This month's Spotlight Master Gardener, Valerie Kimmel-Oliva had a personal goal to complete three UCCE programs in one year which she did (fall to spring 2017-2018). She is a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener, a Master Food Preserver and a UC California Naturalist! Completing all three programs helped her achieve a better understanding of global environmental issues, desert ecosystems, sustainable gardening, plant care, and growing food.
Valerie has attended and participated in the "Agriculture in the Classroom" online conferences several times (a few with our very own UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator, Maggie O'Neil!) The conference mission is to raise awareness and understanding of agriculture among California's educators and students. The concepts presented at the conference are helpful to Valerie in the classroom. She also shares resources from the conferences with her fellow teachers and interns to teach their own students.
Valerie has been a Master Gardener since 2017, but her interest in sustainable gardening extends back many years before. Her interest in sustainability started with learning about recycling programs. Her efforts in teaching kids about the environment just snowballed from there. With a strong belief that kids are our docents for the future, Valerie teaches them how to garden appropriately. Because of what they have learned in Valerie's classes, some started their own home gardens.
Valerie has been involved with school-site and community gardens for about fifteen years. While teaching special needs students from the inner city of Richmond, California, she took on the task of re-establishing the school's neglected garden. She later joined the board for a city community garden as the teacher representative. While in the Bay Area, she also trained in the Watershed Program.
Valerie returned to the high desert in 2011. As a Special Education teacher in the Apple Valley Unified School District, she facilitated the school garden restoration at Desert Knolls Elementary School. Valerie and her students' hard work paid off in growing a wonderful garden of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. She believes that kids learn about science and math through their gardening experiences. Measuring a garden bed, figuring out how many plants to grow, amount of soil and water needed is required within the scope of hands-on science and math-based learning.
There are a lot of socio-economically disadvantaged children living in the desert communities where Valerie teaches. She teaches students who may not have adequate nutrition and all the other comorbid things that go with that. When a kid grows something, he or she gets an incredible feeling of, I got something from basically nothing. Valerie believes that is a real moment of surprise for kids (and for adults too.)
Valerie has worked hard to facilitate recycling practices at the schools she has taught. In 2016, Desert Knolls Elementary School was also selected as the School of the Year for Recycling at the annual Recycling and Recovery State Convention and won the Town of Apple Valley “Green Award” that same year. "It was quite an honor, as we have been establishing our program through sustainable practices. I learned many of the practices after attending MEEC-Mojave Environmental Consortium-sponsored workshops. Composting, energy, and gardens in every classroom, to name a few," Valerie said about receiving the award on behalf of the school and her students' hard work.
Valerie taught the district STEP program, grades 1-6, and was an advisor for the GATE after-school programs. She volunteered her time to take students on field trips to support service-learning and STEM activities. MEEC has provided transportation services funding for her to take students on field trips to organic farms and recycling recovery enters. She has taken students to the YELC-Youth Environmental Leadership Conference, the Showcase event, and the Annual Solar Oven Competition. She has had winning teams for several years in solar oven competitions.
Valerie taught the district STEP program, grades 1-6 and was an advisor for the GATE after-school programs. She volunteered her time to take students on field trips to support service learning and STEM activities. MEEC has provided transportation services funding for her to take students on field trips to organic farms and recycling recovery enters. She has taken students to the YELC-Youth Environmental Leadership Conference, the Showcase event, and the Annual Solar Oven Competition. She has had winning teams several years in solar oven competitions.
Valerie's dedication leads her to continue her students' environmental learning by virtual outreach. In her Google Classroom, she has a Garden Corner where she shares information with her students and their families about gardening activities that they can do at home. She shares California Teachers Agriculture in the Classroom Program fruits and vegetable cards with her students. She is working on indoor garden activities that she can take back to her classroom to share with her students and their families when COVID restrictions are lifted. She has an herb garden kit with lights and plans to get a hydroponics kit with Betta fish. She had started a similar project at Yucca Loma Elementary School with her K-2 class before in-class instruction temporarily ceased.
