Butterflies: The Microcosm in Your Backyard.” For more information, visit www.mggkc.org/spring-seminar. Register by March 1.