- (Public Value) UCANR: Developing an inclusive and equitable society
I think many of us feel like our gardens themselves are gifts. We give our time to create spaces that are gifts to nature (pollinators, beneficial insects and an assortment of other critters) and to our neighborhoods and families, and if we are lucky, we can even eat and harvest flowers from them for us to enjoy indoors and with friends and family as well. I like to view gardening as a two-way street and see it as more of a journey than a destination. We give our love, our time, our sweat and tears….and our back muscles and money, all to create life around us. We can do it in our “back 40,” at a community garden plat, on our patios, on our windowsills and even in water (with fish) if we grow with hydroponics (or aquaponics!). With all we give to our gardens I think our gardens give back to us tenfold. When we are stressed or feeling overwhelmed the garden is a safe place that does not judge. When we are enduring loss and hardship, we can cry our tears and feel our sorrows in the garden, and in return it can give us solace. The garden reminds us that life goes on, as hard as it seems sometimes, no matter what else is happening…nature just keeps on going….and in that we can find strength. In my garden I find history: plants planted by loved ones that are still here, but we can't be together this holiday season, and plants planted by people that are no longer here. I find the future: what can I fit in my yard next? Perhaps a fruit tree would be great there? Where should I put my food forest for 2021? I find hope: wow, that seed really did grow, and look at it now! Or, oh wow, I remember when that tree was just a few feet tall and now look at then shade and fruit it gives.
If you grow fruits, vegetables, or herbs you probably have already shared gifts from your garden and know all about how rewarding that can be. If you are a new gardener, just wait! It is a challenge, but in a good way, and the Master Gardeners will be here for you throughout your journey, offering free classes on growing food, creating sustainable landscapes and how to just live better, healthier lives, though gardening. We also have our helpline, where you can contact us day or night (but we will call or email you back at a reasonable hour, after we have done some research), with all of your gardening questions and woes. You can even reach out if you just want to share a great success you had (you could even send us photos)!
Here are a few other ideas for gifts from your garden that you can try this holiday season to share your gardens gifts with your friends and families:
2) Three-tiered herb gardens: one of my favorite things to make! Fun fun fun and they are a great way to keep your herbs near your kitchen and healthy and happy! These towers can be made on a small scale as gifts or on a larger scale for your yard (or for gifts that you need to make on site!). The cool thing about these towers are that they will have a drier zone on top for your herbs that need a drier soil, and for the herbs that need a little more moisture they are wetter on the bottom. Also because of their height you can get a little extra shade or sun for your herbs on certain sides depending on how you orient them. Lastly, because they have an “inner core” of soil, they are great insulators that help keep plants cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I can fit between 8 and 12 types of herbs in my towers and they all do great!
My wish to you, for this holiday season, is that you find joy and peace and if you can find a little time to garden too, that just makes the holiday season extra sweet.
With these cooler temperatures and shorter days come cool season gardens. Cool season gardens that grow in the fall and winter are sometimes less celebrated than spring and summer (warm season) gardens, but they can be just as fun and yield more nutritious produce than our warm season garden.
Our warm season gardens yield lots of delicious and wonderful fruits (the part of the plant that has the seeds), and they are yummy for sure! Our cool season gardens give us lots of edible leaves and stems and roots packed full of vitamins and minerals that we don't get from our warm season garden. So, if you are skipping your cool season garden and waiting until next spring, you are missing the most nutritious gardening time of the year! Here are some tips for success for your cool season garden, and don't forget we offer lots of free classes online (http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/) each month and our helpline is just a call or email away!
- Select the right location: Most veggies take at least 6 hours of sunlight, so check your spot and make sure they will get enough light. The sun starts to go south in the winter, so the shadows in your yard and on your patio change. Track the sunlight for a day in the area you want to plant, watch for shadows and see if there are trees or fences on the south side that may cast a shadow later in the year, in the middle of winter. Veggies can thrive planted directly in the soil, in raised beds or in pots so you do not need a lot of space to have a cool season veggie garden. Don't forget as you are planning your spot to think about vertebrate pests like gophers….they love your cool season veggies just as much as you do, and are often very active in the spring and fall. Plan ahead and contact our Master Gardener helpline if you have questions on how to protect your crops! Remember that having accessible water close by is also very important unless you have the time and energy to carry buckets full of water back and forth since you can't always count on Mother Nature.
