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What does auto body repair have to do with horticulture?

Ask Kathleen Cue, the new extension educator-horticulture in Dodge County.

On March 1, Cue began her job at the extension office in Fremont. Her duties include a range of responsibilities from helping area residents find ways to manage tree insects and diseases to protecting private water sources.

She’ll work with folks in the Master Gardener program and teach people how they can have a pollinator garden.

One of eight children, Cue’s gardening experience began years ago. Back then, Cue’s parents had her pull weeds in the family’s garden.

“Vegetable gardening was a matter of necessity — coming from a family of 10 people,” she said. “Producing vegetables was important.”

Pulling weeds wasn’t her favorite task and not something she wanted to do as a teenager.

But Cue grew to appreciate gardening.

“It wasn’t until I got married and had a family of my own that I figured out I actually enjoyed being in the garden,” she said.

She became an avid gardener.

So what does that have to do with auto body repair?

Her parents had an auto body repair shop, where all their children worked.

“I was an auto body repair person,” said Cue, who is from Iowa.

Cue did auto body repair for about 10 years, while working on a degree in agriculture with an emphasis on horticulture.

“One thing I really liked about gardening is that when you were talking to fellow gardeners, they always had a smile on their face. There was always a sense of fellowship in talking to a like-minded person. It seemed like a natural transition for me to focus on horticulture,” she said.

While auto body repair and horticulture might seem like polar opposites, Cue sees a connection.

Both involve getting to the root of a problem.

“There’s a similarity in that it’s about problem-solving,” she said. “Whether you have a wrinkle in your fender or you have a plant with a disease issue, it’s about taking those steps and asking those questions to figure out what needs to be done to correct the problem.”

Cue earned her bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s of agriculture degree with a focus on horticulture and adult learning from Iowa State University in Ames.

She and her husband, Ken, have two adult children, Katie and Kaleb.

For the past 21 years, she’s worked as a horticulture assistant at Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy County.

Now, she’s an extension educator. She likes the job.

“The best thing about horticulture is that every day is different,” she said. “You don’t know if the client is going to come in and ask about their vegetable garden or their tree or a wild flower they found in their garden. You get to see something different of what’s going on out there that people are growing.”

Her job as an extension educator is multi-faceted.

She can guide gardeners in taking steps to manage insects, disease and weeds in a way that doesn’t cause problems for the environment or people.

For instance, a gardener may want to pick two bugs off of a plant instead of treating it.

“Sometimes, you have 1,000 insects and you may need to go to the next step, which is insecticidal soap,” she said. “It’s finding out what can be effective at the low end of the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) spectrum and then working your way up to something more aggressive if the lower ones don’t work — ultimately contributing to plant success.

“If you have a plant that fails, that plant ends up in the landfill or the compost pile so it’s really about contributing to plant success.”

Cue can help residents find local answers to insect and weed identification, tree and shrub insects and diseases; turf grass management and questions about growing vegetables and small fruit.

She works to protect private water sources.

“For instance, if you have somebody who over-applies a pesticide of some kind and that washes off the plant and goes into the ground water and contaminates the well, then that’s something you’re drinking from and that’s a problem.”

She stresses the importance of being aware of how much and when to apply a chemical.

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Prevention is key — following the label on the chemical to avoid over-applying it.

“One thing that’s clear from pesticides, in general, is that the label’s the law and so you need to follow the label,” she said. “Occasionally, you run across somebody that if the label says to use a tablespoon of something per gallon, they think two tablespoons will be better and that’s not the case. The dosage recommendations are based on trials that the manufacturer has conducted and that’s why the label is the law.”

If someone does over-apply a chemical, she’ll troubleshoot with a person to see what can be done.

She also can talk about the benefits of having a garden, which can help growers save money and have access to food they didn’t have before.

Cue will work with the Master Gardener program. Master Gardeners are volunteers, educated by Nebraska Extension, and then give back their time in the form of community service.

She’ll work with the Nebraska Pollinator Habitat Certification Program.

Bees and butterflies are examples of pollinators.

Pollinators are important.

“One-third of our food supply exists, because an insect has pollenated a plant,” she said. “If pollinators are threatened and they are — the pollinator numbers are dropping — what can we do to ensure their success?”

Cue can teach people how to have a garden that encourages pollinator activity that supports a food supply and habitat for them.

“Thirty percent of all the pollinators overwinter in the hollow stems of plants,” she said. “If you’re a neatness guru and clean up your entire garden in the fall of the year, then you’ve just killed a lot of overwintering native pollinators.

“If you leave it instead, and clean it up in the spring, those pollinators have a chance to emerge as adults, and you’re helping them survive.”

Cue also talks about the importance of providing areas of soil, not covered by mulch, where native bees can winter and putting a stone or two in a bird bath that pollinators can land on to get a drink of water.

She suggests planting a few more carrots along with extra dill and parsley and leaving them for butterflies to eat.

Cue looks forward to getting to know the Master Gardeners and working with them to create a go-to place for people with gardening questions.

As far as her own gardening is concerned, Cue now likes to pull weeds and even considers it therapeutic.

“You can work out your frustrations,” she said, smiling. “You take it out on the weeds.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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