- Author: Deborah Schnur
Debbie Schnur, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener and Community Education Specialist
When I lived in Minnesota, fall was my least favorite time of year. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the changing colors of the leaves or the crisp fall air. I just dreaded the coming winter with its barrage of snowstorms and minus 30 degree wind chills. By the time December arrived, the sun set at 4:30 pm, and I felt like I was living in constant twilight.
Since I moved to southern California, I actually look forward to fall and the changes the season brings to the inland valleys–strong Santa Ana winds, refreshing rains, cooler days and even cooler nights, and leaves gradually turning subtle shades of brown, gold, and orange. Fall actually feels like a relief from the long, hot, dry summer. It's time to plant lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower once again, and worry less about watering and maintenance.
One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately is composting. When I was a FoodCorps service member at Phelan Elementary, my students used to call me “Ms. Debbie the Garden Lady”. Now I'm becoming known as “Ms. Debbie the Compost Lady”! Not everyone is as excited as I am about composting, but I can't think of a better way to build community while building soil. In October, I gave an online presentation for the San Bernardino Master Gardeners titled “Composting for School and Community Gardens”. If you missed it, you can watch the video on the UCCE San Bernardino YouTube channel. The presentation covers the basics of composting and development of the Root 66 Community Garden composting systems.
The main difference between backyard composting and school and community composting is scale. More compost means a bigger composting system and more people to manage it. As stated in the Institute for Local Self-Reliance report, Community Composting Done Right, “the distinguishing feature of community composting is retaining organic materials as a community asset and scaling systems to meet the needs of a self-defined community while engaging, empowering, and educating the community.”
Although larger scale composting requires additional planning and organization, it can be a tremendously rewarding project for everyone involved. The main steps to begin composting include setting goals, identifying a team, developing a management plan, selecting and designing a site, and choosing a system. Once composting is underway, the focus shifts to collecting and managing the materials and managing the process and site. Connecting with experienced composters to share best practices will increase your chances of success. There's a wealth of composting expertise in the Inland Empire!
You may be wondering if it's a good idea to start composting in the fall or winter, and the answer is yes. Any time is a good time. As temperatures dip, simply insulate your compost pile with browns such as mulch or leaves to keep the interior warm. You can also cover the pile with a tarp and turn it less often (if at all). The decomposition process may slow down but will continue throughout the winter.
A new composting project I want to highlight is the Green Ambassadors program at Captain Leland F. Norton Elementary School in San Bernardino. The principal, Elizabeth Cochrane-Benoit, and I met during Master Gardener training and worked together to build the composting system at the Root 66 Garden this past year. Norton Elementary has been recognized as a 2021 California Green Ribbon School at the Silver level and is aiming to reach the Green Achievers level. The Green Ribbon Schools Awards Program honors achievement in reducing environmental impact, improving health and wellness, and providing effective environmental education.
Sixth grade students in the Green Ambassadors program are learning how to audit their cafeteria waste and sort it into recycling, compost, and trash bins. Once they've mastered the process, they'll teach it to the rest of the school. The Community Composting for Green Spaces program (funded by CalRecycle) will help transfer the food waste in the compost bins to local gardens for composting. At a recent lunchtime audit, the fourth and sixth grade classes filled a 17-gallon container with uneaten food. I can't wait to see how much waste Norton Elementary teachers and students divert from landfills in the coming months!
What gardening and environmental projects do you have planned this fall and winter? Do you need support? If so, contact me at dschnur@ucanr. Happy composting!
- 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!
- Author: Debbie Ledoux
When Loleta first learned she had been chosen for the Monthly Master Gardener Spotlight for March, she said she didn't think there would be much of interest about her to put in the article. I soon came to the realization that this was Loleta's humility speaking. I found in talking with her that she has had many interesting life experiences, all while developing a huge knowledge base of gardening experience and training.
Loleta grew up in a small town in Illinois where she met her husband Pete. After she and Pete got married, life got very interesting for them! Pete was in the Air Force and they travelled around the world together for much of their lives. As Loleta and Pete traveled from place to place, she always had a garden wherever they lived. She would plant a garden knowing that she and Pete would move onto the next place within a few years and she would eventually leave her garden behind. Throughout their travels, Loleta learned a lot of gardening tips and tricks through her own research and good old-fashioned trial and error. She very generously and humorously shared with me some successes and failures that she learned in some of the many places she has traveled to and lived.
