- Author: Kathy Low
A year ago I was sitting at home looking through the community calendar in the local monthly penny saver when I saw the application deadline for the Solano Master Gardener program. Curious about the program, I went to the website to read more about it which sounded interesting. Not considering myself to be a “real” gardener, since my experience was limited to annually growing a summer vegetable garden, it looked like a great opportunity to learn more about gardening. I never took a horticulture class, or even took the time to read any gardening books, but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to fill out the application for the program. I never imagined a year later I would be writing this blog post as a Master Gardener.
The initial knowledge, background, and experiences of individuals in each new class of Master Gardeners is different. We each journey through the program for different reasons. But upon graduation, we share a common knowledge, and a common goal of providing research based home horticulture information to the community.
Are you a potential future Master Gardener? Can you answer “yes” to any of these questions?
- Do you like gardening?
- Do you like helping others?
- Do you like learning new things?
- Do you like growing your own fruits and vegetables with little or no use of pesticides?
- Do you care about sustaining the land and the environment?
- Do you enjoy the company of like minded people?
- Are you interested in helping your community?
- Are you looking for a fun, meaningful volunteer opportunity?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then consider applying for the 2014 Master Gardener class. There’s still time to apply before the October 31st deadline.
The benefits of being a Master Gardener are numerous. First, you’ll receive 16 weeks of horticultural education covering topics ranging from turf and landscape trees to weeds, water management, and entomology. The classes are taught by University of California and other local faculty, providing you with first class instruction. You’ll receive a copy of the 700 page California Master Gardener Handbook and a copy of the book Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs. On an ongoing basis you’ll receive information about upcoming horticulture related talks, workshops, webinars and other opportunities to expand your knowledge. And you’ll have access to UC research on horticultural topics of interest to home gardeners.
The Master Gardener program is a volunteer program so as a Master Gardener, you are required to provide a minimum number of approved volunteer hours in the community on an annual basis. But until I became a Master Gardener, I had no idea of the scope of the volunteer opportunities available. They are bountiful and the best part is you have the opportunity to choose only those that interest you. For example volunteer opportunities include providing gardening information to school children at special events, or working with children during library events presented by Master Gardeners, answering gardening questions at local farmers markets, providing training on composting, presenting a gardening talk at the library or other venue, helping maintain the Children’s Memorial garden, gardening with juvenile detainees at the New Foundations Juvenile Hall garden, or writing for the blog or newsletter. These are just some of the many community volunteer opportunities available to you as a Master Gardener.
If you’re interested in joining the camaraderie of over 100 Master Gardeners in Solano County, be sure to submit your application for the class of 2014 before the October 31st deadline. The application is accessible at http://cesolano.ucanr.edu.
If you have any questions about the application process or program, contact the Program Coordinator Jennifer Baumbach at (707) 784-1321 or email@example.com.
- Author: Kathy Low
For several years my sister and I made a point of visiting botanic and public gardens during our annual trips to Hawaii, until we succeeded in visiting all the gardens on all the islands. They were lush, beautiful, fragrant, and we loved seeing some very unique native plants. But recently I discovered you really don’t need to travel outside of the county line to see some botanic wonders and beauty offered by our own Golden State. Solano County is home to several gardens and sites awaiting your visit. And now is the time to visit many of these wondrous places, many of which are only open to visitors for limited periods of time.
Forrest Deaner Native Plant Botanic Garden
During these years with lower than normal rainfall, you’ll hear and read a lot more about the benefits of planting California native plants. If you want to see what a garden of California natives looks like before taking the plunge to plant or replant your garden with natives, make a visit to the Forrest Deaner Botanic Garden.
Located in the Benicia State Recreation Area, this native botanic garden offers over 300 native trees, shrubs, plants and bunch grasses for your viewing pleasure. The three and a half acre garden hosts several demonstration gardens including a hummingbird/butterfly garden. For more information go to http://tinyurl.com/bn79t2m.
Vernal Pools at Jepson Prairie Preserve
Designated by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark, the vernal pools of the Jepson Prairie Preserve are located south of Dixon. The vernal pools are rare and formed when an impermeable layer of soil prevents rain water from seeping into the ground, thereby forming temporary pools of water. The vernal pools at the Jepson Prairie Preserve provide a habitat for threatened and rare plants such as the dwarf Downingia (Downingia pusilla) and Solano Grass (Tuctoria mucronata).
Two hour docent led tours are provided every Saturday and Sunday through May 12th. For more information, go to http://www.solanolandtrust.org/JepsonPrairie.aspx.
Pleasants Valley Iris Farm
Nestled in Pleasants Valley, just outside of Vacaville, this farm grows 400 different varieties of tall bearded irises. During blooming season the owners open up their farm to the public, allowing visitors to stroll through an acre of dazzling irises. If you don’t already have irises in your garden, you’ll want to grow some after wandering among their rows and rows of irises in bloom.
The farm is open to the public this year from April 20th through May 12th. For directions and more information, visit www.irisfarmer.com/info.html.
Native Garden at the Rush Ranch
A small native garden can also be found near the Visitor Center at the Rush Ranch located near Suisun City. Visitors to this tranquil 2,070 acre ranch also have the option to take several trail hikes. For more information, go to www.rushranch.net.