Being a Master Gardener has helped Valerie expand her gardening knowledge and interests. She loves everything about gardening from pest control to the importance of trees. One of her favorite gardening activities is experimenting with methods to grow new things in the desert. She likes to grow flowers from bulbs. For the past six years has been experimenting with different types of bulbs to see which ones grow best in the desert. The most unusual thing she has grown is Loofahs. She grew so many that she and her daughter packaged them in spa gift baskets to give to friends.
Valerie said, “The Master Gardener program is a great community to learn, network, volunteer, and share meaningful experiences with people who have common interests. The learning is ongoing, and everyone comes with different levels of expertise or strengths. It is a great way to help share what you learn and do with others in your community.”
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are proud of Valerie Kimmel-Oliva's commitment to promoting environmental awareness and positive change within schools and communities. We celebrate her many successes and are honored to have her as a member of our community!
- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
It feels like spring is here! It might not stay, as we sometimes have a few false starts here in So Cal, but the birds are singing, the trees are sending out blooms and summer veggies are getting seeded and about ready to be transplanted. Things always seem so much easier in the garden in the spring. The weather is mostly on our side, with a few hot or cold days, but usually nothing really extreme. We have the hope of periodic rain to help our plants along so we are not alone in watering, getting a little help from nature. While many pests that have slowed down in the cooler months are just emerging and starting planning their takeovers in our garden, optimism is high! We have grand plans for successful vegetable and herb gardens.
Here are a few tips to help turn your grand plans into successful gardens:
1) Keep it reasonable (or don't, just be prepared): In the spring, with weather on our side and soooo many seeds coming in one packet, it's easy to get a garden going that might be bigger than you want to maintain in the summer. Big expansive gardens can be great! Just make sure that for each crop you plant, you think about the water, shade, space, and protection the plants will need in the summer, and what to do with any extra produce!
2) Keep your garden close to a water source: Be sure your garden is set up so you have easy access to water. While it might not need very much supplemental water now, inconsistent watering can cause fruit and veggie bitterness and fruit split. Make sure you plan ahead to supply water through an irrigation system or with a hose or, for smaller gardens, a watering can, keeping in mind that your plants can need about three times the water in the heat of summer than in early spring.
3) Check early and often for pests and diseases: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest management approach that combines several “best practices” with the use of pesticides as a last resort. These practices include: Proper identification of your pest (and the damage they can cause); early monitoring and detection before populations or disease are widespread; and treatment that is based on your pest or diseases life cycle and behavior to get a treatment that is effective and also reduces harm to non-target animals and plants. When IPM techniques are used, many problems in your landscape and garden can be avoided before harmful chemicals are needed. In practical terms: check for things like aphids, earwigs and blight often so that you can catch the infestation early and only need to treat or manage a small outbreak; make sure when you see a bug that it was the bug that actually did the damage to your plant, or find out if it's a pest that doesn't cause much harm and can be left alone. (It may actually be a beneficial insect since there are more of those in our gardens than actual insect pests.) If you see a weed, pull it out before it becomes a huge pest in your garden. Keeping your plants weed free keeps them from competing with other plants for nutrients and water, and keeping weeds out early helps keep them from taking over your yard!
4) A great resource for all things IPM is: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.homegarden.html
Another great resource is the UC IPM diagnostic tool where you can go to trouble shoot your pest problems: https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu Don't forget that our Master Gardener helpline is also here to help you trouble shoot all of your pest problems too!
5) Use “best practices” when caring for your plants: Part of a successful integrated pest management strategy is to keep your plants healthy and well cared for. Just like when we exercise, eat right and get enough water and rest to avoid getting sick, we can do the same for our plants. Start by adding generous amounts of organic matter (compost is great!) into your garden soil, mixing it at least 6 inches deep for non-root crops and a foot or deeper for potatoes, carrots, and other root crops. Overwatering is one of the main causes of mature plant failure and underwatering is one of the major causes of newly established plant failures (including recently planted vegetable seeds and transplants). Both overwatering and underwatering put extra stress on plants and makes them vulnerable to pests. Also, apply the right amount of fertilizer. Both too little and too much impact the health and production of vegetables. Applying mulch on top of the soil around your vegetables is another best practice that can buffer soil temperatures and keep spring weeds from germinating in your garden.
