Note from UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener Management:
By Elizabeth McSwain
There is something magical that happens when you enter a garden. The stress of the day goes away as you take in the beauty of a flower or plant. When my son Troy III and I visited our first community garden in 2017 it felt euphoric. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Valerie Dobesh was teaching a class on using herbs for medicinal purposes. We tasted the elderberry syrup she created, and I was hooked. Food can be medicine! After the workshop concluded I visited the info tables and that's when I met Master Gardener Program Coordinator Maggie O'Neill. I had so many questions and Maggie patiently answered many of them. I was intrigued by Maggie's professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the Master Gardener program. She inspired me to apply to the program and I am so very happy that I got accepted and that I get to interact with her throughout my gardening journey.
I didn't have a lot of gardening experience prior to becoming a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener in October 2020. Our “Caramel Connections” nonprofit had a plot at a local garden and several of our volunteers facilitated organic gardening workshops. However, I did not feel knowledgeable enough to teach classes. I was part of the first Riverside Food Waste Ambassador training cohort. As part of the training, I visited my first landfill/recycling plant. After that visit, I was determined to decrease the amount of waste that my family and nonprofit would create moving forward. The UCCE Master Gardener vermicomposting training was interesting to me because it reinforced my belief that if I mastered this concept, I could help the community divert food waste from landfills.
I am excited about the opportunities ahead of us, and I cannot wait to see the garden flourish! Elizabeth McSwain showing first harvest vegetables at Seeds of Joy Community Garden Since I was a little girl, my mother Laureen instilled a joy of making food for the soul. She would make dishes that were always filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Now alongside my husband, Troy II, our mutual passion for the culinary arts became a staple in our home as we raised our two sons, Alex and Troy III. It was in the kitchen while cooking and sharing meals together that our family bonded most - sparking unforgettable memories. Our love for food and serving the community compelled us to open Beola's Southern Cuisine in Ontario, CA.
Ultimately, we longed for families throughout the Inland Empire to experience the same joy for the culinary arts that we shared with our own family. In 2016, the McSwain's founded the Caramel Connections Foundation (CCF) to empower families throughout the Inland Empire to do just that. All CCF activities promote mental and physical wellness to help parents and their children discover the fun of healthy eating together. I began offering cooking classes and healthy beverage pairings at The San Bernardino Boys and Girls Club and Options House Transitional Homes. It was then that I quickly realized the needs of these families were much deeper.
Not only were they unaware of what healthy food options were available to them, but many of them also struggled with knowing where their next meal was coming from. I soon found that the health issues many parents and children were struggling with, such as high blood pressure and diabetes could be prevented if they knew how to make better food choices and where to access healthier options. Elizabeth
The Seeds of Joy Community Garden 1240 W. 4th Street, Ontario CA 91762, 909 697-9017, www.caramelconnections.org has conducted programs and held events to introduce Inland Empire families to a myriad of healthy activities, beverages, and meal options. CCF programs promote health, wellness, and education in the areas of physical fitness, mental wellness, literacy, organic gardening, nutrition, and combating health challenges such as
Other community service volunteer activities include:
• Abundant Living Family Church – Children's Ministry 2003-2007 • Healthy RC Steering & Compassionate Communities Committees 2015 – Present
• Caramel Connections Foundation 2016 – Present
• Black Chamber of Commerce Inland Empire
• Ontario Montclair YMCA (Board Member 2017 – 2020). The benefits of gardening stretch far beyond just the growing of food. Although growing your own food can help you eat healthier by forming the foundation of better food choices and thereby lead to a healthier lifestyle. We will be offering an extensive array of nutrition and cooking sessions here. But even deeper than that, the act of gardening offers physical activity which can lead to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, enhance mental well-being, and build self-confidence.
- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
When summer is here and the list of edible fruits and veggies that can be planted in Southern CA is at its shortest,
-It takes up very little room and it's portable. The stack of three pots can take up as little as 12 to 14” of space on your porch or growing area. This is great for areas where you don't have a lot of room to grow and it also makes it easy to find room right by your kitchen or porch door. That said, I have gone on to create larger versions of this and mini versions of this and all sorts of versions in between, but the basic set up below is a good place to start before you try different versions.
-Great for many varieties of herbs in a small planting area. The top tier of the herb garden is on the drier side and is great for growing herbs that like a drier soil. I like to put thyme or sage at the top. The middle tier is great for plants that need a little more water, but don't like to be too wet. Herbs like basil, marjoram, oregano, chives, and cilantro will do well on the middle tier of the herb garden. The bottom level is a little damper and is a great place to grow herbs like mint (planting the mint in a pot keeps it from taking over your garden too!), chives, parsley, basil and chervil. Rosemary and fennel do well in the three-tiered system but tend to get big, making them a better choice for a larger herb garden, or planting in beds. Lavender is susceptible to diseases at it's crown and do best planted in well-draining soil and given lots of space to grow.
