Posts Tagged: gardening
With winter soon upon us, it's a good time to treat your garden bed just like the one where you tuck in at night, says Dustin Blakey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, director and UC Master Gardener coordinator in Inyo and Mono counties.
Blakey hosted a webinar on Facebook during Healthy Soils Week 2020 (Nov. 30 – Dec. 5) to advise home gardeners how to promote healthy soils to maximize their gardening success.
“Some genius suggested we call garden plots ‘beds,'” he said. “It makes sense. Mom was right. Don't stand or walk on the bed. Keep it neat and tidy. And cover it, in the case of a garden bed, with organic mulch.”
The goal is to end up with garden soil that holds adequate water, nutrients and air, supports soil life forms, like worms, insects and microorganisms, and is convenient to work with.
“If I have to get a mallet to bang a trowel into the ground, it's not healthy soil,” Blakey said.
As a first step, designate permanent walkways in the garden so only those areas become compacted by foot traffic, leaving the plots where vegetables will be grown undisturbed.
“Along parts of the Oregon Trail, almost 200 years later you can still see the ruts where the wagon wheels rolled, and plants aren't growing there,” Blakey said.
He recommended gardeners cover their walkways with gravel, decomposed granite or organic materials like wood chips, bark or grass. Installing raised garden beds is an ideal way to differentiate growing and walking areas. In his own garden, Blakey built the beds four feet wide to have easy access to all the plants while standing on the walkways.
Add compost to the soil inside the beds to reap a variety of benefits.
“It's often said, no matter the problem, compost is the solution,” Blakey said.
Compost provides a food source for beneficial microorganisms in the soil. If soil is sandy, compost helps it hold water and nutrients. If the soil is clay-like, compost loosens the soil, making it more friable.
Covering the garden soil surface with mulch or cover crops is also critical to soil health, Blakey said. The topping moderates the soil temperature, supporting the organisms living below ground. The covering helps prevent weeds, and as the mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.
“You can also grow cover crops,” Blakey said. “I'm surprised how few gardeners use cover crops. Put some seeds in the ground instead of buying a bag of amendments.”
Cover crops can be part of a healthy garden crop rotation, keeping roots growing in the soil all year long.
“Grasses scavenge nutrients. Legumes fix nitrogen. I grow sweet potatoes. They shade everything and keep the weeds at bay. A daikon radish cover crop penetrates deep into the ground, naturally tilling the soil,” he said.
Blakey discourages a common habit of some long-time gardeners, frequent rototilling with a heavy machine, and rather encourages what he calls “gentle tilling.”
“You don't need power equipment. Experiment with using a shovel,” he said. “My soil is loose and easy to work. Some beds, I don't even turn. I just plant directly in the healthy soil.”
View a recording of Blakey's one-hour webinar on healthy soil on the UC Master Gardener Program Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UCMasterGardeners. The UC Master Gardeners offer many online gardening resources and programs in most California counties. Find your local program at http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs.
This is the third story in our #NationalWellnessMonth series. See the second story, UCCE promotes nature as a way to improve wellness.
Youth up to 17 years of age who have been arrested or adjudicated for breaking the law are housed at juvenile detention facilities. In Sonora, while the young people are being detained, the staff at Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility strive to create a safe environment for the residents to make positive changes in their lives.
To teach the youths about the food system, JoLynn Miller, UC Cooperative Extension's 4-H youth development advisor for Tuolumne County, and volunteers began visiting weekly in 2016 to help the residents develop a garden at the detention facility. With grants from a local community group, the youths have learned how to grow their own vegetables and prepare them to eat.
“The youth enjoy the educational aspect of the 4-H program and are excited whenever we harvest a new vegetable,” Edgar Ortega, juvenile corrections officer, wrote in a letter. “When the vegetables are ready, some of the youth along with the help and supervision of the staff make a new culinary experience for their peers.”
Bonnie Plants donated tomato, garlic, fava bean, onion and basil seedlings. Miller trained volunteers who work with youth at the facility in the same positive youth-development concepts that 4-H volunteers use in 4-H club activities.
“The youth planned and built the raised beds using power drills,” Miller said, acknowledging that it is rare for power tools to be allowed for use by residents in a detention facility. “They worked with the correctional officers to install drip irrigation in the garden.”