6) Keep an open mind and learn from your struggles! Gardening can be so rewarding when you sit down to eat your first summer tomato (if it even makes it into the house) or can be so frustrating when you go to pick your first tomato and you find it's hollowed out on the back side!! Arggggg! It's important to remember that gardening is a journey not a destination and all of the best gardeners will tell you they learned more from their failures than their successes. When things aren't going right in your garden, don't be shy to reach out to your local Master Gardener helpline and let us help you (email@example.com)! The sooner you reach out to us to have us help troubleshoot your challenges, the more likely it is that the problem can be resolved without total loss of your plant or crop…..and don't be shy, the only silly question is the one you don't ask, and the Master Gardeners loooove a gardening mystery or challenge!
Right plant, right place, right time: That is what we learn early when we go through our Master Gardener training program to become volunteers. The right plant (meaning it's well suited for your climate and the microclimate that you are planting it in at your house) put in the right place (given the right amount of sun or shade as needed, placed in a soil that it is suited for, placed in a place where it can grow to the height it needs, etc.) and planted at the right time (e.g. warm vs. cool season veggies) will be a plant that is healthy and productive!
With these tips, and regular “check in's” with your garden, you are well on your way to taking your spring dreams into summer success.
If you need more help with your vegetable garden, check out our ABC's of School and Community Garden Workshop on March 13th where we will go over our new veggie guide: From Asparagus to Zucchini for all the San Bernardino County climates! Register here for this free Zoom class: http://ucanr.edu/u.cfm?id=265
Remember that the Master Gardeners are here to support you along the way with free online gardening classes, our monthly “Ask a Master Gardener” time, and our helpline!
Lynn Brown-Summers and Tim Summers are a dynamic husband-and-wife team. Their differing strengths have made them an inspiring team in serving their local community wherever they are needed. UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardeners since January 2019 (Lynn) and July 2017 (Tim) and UCCE Master Food Preservers (since 2017), they enjoy spending time together gardening and preserving their own food.
Lynn's strength is to connect with like-minded individuals to accomplish mutual goals. She has the mind, heart, and soul of an activist, which comes as no surprise since most of her family members are involved in public service, politics, and publishing. Her mother, Cheryl Brown, is a former Assemblywoman of the 47th District and current California State Commissioner on Aging who has devoted most of her life to public service. In 1980, Lynn's father and mother founded Brown Publishing Company to produce Black Voice News. This weekly newspaper focuses on local news in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Lynn knows how to “make things happen” and the right people to help in that effort. As Tim says, “My wife is one of those forces of nature. Tell her what, you point her in the direction, and she will get it done.” A self-proclaimed “gardening nerd," Tim is the “nuts and bolts' implementation force of the team. He enjoys the hands-on part of their collaboration, and it shows through his gardening. Together, they are unstoppable in their goal to make the world better through the Master Gardeners' mission, “To extend research-based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices to the residents of California.”
Learning the researched-based approach to sustainable gardening taught in the Master Gardener program has helped Lynn and Tim fulfill their strong desire to help others. They believe that the program provides supportive credibility to their Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver presentations. It gives them a greater depth of knowledge and background of information to pull accurate and useful information. Lynn and Tim believe that research-based knowledge is especially critical for integrated pest management (IPM). They took a UC ANR IPM class a few years ago. They recommended that anyone interested take one of the online courses or workshops https://www2.ipm.ucanr.edu/master-gardeners/.
Before COVID restricted activities, Lynn and Tim were active in presenting Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver workshops at the Rialto Community Garden at 539 Acacia Avenue, Rialto. They are passionate about teaching people the safe way to preserve and store food they have grown.
Lynn and Tim are involved in so many projects that I am amazed at how they find the time and energy to keep “all the balls they are juggling in the air.” They are currently finishing a new (second) Rialto Community Garden at 150 Palm Avenue opposite City Hall. They are proud that they were asked by the City of Rialto to work on the garden for the past two years from start to finish. They served as the UCCE Master Gardener experts for the project, helping develop and implement a garden plan. They represented the community garden project as advisors, attending city planning meetings and spoke at city council meetings regarding the project.
