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UC Recognizes Outstanding Master Gardener Projects with 'Search for Excellence' Awards

UCCE Master Gardener of Santa Clara County displays their recent harvest from their demonstration garden at St. Louise Hospital in Gilroy, Calif.

UC Master Gardener programs in Riverside, Santa Clara, Orange and San Diego counties have won the program's Search for Excellence competition, announced Missy Gable, director of UC's statewide Master Gardener Program. The triennial Search for Excellence awards afford county programs the opportunity to share successful projects, including demonstration gardens, workshops, presentation or hands-on programs, community service, horticulture therapy, research or youth programs.

Educating the public was the focus of the Search for Excellence 2014 competition. The entries were judged by a team of experts selected from throughout the state.

"Congratulations to all the Master Gardeners involved in carrying out these innovative projects," Gable said. "This competition celebrates the hard work of dedicated UCCE Master Gardener volunteers across the state."

The Search for Excellence competition winners will be honored at the Master Gardeners Statewide Conference, Oct. 7-10 in Fish Camp, Calif. The next Search for Excellence competition will be in 2017.

First place winners of the triennial Search for Excellence Awards in California, UCCE Master Gardeners of Riverside County, extended outreach into all corners of their local community.
First Place - Riverside County
“There's Gold in them thar hills!” Riverside County is a big county, stretching from the Los Angeles metro area to the Colorado River. The main challenge of the UCCE Master Gardener Program of Riverside County was how to better fulfill their mission of educating their community on sustainable gardening practices. The answer – “Gold Miners.” Riverside County was divided into nine geographic areas with a UCCE Master Gardener volunteer in each area actively pursuing volunteering opportunities for their peers. Since the program began in 2011, “Gold Miners” has increased the presence of UCCE Master Gardeners throughout the county, giving volunteers the opportunity to provide outreach closer to home, engage new members of the public and increase the number of certified UCCE Master Gardeners from all regions of the county.

UCCE Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County conduct sustainable gardening and hands-on workshops for the public.
Second Place - Santa Clara County
UCCE Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County developed a one-acre teaching and demonstration garden on the grounds of St. Louise Hospital in Gilroy. The demonstration garden was designed to create educational outreach opportunities in the far southern portion of the county. UCCE Master Gardener volunteers provide hands-on public workshops in the garden as well as classes in both the hospital boardroom and community libraries. The objectives of the St. Louise Hospital garden includes teaching residents about low-water vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants well-suited to local growing conditions, and modeling sustainable gardening practices reflective of UC research-based horticultural principals.

UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County developed a series of step-by-step composting videos features everything from how to get started to troubleshooting a pile or worm bin.
Third Place - Orange County
Passionate volunteers from the UCCE Master Gardener Program of Orange County developed a series of 15 educational videos. Nine videos provide a comprehensive overview of the composting process and six videos concentrate on worm composting. Each series begins with an explanation of what composting is and shifts into how to start, maintain and troubleshoot a compost pile or worm bin. The videos are designed to instruct and encourage the gardening public to compost either at home or in community gardens. All of the educational videos were filmed and narrated by UCCE Master Gardeners. The videos are published on the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County public website.

First Runner-up - Orange County
Recognizing the need to reach a significantly larger number of home gardeners than demonstration booths and Farmers Market tables were engaging, the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County developed a speakers bureau. The criteria was simple: fulfill the mission of disseminating up-to-date, research-based information and to deliver "wow" presentations for the public. UCCE Master Gardeners created teaching plans, incorporating the statewide program mission and the ANR Strategic Vision to cover important topics such as gardening for improved nutrition and healthy living. Additionally, the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County engaged the help of Toastmasters International, an undisputed authority for training speakers.

Second Runner-up - San Diego County
UCCE Master Gardeners of San Diego County created a program called MG Growing Opportunities (MG-GO) which provides research-based horticulture education to teenage youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Under the guidance of UCCE Master Gardeners, incarcerated youth work along the MG-GO program and learn about eco-system friendly, sustainable gardening. In the process, the youth acquire vocational and life skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, self-esteem and leadership. The goals of MG-GO are to introduce sustainable gardening practices to an under-served population, highlight gardening as a healing endeavor, and develop a replicable model for statewide use.

