- Author: Betty Homer
For the past few months, I have been featuring one location per month of an urban farm tour that I attended in June 2014. Unfortunately, these tours only occur once a year, so you will have to wait until June 2015 for the next round of tours (the tour is organized by the Institute of Urban Homesteading located in Oakland, California, and the sites change annually so there is always something new to see and explore). The good news, however, was/is that in 2014, these tours were extended into Solano County; hopefully, this trend will continue. Because the sites are private residences, with rare exception, I have not disclosed the addresses in this and prior blog entries, to preserve and protect the privacy interests of the urban farmer-homeowners.
This blog entry about Wildheart Gardens located in Berkeley, California, is the last of four installments in this series. I was excited to learn that Wildheart Gardens made it onto this year's tour list, as it is owned and operated by Christopher Shein, a permaculture instructor at Merritt College and the author of The Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture: Creating an Edible Ecosystem. Wildheart Gardens is considered a "medium" site in that the lot size consists of 6,800 square feet and of that square footage, 2,500 square feet is used for urban farming (i.e., 36% of the total lot size).
Wildheart Gardens began in 2007. I was particularly interested in this site because I wanted to see what an urban food forest looked like. This particular site had chickens and ducks, perennial vegetables, a straw bale building, rainwater catchment, timber bamboo, a plant nursery, vertical gardens, kids' forts/play area, a mushroom habitat and a composting system. This garden generates an abundance of food, building materials and compost each year and offers a live-work space for the family who lives there.
As I am growing sunchokes this year (a perennial crop), a great tip Christopher shared, was cutting down the stalks of the sunchokes (which can reach 15 feet high or taller; sunchokes are a sunflower relative) mid-season and laying those stalks down as mulch and compost for the garden; the sunchokes will re-grow and there will be plenty to eat at harvest. Although aesthetically, this mulching method may not be appeal to all, I did this after returning home, and now after 3 months, I can report that it does work. I have now begun to use other plants for that purpose.
For additional information on this site and other pictures, please see http://wildheartgardens.com/.
- Author: Christine Macgenn
When I used to look out the window at my garden I saw flowers, trees, lawn and weeds. However, my view was always impacted by what I felt -- a sense of failure, confusion, and chaos. My gardening successes and failures were random at best. I had a hard time discerning the difference between a wild flower and a weed or a cucumber beetle and a lady bug. It all seemed like such a monumental, daunting amount of work. My inherent love of playing in the “dirt” just wasn't enough to create a flourishing garden. I even entertained the notion of pouring a truckload of cement over the whole thing and being done with it! Then a friend of mine told me she had just completed a Master Gardener class and thought I might enjoy it too. In a last ditch effort to save my garden from the cement truck, I signed up for the Master Gardeners of Solano County Program and I will be forever grateful I did. It's less than a year later and now when I look out my window at my garden I see an integrated, complex and magical universe I never knew existed.
When I started the Master Gardener class I thought I was the only person in the world overwhelmed and confused by her garden. I was surprised and delighted to know that I was not alone. In fact, there was a whole classroom full of other gardeners who experienced the same fears and frustrations I experienced. It was comforting to find a community of people with whom I felt at home, and unembarrassed by my lack of expertise.
Of course, when I looked over the syllabus for the class and the size and weight of the books I thought, “Oh, oh. Maybe I've dug myself into a hole here.” But, that wasn't the case. The classes were fast-paced and packed full of information, yes, but they were also compelling and fun. One class at time I found myself absorbing the material like a dry sponge dropped in a bucket of water. From the basics of plant biology to the more complex issues of Integrated Pest Management, from weed control to pruning plants and trees, understanding began to replace confusion and, as a result order began to replace chaos in my garden. More important, with my newfound knowledge came more curiosity and more courage to just get out there and get dirty and not worry so much about whether I was doing it all right or not.
The Master Gardener course also taught me to work at a slower pace in my garden. I don't just charge out there with the intent of getting the job done. I find myself spending more and more time observing and paying attention to all that it is going on, under the foliage, on branches, and in the soil. The more I witness, the more I understand, and the less I panic. The more I know where to turn with questions the more solutions I bring to the garden and the more my garden thrives.
My goal when I started the class was to gain knowledge about my roses, my citrus and fruit trees, and my vegetable garden. And I did learn all of that. But what I did not expect was the incredible realization that my garden is a world unto itself, constantly seeking balance and order all on its own. Another surprise I found through the Master Gardener class is that I am fascinated by all of the different life forms in my garden — butterflies, bees, frogs, beetles, aphids, spiders, and ants. I rarely go into my garden now without my camera, and my gardener's loupe. It is a little like going on Safari, on a great wild adventure. I'm witness to who is eating what, and whom. Who is supporting whom, and who is struggling to survive. I have good guys and bad guys in the garden, and I am seeing with my own eyes Mother Nature's incredible wisdom and majesty. Portions of my garden have now become like game preserves full of plants that attract pollinators, plants that help ward off enemy bugs, organic, biodynamic soil amendments and plants going to seed because their blossoms have not fallen yet and the bees love them.