They are also working with the Mayor of Rialto to start a seed bank there. There is a beautiful old adobe building at the Bud Bender Park that Lynn and Tim think would be a perfect spot to start a seed bank. The early 19th-century structure is the oldest building still standing in Rialto. It has been used for many purposes over the years. The internal temperature of the adobe structure is perfect for storing seeds. The Mayor would like to use it for the seed bank, but it needs some repair work. The project is currently in the planning stage “on paper." The city likes the idea and is reviewing the budget for available funds. Lynn and Tim don't easily give up, so if the adobe site doesn't work out, they will find another location for a Rialto seed bank. It may be at the community garden at Bud Bender Park if the idea to use the adobe structure doesn't work out.
Lynn thought having an American Girl Victory Garden workshop would be fun and educational for young girls and attendees to learn about gardening. Stations were set up where the girls made paper, planted seeds, and made a berry jam. The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers made food to sample, such as finger sandwiches, cakes, cookies, and other goodies from the American Girl cookbook.
Several people donated American Girl dolls and books to the San Bernardino Public Library. Any of the children who were not able to afford the American Doll event could check a doll and book out of the library and journal their thoughts before returning the library items.
The American Girl Victory Garden workshop that Lynn organizes each year is a well-attended, popular event. The organizers were sad they were not able to hold a workshop this year due to COVID restrictions. However, everyone is looking forward to having another workshop as soon as possible.
Lynn and Tim are highly skilled at helping people feel comfortable to think outside the box to come up with creative gardening solutions. They recently discussed how property at the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in San Bernardino can be converted to a garden with a minister's alliance group. The AME Church does a lot of outreach on self-sufficiency, sustainability, and how to give back to the community. Having their own garden would be a promising avenue for them to sell their product and help the community.
The first step is to help them develop a design concept for the designated area that takes water constraints at the property into consideration and choose the best plants for their needs. They have asked the alliance group to consider planting berries or grapes. Lynn and Tim would also like to teach them how to preserve food and make jams and jellies. Knowing Lynn and Tim, they will make the garden a success!
I was so inspired by Lynn and Tim, their strong partnership, and their drive and passion for teaching the world how food insecurity can be alleviated. They were such an exciting and engaging couple that I could have spent many more hours chatting with them. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers are thankful to Lynn and Tim for their dedication and support. They are an inspiration to us all!
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener, Meredith Hergenrader says that one of the best parts of volunteering at Master Gardener events is the camaraderie of gardeners sharing gardening tips and tricks with each other. She has been an active UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener volunteer and sharing her gardening knowledge in many Master Gardener events since her graduation in 2016 and resides in the high desert.
Before the cancellation of regularly scheduled monthly events at the Hesperia Library due to COVID restrictions, the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and UC San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers gave presentations on various gardening topics at the library. Meredith gave presentations on integrated pest management (IPM). With a strong belief in IPM, she does not use chemicals on any of her property. She uses natural and cost-effective ways to get rid of pests. Meredith has also volunteered at local farmers' markets in Wrightwood and Phelan, answering attendees' gardening questions.
One of the most significant things that Meredith learned through being a member of the Master Gardener program is the importance of being water-wise. She says that with water resources becoming increasingly limited, we need to make the best use of the water available with an eye towards future sustainability. The Master Gardener program teaches us ways to do that. One of the methods is by planning our gardens around the needs of plants. Meredith says, “We should use plants that naturally grow in the space they are planted, and by using native plants.”
She advises everyone, especially if you consider using graywater in your garden, to be aware of ingredients in detergents and soaps you use. She makes her own cleaning agents like dish soap and clothing detergent. She does not use fabric softeners or products that are scented and don't easily biodegrade. With better technology, fabrics, and laundry products, fabric softeners are no longer necessary. Instead, Meredith occasionally adds vinegar to the rinse cycle as a softener.
Meredith believes that if you see something that needs to be fixed, “be the solution” and do something about it. She and a group of Master Gardeners and other volunteers were motivated to do something after seeing the vegetation at the Phelan Post Office being removed because of the rising cost of upkeep. She approached the postmaster with the idea of using natives and other plants that would not need much water. She received his approval to proceed with the project and quickly started to work.
It was a large space, so Meredith tackled the job in three sections. Meredith and other volunteers provided native and other drought-tolerant plants for the first area. In the second area, she planted succulents and cactus that she dug up from her own property.