About us
The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with UC research-based information about home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management practices. It is administered by local UCCE county-based offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The UC Master Gardener Program is an example of an effective partnership between the UC Division and passionate volunteers. In exchange for training from University of California, UCCE Master Gardener volunteers engage the public with timely gardening-related trainings and workshops. With programs based in 50 California counties and 6,048 active members, UCCE Master Gardener volunteers donated 385,260 hours last year and have donated more than 4.2 million hours since the program inception in 1981.

Posted on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 3:56 PM

Do You Have a Little Land to Spare for the Bee Buffer Project?

Kathy Kellison. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Do you have a little land to spare, such as a quarter of an acre or up to three acres? For honey bee habitat?

The Pollinator Partnership, as part of its U.S. Bee Buffer Project, wants to partner with California farmers, ranchers, foresters, and managers and owners to participate in a honey bee forage habitat enhancement effort. It's called the U.S. Bee Buffer Project and the goal is to "borrow" 6000 acres to plant honey bee seed mix.

It will create a foraging habitat of pollen and nectar, essential to honey bee health. And there's no charge for the seed mix.

What a great project to help the beleaguered honey bees!

"Beekeepers struggle to find foraging areas to feed their bees when they are not in a pollination contract," said "idea generator" Kathy Kellison of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, a strong advocate of keeping bees healthy.  "Lack of foraging habitat puts stress on the bees and cropping systems honey bees pollinate. The U.S. Bee Buffer Project will develop a network of honey bee forage habitats in agricultural areas to support honey bee health and our own food systems. We are looking for cooperators with land they are willing to set aside as Bee Buffers."

Kellison points out:

  • Honey bees provide pollination services for 90 crops nationwide.
  • A leading cause for over-winter mortality of honey bee colonies given by beekeepers surveyed is starvation. The nationwide winter loss for 2012/2013 was 31.3 percent.

The requirements, she said, are minimal:

  • Access to an active farm, ranch, forest, easement, set-aside, or landscape
  • Ability to plant 0.25 to 3 acres with the U.S. Bee Buffer seed mix
  • Commitment to keep the Bee Buffer in place
  • Allow beekeepers and researchers on-site

Of course, the benefits to the participants include free seeds and planting information; supplemental pollination of flowering plants; and leadership participation in the beginnings of a nationwide effort to support honey bees. Then there's the potential for enriched soil, reduction in invasive plant species, and enhanced wildlife habitat.

And, we made add, a sense of accomplishment as bees forage on your thriving plants.

Those interested in participating in this nationwide effort and hosting a Bee Buffer, can visit to fill out a brief eligibility questionnaire. More information is available from Mary Byrne at the Pollinator Partnership at (415) 362-1137 or

Go, bees!

Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for lupine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 15, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Almond farmers relying on groundwater to cope with drought

California has emerged as the world's almond orchard because of near-perfect conditions for the crop, but in terms of production, it may have hit its peak, reported Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian.

"The future for farming almonds in California will always be there," said David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County. "It is more about coming into balance with our water resources."

The story quoted from a UC report that California farmers have spent an extra $500 million this year pumping extra water to cope with the drought.

Co-author of the study, Richard Howitt, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, cautioned against singling out particular crops.

"Don't blame almonds for the problem," he said. "The problem is one of water mismanagement."

He suggested changes in how California manages water so farmers monitor their groundwater use and replenish supplies when there is more rain.

"[The farmers] should be repaying what they are taking. And if they are taking more, as they always are in droughts, then they should be making plans to repay it back in wet years. If you treat your groundwater the way you treat your retirement account, then everything would be OK."

More information about water stress in almonds may be found in David Doll's blog, The Almond Doctor.