- Deciding what to plant: Plant a rainbow of color, plant what you and your family like to eat, and try a few things that you and your family don't like to eat since home grown veggies have a completely different taste than veggies from the store! They are often sweeter and more flavorful, so if you don't like it but have never tried it home grown then give it a try. Some cool season veggies are: carrots, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, radishes, cauliflower, celery, chives, endive, fava beans, kale, leeks, lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, spinach, swiss chard and turnips, just to name a few! Herbs also grown year-round. Fall is a great time to start cilantro along with many other herbs to compliment your edible vegetable garden. If you live in the mountains you have a really short cool season veggie window, so be sure to select varieties that are “early ripening” so you can get them harvested before the really cold weather comes.
- Preparing your soil: When it comes to growing veggies, you want to have nice and fluffy soil. Many root veggies like a soft soil so they can grow correctly, and the rest of the veggies don't mind it either! Amend your soil with compost to help improve drainage in heavy soils and improve water retention in sandy soils. Add at least two inches of compost and dig it in to the first 6” or so of soil. Don' forget that while compost is great and adds lots of wonderful microorganisms to the mix, it is pretty low on nutrients, so it's not a substitute for fertilizer!
- Fertilizer: Veggies in general are heavy feeders and should be fed regularly to produce a good crop. Generally it's a good idea to fertilize the soil when you plant them. (This isn't usually true of fruit trees, flowers or ornamental landscape plants though so don't do that to all of your plants: more is not always better). Then fertilize approximately every 4 to 6 weeks, depending on your soil and the crop you have planted. A good rule of thumb for growing veggies in pots is to fertilize them half as much twice as often since they are more susceptible to burning than in-ground plants.
- Mulch…mulch and more mulch!! Adding a mulch layer on top of the soil around your garden plants is so important during the summer to retain soil moisture, conserve water, and keep soil temperature cool but it is also important in the cool season, too. Mulch helps keep weeds down when you add at least 3 to 4” and will help keep the soil temperature from getting too cold in the cooler parts of the year. Be sure to keep your mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunks of your trees and away from the stems of your veggies by at least an inch or two. Don't forget if you are going to much and you want weed control that you need to apply a thick layer (3 to 4”). A thin layer can actually encourage weed seed germination. Mulch is not just for plants in the ground either! It can be used in pots as well and has all the same benefits. Just be sure if you have a nice layer of mulch on the ground or in your pots to keep in mind the type of fertilizer you are using. A granular or pellet fertilizer should be applied to the surface of the soil, a liquid fertilizer can be applied over the mulch as long as it is watered in well. When in doubt, pull the mulch back, or call our helpline and we can help you decide how to best apply your fertilizer.
- Watering: Water is just as important to cool season crops as it is to warm season crops, especially since many of the cool season crops we enjoy are water-filled leaves. Though it is just as important, there are a few different things to think about. The humidity is often higher in the winter, so you need to keep moisture off leaves to prevent the spread of pathogens like molds and mildews. This can be done by using drip irrigation systems, or carefully hand watering, and by watering in the morning to prevent moisture from sitting on the leaves of your plants for too long. You also need to think about how hot it is and how much rain we have had, so it is a dynamic situation! Not sure if you need to water? When in doubt, stick your finger in the soil or dig down a bit for deeper rooting veggies and see if the soil is wet. You can always contact our Master Gardener helpline if you have watering questions or concerns.
- Thinking of seed saving? That's great!! There are lots of reasons to save seeds, from saving money, to creatinglocally grown variety, to preserving special or favorite varieties of veggies, and we are here to help! We offer monthly seed saving classes to teach you everything you need to know from the basics to advanced plant breeding techniques. Many cool season veggies cross breed easily so you must plan a little when you are seed saving. Tune into our “Planning your Cool Season Seed Garden” class to learn more….and if that sounds intimidating, don't worry! There are many cool season veggies that are easy to seed save from, like lettuce, radishes, and peas.