-It's great for people who forget to water (that's me!!)! The top and middle tier pots have drainage holes so when you
-Great, easy to transport, gifts for people who love plants, and a fun way to get creative in the garden. I got started with one, and I have gone on to make big ones (with a half wine barrel as the bottom pot and then the middle and top pots being 14 and 8 inches across) that can grow a larger volume of herbs that I use a lot of in my kitchen. I have gifted several three-tiered herb gardens and they are always cute and fun gifts!
Follow these easy steps to plant your own three-tiered herb garden and send our Master Gardeners an email or give them a call if you have any questions, we are here to help!!
-3 pots of different sizes (for example a 14” pot, an 8” pot and a 4” pot) The top and middle pot should have drainage holes for maximum benefits of stacking. The bottom pot is best with drainage holes to ensure proper water, and prevent salt buildup, but it is less important for the plants that can handle soil that is more moist.
-Good potting mix or soil. You can mix some compost in as well. Herbs, like most fruits and veggies do best in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They don't usually need as much fertilizer as other produce, but you can mix a
-Your herbs! You can plant transplants or seeds depending on what you prefer, and how much time you have. There are a wide variety of herbs you can plant, but here are a few ideas:
Top tier: sage, thyme or rosemary if you keep it small, or have a large set of pots
Middle tier: sage, thyme, chives (garlic or onion), marjoram, oregano, fennel (with a larger pot system), dill, green onions, chervil,
Bottom tier: Mint, basil, parsley, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, green onions
Step 1) starting with your bottom pot, fill it halfway with soil. Set your plants (I usually put about 4 or 6 plants on the bottom tier depending on how big your pots are) at an angle facing out a bit. Remember that your plants won't have a lot of room on the surface of the soil, but they will have lots of room for their roots to grow under the pots that are stacked on top. Add soil to your transplants as you would when you are doing your regular planting up to the previous soil line, but leave the level in the middle of the pot a little lower so you can set the second pot on top
Step 2) add your second pot (that has drainage holes) to the center of the first pot. Make sure it's level and sitting securely on top of the soil and begin
Step 3) add your last, top pot! Depending on how small the top pot is you may need to add a bit of soil to the pot before adding your top plant (usually just one plant), or if the pot is small enough it might not be needed. Just make sure the pot has enough room for your plant, and that you plant is high enough in the pot. Plant that plant as you would normally in the center of your pot, adding soil up the previous fill line.
If you are planting seeds on any of the levels you would follow the same steps above, but instead of planting the transplants you add soil to fill the pot (leaving a bit of a depression in the center for the pot above) and then plant the seeds as appropriate for the varieties you are planting.
When you want to refresh a level of your garden you can take the pots apart and repeat the steps above with new additions in empty spaces, or you can just dig down into your pots while they are stacked and replant. You can decide whether you are going to take them apart or not based on your personal preference or on how deep the roots are growing from one pot into the soil below.
In the heat of the summer starting herbs may be a little more challenging from seed, but it can be done if they are protected from too much direct sunlight. Being able to move the tower around easily is helpful if you are trying to start seeds, so you can put them in filtered light until they are a bit more established, then bring them back to your porch or full sun when they are several inches tall.
As we are experiencing severe, or worse, drought in California we need to use our water resources carefully. Many of our ornamental shrubs and grasses (is plants a better word here?) can safely have water reduced to conserve water without causing long term damage to them. Our trees, one of our most valuable resources, need to be protected as well, but they can also do ok with strategically reduced water. Growing fruits and veggies take a lot of water so it's important to grow those edibles responsibly. Improper watering, or not enough water, can very quickly lead to problems with fruit set, production and reduced quality and flavor. Herbs are often the same way, and while some types can do ok with reduced water (like rosemary and lavender) most need to be evenly watered to get good leaf production. So, with the drought on everyone's mind you must ask yourself: is growing food at home a good use of water? The answer is yes!! Growing food and herbs at home have many benefits to your mental and physical health! You are also reducing the distance your produce travels from harvest to your kitchen and that can save resources! You can grow the produce you like and engage the family in the activity, having freshly harvested produce right at your doorstep! There are lots of ways to use your water wisely even in your edible garden by using drip irrigation, adding mulch and compost and growing varieties that are suited for your area. The three-tiered herb garden is a great way to have herbs at your doorstep that are easy to care for and take up a small amount of space using minimal resources.
- Author: Debbie LeDoux
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!
- Author: Brenda Spoelstra
I became a University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener in San Bernardino County in January of 2019. I had learned about it from a friend who is an instructor with the UCCE Master Food Preserver program. She knew I liked gardening and suggested I look into it to see if it was something I would like to do. At the time I was working for a City Parks and Recreation Department in Planning and Design and my interest was increasing public open spaces and parks and gardens, knowing how essential they are to a healthy lifestyle. In another way, I was looking for an opportunity to get involved in the community. My interest in gardening and garden design just seemed like a natural fit for the UCCE Master Gardener program.