At the end of last season, Miller gave the residents a cooking lesson using green tomatoes and basil from the garden. “We made fried green tomatoes and pesto,” she said.
“We sincerely appreciate the efforts 4-H volunteers provide to enrich the lives of all youth in our community,” said Dan Hawks, chief probation officer in Sonora. “Not only do these projects provide real-world, hands-on instruction and skills to incarcerated youth, but it also provides them with an opportunity to reap the rewards of their own efforts. There is no lesson that can match the sense of accomplishment youth realize when they are able to harvest and consume crops they planted and tended themselves.”
In addition to teaching the residents gardening and cooking, Miller provided their teacher and staff with other 4-H curriculum, including mindfulness.
“The mindfulness program helps the youth develop coping skills and become more cognitively aware of themselves and their surroundings,” Ortega said in his letter. “The youth are open-minded about the different techniques and lessons of the program and, at times, I catch them practicing the different mindfulness technique on their own. I know the mindfulness program is great for our youth because in their own home environments they don't always have a role model to teach them proper coping skills.”
The garden wasn't an instant success. Using seeds Miller found in the UC Cooperative Extension office, their first lesson was persistence despite delayed satisfaction. “We tried for two summers to grow in the garden beds and not even zucchini would grow. The placement was bad,” she said. The plants needed more sun.
The 4-H advisor and the youths began seeking funding to buy supplies for the project. With some coaching from Miller, the youths applied for a grant from Farms of Tuolumne County, which advertised a total of $1,500 to be split between awardees.
“The youth came up with a budget to build the beds of their dreams, but it was $2,200,” Miller said. “They asked for it anyway, knowing they may only get enough money to build one bed.” Because residents are not allowed to leave the juvenile correctional facility, the Farms of Tuolumne County Board of Directors visited the facility to hear the teenagers present their vision for the garden project. Impressed, the board gave them the full $2,200 requested.
“The Farms of Tuolumne County Board of Directors admires the enthusiasm of the young people who are part of this garden project, the dedication of the staff, and the hard work and commitment of JoLynn Miller,” said Marian Zimmerly, FOTC chief financial officer. “The board believes this project can be a positive influence on the young people who find themselves in the facility. FOTC is honored to lend its support.”
Like many community groups, Farms of Tuolumne County is suffering financially during the coronavirus pandemic, yet approved another $750 for the garden and other 4-H agriculture projects at Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, saying, “The FOTC Board of Directors continues to view the garden project at the Juvenile Detention Center as very worthy of support.”
The residents have expressed their appreciation to the 4-H program. “Thx for everything you showed us,” one resident wrote to Miller and her 4-H volunteers. “I've learned a lot since I first got here. I learned how to farm, make compose [sic] and a whole other bunch of stuff. I was never really interested in gardening until I came here. I really wanna learn more about gardening.”
Despite the constraints caused by the pandemic, Miller plans to continue the 4-H partnership with Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Correctional Facility on the garden project and other agricultural educational activities.
As the pandemic began, Miller was given permission to use Zoom to deliver embryology lessons and science experiments using eggs. She is projected onto a big screen in a meeting room while the officer on duty walks around the room with an iPad, using its camera and microphone to connect her with the students at different tables doing experiments such as egg dissection and testing egg strength.
She was allowed to bring five-week-old chicks into the facility to let the youth see, touch and hold them as a capstone to the project. Miller plans to continue meeting with the youths via Zoom to discuss projects and drop off approved project supply kits for them to use.
“We'd like to finalize a project we started last fall where we brought in baby goats,” Miller said. “They've since been harvested, and we want to have our UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family, consumer sciences advisor Katie Johnson provide a nutrition lesson with the residents making goat tacos.”
As time permits, officers take the youths outside to water plants and harvest crops in the garden.
“I feel the programs and workshops provided by 4-H services are a priceless resource to the youth of our facility,” wrote William Neilsen, senior juvenile corrections officer. “It allows us to diversify programming and provide hands-on and -off educational opportunities within our facility that teach the youth about agricultural resources otherwise unavailable to the youth here. These programs inherently teach the youth responsibility and life skills and the youth gain a wealth of knowledge from these services.