So the next time you feel like an outing on a nice day, hop on your bike or pack up the kids in the car and head over to one of these sites to enjoy the greenery growing in our area.
- Author: Betty Homer
I love traveling along Highway 12 past Suisun City in Solano County, especially days after a good, hard rain which turns the landscape into undulating verdant hills and pastures where livestock graze peacefully. Hidden amongst this bucolic scenery, is a local gem known as the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City, which I discovered by happenstance some years earlier. During April of each year, the Museum hosts a wonderful event where, for a nominal entrance fee, wildflower enthusiasts can take an hour-long, 10-mile trip on one of the Museum’s vintage trains, to catch views of native wildflowers (e.g., consisting primarily of poppies, goldfields, brass buttons, butter and eggs, clover, and sheep’s sorrel) that blanket the hillsides and fields of Solano County. The tours are docent-led and views change weekly, depending upon what is in bloom. My past experience on this tour has been that the train will stop at an appropriate juncture to allow visitors to exit and wander alongside the fields to take photographs and to examine the wildflowers up-close. The window to catch this glorious display of wildflowers is short-lived, as the tours begin on April 3, 2013 and run until April 28, 2013. I recently visited the general vicinity in which these tours take place, and at least as of the posting of this blog entry, there did not seem to be many wildflowers yet on display, but that will quickly change, so consider making your plans now. For additional information about the various tours, times, and ticket prices, please visit (http://www.wrm.org/).
- Author: Betty Homer
Admittedly, this blog entry leans more towards food than cultivation, but hey, isn’t food one of the main reasons why we grow edibles in addition to edibles just being plain beautiful?? I believe our local readers will be delighted to know that we have a number of knowledgeable local olive growers, and, in turn, olive oil producers here in Solano County. This blog entry will feature one such local source—Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company located at 2625 Mankas Corner in Suisun Valley.
Il Fiorello (Italian for “little flower,” which describes the olive flower itself) is owned by Mark and Ann Sievers. I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a marvelous Chocolate and Olive Oil tasting event at Il Fiorello recently. This blog entry will focus exclusively on the olive aspect of the event (rather than chocolate), as olives can be cultivated locally.
During the event, Mark gave an informative lecture, filled with fun facts about olives:
- Most Olives are grown within 200 miles of the Mediterranean Sea.
- There are over 800 varieties of olives.
- Different olives produce different flavored olive oils.
- Greeks use more olive oil than just about anyone.
- There are approximately 800 olive mills in Sicily alone; contrast that with just 53 mills in the United States.
- California is the center for the olive oil industry in the United States.
- Oldest olive tree is in Sicily—approximately 2,600 years old.
Mark explained that when tasting olive oil, you should first use your nose to smell the oil and then taste for depth (fruitiness/bitterness, pungency (e.g., how peppery is it?), and balance). Pungency can be described by the number of coughs you experience as a result of tasting an oil. One of the many varieties of olives that the Sievers grow, is called a Lecchino, which is delicate in flavor and pairs well with vegetables such as spinach. Another variety that the Sievers grow is the Frantoio, which produces a more robust olive oil.
When caring for olive trees, Mark advised that one must be very careful to prune the trees because olives grow on 1-year old wood. Apparently, olive trees are fairly pest-resistant overall, having only one real pest—the olive fly (http://ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74112.html ) which, according to Mark, is pretty easy to control. One healthy tree can produce approximately 40 pounds of olives which will render 2 quarts of olive oil. Mark said that olives start to deteriorate the moment they are harvested (helpful tip for those of you who have olive trees and harvest from them). Olives must be milled within 24 hours of harvest to achieve a superior oil.
Mark advised that olive oil, if kept properly (no heat, no light, no oxygen) in a cool, dark place, will last up to 3 years. He warned that most of the olive oil on supermarket shelves is rancid (I heard the same when attending an olive workshop presented at UC Davis this year) and that the only way a consumer knows to tell the difference, is to have developed a palate for good olive oil.
So if you love olives but do not have your own olive trees, look no further than to our local sources.
- Author: Edward Walbolt
This year as summer transitioned to fall, we were blessed with a few days of unusually early fall rain. In some areas of Solano County almost two inches of precipitation fell after only a few days in late September and early October. A benefit of the rain was that Solano’s turf and native grasses were transformed from being burned out, parched, and dangerously flammable to being lush, spring-like, and full of new light green growth hues and vigor. The areas in my turf garden that were worn down quickly filled in with new growth now covering the previously bare patches caused by the late summer’s heat. The timing on the rains could not have come at a better time for a lot of us, most specifically me. My office was recently moved 50 miles farther from home and with the long hours commuting between there and Fairfield I had been neglecting my turf garden. I intended to find some time to water and fertilize my Fescue/Bluegrass blend to prepare for the fall, but I had not gotten around to it before the rains came. Needless to say, I think I can put off my fertilizer regiment until the end of November without worry. Solano County doesn’t often get nature’s showers until November or December so it was a unique nitrogen-rich phenomenon this year that many of our gardens benefitted from.