Spring Valley resident Pam Freet, who is a Fillmore County Master Gardener, shows the early beginnings of the garlic that she planted last fall. (Bluff Country Newspaper Group photo by Sonya Meyerhofer)
Spring Valley resident Pam Freet, who is a Fillmore County Master Gardener, shows the early beginnings of the garlic that she planted last fall. (Bluff Country Newspaper Group photo by Sonya Meyerhofer)
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Spring Valley resident Pam Freet's love of gardening fueled her desire to learn more about the topic, which led her to become a Fillmore County Master Gardener two years ago.

Freet said she has always enjoyed gardening, with tomatoes being her favorite to grow.

"When I was younger, I enjoyed it, but I didn't know it. It was a way of life; my parents and grandparents gardened," she explained.

It was when she moved from Florida to Spring Valley in October 2007, to her home at 408 North Broadway, that her passion for growing produce, plants and herbs really developed.

Freet's favorite aspect of gardening is the growing process. "It's a magical process," she noted. "It has to be divine intervention to watch it change from a seed to a big plant that is pretty and tasty."

Freet decided to take the Master Gardener certification course to "increase my knowledge about gardening."

To become a Master Gardener, she took a core course through the Fillmore County Extension Office offered through the University of Minnesota Extension. "It was a lot of reading. There was a topic once a week and it was a semester-long course," she noted.

Even though she took the course, Freet shared that she feels there is "still so much more that I don't know."

In order to keep up with her certification, she must continue her education by attending sessions and workshops when the chance arises.

In addition to completing the course, she put in volunteer hours, giving time to the community. As a Master Gardener, Freet also serves as a resource to other gardeners, answering their questions and offering advice.

In the garden

Freet's favorite produce to grow is tomatoes. "I grew up with them," she noted, sharing that she has memories of being in the rows of tomatoes when she was younger, picking the ripe ones and tossing out the rotten ones.

"I have the 'tomato gene,'" she added. "Tomatoes are my priority, but I do like to grow other things."

A few of the tomato varieties she likes to grow are Red Zebras, Sweet Peas and Lemon Drops. She likes heirloom tomatoes because they "are bred for flavor."

Freet said she is anticipating the Spring Valley Grower's Market, which will open in May for its inaugural season. "I am concerned with the environment and buying local. The Grower's Market is a good opportunity to get into.

"How much more local can you get than in your backyard?" Freet added.

She said if her tomatoes are a good crop, she plans on bringing them to sell at the market, among other items. She also is anticipating the market because she plans on serving there in a Master Gardener capacity. Those with questions about gardening, lawn care and other growing issues can approach her at the market. She is also available at other times to answer questions for people who want to give her a call. Freet is a member of the Spring Valley Garden Club.

Freet said serving the community is the other part of being a Master Gardener. By sharing her knowledge of gardening, she gets satisfaction by helping people to provide for themselves. "It's tasty too, so they enjoy it more."

Freet also enjoys that fresh-from-the-garden taste herself, using fresh herbs in her cooking.

"The trick is to preserve them," she noted.

"Basil is my favorite. It goes with tomatoes," she said, smiling.

She also enjoys growing and cooking with cilantro, oregano and thyme. One of her favorite things to make, with her favorite garden product, is salsa.

Her family, husband Joe and daughters Sarah and Lily, who are in third and first grade, also like to eat the garden produce.

Freet enjoys growing peppers. Last year she grew five varieties of banana peppers. She also enjoys working with vining crops, such as watermelon and pumpkins.

"The girls like pumpkins," she noted.

Freet planted garlic this fall, putting mulch over it to protect it through the winter. She estimates that by mid-summer it will be ready. When touring her garden this time of year, Freet pointed out that it is already sprouting up.

Upon growing lettuce, Freet said she "accidentally discovered I liked it a lot."

"It tastes better when it comes from your own backyard," she added.

"My problem is doing something with the produce (so it doesn't go to waste)," noted Freet, so she is currently learning to can and has dried produce, like tomatoes, in the past. She enjoys dried tomatoes because of their "intense tomato sweetness."

Gardening blog

Freet likes to share all things garden- and grower-related on her blog she began posting last year on blogspot.com. She likes to share her own experiences - successes and non-successes - in the garden and provide information to other gardeners.

Freet shared the following on a blog post in January, anticipating the upcoming growing season.

"Planning to plan. Okay, so it's only January 1st. But based on my past procrastination, I think it's not too early to get planning for the upcoming growing season. Yes, it is upcoming and time to plant seeds indoors will be here before I know it!

"So, before I plant seeds, I need to reflect on past growing seasons - what worked and did not work - as well as what I want to try. Without this reflection and planning, my gardening probably will revert back to the haphazard nature of times past. I'd like to avoid as much of that as possible! Also, by planning, I feel better equipped to purchase seeds and plants. If I can start seeds for something I want in my garden, I can be sure of getting the variety I want, while hopefully saving a few pennies.

"Since my planning is a process, I will be posting more information as I go through it! For now, I will be perusing the seed catalogs I have already received in the mail! Happy gardening, already!"

For more blog entries and future posts about Freet's experiences in all things gardening and more, go to SpringValleyGardener.blogspot.com.