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 child 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 children (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.
In 2016, she was honored to be selected by the MEEC board as the MEEC-Mojave Environmental Education Consortium Teacher of the Year in recognition of her dedication and hard work in fostering environmental awareness in the classroom. Valerie said, “It was a turning point in my professional career and personal development!”
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!
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!
I recently spent a delightful morning with UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener Vikki Gerdes, chatting in her light-filled kitchen over coffee and cookies about why she loves gardening and the UCCE Master Gardener program. As a Master Gardener, her focus in the program has always been water-wise gardening. She believes that "with over 60% of water use occurring outdoors, it is essential for residents to learn how to use water efficiently in their landscapes."
Vikki graduated from the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener class of 2003/2004. She feels lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in the training, especially since she almost missed the application deadline. Luckily for the program, she faxed in her application the last day of acceptance and, due to her background and enthusiasm, was welcomed into the program.
Her Master Gardener's final project was to introduce her classmates to the Maloof Foundation Gardens. Beverly Maloof had conceived of a water-wise garden on the site that would be in harmony with the Southern California climate and respectful of California's limited water supply. She received a Metropolitan Water District Water Wise Grant in 2003. Community members, including Vikki who led a team of volunteers including Master Gardeners, assisted with the plantings. Master Gardeners also created botanical listings of all the plants.
In 2014, Vikki was honored to be named as Featured Homeowner Grand Prize winner of the Cucamonga Valley Water District's (CVWD) 7th annual Water Savvy Landscape Contest. Open to all CVWD customers, the Water Savvy Landscape Contest promotes water efficiency by recognizing residents who have installed beautiful, water-saving landscapes. Each landscape is evaluated based on a set of criteria which includes overall water efficiency, appearance, selection of plant material, and irrigation design. Vikki and other Master Gardener volunteers and homeowners educate participants during the Garden Tour on what plants and design elements work well in California's inland climate. Participants take a self-guided tour through each garden to learn how to make their yards more water-efficient.
Vikki entered the Water Savvy Landscape Contest as a result of a complete overhaul of her landscape that included selecting appropriate water-wise plants and installation of a new irrigation system that fit the needs of her water-wise plants. Taking workshops and using the knowledge she gained through the Master Gardener program helped her in this daunting project. Vikki and her husband put a lot of hard work into their landscape to reduce their water use by 65% on their ½ acre lot. Since they wanted a water-wise garden that would blend in with their neighborhood, Vikki decided on a Water Wise Moonlight Garden, named for the water-wise plants that bloom with white blossoms.
Converting an all-turf yard into a more water-wise landscape on such a large lot was no easy feat, taking several years to complete. Attending workshops taught by UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener (and then Water Conservation Specialist at Chino Basin Water Conservation District) Debby Figoni as well as other Master Gardeners helped her gain the knowledge and motivation to see the project through to its completion.
Vikki is inspired to make a difference as a resident of the Cucamonga Valley Water District service area. Utilizing her experience and knowledge as a UCCE Master Gardener, she has been very involved with the Cucamonga Valley Water District Annual Garden Tour for several years. Recently, she has served as a judge for the Garden Tour and considers the overall design, level of involvement by the homeowner, use of water-wise plants, and appropriate irrigation system design for a successful water-wise garden in her selections. In 2019, she was recognized as a Garden Tour judge for her continuing commitment to the community and to water conservation.
CVWD greatly appreciates the UCCE Master Gardener program and values its contributions to the community. (The contest and tour for this year have been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 virus.) Vikki asked me to let everyone know that the CVWD offers many landscape programs to assist customers in doing their part to save water, including landscape workshops, the free sprinkler nozzles program, educational resources, and more. For more information about these opportunities, please visit www.cvwdwater.comor call (909) 987-2591.