Meredith would like to thank Wendy Walsh Walker for her wonderful donations of a California Flannelbush and Penstemon spectabilis. The California Flannelbush is a fast-growing evergreen shrub that can grow 20 feet high by 20 feet wide and is one of the most spectacular of the native California shrubs. Meredith said: “The team has been fortunate to have Wendy as an advisor for the project. She has studied California native plants and natural history all her adult life. She worked for the Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District, doing habitat restoration for four years before moving to Transition Habitat Conservancy.”
The maintenance worker at the post office was concerned about having to water the plants. Meredith explained that only native and other water-wise plants were used, and once they were established, they would require minimal water. She watered the plants for the first year but has not watered them for the past year, and they are still alive and well.
Last summer, the post office grounds had become overgrown with weeds. The maintenance staff did not have time to maintain the grounds. Because of COVID, they were being utilized to clean inside the post office full-time. Funds at the post office were too low to hire more staff.
Around the time the post office was becoming overgrown with weeds, Meredith received a call “out
of the blue” from UCCE Master Gardener trainee Debi Dossey. Debi asked if Meredith had been responsible for replanting at the post office two years ago and if she was interested in being part of a team of volunteers to clean up the post office grounds. Meredith saw the need and immediately said yes.
A team of volunteers worked early on Saturdays, late on Sundays, and in their free time for several months. Most of the work was done with hand tools. However, they used Weed Eaters to finish work around the pine trees. Meredith wants to acknowledge Debi Dossey for spearheading the clean-up effort at the post office, getting approval from the postmaster, and providing encouragement to her and the other volunteers.
All the volunteers were motivated by a spirit of civic duty. Darlene House (another UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener), Amanda Plunkett (owner of BeeRooted, an environmental service “dedicated to promoting healthy environments for honeybees and humans through live bee relocation services, education, and products”), Debbie McAfee (Phelan resident), Barbara Hamilton (Hesperia resident), as well as many other volunteers from local high desert areas participated. Congratulations to you all for a job well done supporting your local community
Meredith is a life-long learner with a desire to acquire ongoing knowledge about gardening, IPM, and protecting the environment. She has extended her gardening knowledge by taking classes at Victor Valley College Agriculture and Natural Resource (AGNR) Department. She is currently taking courses for her own self-knowledge (while toying with the idea of possibly getting an advanced degree in Botany in the future.) She has taken an IPM class, is currently taking a class on identifying 100 non-native plants by their Latin names, and in February, will be taking a class on native plants.
Meredith was recently asked by one of her professors at the AGNR Department to start a seed library at the college. She has wanted to create a seed bank in the high desert, so she agreed. Meredith already has some thoughts about how she will organize the seed library utilizing onsite resources and volunteers. There are greenhouses wherethe library can be set up to bring in seeds that can be traded. There is even an onsite lab where the seeds can be cleaned, dried, and stored. She is looking forward to getting started on the seed library as soon as COVID quarantine restrictions are lifted!
Learning about Meredith's extensive knowledge of holistic health and living a fully holistic lifestyle has been eye-opening and inspirational! In her 20's, she adopted an organic lifestyle and has grown everything organically ever since. Early on, she read a book called "Back to Eden" by Jethro Kloss about herbs, how to use herbs, eat well, and avoid toxins. After reading the book, she concluded that there is probably an answer to almost any problem by using plants.
Meredith has a passion for educating people about keeping a pure seed supply and avoiding pesticides. She has never seen any logical reasons for using a lot of chemicals in our day-to-day lives. She has given talks in the high desert, promoting healthy choices, and encouraging people to lead organic lifestyles.
Meredith has an extensive property that includes a goat farm, rabbits, horses, and herb, vegetable, and flower gardens. Over several years, she has removed most of the invasive vegetation on her property while encouraging native plants to take over.
Every year the native plants reseed and have slowly taken over the invasive plants. The native plant areas need little water. However, Meredith installed a drip system to use during the hot summers in the high desert. She enlisted the help of her grandson and granddaughter and their friends to haul way truckloads of weeds. Another generation of farmers in the making!