Within the UCCE Master Gardener program, I have volunteered in the San Bernardino School District (SBUSD), informational tables at farmer's markets, and more recently, with a non-profit after school program in Redlands called Micah House. There are two locations but the Micah House program on Oxford Street has been my main connection in the community, working with the mothers of after-school students on their vegetable boxes.
(The UCCE Master Gardener program would like to express gratitude to Micah House Executive Director Alison Anderson and the Chapel Street Micah House team for opening their doors to allow us to offer our 18-week training class there. In turn, Master Gardeners partnered with Micah House staff, families of their after-school program, and the community at large to transform a grassy area in their front yard into a lovely drought-tolerant garden through a grant from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District.)
In one of my first UCCE Master Gardener activities with the SBUSD, I quickly became aware that it would be imperative to know Spanish well if I wanted to contribute to the UCCE Master Gardener mission to, "develop and extend practical research-based information in agriculture and natural resource to the residents and workforce of San Bernardino County." The US census states that 54% of San Bernardino County is Hispanic, and that 37% of the population speaks Spanish as their first language.
Thus, the story of how I needed to re-learn Spanish led to becoming the on-site UCCE Master Gardener at Micah House on Oxford Street. It began when I reached out to an extended family member who previously taught an immersive Spanish program and is the program director at Micah House on Oxford Street, for Spanish tutoring. After a couple of sessions, she asked if I might be interested in leading some gardening workshops in their vegetable beds started by the previous program director. Well of course! One hiccup. The mothers I would be instructing in gardening speak only Spanish and I want this to be inspiring, not complicated.
In the fall of 2019, with interpretation help from the program director, we set off together in planning the cool season vegetable garden with four mothers of children in the program. We were able to discuss the appropriate cool season vegetables and they selected the desired plants to grow over the winter. None had grown any of their own vegetables but were superb at gardening techniques such as weeding and planting. Much of gardening workshops can be a physical demonstration and then accomplished by the attendees, and I'm thankful for that because at this point my Spanish is still not up to a working standard!
With Spring coming, the program director had an idea how to include the children. We had an activity for them to plant seeds in recycled egg cartons, to be grown indoors as starts for the Spring garden. Again, the mothers were in the lead with selecting the warm season vegetable types and decided on a salsa garden.
With the help of the seed supply in the UCCE Master Gardener office, the kids were able to plant onion and jalapeno peppers. The mothers decided what to plant, install, regularly maintain. Harvest from the vegetable boxes are generously shared with their neighbors. Even with a few Spanish words, my sub-par communication skills seemed to go a long way with building rapport within the community and the workshops seem to be exciting for the kids and the vegetables are growing well! Fast forward to January, they are now harvesting cilantro, radish, lettuce, kale, and soon beets, carrots, and broccoli.
I like the personal benefits of gardening, doing something outdoors while getting a little exercise. Also, the learning and the organizational skills built on from one season to the next as you learn more about how plants behave in changing seasons. Watching plants form and develop over time makes it an activity of patience, as well, along with the maintenance lessons and mistakes. Before becoming a UCCE Master Gardener, I had experience in developing my backyard from a dead lawn to trees, shrubs, and flower garden (along with vegetable patch gardening). I believe the most outstanding thing I learned is the number of people volunteering in the community and the free resources UCCE Master Gardeners provide. I had not heard of the program up until then, and I think the program has many more ways to develop and transform in the coming years.
What I like best about the UCCE Master Gardeners program is the access to the science-based peer reviewed information regarding growing, pest management, and resources on plants and their requirements. It gives more confidence to the advice and recommendations I give in the community, which supports the work, rather than just relying on someone's personal experience with gardening. I think the first thing I would ask people interested in becoming a UCCE Master Gardener is whether they have a personality that likes to engage with the community. You can't stay sheltered away from the public while being a UCCE Master Gardener and you can't just have an interest in more information to be an arm-chair expert without experience. We test our knowledge in the community with questions they have or with activities which go along with instruction.
You may not have a natural desire for teaching, but you will need to have some interest in passing along knowledge with an open mind and appreciation for varying levels of experience in others. I tell people just because I have the UCCE Master Gardener badge does not make me a master of gardening -- it's the process of mastering, which never ends. I have a list of community service, both domestic and international. I've been involved with a City's Arts commission, 5k founder and organizer, an overseas director's assistant on a construction project, installed California Native gardens, community garden volunteering, and various past volunteer work with churches and work.
The purpose of this brief article is, even though you may think a little isn't enough, your efforts extended to the community can go a long way and grow into something you may not have planned. Stay open to opportunities and activities; you just never know where 'yes' will lead you.