“Additionally, I strongly believe there is a therapeutic resource provided to staff and youth alike. As we progress forward, I am happy and excited in the continued partnership we have with the UCCE 4-H program of Tuolumne County.”
Ortega added, “4-H provides the youth an opportunity to develop life skills that will transition to their own home environments.”
Across the United States, Americans are buying and growing plants as a pick-me-up during the COVID-19 crisis, reported Lisa Irizarry in Newsday. The paper focused its story on Long Island, N.Y., its area of local circulation, but turned to UC Cooperative Extension emeritus advisor Rose Hayden-Smith for commentary about the trend.
Hayden-Smith is the author of "Sowing the Seeds of Victory - American Gardening Programs of World War I" and now serves as the educational technology fellow for eXtension, an organization that helps extension professionals generate a more visible and measurable local impact. Hayden-Smith said plants can have a calming effect in stressful times. Increases in gardening occurred during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic and during World Wars I and II.
"We always turn to gardening during times of crisis in this country. The last big surge of gardening interest was during the last economic crisis," she said.
In the current environment, people are gardening for a family activity, to grow healthy food and acquire new skills, as reflected in the rise of other home arts, such as baking.
"It's earth-friendly and connects people with nature," Hayden-Smith said. "It's restorative and a way to be physically active. It feels as if it's something we take positive action on."
Southern California's mild Mediterranean climate makes it ideal for growing fruit trees in backyards, community gardens and school gardens. The trees provide wholesome fruit along with shade, beauty and enrichment for families and communities.
Citrus trees are favorites for Southern California backyards, but Surls and her team aim to get local gardeners thinking beyond lemons, limes, oranges and other citrus fruit. In the past several years, a deadly plant disease has been spreading among Southern California citrus, prompting quarantines and putting citrus orchards across the state at risk.
Surls and her team are working on an initiative with a corps of volunteer UC Master Gardeners in Los Angeles and surrounding counties to promote selection and planting of appropriate fruit trees. New brochures, a website, workshops and one-on-one consultations will guide Southern Californians in making tree decisions that are scientifically sound and community-focused.
The project addresses serious concerns about the rapid spread of huanglongbing (HLB) disease, also known as citrus greening. The insect that spreads HLB – the Asian citrus psyllid – was introduced into California in 2008. The disease made its first California appearance in a Los Angeles County backyard in 2012. HLB, which eventually kills every tree it infects, is now spreading rapidly in urban areas of Los Angeles and Orange counties, where quarantines have been put in place by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
“Citrus trees are so popular in Southern California. They are part of our history and regional identity,” Surls said. “Now we have the unfortunate responsibility of telling residents about this serious problem we are facing. In some cases, residents who live near infected trees should be proactive and remove their lemon, orange, mandarin and lime trees and replace them with different kinds of fruit.”
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources IGIS programmers, in collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension, have created an HLB Monitoring Web App that allows residents to enter an address to determine how close they are to confirmed HLB outbreaks. If they are within 2 miles of a residence where an HLB-infected citrus tree was found, the app recommends replacement of citrus trees with non-citrus fruit trees, such as apples, peaches, avocados or persimmons.
Residents with citrus trees that are 2 to 5 miles from areas with HLB should keep a close eye on their trees, treat for Asian citrus psyllid and begin thinking about planting an alternative to citrus if the disease spreads to their area.
“Huanglongbing poses a serious threat to both backyard and commercial citrus in California if its spread is not halted,” Surls said. “By removing trees in areas where HLB has been found, residents are helping reduce its ability to spread, buying time for scientists to find a cure.”
CDFA is testing trees throughout the state and removing HLB-infected trees. However, the first visible symptoms of HLB – yellow mottled leaves – can appear months to years after infection. Even if they look perfectly healthy, citrus trees can be harboring the disease and allowing it to be spread by the tiny psyllid insect.
Current hotspots shown on the HLB Monitoring Web App include Rosemead, Montebello, Pico Rivera, San Gabriel, Hacienda Heights and Cerritos in Los Angeles County. In Orange County, HLB is spreading in communities around Garden Grove, Westminster and Santa Ana.
“We know removing citrus trees is going to be really hard for people,” Surls said. “But if you live within two miles of an infected tree, your tree is probably already infected, and HLB means your tree is going to die.”
