- 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: Deborah Schnur
As the seasons change, I'm excited to plant my fall garden and start my new part-time position as the Environmental Education Coordinator for UCCE San Bernardino County. I'll be working an average of eight hours a week, reporting to Maggie O'Neill, our amazing Master Gardener Coordinator. Working together, our aim is to expand our reach to the public and provide greater support for Master Gardeners. One of my first duties is launching this blog to keep you informed of our environmental education activities. Since San Bernardino is the largest county by area in the United States, I'll need your help to get up to speed on what's happening in our school gardens. Please don't be shy about reaching out to me for assistance with your projects!
Another one of my responsibilities is to facilitate the connection between Master Gardeners and school gardens. I will support Master Gardeners to help set up or revitalize gardens, work with teachers to help develop student garden education, teach gardening classes to parent groups and teachers, provide technical assistance to garden caretakers, and connect schools with local community gardens and food systems.
I also plan to develop a toolkit of practices and procedures for Master Gardeners to follow when providing environmental education for K-12 classrooms. The toolkit, which will be posted in VMS, will include curriculum links, learning modules, hands-on training examples, and more. The main role of Master Gardeners in school environmental education is to “train the trainer”—train teachers to work directly with students. To complement this effort, I will develop web pages containing resources for school garden management specifically for K-12 administrators, teachers, and staff. These pages will be added to the UCCE San Bernardino County and Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County websites.
You may have already noticed some upgrades to our Master Gardener website. Maggie and I have been updating, adding, and reorganizing content to make the site more user-friendly and share more research-based information with the public. To start, we added two new items to the left-hand navigation menu: Newsletters and Recent Presentations. Visitors to our website can now easily view and download our monthly newsletters and our latest online class presentations. In the near future, we plan to add a link to request help with school gardens. We welcome your ideas for additional improvements.
Now that I've given you a brief overview of my initial assignments, I'd like to introduce myself. I moved to southern California from Minnesota two years ago and completed my Master Gardener training in March 2021. I grew up on Long Island in a suburb of New York City, where my parents devoted much time and attention to gardening and landscaping. That's where my interest in gardening began. Moving around the country, I took my love of plants with me to Chicago, Phoenix, back to Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, back to Minneapolis, and finally to California. I even lived in Thailand for a year. I guess you can say I'm a nomad at heart.
Long story short, I began my career in biomedical engineering, transitioned to mechanical engineering, and made a major pivot to public health about 5 years ago. After graduating with a Master of Public Health from the University of Minnesota, I moved to California to be closer to my daughter, escape the Minnesota winters, and serve with FoodCorps (part of the AmeriCorps network) at Phelan Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year.
At Phelan Elementary, I experienced firsthand the transformational power that gardening and nutrition education can have on an entire school community. With help from over 75 volunteers including teachers, staff, students, and families, the Phelan community transformed the school garden and greenhouse from a field of weeds to a place of pride. Over the fall and winter, we grew broccoli, cauliflower cabbage, carrots, radishes, onions, lettuce, spinach, kale, and herbs. As the months passed, more and more students came to explore the garden during recess. Teachers requested space to conduct experiments. Students joined the after-school Sprout Scouts garden club. Parents and high school students pitched in to maintain the garden and help with lessons.
The first lesson I taught was “Garden Explorations”, which included a garden hunt matching game. I remember the joy on the kids' faces as they raced around with their partners, searching for items in the garden that corresponded to the pictures on their cards. As an outdoor classroom, school gardens can instill appreciation and respect for nature, improve social skills and teamwork, and literally bring academic concepts to life.
School gardens and nutrition education can also positively impact kids' eating habits. Phelan students eagerly awaited the monthly cafeteria taste tests where they were able to try a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (sometimes for the first time) and vote for their favorites. Older students who served as Cafeteria Captains assisted with taste tests by handing out food samples, making announcements, and tallying votes.
Another incentive to promote healthier food choices was the Taste Bud Ticket program. At the start of every lunch period, I announced the color of the day based on the food served in the cafeteria. (All students in the district were eligible for free lunch.) Then I distributed taste bud tickets to students eating healthy foods of that color. Before heading out to the playground, students wrote their names on the tickets and dropped them in a box. At the end of the week, I drew two tickets from the box and invited the winners to arrange time in the garden with a friend. Nearly all the winners took advantage of this opportunity and brought more than one friend!
Now that schools have returned to in-person learning, I'm excited to begin working with school employees and Master Gardeners to create environmental and gardening education programs and resources. If you need assistance, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Happy fall gardening!
- Author: Robin Rowe
Sandy Szukalski and I enjoyed a visit to the McKinley Elementary School Garden this past week. Virgina 'Gin' McMillin, the Garden Director had an amazing amount of enthusiasm for the garden, the children, her IERCD grant, the future pollinator garden and just the future of the McKinley school garden in general is was infectious!
Gin asked us to come visit so she could show us her failing pumpkin plants and get some advice. It seemed as if the plants were not going to thrive. They were undersized, yellowing, and had a bit of fungus. The pumpkins were planted by the children on Earth Day (late April). The school district had provided a 50/50 mix, but it seems as if it was not very nutritious and may have had unhealthy plant material. The plants were also planted too close together for pumpkins.
Below is a summary of the information we shared with her and a few more bits that I hope will help your pumpkin garden thrive:
- Build up mounds for each plant - plant mid-July - August depending on growth projections. If pumpkins ripen on the vine too early they may get fungal rot.
- Plant plants 6-8' apart, using 3-5 seeds in each mound. Heavily mulch.
-Introduce nice soil to the pumpkin mounds. Especially if your current soil is not very nutritious.
- Use mulch to help keep moisture in and reduce weeds. That will also provide a nice bed for pumpkins later.
- Once plants germinate and are 2-3" tall, begin thinning out less healthy plants, leaving the healthies 2 plants.
- Pumpkins need to be fed. Use nitrogen for early plant growth then when the plants are larger but before they bloom she should use phosphorus. Alternatively, you can use the more easily accessible forms such as coffee grains or manure. Feed at regular intervals.
- Water in the morning (keeping the soil moist until germination), and if it gets very hot, in the afternoon as well. Water deeply 1".
- Be patient for fruit - mail and female blossoms are needed. Don't use insecticide. The plant needs bees.
- Snip off fuzzy ends of vine after a few pumpkins have formed to focus plant energy on fruit. Pruning vines will help with that as well. As fruit develops, turn (with great care) to encourage nice shape. Slip a thin board or plastic mesh under pumpkins to protect them.
- There is an excellent problem diagnosis for pumpkins from 'California Master Gardener Handbook', page 394 and a list of recommended varieties from page, 395. This book - it has a wealth of information!
Happy Gardening - stay hydrated!