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Dig it, Eat it, Grow it: School gardens support learning and healthier food choices

Different edible parts of plants are on display (roots, stems, flowers, leaves and seeds) for students to have hands-on learning in the garden. (Photo: UC Master Gardener Program Marin County)

The success of a garden is normally identified by plentiful crops of tomatoes and squash or the beautiful display of vibrant thriving flowers, shrubs or trees. However, a school garden's true success is dependent on the rich experiences and education students receive.

Taking the classroom into the garden

School gardens can play a big part in supporting a child's education outside of the traditional classroom environment; offering hands-on learning experiences in a variety of core curricula. Social sciences, language arts, nutrition and math are just a few of the many subjects that can be easily integrated into the school garden curriculum.

When paired with nutrition education, school gardens can transform food attitudes and habits.

“Gardens containing fruits and vegetables can change attitudes about particular foods; there is a direct link between growing and eating more fruits and vegetables,” said Missy Gable, statewide director for the UC Master Gardener Program. “Programs statewide connect people to local community gardens, or provide school administrators and staff the information needed to get started with their own school, community or home garden.” 

UC Master Gardener volunteers in Marin County connect gardening topics to science and nutrition in portable field trips for their award-winning project, "Dig it, Eat it, Grow it." (Photo: UC Master Gardener Program Marin County)

“Dig it, Grow it, Eat it”

The UC Master Gardener Program of Marin County hosts an award-winning school gardening program that emphasizes engaging students with the many learning opportunities in nature. The program is a portable field trip for school-age youth called “Dig it, Grow it, Eat it.”

“Dig it, Grow it, Eat it” starts with University-trained UC Master Gardener volunteers training school educators. Once trained, educators use the curriculum to teach students how to grow edible plants from seed to harvest. UC Master Gardener volunteers help deliver the curriculum and provide additional resources. Students learn how plants grow, and receive nutrition lessons to give them a better understanding of the human body's need for healthy food.

Students learn about healthy soil and the benefits of composting from a UC Master Gardener volunteer during a "Dig it, Eat it, Grow it" school field trip. (Photo: UC Master Gardener Program Marin County)

The half-day workshop rotates groups of students through six stations providing them with garden enhanced nutrition education, linking health with growing and harvesting foods they like to eat and are good for them. These include:

  • Edible Plant Parts
  • How Plants Grow
  • Plant Seed Science
  • Propagation
  • Soil Science

The “Dig it, Grow it, Eat it” curriculum is centered on the theme “We love the earth because we care for it. We care for the earth because we love it.” For many children, getting their hands dirty in the garden and discovering the science of growing their own food brings a sense of joy and pride they can carry with them for years to come. 

Connect with us

The UC Master Gardener Program extends to the public free UC research-based information about home horticulture and pest management. In exchange for the training and materials received from the University of California, UC Master Gardeners perform volunteer services in a myriad of venues. If you are interested in becoming a certified UC Master Gardener contact your local UC Cooperative Extension office or visit mg.ucanr.edu

 

Posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 11:43 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Newly minted UC fire scientist Kate Wilkin moves into fire country

Kate Wilkin inspects a ponderosa pine on her property with an old fire scar, undeniable evidence that fire has swept through her neighborhood in the past.

Fire scientist Kate Wilkin was on the job just a few weeks when ferocious winds whipped up the Northern California firestorm of 2017. The national media focused on Napa and Sonoma counties, where the deadly Tubbs fire became the most destructive wildfire in California history, while devastating fires also broke out in Butte, Nevada, Yuba and other counties.

It was crunch time for Wilkin, who stepped in as the new forestry, fire science and natural resources advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Sutter, Yuba, Nevada and Butte counties that fall. Four lives and 200 homes were lost in her new work community. Wilkin will now host workshops to help families and businesses recover from the firestorm and rebuild in a way that is more resilient to fire. Fire resiliency will start at her own home.