- Don't forget about our bugs! The good ones and the not so good for us ones alike (I hate to use the term “bad bugs,” since they are just doing their thing, even if we don't like it!)! There are many cool season (fall and winter) flowers that will do well and provide habitat and food sources for our beneficial insects that help us keep the bugs we don't want in check in our gardens. Don't forget to stop and properly identify your problem before you spray for “pests” as well! Ask yourself “is this pest going to damage my crops? Is it from an actual insect or disease or is it more likely due to watering issue or a change in the weather? Most garden problems are not from insects or diseases. Always remember to use cultural management practices and avoid chemical pesticides in your home garden. Visit our UC ANR Integrated Pest Management (IPM) site to learn more about how to identify and handle your problems: http://ipm.ucanr.edu/. You can search by pest or by plant and they have lots of great photos. Some pests might look “bad” but will cause little damage, and might actually be beneficial for the environment, so investigate before you treat. That helps reduce pollution, saves you money and helps keep your home ecosystem balanced and healthy. Lastly, the pest that caused the damage may be long gone, making proper identification of pests and abiotic (non-living) disorders key!
- Fruit trees? This a good time to be thinking about planting new deciduous fruit trees such as low-chill apples, plums, pears, and cherries since bare-root specimens are best planted in late December to early February. (Citrus and avocados are best planted in spring or fall.) There are many varieties of deciduous fruit to choose from based on the number of chill hours they need and how many chill hours your location has. Check out this website to find information on chill hours for your area: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/Weather_Services/chilling_accumulation_models/. You can also choose varieties that ripen successively throughout the year so you can extend your harvest season and you can look for varieties that do well in your specific soil conditions and climate.
- Last, but not least? Natives! Fall is the time to get your native plants and seeds in the ground! This is the time of year they would start coming up naturally and when planted in the fall they will have a much better success rate next summer!
These are the basics you need to think of when planning your cool season veggie garden, and with a little bit of thought and planning, it can be just as delicious, colorful and rewarding as your warm season garden! We are always here to support you through your journey with our monthly free classes, our online “Ask a Master Gardener” time, and our helpline, which is just a call or email away! We will answer your questions and give you moral support when you have challenges. Let us be your cheerleaders and champion and guide you to create the best cool season vegetable garden ever…and don't worry, mistakes will be made….failures will occur…but just like in life, that is how we learn and grow😊
Looking back at my lifelong relationship with gardening, from doing a lot to doing a little, I have been reflecting on why I have always tried to garden or visit gardens no matter where I was. There were many times that my gardening was not successful, or times when I did not even have a garden of my own, but I always gravitated towards plants, and things that were growing. What is it about not only plants, but tending plants, that lures us in? Is it in our biology, in our DNA….an ancestral connection we have to the earth? Is it our love of fresh tomatoes and peaches? I think yes to all of those things, but it is also an activity that soothes the soul. The garden calls to us, needing our care, but also offering something to us in return. Can you hear its call? Sometimes I can't hear my garden through my thoughts of “oh it's so hot outside, or wow that is a lot of weeds I need to pull….or I can't believe I under watered my citrus trees and they died…….and again, wow it's awfully hot outside.” But I have a strategy when I cannot hear my garden calling me, because it is an important call we should take! It's trying to tell me it can help heal what ails me, help me sort out my thoughts on how to tackle a project at work and help clear my brain when I start thinking about to many “what if's.”
Now, I am not talking about those times when I feel super motivated to garden, and I have a clear and specific to-do list. Sometimes I really know what I am going to do and feel motivated to get out there and have a plan! I am talking about those times when I think I might need my garden more than it needs me. Life can be absolutely wonderful and also so, so hard. I have seen some great things happen and have had wonderful life experiences and I have also had deep loss and sadness that I am not sure what to do with. Plants seem to know how to handle this range of joy to sorrow in a way that perhaps only pets and great wide-open spaces can compare to. In your garden you can grow stronger if you know how to listen. Your garden does not need to be huge; it can be containers on the patio, or windowsill herbs; those few plants can still help put you in a better frame of mind.
