- Author: Maria Murrietta
- Author: Marisa Coyne
For the past three months, COVID-19 and social distancing requirements have changed the way the UC Master Gardener Program serves our mission to extend trusted gardening information. With a resurgence of interest in gardening, UC Master Gardener volunteers adapted to the pandemic using new and innovative ways to share gardening support and help.
This is the fourth feature of a four-part blog series. Read our earlier posts about how volunteers in Amador County learned new skills and quickly brought program resources online in Part 1 of this 4-part series. Explore how volunteers in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties created the “Great Tomato Plant Share' in Part 2 of this 4-part series. San Diego County was featured in Part 3 of this 4-part series for how quickly they adapted and brought classes online for UC Master Gardener trainees.
Join us as we celebrate the innovation, creativity, and flexibility of UC Master Gardener volunteers and county staff during this unique time!
SAN LUIS OBISPO
Across the state program coordinators for the UC Master Gardener Program have been working tirelessly to stay up to date on local and state health guidance, support volunteers with the transition to online training, maintain relationships with community partners, and more. In some counties, the ‘new normal' for county-based employees have included work at emergency response facilities.
In San Luis Obispo County, Maria Murrietta is serving her community as a disaster service worker. Twice a week from March through June, Murrietta has delivered food from the food bank to high-risk residents in San Luis Obispo County. These vulnerable residents are unable to venture out to get supplies or groceries because they are following strict self-quarantine guidelines. The disaster service program is the result of a collaboration between the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County.
At noon every Tuesday and Friday, Murrietta joins delivery drivers at one of five food delivery hubs throughout the county. Once Murrietta reaches her pick-up location, she collects two bags of food (one full of dry goods, the other packed with produce) for each adult, in each home on her list. Site leaders provide delivery drivers with route information, special instructions, and face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to ensure their safety and the safety of residents.
Upon arrival at each residence, Murrietta makes contact by phone or at a safe distance, with each recipient to ensure they received the delivery. “Having that brief contact with the recipients has been so gratifying,” says Murrietta. “I've visited many of them multiple times and they were all so appreciative of the extra help. Lots of ‘bless you' and ‘thank you' and reminders to ‘be careful out there'. Even neighbors of the recipients have thanked me for helping their community members. One home in particular always leaves a different handwritten thank you note taped to her front door. I take a photo of each one. One resident at a senior facility told me about the wonderful soup she makes with the big bag of produce she receives.”
Murrietta is confident that the produce being delivered is of high quality – because a portion of it is grown by volunteers in San Luis Obispo County. The UC Master Gardener Program of San Luis Obispo County has been harvesting and donating fresh fruits and vegetables to the food bank since 2016. Last year was its best year yet with more than 1100 lbs. of fresh produce donated from its vegetable beds and fruit orchard.
“UC Master Gardener volunteers have been working hard to keep this up during the statewide shelter-in-place order. They were among the first groups to be approved as essential workers - according to the early UC ANR guidelines - so they could continue this vital work,” says Murrietta. “They continue to adjust as the procedures continue to change, even when, for a short time, the food bank stopped accepting donations from non-commercial growers. During this brief break, our lead UC Master Gardener volunteer went to work and found two additional locations in our region that were happy to accept fruits and vegetables - the Salvation Army food pantry and our local homeless services center!”
Murrietta reports that demand at the food bank has tripled since March 2020 and that seed racks at two local nurseries are nearly empty. “Food insecurity is not a new topic, but is a new concern for many people for the first time,” explains Murrietta. In San Luis Obispo County, residents can benefit from UC Master Gardener Program harvests, in the form of produce donations, and from gardening education that the volunteers provide to the public. “I think this time of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of what UC Master Gardeners can offer a community, and it has reminded UC Master Gardener volunteers of how important their work is,” notes Murrietta. “Their skills and knowledge and their desire to contribute go beyond helping other gardeners have a pretty landscape!”
While COVID-19 has affected all communities and volunteers differently, the resilience, creativity, and flexibility, of UC Master Gardener volunteers and coordinators alike, continues to inspire and impress. The stories featured in this four-part series here are a small snapshot of the innovation and strength that this food community and garden education community has to offer.
