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Posts Tagged: Master Gardener

UC Master Gardeners ‘Garden Walks’ conserves millions of gallons of water annually in Marin

The Marin Municipal Water District has saved nearly 30 million gallons of water since it initiated a partnership with UC Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program in Marin to teach residents how to conserve water.

The program, Garden Walks, was established in 2008 to help Marin conserve water in a district with limited supply. MMWD purchases about 75% of its water from reservoirs on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin, and the rest from Sonoma County's Russian River water system.

Garden Walks provides personalized information and advice to water district customers focused on improving their irrigation practices to conserve water. The part-time coordinator sets up about 150 appointments a year for UC Master Gardener volunteers to visit the homes of Marin County residents and teach them how to manage their outdoor water usage with conservation in mind.

“When we finish our visits, I hope that the client is more confident about being proactive in their garden,” said Pam Polite Fisco, the program coordinator. “We hope they will be saving water, will use natives and will encourage wildlife in their gardens.”

Overwatering the landscape and leaks in irrigation systems are the two most common water-wasting mistakes identified by the Garden Walks program. (Photo: Pixabay)

The volunteers, dispatched in pairs, spend about an hour at the homes. They walk the garden and talk with residents about grouping plants with similar water requirements, adding mulch to the soil surface and composting clippings, leaves and other green waste so it stays on the property.

The UC Master Gardeners teach the residents how to check their water meters and use the meter to help determine whether there are leaks in the system. They provide advice on water-conserving plants, such as natives or other drought-tolerant plants. They ask the residents to run their sprinklers and other irrigation systems to ensure they know how to manage the controls.

The majority of the water savings realized by the program stems from repairing leaks and cutting back on overwatering, said Steven Swain, UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor and the technical advisor to the Marin County Master Gardener program.

As part of their agreement with UC Cooperative Extension, the Marin Water District monitors changes in water usage and reports them annually on their website, allowing Swain to determine the program's impact.

The majority of water savings during the life of the program is attributable to just one quarter of the houses Master Gardeners visited; three quarters of participants were managing water sustainably.

“Sometimes, our volunteers just give the residents a pat on the back and compliment them for a job well done,” Swain said.

About 6% of the clients visited have hidden water leaks in their irrigation systems. These leaks can waste huge amounts of water if not caught, and account for a large portion of the water savings.  Another 18% of clients are overwatering, which accounts for much of the rest of the savings.

Considering the value of the water conserved by the Garden Walks program, the $40,000 annual cost to hire the coordinator is more than offset by the reducing amount of water the district must provide.

This program has received a number of awards, including the Marin Conservation League's Ted Wellman Water Award in 2010. In 2011, it received first place in the UC Master Gardener's Search For Excellence awards and the Community Outreach Award at the National Extension Master Gardener Coordinating Conference. Marin County residents have also praised the program.

“The Master Gardener team was friendly, professional and helpful and shared their positive attitude to their garden and their outreach,” said Fairfax resident ‘Julie' in a follow-up survey

‘Jean' of San Rafael said, “I'm a beginning gardener. They helped me figure out how to start off right.”

A number of California counties were inspired by the success of the Marin County Garden Walks program and have adopted similar efforts to visit homeowners and assess irrigation efficiency.

View a video about the Marin Garden Walks porgram:

Posted on Monday, April 5, 2021 at 11:35 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

To reach vets, kids, older adults, UC Master Gardeners partner with community organizations

Successfully supporting farming, homemaking and youth development with science-based solutions during UC Cooperative Extension's first 60 years in California prompted UC Agriculture and Natural Resources leaders to consider other ways the same concept could improve American lives.

One of those was the development of the UC Master Gardener Program in 1980, which recognized the need for science to inform sustainable and safe home food production for healthy diets, physical activity, education and mental well-being.

Over the years, the program has trained tens of thousands of UC Master Gardener volunteers to support residents of more than 52 California counties with environmentally sound ways to manage garden pests, reduce water use and grow fruits and vegetables. Today, there are more than 6,000 active UC Master Gardener volunteers.

Each of the 52 counties within the UC Master Gardener Program has unique projects that support its community needs, from reducing water use in home landscapes, diverting green waste from landfills and creating pollinator habitats to support pollinator populations. All counties answer gardening questions for free using a telephone hotline or email inquiry system. Master Gardener volunteers in many counties support community, school and demonstration gardens to share knowledge and spark inspiration. All focus their efforts on education.

To make still greater gains in outreach efforts, the UC Master Gardener Program enlists community partners that share its values. For example, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County works with the County Department of Behavioral Health, Bi-Bett Corporation, Eden Housing and the Veteran's Affairs campus to provide gardening lessons to older adults, behavioral health patients and veterans.

“Gardens bring people together, regardless of race, color, age, sex, disability or religion,” said Missy Gable, statewide director of the UC Master Gardener Program. “Our volunteers in Contra Costa County carefully identified key gardening topics and the best delivery options for a variety of learning styles.”

The lessons covered vegetable gardening, soil health, composting, supporting pollinators and garden pest management.

UC Master Gardeners help older San Diego County resident with tabletop gardening.

UC Master Gardener volunteers in San Diego County worked with residential memory care communities and Alzheimer's San Diego to offer sensory gardening activities to people with dementia. The ‘Reminiscence Gardening' project in San Diego County was funded with a community grant and donations.