Leaves dying and dropping early in a Merced County almond orchard most likely due to water stress.. (Photo: James Nichols)


Posted on Monday, September 15, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Farmers are feeling the impact of the drought

Because of the drought, California almond farmers have been forced to drill new wells, rely on salty groundwater for irrigation and bulldoze some trees, reported Robert Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee.

The story presented results from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, which worked with state ag officials to send surveys to 688 California almond farmers; 458 of them responded.

The survey found that nearly 70 percent of almond farmers have only groundwater to irrigate their trees. About 23 percent said they had to drill new wells and 32 percent were reconditioning existing wells.

Normally growers mix surface water with groundwater to dilute the salts in water that has been pumped up from wells. But for many farmers, that hasn't been possible this year.

"Consequently, the amount of salt in the trees has placed them under stress and it is being reflected in smaller nut size, reduced growth and the potential for small crops in the future," said Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension emeritus adviser who specialists in nut crops. He added that salt buildup can kill a tree.

Almond farmers use mechanical shakers to knock the nuts to the ground for harvest.

Read more here:
Almond farmers use mechanical shakers to knock the nuts to the ground for harvest.
Almond farmers use mechanical shakers to knock the nuts to the ground for harvest.

Read more here:
Posted on Monday, September 15, 2014 at 9:28 AM

Japanese Maples Do Sunburn

Help for the Home Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk

Japanese Maple leaf scorch...
picture: Missouri Botanical Garden
Client's Question:
The client has several young Japanese Maples suffering from sun burned and sun scorched leaves. They are concerned about the welfare of the trees and how much to water them. They were told by the nursery to water one gallon every three days.

Master Gardener Response:

Sun Burned/Scorched Leaves: You did not mention what type of sun exposure your maples have so I will address that first. Most Japanese Maples will do well in a location with direct morning sun and shade in the afternoon. Hot afternoon summer sun exposure on many varieties of red Japanese Maples can result in sun burned leaves.  I can personally attest to this.  With the recent summer winds and hot sun, all of my Japanese Maples have sun burned leaves and some early leaf drop. This often occurs in late August through September but has so far never affected the overall health of my trees.

Leaf scorch can appear on any type of deciduous tree, shrub or plant. During prolonged periods of drought, windy weather or bright sunshine, Japanese Maples are particularly susceptible, especially young trees. In hot weather with dry soil, tree roots cannot absorb enough water to send to the leaves. Foliage may stay on the tree in mild instances, but premature leaf drop occurs in severe cases of leaf scorch.

Watering Japanese Maples:  Your question regarding a proper watering schedule is challenging because of several factors including your soil type and whether this is a newly planted or an established tree. Generally speaking, watering of Japanese Maples should be done uniformly throughout the growing season and even more during summer heat. Japanese Maple trees have fairly shallow roots that can dry out easily. Your Japanese Maple requires a consistent amount of water. The amount of water will also depend on your soil type. A clay soil will retain more moisture than a sandy soil. Your nursery's recommendations on watering may fall short in during a drought season, and especially in light of our summer's high temperatures and windy days. 

The University of Colorado web site referenced below is a great resource on caring for trees in a drought year.  However, a Japanese Maple is a moisture loving tree and if it is newly planted, will require additional monitoring and water. A three inch layer of mulch is helpful to provide moist conditions as well as winter protection for the shallow root system.  Mulch will also help cool the soil in summer. Some other good cultural practices for your tree's health include keeping lawn 2-3 feet away from the trunk and keeping mulch about 6 inches from the trunk.

Some Additional References Worth Reviewing on Japanese Maple Care:

General Information on Tree Care in Lawns from the Contra Costa Master Gardeners

Information on Japanese Maples; Master Gardener Newspaper Articles

University of Colorado resource for addressing water needs in a drought situation

Missouri Botanical Gardens on leaf scorch:
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk

Editor's Note: The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA  94523.  (map) We can also be reached via telephone:  (925) 646-6586, email:, and we are on the web at "Ask a Master Gardener" help tables are also present at many Farmers Markets as well as at the CCMG's "Our Garden" programs (map). See the CCMG web page for details/locations.

Posted on Monday, September 15, 2014 at 7:00 AM

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