So here are my tips on learning how to listen to your garden and feel its benefits. While this may seem like common sense, and obvious, I too must remind myself of this sometimes and just go do it! First step of my strategy is just plan to go outside (or to your plants in the windowsill) for at least 5 min, and find something in the garden that needs to be tended to…..again this tip is not for those times that you are on a mission! This is for when you are just mehhh and not sure what to do with yourself. So just walk yourself outside, or to your windowsill, or your patio and just stand in front of your plants and observe. Better yet, set aside at least five minutes every day to look at your plants. Now, step two: become a scientist! Seems like an odd thing to do when you are there for mental health, right? Does that mean being sophisticated, knowledgeable, overly analytical or taking data about what you are doing? No, not really. The heart of science is observing and asking questions and wondering why. So, look at your plants. What are the colors of the leaves, do you see any bugs, how much have they grown since the last time you hung out with them, is your compost pile decaying the way it should, are your plants developing flowers or yellowing? One of my favorite mind clearing activities is to see how many shades of green I can see. Just sort of take it all in and let your mind and eyes wander. Step outside of your thoughts if you can and focus on your senses. What do you see or hear? What does the air feel like and are your plants fragrant? Then pick a task. Is it checking the soil to see if it is dry, or pruning out the dead growth, or checking for pests in your plants, or harvesting seeds or fruits? Just make it something to get yourself engaged in with your plants. I love picking lemons and weeding for mental health and I have a rule when I do those activities. I am a thinker…. I think waaay too much and that is sometimes a great thing and sometimes a real pain. So, my rule about being in the garden to get all those mental health benefits is, no matter how big or small the task is I am doing, focus on my senses and observations. Then after a few minutes of that I let my thoughts come back in slowly and that is when I do some of my best thinking. My grandma would always tell me that “handwork” like sewing or knitting, cooking, or gardening had been the savior of women (but I think it is true for everyone) for centuries. As one gets older and life becomes a more complex tapestry of experiences and challenges, I am beginning to understand what she means. It's that thinking time you have while doing a task that you can be fully engaged with or sort of do without thinking that is so great for your mind and soul, and that takes me back to this idea of slowly letting your thoughts back in while you putter around in the garden. Once you begin that small task I often finds it leads me to other tasks in the garden, I notice something else that needs to be done, or see damage on leaves and investigate what is causing it, or I notice that there is a trail of ants going into my tree and slow down and watch them to see what they are farming so I can decide if it's something I need to manage. That's when you know the garden has sucked you in! It has taken you down a trail of telling you what it needs from you and in that listening you begin to let go of yourself and your stresses and just start to “be.”
Do you love gardening, and feel all of its benefits but want to share your solo experiences with others? Bring your kiddos, parents or partner out into the yard or for a walk in a local park or garden space and do the same thing with them. Start small, with one task (water the pots, or look for pests, or in a public space just walk and look around), make comments about what you observe, point out something that you see and perhaps your few minutes in the garden can turn into something more…..some unplanned time to connect to each other and disconnect from the world. If you don't have a garden right now, what can you do to reap these benefits? Wandering through a local park can yield the same results…..looking for how many colors of green you can see, what type of animals are enjoying the outdoors with you, seeing how they have arranged their plantings and trying to figure out what types of plants are there can all be ways to tune out your thoughts and tune into nature. You can also look for a community garden in your area (contact the Master Gardeners and we can help you find one)! There are many in San Bernardino County, and if your area does not have one then maybe it is time to get one started! Master Gardeners can help guide you on what you need to get that going too! Joining online gardening groups or becoming a part of the Master Gardener program (a group of trained volunteers who actually want to hear all about the topped tree you just saw or the lemons that are getting ripe!) can be great for mental health too! While there are many important things going on in society right now that mindful attention needs to be paid to, it is important for us all to have a place to reset and regroup and talking to people and sharing about gardening is a great way to do that!