But it doesn't end there. What I gained from the Master Gardener's Program in addition to knowledge is a sense of pride and a desire to share my knowledge with others. A friend asked me to have a look at her Avocado plant the other day. The plant was infested with aphids and a battalion of ants. I suggested she hose the plant off with a strong stream of water and then place ant control at the base of it. I explained how ants love the sweet honeydew nectar that aphids leave behind and that ants and aphids actually support each other to the detriment of the plants. Ants protect aphids from other predators, which allows aphids to proliferate. Ants and aphids have to be put in check. I also explained that monitoring the plant regularly would help her determine when the aphids and ants were starting up again and make managing them much easier. She has since reported back that aphids and ants are under control and her beautiful Avocado plant is once again bursting with vitality.
Gardening is exciting, thrilling in fact. Whether we are enjoying the heavenly fragrance of a rose or the sweet, juicy taste of a fresh peach just off the tree, marveling over a precious peony in the early morning light or the magic of a milkweed casting its seed into the wind, or witnessing a young katydid decimating a leaf or a baby mantis sunning itself on a leaf of sage, there is no end to Mother Nature's magnificent imagination. A vibrant, healthy garden is something we can all benefit from. Thanks to the Solano County Master Gardener's Program and all that I learned there and continue to learn each day through the vast network of information resources I have access to, I have a new appreciation for how animated and alive gardens really are. The cement truck is a distant memory and the joy of gardening is an ever present part of my life. Here are just a few of the things I've seen in my garden in recent weeks.
- Author: Jennifer Baumbach
It happens about once, possibly twice a year-our Master Gardener Plant Exchange. This year's event will be held on Saturday,September 27, 2014 from 9am until noon. The location is our UC Cooperative Extension office at 501 Texas Street, in Fairfield.
It's common knowledge that Master Gardeners love to propagate plants. They have access to a plethora of gardening goodies and the best part...they love to share with you! As an added bonus, they will also bring in their seeds, bulbs, pots, magazines/books, tools, gloves and other items related to gardening to exchange. It's basically one big gardening garage sale, but for free!
We also have two-20 minute talks: Miniature Gardens and Succulents. The Miniature Gardens talk starts at 10am and the Succulents talk starts at 11am.
Please bring your own plants to share! (nothing over 5 gallons, invasive or thorny please!) See you soon!
- Author: Launa Herrmann
A drought-tolerant plant attractive to beneficial insects is difficult for a gardener to resist. So I purchased Asclepias tuberosa and planted the perennial in the front flower bed bordering a small patch of lawn. This summer I enjoyed the large clusters of bright orange-red flowers atop long stiff stems with alternate lance-shaped leaves. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds joined me in admiring the irresistible Butterfly Weed. Before I knew it, color-coordinated aphids joined the fan club awaiting the nectar of unopened flowers.
The Butterfly Weed, a species of milkweed, uses little water, requires full sun and blooms mid-spring through fall. Growing in dry fields, open prairies and hillsides, its appearance is similar to Lanceolate Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) except for conspicuous flowers and hairy stems. Also, the Butterfly Weed produces no milky sap. Occasionally, the flowers of a Lantana are confused with the Butterfly Weed.
Medicinally, Asclepia tuberosa roots were chewed by Native Americans to cure pleurisy and bronchitis. A root tea helped with diarrhea. However, resinoid and cardiac glycosides in this plant are toxic if ingested in large quantities. So far my “I live for my stomach” Labrador Retriever has shown no interest.
Also known as “Chigger flower,” the Butterfly Weed is grown from seed. See photo of seed pod below. Deadheading in late summer is suggested. On the other hand, I'm finding that during these drought days I'm encouraging any and all color I can. I'll welcome another Butterfly Weed or two, color-coordinated aphids and all.
- Author: Sharon L. Rico
I have been intrigued with faces since I was a child. My mom collected flower vases that were faces (popular in the 40's). She also made ceramic faces (figurines) that sat on bookshelves and her desk. I think that image was imprinted in my brain and now my garden has faces, most which support plants.
Many years ago, at the Novato Renaissance Faire, an artist had created cement faces that were displayed on a long fence. Some were plain but many were planted with an assortment of flowering annuals. I had to have one for our garden. Several years later, when the Renaissance Faire moved to Vacaville, I added another face made by the same artist. Years later, we moved to a different home and garden, and were asked to be hosts for a garden tour. When shopping for colorful plants for the garden, another face was found and added. We named that face ‘Zeus'. ‘Zeus' has always had wire-vine (Muehlenbeckia) “hair” that occasionally needs trimming, so ‘he' doesn't look like a ‘she'.
When my cousin, Toni Greer, came home from St. Louis, she began creating faces in clay. Her faces are unique as they are parts of faces: from above the cheekbone to the chin. Plants fit in the area that hair would normally be growing. At Christmastime, she gifted me with a face planted with succulents. It is a treasure! When she created and sold her faces for ‘Art on the Vine' at Wooden Valley Winery, I purchased one for my sister-in-law's birthday. It was a difficult decision to choose just the right one.
Recently, the Vaca Valley Garden Club held their monthly board meeting at the new president's home in Dixon. Her yard had faces everywhere. Framed on the fence, among the flowers, in containers, on a metal rack. I was in heaven among them all and it brought back memories of my mom and why I love faces.