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Loleta Cruse
One of the most important gardening lessons Loleta learned during her travels is that gardening in California is nothing like gardening in the Midwest where she grew up. While living in Sacramento, she learned that calendulas are easy to grow in Sacramento in the winter, but she never had any luck growing them elsewhere. Loleta was able to really indulge and further develop her interest in growing things when she and Pete moved to their current home in the San Bernardino area.
Loleta accepting Certificate of Appreciation from Master Gardener Coordinator Maggie O'Neill
Loleta has been a UCCE Master Gardener in San Bernardino County for over 25 years, and, as she says, “the rest is history.” One of the most interesting projects that Loleta participated in her early days as a UCCE Master Gardener was “YIMBY” otherwise known as the “Yes, in My Backyard” program that Janet Hartin, Area UCCE Horticulture Advisor, UCCE San Bernardino County Co-Director and Master Gardener Program Manager initiated with the support of several Master Gardeners including Loleta, who earned Master Composter status after completing additional training. These ‘doubly certified' Master Gardener/Master Composter volunteers mentored community members who were interested in backyard composting, even visiting their homes to get them started with their own composting projects. Due to safety concerns, the home visits were discontinued but the training in this area continues by many current Master Gardeners who share their extensive knowledge on soil health and composting with San Bernardino County gardeners.
Loleta also participated in a project with UCCE Master Gardeners Jackie Brooks, Robert Simpson, and other volunteers as part of a multidisciplinary research team that measured the impacts of gardening on 82 first and second-grade students at Norton Space and Aeronautical Academy, a charter school in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in San Bernardino. It was a team effort, with UCCE Master Gardener Anita Matlock donating the irrigation equipment for the project. Loleta's many years of experience as a schoolteacher and School Counselor were very helpful in guiding the students on planting vegetables and tending the garden. Some of the students came from gardening families, but many did not. Many of the children were very surprised that vegetables that came from the grocery store started out as tiny seeds! When the broccoli, greens, and peas matured, they loved harvesting and eating fresh produce right in the garden. During the summer, students, families and even some teachers and staff kept the garden weeded, watered, and properly cared for. The study found that students participating in planting and caring for the garden had greater levels of concentration and group cohesiveness compared to students participating in other group activities. These positive outcomes corroborate research from several other studies around the world linking enhanced mood, feelings of self-worth, enhanced cooperation with others, and even higher standardized test scores and grades to school gardening.
If you call the San Bernardino County UCCE Master Gardener phone helpline on Tuesdays from 9:00-11:00 AM, there is a very good chance that you will reach Loleta (Ann) Cruse. She thought it would be interesting to work on the helpline, so she gave it a try to see how she liked it. Lucky for callers, she liked it from the beginning and has been providing excellent research-based information to anyone who calls since! Loleta managed the helpline, which included developing a record-keeping system and recruiting Master Gardeners to address inquiries from gardeners throughout the county, for many years which has greatly contributed to making it the success that it is today. (More and more inquiries come directly into the e-helpline (email@example.com) since photos of garden woes can be attached.)
Loleta Hard at Work in the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Helpline Office Providing a Caller with UC Research-Based Gardening Information
Loleta's most recent gardening project has been replacing her lawn with drought-tolerant mostly California native plants. She and Pete covered the lawn with cardboard, then added mulch on top of the cardboard in June and let it sit until November. After sitting under cardboard and organic mulch from June to November the grass died and they began putting in their mostly California native plants garden. They sunk unglazed terracotta flower pots about 18” away from each plant to serve as an olla. An olla is an old Spanish method of watering plants. Loleta thinks they probably may not have filled the ollas as often as should have. True to Loleta's spirit, challenges are opportunities for learning and everything turned out great with most of the plants now thriving. She is already planning ahead for her next gardening project which will be to plant drought-tolerant California native plants in a park strip with an existing large tree.