Meredith's life-long love of farming began on her grandparents' farm in Nebraska. Like many people during that time, they had a farm growing their own vegetables, planting fruit trees, and raising chickens. They canned what they grew and preserved eggs by the water glassing method. Keeping eggs by water glassing is a long-standing historical method that works well for long-term egg storage. Meredith learned to operate farm equipment and helped her grandparents with their farm.
Meredith's fascination with seed saving started with rows of unlabeled jars of seeds on shelves in her grandparents' basement in Nebraska. Her grandmother taught her everything that she knew about farming and seed saving. Meredith learned how to operate farm equipment and plowed areas on the farm. She and her grandmother planted the collected seeds in the cultivated areas. When she was only 10 years old, she produced a large flower garden in Nebraska and won her first garden award (from the Spanish American War Auxiliary that her grandmother was a member of.)
One of the many things I hear Master Gardeners say that they like about being in the group is meeting life-long friends with common interests. It must have been "serendipity" that Meredith met UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Dana Marchica-Herring. She was attending a San Bernardino County Master Gardener composting class presented by Dana in Wrightwood. After the class was over, she and Dana "hit it off," talking about their mutual gardening interests. Dana encouraged Meredith to apply to the Master Gardener program. Dana moved and she and Meredith did not see each other for over 20 years, but Meredith always remembered Dana's encouragement and applied and was accepted into the Master Gardener program years later. After all those years of not seeing each other, Meredith and Dana “ran into each other” giving talks at a Whole Life Celebration in Wrightwood. Dana was representing the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and Meredith was giving a talk on GMOs. As Meredith likes to say, their friendship came full circle.
Meredith encourages people to think about becoming a Master Gardener by saying, “it is easier than it looks.” Having an interest in gardening and a little gardening experience is a good start. The desire to help others become better gardeners is necessary, but it is also the most fun! She says that becoming a Master Gardener is a commitment, but there are many resources available through the Master Gardener Program that provide ongoing training.
The motto of Meredith's Valhalla Farm is, “A wee small farm with lots of animals, gardens, and penchant for independence.” I think it epitomizes the spirit of Meredith!
The UCCE San Bernardino Master Gardeners thank Meredith for her enthusiasm, diverse gardening knowledge, and dedication to creating a more sustainable future!
- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
There are so many expressions that are oriented around seeds: “seeds of change,” “seeds of hope,” “planting a seed in one's mind”….and one of my favorites, a proverb from Mexico (but with many other iterations from around the world and through the ages): “Quisieron enterrarnos, pero se les olvido que somos semillas” which roughly translates to “They tried to bury us; they didn't know we were seeds.” I was even able to find a list of 75 expressions and proverbs that used seeds as their metaphor…..like the lesser known proverb from Japan “the miser and his persimmon seed (still trying to sort that one out).” What is it about seeds that speak to us so? I remember when we started our Master Gardener Seed Library at Chino Basin Water Conservation District linked to in-person classes on seeds with adults and families and I would talk about how to know if your seed was dry enough to store. I would use the pea seed as an example, telling people “you know that dried pea you get in the seed packets? Those dried peas you get in the store? That is how dry your seed needs to be!” It fascinated me that this little dried out ball, hard as a rock, still had life in it…..that you could plant it, and water it and from there would come food, and flowers and life. They represent hope, growth, life, food, change, regeneration and so much more.
While these proverbial seeds are a plenty, so are the seeds in your garden! When I took the time to look, I found them right under my nose! It is up to each individual to find the seeds of hope, change, happiness and growth in their lives, but I can help you find the seeds in your garden! Here are a few tips:
First and foremost, do not harvest seeds from the wild! Nature depends on these seeds to regenerate themselves and every time we have a fire, or unusually warm weather, or a late heavy freeze, nature dips into its seed bank to keep on going. Don't think you are the only one out there wanting to harvest wild seeds! You are not. If all of us actually did it we would make a dent in nature's seed bank that she cannot refill. Does that mean you can't seed save natives? No! There are lots of ways to save and grow native seeds. You can buy native plants from nurseries, or seed packets, and start your own native seed garden at your house. Fair warning: Nature doesn't make starting these seeds easy! That will actually be the topic of this month's seed saving class. If you are interested in the lengths you need to go to and the native plants that are easy to start join us using this link: http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/?calitem=492669&g=61974
- Some seeds are easier to harvest than others, some seeds are harder to start than others, and some seeds are harder to get to breed true than others (some resort to previous genetics and produce a different version than what you expected!). It is easy to get overwhelmed when you start seed saving and my advice is to start small…little by little. Pick one plant (a veggie, fruit, or flower) and learn about it. You can contact our Master Gardener helpline, join our online “Ask a Master Gardener” time or attend our free seed saving classes for help you with your questions.