To ease the transition, UC Master Gardeners are informing residents about alternatives that will produce fruit that's nutritious and delicious.
“So many types of fruit trees can be grown in Southern California,” Surls said. “Honestly, we have almost unlimited options. We live in a fruit tree grower's paradise. So we want to encourage local residents to think seriously about selecting non-citrus trees to replace their citrus.”
The information can also inform residents who are planning a new backyard orchard.
“They should consider some of the many wonderful fruit trees we can grow here — plant a pomegranate, plant a peach, plant a persimmon — but resist the temptation to plant more lemons, oranges and other citrus trees,” Surls said.
Making the decision to plant a certain type of tree should not be taken lightly.
“Planting a fruit tree is a big commitment. It will be part of your garden for years. Research the best options for your family and locations,” Surls said. “The UC Master Gardeners are here to help.”
Following are good options to consider for replacing citrus trees in Southern California, although recommendations may vary based on local climate:
Certain apple varieties that do not need to be exposed to cold temperatures grow and produce well in Southern California. Low-chill varieties include Anna, Beverly Hills, Dorset Golden, Fuji and Gala.
Figs grow well in full sun in Southern California. They can reach 10 to 30 feet tall, and are best for spacious areas.
Jujubes are less common in Southern California, but are a valued fruit in Southeast Asian and will grow well under Southern California conditions. They grow about 15 feet tall. Jujubes are a good selection for inland valleys that get hot during the summer. The fruit tastes like small, crispy apples. Dried, they are similar to dates.
A small- to medium-size tree that grows 10 to 20 feet high, loquats are easy to grow and have relatively few pests. Fresh, ripe loquats are sweet and aromatic. They can be used in jams, sauces and garnishes.
Persimmons ripen in autumn after the leaves have fallen, creating a beautiful landscape display. They are easy to grow in full sun and part shade. Persimmons can be eaten fresh or dried for a date-like fruit.
Well-suited to Southern California's Mediterranean climate, pomegranates grow to about 15 feet in height. Pomegranates are pest- and disease-resistant. The fruit's seeds, coated with astringent juicy flesh, are called arils. Use arils to top salads or other dishes, or squeeze for juice or to make jelly.
Other fruit tree options for Southern California include mangos, guavas, pineapple guavas, peaches, nectarines and pears.
For more research-based information about alternative fruit trees, visit the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website “California Backyard Orchard” at http://homeorchard.ucanr.edu.
Contact your local UC Master Gardener Program for additional advice:
Los Angeles County – http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program
Orange County – http://mgorange.ucanr.edu
Riverside County – https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG
San Bernardino County – http://mgsb.ucanr.edu
Ventura County – https://ucanr.edu/sites/VCMG
Funding for the ‘Alternatives to Citrus Fruit in the Fight against Huanglongbing Disease' project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG003. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.
Gardening is fun…and it's an important activity. What we grow in school, home and community gardens can improve our health, and the health of our families and communities. What we grow can increase the resiliency of food systems in our communities. And what we grow, ultimately, can connect us more closely with the earth that sustains us. There are valuable lessons in gardening…too many to list here.
Even if you live in a small apartment, you can grow food. If you have a yard, you can grow quite a lot of food. View the transformation of a front yard in an urban area…from lawn to lush, productive food garden in only 60 days. You'll love the progression photos, and the simple explanation about how the garden came together.
Need more inspiration? Roger Doiron, founder of SeedMoney, talks about his (subversive) garden plot in this remarkable TedX talk. Roger created and led the social media campaign that called for a garden at the White House. This campaign ultimately led First Lady Michelle Obama to plant a vegetable garden at the White House. (And it may have also inspired the People's Garden at the USDA, which broke ground on Abraham Lincoln's birthday 10 years ago. Lincoln referred to the USDA as the “People's Department,” so it makes sense that the USDA would refer to its garden as the “People's Garden.”)
Need practical advice? The UC Master Gardener program has more than 5,000 certified volunteers ready to assist if you live in California. UC has also created a California Garden Web portal that provides a treasure trove of gardening resources for all parts of the state. It's not too early to begin planning your Fall garden, and you'll find information about that, too.
If you're interested in school gardens, read this brief history, written by UC ANR's UC Food Observer.