The Wilkin-Johnston home is at the top of a rise dotted with cedars, ponderosa pines and black oaks. The dying plants in the foreground are Himalayan blackberry bushes that were treated with glyphosate (RoundUp) to remove them. The invasive weed forms a continuous understory that climbs into tree canopies and can carry fire with it. Wilkin removed one blackberry stem from a cedar tree that was more than 30 feet long.

From the Bay Area to the small town of Grass Valley

Wilkin and her husband Josiah Johnston moved into their first home, a ranch-style rambler atop a hill in Grass Valley, on Sept. 15, three days before Wilkin reported to work in the Sutter-Yuba County UC Cooperative Extension office in Yuba City.

The couple moved from a small apartment in Berkeley, where Wilkin was conducting research as a post-doc in the lab of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher and UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott Stephens. The move from a hyper-urban Bay Area city to a small hamlet in the hills wasn't too much of shock to their systems. Johnston was raised on a farm with chickens and goats. Wilkin grew up in the rural Appalachia community of Abingdon, Va. After completing her bachelor's degree at the College of William and Mary, an internship with the Nature Conservancy in Kissimmee, Fla., introduced Wilkin to fire science.

“In the Disney Wilderness Preserve, the landscape would burn then flood every year,” Wilkin said. “I became fascinated with how these disturbances catalyzed diversity.”

What better place to continue a fire education than California?

Wilkin enrolled at CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, earning a master's degree in biology. She spent the next three years in Yosemite National Park, working with a team of scientists to understand the impacts of packhorse grazing in mountain meadows.

“We found that the current policies led to meadow degradation,” Wilkin said. Yosemite then changed its policy to reduce the amount of horse grazing on these tender, sensitive mountain resources.

Kate Wilkin and her husband Josiah Johnston in front of their Grass Valley home.

In 2011, Wilkin started work on her doctorate at UC Berkeley, where she studied the relationship between fire, forest diversity and water. Wilkin signed up for the pilot Graduate Students in Extension program at Berkeley, launched in 2014 to train and recruit graduate students for careers in research and outreach.

“The … internship gave me an amazing set of professional skills that I could practice, including media relations, public speaking to different audiences, and conference organizing and facilitating,” Wilkin told Science Magazine for an article about the innovative program. “Many of my colleagues and I see environmental problems and want to do applied research because we want to help find solutions.”

The railing and both sides of the siding on the deck were covered in wooden lattice by the previous homeowners. Wilkin and Johnston found a squirrel cache between the layers of lattice, with acorns, pinecones, needles and other dry plant debris. “It was the perfect place to start a fire,” Wilkin said.

Beginning at home

With full knowledge of the dangers of living in fire-prone areas, Wilkin and Johnston purchased a home close to the outdoor amenities they adore – hiking, backpacking and skiing.

“Tahoe is just an hour away,” Wilkin said. “I love the view from the house and the wooded setting. But we live in an area CalFire has designated as very high fire danger.”

As a fire scientist, Wilkin was well equipped to make changes to the home and landscape to minimize the risk.

“We moved in during peak fire season,” Wilkin said. “We didn't hang artwork. My priority was to make the home and deck more fire resistant. We put in one-eighth-inch mesh over the vents, caulked around doors and windows, blew leaves off the roof and deck, removed lattice wrapping the deck and cleaned the gutters. Then we created defensible space starting close to the house and working our way outward."

The couple labored about 200 hours and spent about $800 in the first six weeks buying and renting tools, including a chipper, saw and a truck to haul away tinder-dry lattice, foliage and pine needles. With the most critical fireproofing completed, the couple is now tallying the work that should be done to further enhance the fire safety of their home.

“We probably need another $6,000 to $7,000 of work,” Wilkin said.

To reduce large, hot embers from drifting into the basement and starting a fire in the home, Wilkin and Johnston installed one-eighth-inch mesh over the vents. Before next fire season, they will upgrade to vents that close during fires.

When the North Winds blow

Wilkin recalled the terrifying time about a month after moving into their new home when howling winds whipped around the house and fires were breaking out across Northern California.

“The North Winds are haunting,” she said. “I hadn't felt wind like that since I lived in Florida and experienced hurricanes.”