- “Learn about that plant?” What does that mean? Ask these questions:
o Is this plant a hybrid or an open pollinated variety? Going back to school, when we learned about genetics and the purple and white pea, we need to know “are the parents of this plant the same variety or different varieties?” Many of the plants we have in our garden are hybrids to increase yield, hardiness, or disease resistance. While seeds can be saved from these hybrid plants, the only guarantee you will get is that there is no guarantee! You have no idea which genes will express themselves when you plant and grow them. Open pollinated seeds (when grown under the right pollination conditions) will give you reliable results and produce the plant that you are hoping for (breed true).
o Is this a plant I should seed save from? There are plants that we generally don't grow from seed, like succulents and fruit trees. With succulents we usually grow them from cuttings because they just do so well that way. There are several reasons we generally don't grow fruit trees from seed. One is that, due to all of the pollinators that visit those flowers and how easily they cross breed, you don't know what genetics you will get or if the tree will ever bear fruit. The other reason is that fruit trees are often grafted on a particular disease resistant root stock that will keep the plant healthy against common pests and diseases. When you plant a fruit tree from seed it gets none of the disease resistance you get from a grafted tree and it is common for them to die suddenly, even when cared for properly.
o How far does this plant need to be planted from others to “breed true” or does this plant need others to be properly pollinated (think “self-pollinated” vs needing “cross pollination”)? Some plants, like broccoli, need to be planted far apart from other plants in its family (Brassicas) to breed true. Other plants, like corn, need to be planted close, or in a zig zag pattern, to ensure proper pollination, but they also can be cross pollinated from other varieties of corn that are hundreds of feet away. One interesting way to handle spacing needs is to create “space” with time rather than distance. You can do that by spacing out the planting time of plants that might cross pollinate with negative results so that they are not flowering at the same time. This is one of tricky parts of seed saving and I recommend you start your journey with seeds that are self-pollinating and don't cross breed easily(or if they do, it has minimal impact on seeds) like tomatoes, peas and lettuce.
o Where do the seeds form on this plant? Seems obvious, out of the flower, but broccoli was a big surprise to me when I first started seed saving since seeds did not come from where I thought they were going to be coming from at all. Do a little research on that too, just so there are no surprises!
o How are the seeds naturally dispersed? There are five basic seed dispersal methods: wind, water, animals, ballistic (think: seeds shot through the air at high speed when the pod dries out enough!) and gravity. When we act as seed savers we are trying to step in just at the right moment in time: when the seeds are fully mature but before they fall (or are explosively shot!) to the earth. Ceanothus and lupine are examples of plants with seeds that are spread by explosive propulsion. Why does this matter to us? Because it will help us catch them at just the right time before they fly off into tiny seed space!
o When are the seeds ripe? On tomatoes it is when the fruit is ripe, but when we eat plants like cucumbers, or summer squash or peas we are eating immature fruits and those seeds are not viable yet. It is important to let seeds fully mature on the plant. There are some species that are viable before the seeds dry out (true of many weeds, unfortunately!) but for most plants the seeds need to fully form and at least begin to dry out on the plant.
o Was the plant that you want to seed save from diseased? The good news is that many diseases are not spread through seeds, but when in doubt don't save seeds from an unhealthy plant, or do some research to find out if the problem your plant has is transmissible through seeds.
