- Author: Laura Lukes
If you have school-age children, you may have noticed that something new is infusing science education in California classrooms. Curricula that explores environmental literacy is being introduced– an explicit acknowledgement of the deep bond between humans and our natural environment.
First, here is some brief background information. I spoke with Master Gardener Joyce Hill, a professional educator involved in local efforts to bring environmental curricula to regional classrooms. Our conversation centered on the critical need to know and experience the natural world, and how one can only do that by actually spending meaningful time outdoors. Our natural environment is a wonderland lying just beyond wooden doors and electronic screens, ripe for exploration and appreciation. The importance of interacting with nature was the subject of Richard Louv's The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2006) which concludes that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
The five basic tenets of California's Environmental Principles and Concepts highlight the profound relationship between humans and the natural world. These tenets are the following (the full text can be found at www.californiaeei.org/abouteei/epc):
1. People Depend on Natural Systems: The continuation and health of individual human lives and of human communities and societies depend on the health of the natural systems that provide essential goods and ecosystem services.
2. People Influence Natural Systems: The long-term functioning and health of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems are influenced by their relationships with human societies.
3. Natural Systems Change in Ways that People Benefit From and Can Influence: Natural systems proceed through cycles that humans depend upon, benefit from, and can alter.
4. There are no Permanent or Impermeable Boundaries that Prevent Matter from Flowing Between Systems: The exchange of matter between natural systems and human societies affects the long-term functioning of both.
5. Decisions Affecting Resources and Natural Systems are Complex and Involve Many Factors: Decisions affecting resources and natural systems are based on a wide range of considerations and decision-making processes.
It's no secret that people learn best when the subject is one that is relevant to their lives, so it is critical that the connection between individuals, their communities, and the natural world be made clear. As Stanford professor Dr. Nicole Ardoin writes, “Environmental education imparts more than knowledge,” it has “helped produce effective problem solvers, lifelong learners, and thoughtful community leaders and participants.”
And here is where our own local challenge comes into play. Families (whatever form they take and however you define them) can be vital partners in helping our Next Generation build a deep connection to, and appreciation of, the natural environment. Over the following year, the UC Master Gardeners of Butte County will offer periodic suggestions, exercises, and activities to help you and your young ones engage with what's outside, beyond the doors and screens.
Here are some helpful websites on nature exploration:
The Beetles Project (Better Environmental Education, Teaching, Learning & Expertise Sharing)
Natural Start Alliance (A project of the North American Association for Environmental Education)
To learn more about the UC Master Gardeners of Butte County, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. The Master Gardeners have produced a Garden Guide and Three-Year Garden Journal full of useful information specific to Butte County. It is currently available in Chico at Magnolia Gift & Garden, the Patrick Ranch gift shop, the UC Cooperative Extension office in Oroville and all Master Gardener workshops.
If you have a gardening question or problem, call our Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Author: Laura Lukes
An alley of sage plants; an area devoted to California natives; a courtyard plaza for reflection and relaxation; raised beds for vegetables; arbors and trellises covered with berry and grape vines.
Over thirty types of plants will be featured, from trees and shrubs to herbs and grasses. At least one part of each of these plants is directly or indirectly edible, in the form of fruits, flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, or stems. While this garden will include obvious choices like fruits and berries, it will also feature less apparent species such as redbud, which has edible flowers and seed pods; and purple coneflower, which has leaves and roots that can be used to brew medicinal teas.
The Edible Garden is designed to demonstrate what an average homeowner can accomplish in a backyard setting. Hardscape components will be easy to make or purchase. The arbors will showcase different styles and materials. The trellis supports for grapes and berries will illustrate the main trellis types used by home gardeners.
This garden comprises a variety of areas separated (or joined) by paths, fences, focal points, and structures. The hardscape elements and focus plants will draw the eye and the visitor into and through the garden. For readers familiar with the layout of the Demonstration Garden, the planned Edible Garden flows northeastward from the existing classroom area, and includes additional teaching space.
The mastermind behind the garden plan is local landscape architect Eve Werner. Her design for the triangular space allotted to this garden incorporates concepts of balance, contrast, and harmony, while taking into account the angle and intensity of the sun; the plants growing in the surrounding gardens; and maintenance and irrigation requirements.
Let's take a brief tour of the proposed Edible Garden. We begin by standing at the northeast end of the existing classroom space, facing northeast. The Master Gardeners' office is to the right, and the maturing Espalier Garden is to the left. Behind us is Glenwood Farmhouse and, in the front distance, the Midway running north to south beyond the wheat and pumpkin fields planted each year by the Patrick Ranch Museum.
Grapevines and Arbor: two grapevine trellises echo the curves of the edible annuals, and are separated by an arbor, which will be planted in annual vines. Grape varieties include Champanel, Niabell, Red Flame Seedless, Glenora, Golden Muscat, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Because grapes require a fair amount of maintenance, and the Master Gardeners are a volunteer organization, varieties that mature at different times have been chosen so that pruning and harvesting can be accomplished in bits and pieces.
Sage Alley and beyond: The long leg of the obtuse triangle forming the garden area runs northeast from the plaza. At its southern end lies Sage Alley, featuring shrub sages from California, Arizona, and New Mexico, sprinkled with blue grama grasses. Dr. Hurd manzanita forms the northeastern flank of Sage Alley, and stands at the southwestern side of the second arbor. The arbor itself will support another grape vine. A western redbud stands to the other side of the arbor, amidst plantings of purple coneflower, buckwheat, mahonia, coyote mint, more blue grama grass, and a salvia or two. The third arbor, which will be planted in an annual vine, begins here, and is flanked on the opposite side by a Fuyu persimmon.