Wilkin and Johnston were fortunate. The closest fire to their home was the McCourtney Fire, which burned 76 acres in Grass Valley. The wildfire stayed two miles away.

A thick hedge of camellias borders the side of the home. Although ideally homes should have a five-foot zone immediately surrounding the house clear of burnable objects and plants, she didn’t have the heart to pull them all out when they were full of flower buds, but removed them after they bloomed.
 
Complex features on the roof – such as skylights, solar panels and a valley that can capture debris – require frequent maintenance to keep the roof fire safe. Johnston tacked down loose flashing on the roof and blew leaves off the roof and out of the gutters.
 
The previous homeowners installed a shrub-lined wood fence that went under the deck and attached to the house. “It was a perfect way for a fire to wick into the house,” Wilkin said. The couple removed the shrubs and fence slats and plan to remove the posts as well.
Posted on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 8:40 AM
Tags: Kate Wilkin (1), wildfire (30)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

UCCE works with CDFA to help Hmong farmers conserve water and reduce emissions

California farmers Fong Tchieng and Vang C. Thao have a lot in common. They both have farming operations in the Central Valley. They both belong to the state's vibrant – and growing – Hmong farming community. And most importantly, they have both partnered with state agencies to save water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Funded through California's Cap-and-Trade Program and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, or SWEEP, has helped both these growers conserve water and reduce emissions by installing water and energy saving technologies.

Both Mr. Tchieng and Mr. Thao have used SWEEP dollars to invest in technologies like energy efficient pumps, drip irrigation systems and flow meters. According to the growers, these investments have helped them save water and reduce energy costs.

“This is a big upgrade compared to what we had,” said Kong Thao, who helps his father run their 34-acre farm in Fresno, Calif. “With the water system that we have now, we're finally at a point where we can relax a little and be able to do this for many years to come.”

Like other growers, California Hmong farmers have also struggled with the prolonged effects of the State's historic drought. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), 52 separate operations said the drought had affected their farm.  The survey also found that 22 percent of growers said their wells had dried up, and 51 percent reported a decreased water flow.

But unlike larger growers, many Hmong farmers do not always have the resources or necessary information to get help. To help bridge this gap, CDFA has partnered with UCCE to assist farmers in the SWEEP application process.

“California's Hmong community plays an integral role in this state's agricultural bounty,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “We need to continue working with our partners to make sure that SWEEP dollars are available for all those who qualify, regardless of their size or resources.”

UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (right) demonstrates how to evaluate soil moisture with a soil sampler. In the center is UCCE Hmong ag assistant Michael Yang.

Since its inception in 2014, SWEEP has extended funding to 587 projects, totaling more than $62 million.  To learn more about SWEEP, please visit: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/oefi/sweep/.  You can also click here to see more videos on additional SWEEP awardees.

The article and video are from the CDFA Planting Seeds Bloghttps://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=14436.

Posted on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 8:03 AM

San Joaquin County gardeners boost business with UC Cooperative Extension Green Gardener qualification

For a healthier family and environment, San Joaquin County homeowners can select a UC-qualified Green Gardener to take care of their lawns and landscapes.

Green Gardeners are landscape professionals who are trained and tested on up-to-date, environmentally friendly, science-based landscape practices.

“We're improving the knowledge and skill sets of workers who manage an enormous amount of urban acreage,” said Karrie Reid, the UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor in San Joaquin County. “We're helping them understand that they have the power to effect change in water conservation, quality of storm water runoff, and the amount of pesticides that are in the environment.”

UCCE advisor Karrie Reid (center) with Green Gardener training participants in San Joaquin County.

To become qualified as a Green Gardener, participants attend classes eight weeknight evenings and two Saturday mornings. The first module addresses the importance of healthy soil for healthy landscapes. UC Cooperative Extension scientists provide training on soil building, pest control and green waste management. The second module focuses on mastering efficient irrigation and conducting an irrigation audit. The final sessions focus on plants in the California landscape, including turfgrass, trees and shrubs.

Because the Green Gardener program is partially funded by a dumping fee paid by residents to the county landfill, green waste management is a key component of the program.