Please note: Reappointment for the 2020/2021 Program Year began on June 1st and ends July 30th. The UC Master Gardener Program celebrates and appreciates ALL volunteers, regardless of their ability to contribute hours during this unprecedented time. Volunteers who choose to remain active and reappoint will be approved, regardless of the number of volunteer or continuing education hours completed this year. Volunteers will not be responsible for making up any incomplete volunteer and continuing education hours in the following program year. However, all volunteers must complete reappointment to remain active or limited active in the UC Master Gardener Program.
- Author: Lauren Snowden
It may seem odd to see seventy-five people at a hotel conference center learning about insects and rats on vegetables, but not if you are a UC Master Gardener. The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) in partnership with the UC Master Gardener Program just wrapped up the Vegetable Pests and Solutions train-the-trainer series. More than 340 UC Master Gardener volunteers from across the state took part in the regional trainings offered in Fresno, Orange, Placer, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma counties.
The advanced UC IPM training offered a hands-on, train-the-trainer experience that increased participants' knowledge of insect pests of vegetables, vegetable plant diseases and disorders, and vertebrate pests of gardens and homes. One of the highlights of the training was Human-Wildlife Interaction Advisor, Niamh Quinn, showing a taxidermy collection of vertebrate pests at the Orange and San Luis Obispo County workshops. Being able to handle and observe the different markings, colors and claws on certain animals makes future identification easier as participants learned the signs to look for when identifying vertebrate pest damage in the vegetable garden.
UC Master Gardener volunteers were lead through exercises that mimic questions commonly received from the public. Some of the questions had a photo, others just a sparse description that volunteers worked together to solve using online IPM resources and materials provided at the training. The exercises were designed to challenge and expose the learner to different types of scenarios and tools they can use in the future.
Outreach and Education
The UC Master Gardener Program's mission is to extend research-based information, by attending advanced trainings such as this, volunteers are even more prepared to contribute to the program's mission. With exposure and practice using new resources and materials training attendees have the tools and knowledge needed to educate the public on vegetable pests and solutions including scripted PowerPoints, activities, handouts, and vegetable pest identification card sets. One attendee reported “As a first year UC Master Gardener, this training helped me become more comfortable and more confident researching answers for pest management questions.”
At the conclusion of the training volunteers convened with their fellow county volunteers to talk about their plans to take new found knowledge back into their communities. Some of the great ideas generated were:
- offer seasonal pest problems workshops
- include a “Need Help Solving Pest Problems?” flier for all events
- add IPM tips to newsletters and social media
- integrate IPM into presentations as appropriate or relevant to topic
- add signage for damaged or diseased plants with IPM solutions in demonstration gardens
- share IPM toolkit at farmers markets and demo garden events
How We are Making a Difference
One portion of the agenda was focused on how the UC Master Gardener community is making a difference. With 6,000+ volunteers serving more than 517,000 Californians per year the impact of the UC Master Gardener volunteer effort is truly amazing. Through statewide program evaluation efforts the impact in sustainable landscaping, food gardening and community well-being is now being analyzed and reported in the programs annual report. Volunteers can see the impact they are having statewide and be proud of being part of a group that social changes they are seeing in their local communities.
As active volunteers and life-long learners UC Master Gardeners are a powerful educational tool and inspiration for others not only in the garden but in the volunteer community. Statewide educational offerings like UC IPM's train-the-trainer series help hone the diagnostics skills while building confidence in the subject matter.
The next statewide training opportunity for UC Master Gardener volunteers will be the 2020 UC Master Gardener Conference, Sept. 28 –Oct. 2, 2020 at the Granlibakken, Tahoe. The conference is the beginning planning stages and taking speaker and topic suggestions, click here to suggest a speaker or topic.
- Author: Donna Navarro Valadez
In the heart of San Mateo County sits a garden gem, The Gardening Education Center, a 5,000 square foot growing space established by the UC Master Gardener Program of San Mateo County. This green garden space was approximately three years in the making, which included fundraising, planning, and actively working the land.
In the spring of 2018, when the site was unveiled, UC Master Gardener volunteers went to work. The plan was to prepare the space for a small (4-5 fruit tree) orchard, three large raised bed planters for seasonal flowers and vegetables, and separate specialty in-ground beds featuring natives, succulents and other drought tolerant plantings.
Prior to the planting, UC Master Gardener volunteers sheet mulched with cardboard and wood chips. This assisted in smothering the invasive groundcover that had taken over the overgrown neglected space.