Loleta Preparing to Plant Her Drought-Tolerant Garden at Her Home
I was interested in learning more about Loleta's use of cardboard as a mulch in her lawn so I asked her how she learned that method. She told me that she attended talks given by Lisa Novick, Director of Outreach and K-12 Education for the Theodore Payne Foundation and learned about using cardboard as a mulch. As Loleta said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and it was certainly true for Loleta in meeting Lisa.
Loleta's Drought-Tolerant Garden
Work of an Artist, Work of a Gardener.......Or Both?
Her love of gardening is interwoven with her many memories of travel to different places she has lived. Garden sights and scents are associated with her memories, each place a different gardening experience that she carried to the next place she and Pete were transferred to. When they lived in Japan, Loleta loved the beauty of the azaleas and scented camellias. When they returned to the United States from Japan, they were stationed in Sacramento. With the memory of the beautiful plants she saw in Japan still fresh in her mind, she planted a scented camellia. And four years later, when they moved onto the next place, the camellia was still thriving from Loleta's care.
To know Loleta is to know that she has a wonderful sense of humor and way of looking at the world. She told me that she learned the meaning of “grass roots” when she tried digging up Bermudagrass by back door to one of their homes. She also learned that lizards eat bugs, but there aren't enough lizards to eat all the bugs in the garden. While stationed in San Antonio she learned that it's really hard to grow plants in caliche soil which is a layer of soil cemented together by calcium carbonate that's almost like concrete. San Antonio was one of the few places that she was not successful in growing a lot of plants. However, as gardeners know, we learn as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes. And then there was Las Vegas! That was where she learned that even though it's blistering hot in the summer, it also freezes in the winter, creating some unique gardening challenges. She did have some success with roses in Las Vegas! The most painful lesson she learned, though, was if you ‘top' (an often preached sin in our Master Gardener class) beautiful 15 feet Yew tree down to 4 feet it will die . . . quickly.
I think all gardeners know the pain of losing a plant that you have lovingly cared for. Loleta said “The pain is even greater if you are the one who murdered the plant. However, you shouldn't give up on any plant until you have killed it at least 5 times.” I call that a gardener's loving persistence and Loleta's wonderful sense of humor! A yard in one of the first homes that Loleta and Pete bought was filled by the previous owner with a whole array of plants that were placed without much thought about their needs, mature size, or how they would look together. When Loleta and Pete looked at the house for the first time, the realtor asked, “Do you like gardening?” Loleta replied, “HA, of course!” As she shared with me, gardening is a puzzle to be solved and she has always liked solving puzzles. Even though gardening in that yard was a struggle with the array of mismatched plants, poor soil, the heat, and the bugs, Loleta never gave up trying to solve another gardening puzzle.
Her persistence and love of sharing what she has learned with others is one of the many virtues that make Loleta a Superstar Master Gardener! Loleta told me that in the gardening world, there are gardeners, and there are artists. And she said, “I'm a gardener”. Gardening can be considered both an art, concerned with arranging plants harmoniously in their surroundings, and as a science, encompassing the principles and techniques of plant cultivation. She sent me the following picture of the garden at her home. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Loleta's garden looks like a work of art backed by scientific gardening principles.
Loleta and Pete are life-long learning gardeners, regularly attending many gardening workshops and talks. They have attended talks at the East Valley Water District in Highland, the Waterwise Community Center at Chino Basin Water Conservation District, and a couple of weeks ago they attended a meeting of the Redlands Horticultural Improvement Society. They rarely miss a presentation on California Natives, and they always learn something new at each talk. Throughout her many years with the UCCE Master Gardener program, Loleta has participated in nearly every program activity, providing research-based knowledge to the public. She has shared her knowledge at myriad UCCE Master Gardener events including information tables, workshops and seminars. She has mentored numerous students and her fellow Master Gardeners in the joys of gardening.
Loleta sent the following photo to me with a message, “Not a great photo, but great photos of me are harder to find than unicorns.” I think you will agree that this is a great picture of Loleta looking happy in her garden. The UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County are thankful to Loleta for her many years of gardening knowledge that she so generously shares with us all, her persistence, patience, humility and wonderful sense of humor!
Loleta at Home in Her Drought-Tolerant Garden. I Think We've Found a Unicorn!