- Author: Debbie LeDoux
Doug Arnold is 100% home-grown and has been a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener in the High Desert since 1997. Doug and his wife have lived in the High Desert since 1982. He enjoys DIY projects, such as building raised bed gardens. For reading material, he enjoys reading the UCCE Master Gardener handbook. Doug is typical of a humble volunteer, being a man “of few words." The spotlight is not always a place he feels entirely comfortable in. However, he and his wife Sara, a UCCE Master Food Preserver, have been fixtures in the High Desert extending objective information on gardening and food preservation and safety for many years. I guess you could say that Doug is the ‘glue' for the UCCE High Desert Master Gardener community, supported and augmented by Sara's volunteer work!
Under Doug's leadership, the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver booth at the High Desert Home and Garden Show (Home Show) has run seamlessly over the past several years. He and fellow Master Gardener Jim Pettigrew have worked together at the Home Show at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville, California, every year. The Home Show holds two home improvement expos a year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. The Home Show in Spring tends to be especially busy. Attendees can meet and talk with over 150 vendors representing diverse areas like landscaping, patio, gardening, and building contractors. There are always people stopping by the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver booth with gardening questions. The Hesperia Garden Club also participates in the Home Show. Doug is hopeful he can get back to doing the home shows soon!
Doug and his friend Jim also participate in the annual plant sale at the Victor Valley College (VVC) Agriculture and Natural Resources Department. This year's spring sale has been postponed for now, but the plant sale has been at the college for several years. They have a wide assortment of plants for sale. Doug has bought many of his plants from the sale.
Doug's wife Sara became a Master Food Preserver in 2017. They are very active working together at local Farmers Markets. They enjoy working at the Farmer's Markets, saying, "it's a lot of fun." He and Sara are "an institution" at the Phelan Farmers Market the first and third Monday of every week. They enjoy working with the public, and people ask him and Sara a lot of questions about gardening, food preservation, and the Master Gardeners program. People who regularly visit the Phelan Farmers Market know that if they have questions about gardening or food preservation, Doug and Sara are the sources to go to! Doug says if he doesn't know the answer to a problem when presenting at Master Gardener events, he refers the person to the UCCE San Bernardino County helpline. "It's convenient!" They also worked for a few years in the past at the Farmers Market in Wrightwood, California. He and Sara are looking forward to working at the Phelan Farmers Market again when COVID 19 restrictions are lifted.
When Doug and his wife moved to Piñon Hills, they lived on 2 and ½ acres off a dirt road. He said there really wasn't much out there at the time and that they were "out here totally on our lonesome." Piñon Hills is in San Bernardino County, California, near the Los Angeles County line. It is located near the Pearblossom Highway, 28 miles east of Palmdale, and 15 miles west of the Cajon Pass, where Pearblossom Highway meets Interstate 15. The town lies within 25 miles of Hesperia and Victorville. Piñon Hills is in a tri-community that consists of Piñon Hills, Phelan, and Wrightwood.
Doug and Sara have a 20 X 30-foot vegetable garden, growing tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and jalapenos as well as many other types of vegetables. Sara preserves most of what they produce. They have a 30-year old apple tree and get enough apples for Sara to make lots of applesauce. They have to cover the tree to "keep the critters off it."
Doug has had to adopt a uniquely different approach to gardening due to the weather challenges in the High Desert, where they live at 4,000 feet. A lot of plants and vegetables won't grow because of the extremes in temperature fluctuations. Summers in the High Desert are generally hot and dry. Winters are relatively cold, with much of the annual rainfall occurring in the winter. The success of crops depends on winter rainfall, which varies from year to year. The temperatures can rise over 100 degrees in the summer, and can then quickly drop to below freezing around September/October. They might have a beautiful Spring or Fall one year. Still, the temperature and climate may be completely different in other years. One time it was 0 degrees for six days in a row.
The weather is usually dry, but they had a rainy spring this year, which was unusual. Vegetables haven't been growing as well as they typically do. They have partial tree shade in some of the property where they can keep the plants from getting burned by the sun. Doug experiments with 40% shade cloth, which also helps keep the sun from burning the vegetables. He sometimes sets up windbreaks to help reduce the effects of strong winds. Doug says he is always experimenting because "sometimes you don't need the shade or to block the wind!" He uses a drip irrigation system to water his garden.
Doug and Sara don't make their own compost because of the dry climate and expensive water rates. I experienced Doug's wonderfully dry sense of humor when he told me a story about some compost that they recently ordered from a nursery in Hesperia. While delivering the compost, the man's truck lost a transmission. Doug laughingly told me that their compost was somewhere between his and Sara's house and Hesperia! But it finally arrived at Doug and Sara's house.
Doug has gardened from an early age, inheriting his green thumb from his mother. She was an active gardener in Ontario, California, when the area was still undeveloped, and citrus tree groves were everywhere. She grew many types of vegetables, including rhubarb, strawberries, and tomatoes. Doug helped in her garden a lot, including pulling a lot of weeds!
The Southern California High Desert encompasses the Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, and the Morongo Basin. It extends as far north as Barstow and includes Victorville. Doug says the broad area makes it challenging to get together with his fellow Master Gardeners in the High Desert. He told me that Master Gardeners in Barstow, Twenty Nine Palms, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley are becoming more active. He also likes the Zoom meetings because of his interactions with people he wouldn't usually talk with.
Doug had a lot of fun working as the Real Estate and Special Sections Editor for 30 years before he retired from the Ontario Daily Bulletin. Doug met Janet Hartin, UCCE San Bernardino County Area Environmental Horticulture Advisor, and County Co-Director while working at the paper. He always very generously published weekly UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener articles in the Home and Garden section.
Doug retired due to having a major stroke. It took him a few years to relearn physical skills such as how to walk and talk. As Doug recovered and became more active, he and Sara attended the Farmers Market in Phelan. They met a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener who interested him in finding out more about joining the program. He remembered working with Janet Hartin from the time he published her horticulture articles and upcoming Master Gardener events in the Daily Bulletin. He contacted her for more information regarding becoming a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener. She helped him sign up for the classes, and get into the program.
Doug also keeps track of the local rainfall for the National Weather Service. The Weather Service has a rain gauge that measures moisture in hundredths of an inch. Doug records the information in a log and emails it to the National Weather Service group in Colorado.
Doug said what he likes most about the Master Gardener program is the people. He enjoys the people probably as much as he enjoys gardening. The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are very thankful to Doug and Sara for their years of service! Their extensive gardening knowledge helps other gardeners become successful. An added gift to all of us is Doug's sense of humor, wisdom, intelligence, and kindness! We thank you, Doug!