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Gardening Safely during a Pandemic

The health of our volunteers is of utmost importance to NDSU Extension. We also know that many of you want to "get growing" and help the Hunger Free ND initiative by filling ND food banks. Here are some guidelines.

Volunteer Hours and Continuing Education

Do NOT let MG volunteer requirements jeopardize your health. Our program will be flexible this year. The standard will be to “do the best you can” while remaining safe. If you are a Master Gardener Volunteer, this means that you may report fewer than 20 hours of volunteer activity and still maintain your certification. We anticipate that some of you may not be able to report any hours this year. If you are a Master Gardener Intern, you may request extra time to complete your 48-hour internship. The request should be made in 2021.

The 10-hour continuing education requirement for Master Gardener Volunteers remains in place. There are many opportunities for online learning. We will also host an online MG Conference this summer.

Volunteering from Home

Many of you have expressed an interest in volunteering at home. This is the safest and also the preferred option for volunteering this year. Opportunities include but are not limited to:

  • Growing produce for the food pantry in your garden (visit About for information on how to tally these hours)
  • Participating in Tom Kalb’s vegetable cultivar trials (visit About for information on how to tally these hours)
  • Helping County Extension Agents answer consumer horticulture questions via email or phone
  • Planning future gardening workshops and events
  • Writing newsletter articles
  • Online or remote volunteer opportunities

Working in an Extension Community Garden

Many of you work in Extension-supported community gardens and wish to continue volunteering. With a little common sense and social distancing, we can greatly reduce but not totally eliminate risks. Safety suggestions include but are not limited to:

  1. Working in separate shifts (one person) in smaller gardens
  2. In larger gardens that can accommodate more than one gardener, requiring physical distancing requirements of more than 6 feet; if you can maintain 12 feet of distance, that is even better! (*see bottom of article for more info)
  3. Limiting the total number of people to 10 or fewer in large gardens; use common sense—10 people may be too many people for some gardens
  4. Implementing an advance sign-up system to limit the number of people in the garden
  5. Garden leaders and Extension Agents are encouraged to email or otherwise send instructions to Master Gardeners and volunteers prior to working in the garden rather than congregating to discuss what needs to be done
  6. Garden leaders can use flags, stakes, signs or tape to mark areas that need attention
  7. If there are multiple garden beds, consider developing a map and numbering the garden beds to aid in communicating locations
  8. Communication within the garden can occur using cell phone, FaceTime, texting or similar methods
  9. If brief conversations need to occur in the garden, maintain a minimum of six feet between individuals, wear masks, and keep conversations to less than 10 minutes
  10. Do not congregate at picnic tables or benches during breaks
  11. Consider closing vegetable gardens to those people who are not gardeners to reduce the number of people
  12. Postpone community events/tours to avoid large numbers of people in close proximity

Other Safety Measures within Community Gardens

  1. Gardeners that are experiencing signs of illness may not work in the garden.
  2. Bring your own hand sanitizer to the garden if hand washing stations are not available.
  3. Everybody should bring their own hand tools if possible.
  4. If tools are shared, clean and disinfect tools. Wash tools in soapy water (such as a biodegradable soap), rinse and wipe dry with a clean cloth. After cleaning tools, many experts recommend disinfecting them using 70% isopropyl alcohol. Wet a clean rag with alcohol, wipe them and allow to air-dry.
  5. According to many experts, wearing a clean cloth face mask is a best practice for safety. However, working in a mask in summer heat can be sweaty and unpleasant. Use your best judgment.
  6. Wear clean gardening gloves or disposable gloves (do not reuse) when picking vegetables. Launder cloth gloves using the hot cycle.
  7. Clean shed handles, counters, padlocks, spigots, gates and other frequently-touched hard surfaces with a detergent-water solution to remove soil prior to disinfecting. To disinfect, use an EPA-registered sanitizing agent made according to the directions on the container.  Avoid any contact of the disinfectant with fresh produce.
  8. Communicate regularly. The most important thing we can all do is to continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at CDC.gov, because this guidance is updated with the latest research. Also, check back with the NDSU Extension Master Gardener Program website. We will modify our policies as we learn more.
  9. Encourage gardeners to stay in touch through texting, Facebook groups, Zoom, phone or other electronic means. Gardening is a social activity, so staying in touch from a distance is a good practice. Share your gardening success with pictures on Facebook!

 *How to Interpret these Guidelines

When in doubt, use your best judgment and error on the side of caution. We are using the ND Department of Health’s and NDSU’s recommendation of a minimum of six feet between individuals for social distancing. However, we strongly encourage you to double this distance if possible.

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