o How do you clean them? Seeds fall into the category of “wet” or “dry” seeds. Seeds that are dry, plants like flowers, peas, and beans, need to have the chaff (plant material on the outside of the seed) removed. This helps keep the seeds mold and pest free and makes seeds easier to plant and store. Wet seeds come from plants like squashes, berries, tomatoes and cucumbers and the fleshy plant material needs to be removed from those seeds for storage. For some seeds it is just a matter or washing them off (like pumpkins) and for others, like tomatoes and cucumbers, they require a fermentation process to remove the gel like material on the outside. With “wet” seeds, make sure they are fully dry before you store them. I like to call it “snappable.” Think of how dry bean or tomato seeds are when you buy them in a packet at the nursery. That is how dry they should be, and it can take a few weeks, so be patient. Moisture is the enemy of successful seed storage and saving so taking the time to dry them will pay off. Both processes sound complicated but once you get the hang of it seed cleaning can be fun! It can be an engaging task to do with kids, and community, because you must get creative about how to get it done. You have to find the right size screen, or the setting on the fan that is just right to blow the chaff (plant material) away without blowing the seeds away. It is a great exercise in creative engineering!
- Store your seeds in a cool dry place. If they have any moisture inside them (which they probably will unless you dry them under climate-controlled conditions) they might crack if you put them in the freezer. Like a soda can blowing up, the shell of the seed can crack when the water inside expands. Storing them in the refrigerator is also not recommended. Store them in a cool dry place in your house and do not forget to label them! You might think you will never forget those special seeds you saved, but 7 months later you will wonder what in the world those are?!
- Have some great seeds? Don't save them for too many years! Plant them every year or every other year. Each year the chances that they will germinate decrease, so by planting them each year and growing new seeds to save you will keep that plant's genes alive and healthy.
- Don't give up! When I first learned about seed saving, I was so in love with the idea and philosophy behind it and wanted to learn all about it. Then, I started to learn all about it, and I freaked out! So many things to learn, each plant with their own set of needs, different sized seeds, different precautions to take to get them to breed true. I was overwhelmed and thought “how in the world can I do this on at home?!” Just like so many things in life, the answer was “little by little.” First, I learned about one plant (tomatoes) and then about another, and then about plant breeding, and little by little I am learning more each day. Every time I feel like it is too much, I think about how we, as humans, have been doing this for thousands of years and it is done every day around the world. This is an activity that we have been doing for generations and it's our job to keep on learning, keep on failing, keep on trying, and keep on teaching the next generation how to do it….and like always, Master Gardeners are here to help you with your journey! Call us on our helpline, send us an email, attend our free classes. You can become a part of our seed saving community so that you can create your own seed saving community at home, in your kiddo's school, your church, local farmers market, or community garden.
In these last few months, it is with that seed of hope that I carry on with optimism. The optimism that what I cannot see can still be in there; that despite all that is going on in our daily lives and around the world, a kind, safe and healthy world still lies beneath…just waiting for the right time to sprout.
Does seed saving speak to your soul, but still need more info on how to actually do it? Are you an avid seed saver but want to share with like-minded community members? Check out our free monthly Seed Saver Series classes! Right now, they are online, and they are always free. Each month we explore a topic related to seed saving and we would love to have you join us. If you are a beginning seed saver or seasoned seed saver, there is a place for you in our classes! Check out our website to find a list of upcoming classes and we hope to see(d) you there!
In closing, I would like to share a paragraph from a previous blog posting written by Master Gardener Debbie LeDoux that appeared in our May 2020 Master Gardener newsletter highlighting two of our ‘Seed Saver Experts' , Master Gardeners Jillian Kowalczuk and Adam Wagner. “Way to Go” Jillian and Adam!
“Adam and Jillian's pet project as part of theUCCE SanBernardino County Master Gardener program is theYucaipa seed library that they started as a satellite of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District seed library. They are proud of what they have accomplished through the seed library and have enjoyed making it the success that it has become. Though the seed library is temporarily shut down due toCOVID 19 restrictions, they are ensuring that the work they started at theYucaipa seed library continues through the support of the local community. Jillian received permission from theUCCE to donate the seeds to a group that she and Adam started called Seeds ofYucaipa. Seeds ofYucaipa was started with the Oasis Botanical Sanctuary inYucaipa and Unity Church ofYucaipa to help facilitate getting the donated seeds out to the local community WithCOVID 19 restrictions currently in place, they believe people need access to gardening resources such as seeds, soil, and pots now more than ever.”