Unbeknownst to UC Master Gardener volunteers, there was significantly more Bermuda grass than was initially suspected. Bermuda grass seeds can be an aggressive, the grass itself is tough and persistent. Over the next few months the grass eventually crept in and completely took over. Drastic measures were needed to eradicate the pesky weeds so the committed volunteers accepted the challenge and made a plan to eradicate the invasive grass without utilizing chemicals.
The plan of attack included eradicating as much Bermuda grass as possible from the very compacted and dry soil as naturally as possible. They scraped the top few inches of the soil off of the area to get rid of as many rhizomes and stolons of the pernicious Bermuda grass.
They worked tirelessly to remove the Bermuda grass, and prepared the soil for compost tea and cover crop planting. By removing the Bermuda grass it made a huge difference in the look, health and overall maintenance of the garden space.
The following eight cool season cover crops were chosen for the first planting because of these benefits:
In the end, UC Master Gardener volunteers produced a harvest of plenty. They learned the finer points of making compost extract using premier compost and applying it to the soil to introduce microbial life into the soil, attracting beneficial fungi, nematodes and earthworms. Not only were they able to plant diverse cover crops that crowded out the weeds, they were also successful in reaching their goal of treating the 1,600 square foot space of garden soil with no pesticides.
The Gardening Education Center has been open to UC Master Gardener volunteers since last spring, as they work to create the infrastructure to accommodate classes for the public. There are three greenhouses onsite that are currently growing plants for the UC Master Gardener Program of San Mateo and San Francisco Counties.
Compost Class pictured above, front row from left to right: Mark Foulard, Norine Cepernich, Terry Messinger, Maggi Lim, Cathy Vreeberg, Gaye Torjusen, (and standing) Nancy Kruberg, Terry Lyngso, and Steve Maskel. Second row from left ot right: Patty Deering, Linda Dvorak,Kathy Stamm, Kate Sweetman, Carol O'Donnell, John O'Hara, Charlie Akers, Charlene Landreau, Ginny Piazza, Cynthia Nations, Nick Landolfi, Janet Gilmore, Yana Maloney, and behind Yana, John Bassetto (Norine's husband and heavy equipment operator).
Many thanks to this group of volunteers, who have led the efforts and plan for The Gardening Education Center space and whom have spent countless volunteer hours! They have put a lot of thought into making this an excellent learning process for all. We would like to especially recognize Terry Lyngso, whom donated compost, seeds and paving stones to the project.
- Author: Melissa G. Womack
Join me in celebrating the very first annual report for the UC Master Gardener Program! The annual report shares remarkable work and positive impacts made by UC Master Gardener volunteers over the past year.
In 2018, UC Master Gardener volunteers:
- Encouraged people to get outside and connect with nature. 71% of attendees at UC Master Gardener events reported spending more time gardening or outdoors.
- Taught food gardening best practices in communities throughout California. Last year, 68% of our clientele reported improved practices in growing edible plants.
- Contributed to the establishment of pollinator gardens and habitat across the state. 70% of surveyed participants at educational events reported using more plants to attract and support pollinators.
While the UC Master Gardener Program annual report is focused on our collective accomplishments and all of the ways we connect with our mission throughout the year, the real story is centered on each and every one of our 6,154 volunteers. Our volunteers are the core of the UC Master Gardener Program and I am honored to thank you for your support and dedication.
2018 Annual Report link:
UC Master Gardener Program
P.S. Data shared in the annual report comes directly from VMS and our collective statewide evaluation effort. If you are interested in your local county's impact data, please connect with your coordinator, individualized county data reports are shared quarterly.
- Author: Melissa G. Womack
Missy Gable, Director of the UC Master Gardener Program and horticulturalist, is hosting a monthly Q&A Facebook Live series to answer gardening questions and give seasonal gardening tips. Join us on Facebook Live for the very first episode scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 27 at 11 AM PST.
Facebook Live is an authentic and interactive way to interact with our audience in real time. It also allows the ability to build value, trust and raise brand awareness of the UC Master Gardener Program. Share the Facebook Live opportunity on your personal and local program pages and tune in to the UC Master Gardener Program Facebook Live broadcast! Let us know in the comments section what topics or questions you would like answered on Thursday or on future Facebook Live topics.