A resident of Pasadena recently contacted me with a “sticky” problem. Bees had created a colony inside the walls of her condo and she wondered what to do. I don’t have any expertise in entomology beyond a few college classes, but I made a few phone calls to see what I could find out.
I’m a week behind schedule in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, but in the spirit of “better late than never” I decided to write a Lincoln-themed post anyway. As former Presidents go, Lincoln’s been getting more than his share of attention since the recent election of another Senator from Illinois. Among his many enduring legacies, Lincoln helped to create the national extension movement that continues to serve our country to this day. By signing the 1862 Morrill Act into law, he made it possible for states to open public universities that would provide education for the average person, focused on agriculture and other practical subjects.
The Morrill Act offered states a grant of federal land to finance a new university. These new institutions of higher learning became known as land-grant universities, and were charged with helping the nation improve its agricultural production to feed a rapidly growing population. Over time it was clear that the new land-grant campuses needed to take their information out into communities where it could help people most directly. By 1914, each state's land-grant university had county-based extension offices in place to share research-based knowledge at the local level.
Here in California, our land-grant institution is the University of California. There is a University of California Cooperative Extension office in most counties in California, funded in partnership with the local county and the US Department of Agriculture. UC Cooperative Extension takes information developed at the UC campuses and makes it available to local communities. We also conduct applied research to address local problems. We focus our efforts on the themes of good nutrition, a healthy environment, gardening, agriculture, and positive youth development.
In dense urban communities it can be a challenge for gardeners to find a plot to call their own. Community gardens are one strategy to create garden space for people without backyards. Another possibility is to look at rooftops for garden space. Today’s LA Times Home and Garden Section features a local chef who has developed a garden on a rooftop in Beverly Hills which supplies some of the herbs and vegetables he uses at his restaurant. Photos and the article are available at http://tinyurl.com/ct2wje .
Another more extensive rooftop garden was recently created on a mid-rise residential building in downtown Los Angeles. This project, entitled SYNTHe, will include fruit trees and vines along with vegetables. Take a look at the photos and description at http://tinyurl.com/c3qfbh.
While food production is one focus of rooftop gardening, it's not the only reason to plant on roofs. There is a strong international “green roof” movement that promotes greening rooftops to help cool and insulate buildings and reduce storm water runoff. Several metropolitan areas have recently promoted green roofs. For example, starting this year New York City building owners can receive substantial property tax credits for installing green roofs.
Anyone interested in creating a rooftop garden or green roof will need to do some research, since structural and safety issues are involved. The weight of soil, plants and water and the weight capacity of the roof need to be carefully assessed. I found two especially helpful resources as I looked for information on rooftop gardening. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle provided an overview of rooftop gardening around the United States, at http://tinyurl.com/crl673. Here in Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department has published an outstanding and extensive guide to green roofs, available at tinyurl.com/atqf7l
As Los Angeles residents continue to seek ways to improve their urban environment, rooftop gardening merits further exploration and expansion.
One of our talented Master Gardeners, Judi Gerber, is also a historian who has recently published the book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay from the Arcadia Press “Images of America” Series.
Cooperative Extension has a wonderful resource that I’d like people to be more aware of: our amazing Master Gardener Volunteers. We have more than 200 MG volunteers, as we call them.
The Master Gardener Program officially began in 1978. We maintained the program on and off over the years, depending on staffing and interest. By the early 1990s, however, our program in Los Angeles County was inactive. That is, until Yvonne Savio, coordinator extraordinaire joined our staff in 1995 and immediately restarted the program. It’s been going strong ever since.
Master Gardeners participate in extensive training then volunteer with us in a variety of ways, mostly focused on improving food access in low-income communities. Last year our Master Gardeners reached more than 87,000 people in Los Angeles County, working with community gardens, school gardens and answering calls on our Master Gardener Helpline.
The Helpline is a free service for Los Angeles County residents. Anyone can call or email the Helpline with their home gardening questions. The Master Gardener Helpline is available by phone at (323) 260-3238 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yvonne and the Master Gardeners have been featured in the media twice in the past week. The Los Angeles Times ran a story on Victory Gardens on January 10th, and included a mention of how our Master Gardeners have helped to promote food gardening around Los Angeles. The Times article discussed how interest in gardening is cyclical, and that when economic times are difficult, more people garden. For example, the article mentions that a major seed company experienced a 40% increase in its sale of vegetable and herb seeds in 2007. You can view the story at www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-victory10-2009jan10,0,7167635.story
Our Master Gardener program was also featured on Evan Kleiman’s “Good Food” Show on KCRW on January 10th. You can listen to the interview with Yvonne at www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/gf090110australian_olive_oil
Learn more about our Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program at this link: celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Common_Ground_Garden_Program//o:p>/o:p>/span>/o:p>/o:p>/o:p>/o:p>