Like most UCCE Master Gardeners, Vikki has had a life-long passion for gardening. Her parents had a vegetable garden and Vikki's job as a child was to pick up rocks in the garden. Master Gardeners' passion for gardening sometimes “runs in the family” going back many generations, as is the case with Vikki. She developed a love for flowers from seeds and bulbs from her grandmother, who grew many different types. Through research, she was able to find out that her great-great-great-grandfather earned his degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinburgh in 1865. After emigrating from Scotland to America, he settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he actively participated in the landscape design of Grand Boulevard, an 11-mile long thoroughfare running east to west in some places and north to south in others. It is recognized as a major civic attraction and its entire length is decorated with trees, shrubbery, and flowerbeds. Vikki's grandfather was also invited to participate in the landscape design of Belle Isle Park, known as Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park in Detroit developed in the late 19th century.
After coffee, Vikki treated me to a tour of her prize-winning water-wise garden. Each plant was specially chosen and planted by Vikki for viability in a water-wise garden. Vikki made an eloquent comment: “Wherever blooms are, people will be initially attracted to that part of the garden.” As Vikki tells me about each plant, the love and care that she has put into the garden are evident. From the story about the California bluebell that she planted by the curb (which then decided it liked a different location better and reseeded itself accordingly) to the three different species of oak trees that she hand-planted from acorns 18 years ago (more about these below!), her attention to the concept of ‘right plant right place' is clearly evident.
People may think that a water-wise garden means a garden with just cacti and agave. Vikki wants people to know that you have other choices (unless, of course, that is what you want.) She has planted a wide variety of water-wise flowers, shrubs, and trees in her garden. The extensive list of plants includes white California poppies (one of my favorites), Chinese redbud and western redbud trees, and a white crepe myrtle tree. There is a beautiful ‘Stellar Ruby' magnolia tree, which buds when there are no leaves. After the buds drop, the leaves start growing. And, of course, her beautiful oak trees!
Vikki attended a presentation several years ago by the Mystic Lake Iris Garden (famous for their award-winning irises). where each attendee received one complimentary iris. That one bearded iris Vikki received many years ago has since been divided by her to number at least 100 beautiful irises!
While we were touring the garden, I spotted several bees pollinating the California bluebells. Vikki told me that her garden attracts many pollinators, including the hummingbird moth, a brown moth that approaches flowers exhibiting the same pattern of flying as hummingbirds. Vikki described this moth so eloquently that I was intrigued enough to find out more information. The US Forest Service says it is “perhaps one of the most delightful insect visitors to your garden is the hummingbird moth. They fly and move just like hummingbirds. They can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds. Often inexperienced garden visitors notice what they think is a tiny hummingbird fleeting among flowers such as bee balm (Monarda).”
She showed me the three varieties of oak trees (cork oak and a beautiful coastal oak in the front yard and a holly oak in the back yard) that she planted from those acorns about 18 years ago and shared with me how to tell if collected acorns are viable and will grow. After soaking in water overnight, viable acorns will sink rather than float. She suggested that when planting acorns, plant them sideways, and a seedling will start to appear in a few months.
One of Vikki's water-conserving successes was to install a drip irrigation system with low flow sprinklers. The entire property gets watered for no more than10 minutes three times a week including summer. I was surprised to learn that approximately ½ of the front garden area is not irrigated. Vikki explained to me that once plants in the area got established, they were able to sustain themselves. I have to admit that all the plants looked healthy and thriving! Plants in that area include coast rosemary, trailing lantana, drought-tolerant red fescue, two rock rose plants, and white sage (one of Vikki's favorites) used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes.
Vikki also has a vegetable garden where she grows beautiful purple artichokes as well as other vegetables like green onion and lettuce. She finds that the purple artichokes are more flavorful than the Globe variety we buy in our local supermarkets. After discussions with Northern California artichoke growers and through her independent research, she was able to find purple artichoke seeds from an online distributor in Italy.
Vikki has found the UCCE Master Gardener program to be very rewarding. Near the end of the garden tour, she proudly told me that she has 1000 hours of volunteer time as a Master Gardener volunteer and is looking forward to receiving her Master Gardener Gold Badge, a rare and highly acclaimed accomplishment in the program! She encourages anyone interested in joining the Master Gardener program to apply, stating that “the Master Gardener program is a great place to meet people, make friends, and learn a lot about sustainable gardening." The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are fortunate to have Vikki Gerdes as a member of our community. Her dedication and many years of volunteer service to the program are much appreciated!