Feeling productive is so important for our wellbeing, physical and mental health. When, at the end of the day, we have had a great discussion about gardening with someone, or tended to our plants and gotten our hands dirty we can go to bed with a clearer mind and be ready to face the world (and look forward to facing our garden) again! Towards the end of my grandma's life she would have me put pots of flowers on TV trays so she could “groom” them. It was a small activity, and something that I could have done myself in a few minutes, but that time for her was priceless. She was able to engage in something with her hands, deadhead the flowers and feel pride in her tasks and probably get a chance to reset some of her thoughts as well…getting those mental health benefits I have been talking about. She would always finish her tasks with a smile and have a sort of glow about her that I totally understood as a fellow gardener…..her garden had called, and she had listened….and she was a good listener too!
So if you are at a place in your life where you are just dreaming about the garden you might have one day, that's ok too…start small, have a few house plants, or grow some herbs on your porch and spend time letting your garden heal you while you care for it. If you have a big yard and aspirations of turning those weed patches into a food forest, go out and start small, little by little you can make a huge impact on yourself and your space over time. If you spend your time fighting squirrels and gophers for your garden goodies, step back and do some detective work and contact the Master Gardener helpline. Let us help you trouble shoot and get you headed for success. Have no garden, no place for potted plants and not ready to join a community garden yet? When you feel overwhelmed or need an escape immerse yourself in leaning about plants. They have fascinating lives and all kinds of outer worldly adaptations that could put fiction writing to shame. Or go spend some time in a public garden or green space, observing those colors and seeing what is living in that green space. Even if you have your own garden, spending time in another garden can be rewarding because you are not thinking about your to do list when you look around!
After years of thinking about it I decided to apply for the program in San Bernardino County, and I was accepted! Yeah!! Now what?! Can I do it? I was a little nervous about what I had gotten myself in to, did I have what it takes to be a Master Gardener?! I had worked several jobs….one as an insectary manager, another as a scuba dive guide on the small, but beautiful, island of Palau, where the people still fish and farm, living very close to the land. I also spent many years caring for my grandmother who lived on an old citrus grove…. what did these things have in common? Not a whole lot, I thought…an odd, but wonderful, assortment of life experiences…. but how would they help me become a Master Gardener!?
I remember the first day of class, when we started going around the room introducing ourselves and why we were inspired to take the Master Gardener program. The stories we so varied, people from all walks of life, with a wide variety of backgrounds….but I started to notice a theme…they all spoke with such a passion for what the garden had meant to them in their lives. How it had uplifted them; given them improved health, physically and mentally; been a place of healing; was a connection they had with their families and communities; connected them with the earth and guided them to steward the land; and how they loved sharing and teaching what they knew. That's when I realized the common thread was passion and belief in all that gardening gives back to us (aside from great tomatoes and beautiful flowers!). Over the next 18 weeks our passion became backed with knowledge…about all aspects of gardening, and about what the Master Gardener program was able to give back to the community. It was heartwarming and so inspiring. I begin to see how my own unique and diverse background experiences as an insectary manager with a fascination for entomology, as a dive guide living on a small island, where people still followed traditional farming practices and as a caregiver for my grandmother (who lived to 100, she said "thanks to gardening!") all helped me to become a better Master Gardener!
It's been several years since I first began the program, and two years into my job as the current Master Gardener coordinator for San Bernardino County, and I can say that my pride and passion for being a Master Gardener has just continued to grow every day. I love meeting our new trainees, and getting to know our seasoned volunteers better, seeing how their own unique and varied backgrounds all come together to make our program strong and multifaceted.
If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener in our county, we would love to have you join our next Master Gardener class and see what it's all about. Or if you just want to learn more from our great volunteers look for us at our many events, follow us on social media and check out our calendar of events on our website. If you would like to invite us to speak to or work with your clubs, organizations or communities we would love to do that too. With our passion for all things gardening and your knowledge of the needs of your community we can do great things in San Bernardino County together!