“Participants explored herbs, fruits and vegetables to activate the senses of sight, touch and smell,” Gable said. “In doing so, they worked their brains and their bodies, connecting their senses with memories, all the while also working on fine motor skills and muscle tone.”

Second-graders engage in activities during a field trip at a Santa Clara County park.

In Santa Clara County, UC Master Gardener volunteers developed science- and nutrition-based field trip activities to present at their demonstration garden and, with local grants, help pay to transport children from low-income neighborhoods to the garden for a day of hands-on learning.

Children learned about the plant life cycle and planted sunflower seeds to take home and watch grow. They tasted vegetables and discovered the benefits of eating fresh produce of many colors. After learning how to collect insects and identify them, UC Master Gardener volunteers invited them to release beneficial insects at the park.

“UC Master Gardener volunteers encouraged the children to return to the garden with their families to share their experiences,” Gable said. “Children are often an important driver of both food and recreation choices for families so encouraging them to continue their gardening journey is key to seeing change at the family level.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, when many families and children had to stay at home for their protection, interest in home gardening surged. UC Master Gardener volunteers and coordinators sought out safe ways to reach new gardeners with research-based information.

In Calaveras County, UC Master Gardener volunteers provided gardening kits for school children distance-learning at home. UC Master Gardeners in San Bernardino County offered monthly gardening sessions via Zoom to their community. UC Master Gardeners in Contra Costa and Alameda counties donated vegetable transplants to students and families in the Oakland Unified School District. In Santa Barbara County, volunteers taught local residents how to grow an abundance of high-demand fruits and vegetables for food banks.

“Our volunteers didn't skip a beat,” Gable said. “They live and work in the communities we serve, so they can identify where needs are and connect with like-minded partners to provide the widest possible distribution of trusted gardening information.”

The UC Master Gardener Program and other UC ANR statewide programs rely on donor contributions. To learn more about how to support or get involved with the UC Master Gardener Program in your community, visit

UC Master Gardeners encourage local residents to grow fruit and vegetables in their gardens.
Posted on Friday, February 19, 2021 at 11:43 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Home gardening is more pleasant and successful with healthy soil

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.

Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site in Wyoming. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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.

Designate permanent walking paths so garden beds are not compacted by foot traffic.

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: The UC Master Gardeners offer many online gardening resources and programs in most California counties. Find your local program at

Posted on Friday, December 4, 2020 at 8:41 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Garden therapy during the coronavirus crisis

Director of the UC Master Gardener Program, Missy Gable, provided helpful advice for families who want to garden to relieve stress during the coronavirus crisis.
"I'm a huge believer in garden therapy right now," famed chef Alice Waters told reporter Aimee Rawlins. To find out how to dig in, Rawlins turned to the director of the UC Master Gardener Program Missy Gable.

"Start modestly and in a way that you can manage it,” Gable said. “If you've never done this before, don't transform a quarter acre.”

She recommends beginning by assessing space you have available for gardening - whether in the backyard, front yard or the corner of a balcony.

“Get to know the space, and watch to see how light moves around," Gabe said.

Most plants need about six hours of direct sunlight a day. Then figure out what kind of soil you're dealing with: Is it dry or rocky? Does it have the consistency of clay? Is there good drainage or does the water often pool? None of these results are “bad” or should dissuade you from planting there, but understanding what you're starting with will inform what you do next.

Gable recommends planting fruits and vegetables that you love to eat.

“For a starting gardener, depending on what your family is most interested in, I always recommend the standards: tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers, carrots, radishes, Swiss chard, eggplants. Those are fun and easy," she said.

If you have kids, Gable recommends including some plants that have a shorter yield time, so they can see the results faster. “Radishes are a really nice place to start,” she said. “They mature really quickly, and it's a fun way for kids to see the fruits of their labor quickly so then they're invested in the plants that take a little longer, like tomatoes.”

The UC Master Gardener Program trains volunteers to extend research-based gardening information to the public. Gable recommends looking up your local UC Master Gardener Program to get accurate information based on local conditions.

Posted on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at 11:08 AM
Tags: Master Gardener (23), Missy Gable (14)
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Turn food and garden waste into rich fertilizer with worms

UC Master Gardeners in Stanislaus County presented an all-natural, sustainable solution to disposing garden and food waste during a session for the community on worm composting, reported John Holland in the Modesto Bee.

All it takes is an 18-inch deep bin, equipped for drainage, and a supply of red worms. Provide the worms a substrate that contains a mix of high carbon materials - like shredded paper, dry leaves or sawdust - and kitchen scraps - such as fruit and vegetable cores and peels, leftover grains and coffee grounds. A few months later, the worms will have transformed the contents into a rich organic fertilizer ready to be applied to garden plants.

"It's a great fertilizer," said UC Master Gardener Dennis Lee. "It's very inexpensive for you to produce. You can do it indoors. There's very little odor - actually, no odor.

A red wiggler worm moves through substrate during composting process. (Photo: Holger Casselmann, Wikimedia Commons)

Learn more:

Orange County UC Master Gardeners created a video series on worm composting 

Vermicomposting - Composting with Worms, from San Joaquin County Master Gardeners 

Posted on Monday, January 6, 2020 at 9:44 AM

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