While a winter that has caused Carroll County to exceed its budget of $1.8 million for snow removal rages, every Tuesday night a group of Carroll residents gather at the Ag Center in Westminster and plan for spring.

Now in its fourth year, the Grow it, Eat it classes offer those in attendance a chance to learn about different horticultural topics each week as well as an opportunity to ask questions about their own gardens and vegetables.

"I learn something new all the time," said JoAnna King, of Marriottsville. "I learn what I can do to make it (my garden) better."

The series of eight classes started in January and run through March.

Taught completely by volunteers, all of them master gardeners, the sessions attract an average of 50 people a week. Some classes, especially those in the beginning, attracted 70 people, according to Steve Allgeier, master gardener coordinator.

Those interested in attending can register for all classes at once, or just drop in on a Tuesday at the center's extension office, 700 Agriculture Center Drive.

"Ours keeps growing," Allgeier said, of interest at the Grow It, Eat It classes. "It's a great opportunity for people to get information and not get anything sold to them."

Each week features two topics for discussion. Past topics have included starting and saving seeds, herbs, bugs and raised beds.

Future topics include kitchen gardens, small fruits and community-supported agriculture.

Many of the evenings also include a cooking demonstration.

"It depends on the class," said Cheri Grubby, a volunteer master gardener, of the food prepared. "We did something with root vegetables, so we made butternut squash soup. For herbs, we will make pesto."

At age 92, Lou Potter has been a gardener most of his life, but he still enjoys coming to the classes.

"I learn a few things," Potter said. "It really broke my heart to see those stink bugs come in. What can you do with them?"

In his talk about integrated pest management, Bill Palm informed the crowd that one tip on how to get rid of stink bugs irked him.

"You're taught that the plant to draw out stink bugs from other plants is okra," Palm. "I like okra."

One reason King likes the classes is the level of expertise and presentations of the instructors.

"All the instructors are volunteers and master gardeners," King said, nodding toward Palm. "He actually has his personal experience. He's done what he is teaching, so he knows."

Indeed, both Palm and the first speaker at a recent session, Bill Corun, shared stories of their own gardens and what worked or didn't work. Corun talked about sustainable gardening while Palm's topic was about integrated pest management.

"I think it is great the information they're sharing and the handouts they give," said Tammy Holtkamp, of Eldersburg. "I've been gardening since I was a little girl and I still am learning from it. It is great to have such a wealth of knowledge."

In addition to the winter Grow It Eat It classes, there is a series of six twilight classes scheduled for the summer in the demonstration garden near the Ag Center. The master gardeners also attend farmers' markets around the county to answer questions.

For all of those in attendance on a Tuesday evening in February, it was obvious that gardening kept away the winter chills.

"I just love to do it," Potter said. "I get so much enjoyment out of it."

Remaining Grow it, Eat it classes

Feb. 25: Kitchen Gardens; Community Supported Agriculture

March 4: Small Fruits and Tree Fruits; Companion Planting, cooking demonstration

March 11: Make-up date

Classes are $10.

For information, call Steve Allgeier at 410-386-2760. x