Berry Vines: Along the top border of the triangle, trellises will support berries (varieties to be determined). The trellises will be bounded on each side by sages (“Black and Blue” and “Indigo Spires”). A pomegranate tree will mark the end of this edge of the garden.
Asparagus and more: The final element of the Edible Garden plan is an asparagus bed situated between the raised beds and the grapevines. Marjoram, oregano, sunflowers, an artichoke in a pot, and delicately-scented German chamomile complete the plantings.
The garden is designed to have plenty of room for visitors to move between and among the different “rooms.” Although it's not yet planted, the designs and garden teams are in place, and when we are done, we will be happy to invite you in to our Edible Garden. In the meantime, there is already plenty to see at the Demonstration Garden, including the Butte County All Stars Garden, Mediterranean Garden, Berm Garden, Herb Garden, California Native Plant Garden, Backyard Orchard, Espaliered fruit trees, and examples of wildlife habitat plantings and groundcover alternatives to turf grass.
To learn more about UC Butte County Master Gardeners and their upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, call our Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email email@example.com.
- Author: Kim Schwind
Every gardener knows that weeds are just plants in the wrong place. Webster's dictionary defines a weed as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.”
In nature, weeds play an important role. They can resist conditions like drought, acidic soil, lack of humus, and mineral deficiencies. Weeds protect our topsoil from eroding away in heavy rains and strong wind. They provide a cover and shade for soil microbes and insects.
Many years ago various weeds were used for food and pharmaceutical products. Currently, foraging for wild foods and mushrooms has made a comeback. Weeds in the legume family fix nitrogen in the soil and are often used as a cover crop to help enrich the soil over winter. Weeds have also been used to help indicate the presence of ground water. Curly dock is a weed that's typically found in wet saturated soils.
The primary value of weeds, wrote the eminent U.S. botanist Frederick Clements in 1920, is to “reveal information about the health and pH of our soils.” For example, certain species are confined to acidic soils and others to alkaline.
The use of weeds as soil indicators is not a new idea. Many early North American immigrants to the eastern United States chose land for their farms according to the weeds, plants, and trees that it supported. Conifers were characteristic of sandy, acidic soils that had little agricultural value. Birch, beech, maple, and hemlock indicated fertile soil. They learned that the tall-grass prairies were suitable for cereals, hay, and orchards. The bunch grass regions were better suited to wheat and grass.
If we look at our own gardens we can use our weeds to tell us what we can do to improve our soil. For instance, if our lawn is being taken over by clover we can note that clover thrives with low levels of nitrogen in the soil. We can remedy the problem by applying a nitrogen fertilizer (a 16-16-16 fertilizer is a good balance for turfgrass).
Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, a European scientist and student of Rudolf Steiner, wrote an entire book on this subject in the 1950's: “Weeds and What They Tell Us” (still in print). According to Pfeiffer, sorrel, plantain, horsetail, and knotweed are found in acidic soils. Dry soils with very little humus might support mustard, thistle, broom, and St. John's wort.
Sandy soils will have goldenrod, aster and toad flax. Alkaline soils support chicory, spotted spurge, sagebrush and woody aster. In heavy clay or compacted soil you might see morning glory, plantain, Bermuda grass, chickweed, and dandelion. Dandelions also indicate low calcium in the soil.
When you learn the type of soil some of these common weeds prefer you may be able to make corrections in the soil based on the information some weeds are giving you. If you really want to know, a soil analysis or at least a pH test by a local agricultural laboratory will provide factual information to accurately guide the use of soil amendments. Sometimes, improving drainage by adding well-balanced compost, organic manure, or employing cultural practices may be all that is required to improve your soil's tilth and nutrition.
Identifying the weeds in your garden can be fun! In some cases knowing what their presence indicates may help you manage your soil. Controlling weeds by hand weeding or with herbicide before they seed will reduce future populations if done consistently from year to year. One year's uncontrolled weeds can produce seven years seeds! You may even develop a new appreciation for weeds.
For more information about weeds or help identifying them see:
UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Weeds
UC IMP Weed Photo Gallery
UC Weed Research & Information Center
Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, Weeds and What They Tell Us.
If you have a gardening question or problem, call the Master Gardener Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system, serving our community in a variety of ways, including 4H, farm advisors, and nutrition and physical activity programs. Our mission is to enhance local quality of life by bringing practical, scientifically-based knowledge directly to our community. To learn more about UCCE Butte County Master Gardeners and their upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/bcmg/.
- Author: Mike Flanner
Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) is a common sight throughout our hot dry Butte County summers.
This non-native weed arrived in Texas in the 1830s and by the late 19th century was recognized as a problem in the North Valley and throughout California's agricultural fields.
The Butte County UC Master Gardeners are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system, serving our community in a variety of ways, including 4H, farm advisors, and nutrition and physical activity programs. Our mission is to enhance local quality of life by bringing practical, scientifically-based knowledge directly to our community. For more information on UCCE Butte County Master Gardeners and their upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/bcmg/. If you have a gardening question or problem, call our Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email email@example.com.
- Author: Jeanette Alosi
Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) is an attractive green plant with small yellow flowers commonly seen growing prostrate along the side of the road.
Unfortunately, there are is no easy way to control this noxious weed. For most homeowners, the mechanical control methods of hand removal or cutting the plant off at the taproot are most effective. Any seeds left on the ground must be removed by raking or sweeping. Use heavy gloves to protect hands from the spiky seedpods. Of course, as with any weed, it's best to remove it before it flowers and sets seeds. This is especially important for puncturevine, as seeds are viable for years, and can be spread by shoes or the wheels of lawn mowers or carts.
Biological control using several species of weevils have been tried but are not always effective. Chemical control of puncturevine in the home garden is often unnecessary. However, in heavily infested areas, or when hand removal is difficult, herbicide may be an option.