“We have to reduce our green waste,” Reid said. “Our urban soils are in need of organic matter. By building soil with green waste, we are solving two problems that inhibit our urban landscapes' sustainability.”

Beginning with Module 1, the Green Gardener qualification program is being held for the fifth time Jan. 16 to March 12, 2018. The registration deadline is Jan. 12.

On the first day of an earlier session, a landscaper wondered aloud if the $90 fee and, particularly, the time commitment, would be worth it. “Well, I know the answer is that it was worth it,” he said.

Qualified 'Green Gardeners' may use this logo in advertising.
In addition to all the knowledge gained, after passing the class, the participants can place the Green Gardener logo on their advertisements and be added to the online list of qualified UCCE Green Gardeners.

One Green Gardener, Jacob Wilson, wrote to Reid about a visit to a customer's property after a four-week break and found the lawn was significantly greener.

“I asked the customer if she had her sprinklers repaired,” Wilson said. “She said, ‘No, my sister adjusted the water schedule to two or three times during the night with shorter watering duration each time instead of watering once; like you said.'”

As his customer made her way back to the house, Wilson said he was feeling more like a professional.

Home gardeners aren't the only ones who can take advantage of the program. Reid has reached out to landscape professionals working in the county parks department and school districts. There are landscapers who tend apartment complex landscapes, commercial building landscapes, street medians and highway rights-of-way.

“I successfully pitched the program to the Sherriff's Department for their grounds landscape personnel,” Reid said.

For more information, visit the Green Gardener of San Joaquin County website at http://ucanr.edu/sites/GreenGardener.

Green Gardener training participants conduct a sprinkler test.
Posted on Monday, January 8, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Almond and Walnut Pest Management Guidelines revised just in time for the holidays

‘Tis the season for baking lots of tasty treats. Breads, cookies, cakes, and candy are just a few that come to mind. What makes many of these treats so tasty is the addition of almonds or walnuts to the list of ingredients.

In California, we are lucky to be at the center of almond and walnut production. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture's (CDFA's) latest Agricultural Statistics Review, more than 99 percent of the almonds and walnuts produced in the United States are grown in California.

Almond and walnut growers work tirelessly to supply enough nuts to not only satisfy domestic demand, but also for export. Worldwide, almonds rank as the largest specialty crop export. California is the top almond producer in the world, accounting for about 80 percent of all almonds grown. For walnuts, California ranks as the second largest producer in the world. To keep up with this demand, almond and walnut growers must be constantly aware of pests, diseases, and abiotic problems that can affect the tree and growing nuts.

California is the top almond producer in the world, accounting for about 80% of all almonds grown. (Photo: Jack Kelly Clark)

The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) has recently published revised Pest Management Guidelines for almonds and walnuts, helping growers prevent and manage pest problems with the most up-to-date information.

Revisions in the Almond Pest Management Guidelines include:

  • A new section on bacterial spot, a new disease of almond in California found in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin valleys
  • A renamed section on fruit russeting, revised from the old powdery mildew section
  • Significant revisions made to the management section of navel orangeworm, one of the major pests attacking California almonds
  • Improvements on how to do dormant spur sampling section with easier-to-understand information on monitoring and thresholds
Bacterial spot on almond, a new disease of almond in California. (Photo: Brent A. Holtz)

Revisions in the Walnut Pest Management Guidelines include:

  • Updated information on the association between walnut twig beetle and thousand cankers disease
  • New sections for Botryosphaeria and Phomopsis cankers, branch wilt, and paradox canker
  • Significant changes to the walnut husk fly management section
Male (left) and female walnut twig beetles. (Photo: Larry L. Strand)

Both the almond and walnut revised Pest Management Guidelines also include updated information on fungicide efficacy, weed management, and vertebrate management.

Authored by University of California specialists and advisors, the Pest Management Guidelines are UC's official guidelines for monitoring and managing pests in California crops. For more information on pest management in these or other crops, visit the UC IPM website.

Posted on Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 11:03 AM
Tags: almonds (7), pests (3), walnuts (2)

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