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The Latest Dirt

Volume 14, Issue 1 - January 2024

Editor’s Note:

Welcome to the first issue of 2024. I’m looking forward to the new year and all the great projects we’ll cover in The Latest Dirt. It always seems like this time of year is slow, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Garden projects continue. Project Leads are making plans.

And very importantly, we’re in the middle of the New Volunteer Training course. Please join me in welcoming the new trainees. We’ve included their bios and photos below for you to get to know them. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I did.

Dawn Kooyumjian, the Program Coordinator for the Contra Costa County UC Master Gardeners, welcomes the New Volunteer Trainees and urges them to volunteer for various projects. She noted, "You may be surprised about how much you like a new project or what you'll find."

NVT Coordinator Dorothy Abeyta and John Fike take on the challenge of leading our primary educational program for UC Master Gardeners. As John puts it in his article below, “Our colleagues’ historical precedents and experiences over the past decade or more have provided us with critical insight as we engage the newest UC Master Gardener trainees.”

Many of our 2024 Project Leads have also contributed to an article describing their projects for the NVT class. I remember when I was a trainee, and everyone came in to talk to us about their areas. It was a whirlwind. This article will be a handy reference and include contact information.

We’re also highlighting the fantastic December Recognition Potluck Dinner. Muriel Wilson and Virginia Saifer assembled an excellent team of 30 volunteers to create a seamless event. It was incredible seeing CoCoMGs that I usually only text or email. The potluck was delicious, and here’s a special shout-out to Maiytth Coleman for that fantastic cake of the forest floor.

The recognition ceremony also reflected the hard work and dedication of our UC Master Gardeners. We’ve included an article highlighting those hitting milestones, including Terri Takusagawa reaching over 7,500 hours.

We also learn about the additions at Our Garden by Greg Letts, including new sheds. Thank you to Susan Heckly for providing Sara Hoyer’s reply to a community member’s question concerning the late planting of bulbs, something we have also done occasionally. I’m always astounded at the breadth of questions the Help Desk receives and the comprehensive answers our volunteers give.

At the end of this issue, I've also included a few words about our friend and colleague Kathy Gage, who passed away on January 6. Kathy often wrote and edited articles for both TLD and News to Grow By.

But first, Bill Miller, an Executive Leadership Team member, shares his thoughts on the positive effects and benefits of gardening.

Simone Adair, Editor

  • What Good, Gardening?
    What Good, Gardening?

    By Bill Miller

    The above title does not ask: “What’s good gardening? We trained UC Master Gardeners, have a pretty good handle on that, and are at the ready to share knowledge and best practices with those in our community. But rather, and as Yoda might put it, “What Good, Gardening?”

  • Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Class of 2024
    Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Class of 2024

    I am delighted to welcome our soon-to-be Class of 2024! This class brings together people with incredible backgrounds and talents to our program. I can’t wait to see you all certified and jump into volunteering!

  • NVT Co-Leads Dedicated to Building Confidence
    NVT Co-Leads Dedicated to Building Confidence

    By John Fike

    Leading a project like New Volunteer Training has a myriad of aspects associated with it, ranging from challenge to fun. There also is a daunting feature given the complexities of managing both online Zoom and in-person components. However, if we can loosely interpret a famous statement by Isaac Newton, we can see further and, hopefully, succeed because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. That means we have solid templates to help us, developed by former Leads who ironed out wrinkles, found the most expedient ways to develop curricula, and pointed out those pitfalls, black holes, and swamps better left alone. Our colleagues’ historical precedents and experiences over the past decade or more have provided us with critical insight as we engage the newest UC Master Gardener trainees. Because these trainees will hopefully infuse the program with enthusiasm as well as new ideas and perspectives, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that their experience, while rigorous, is engaging, enlightening, and enjoyable. We are committed to providing the appropriate information and preparation so that our new trainees will be outstanding volunteers to the communities within Contra Costa County.

  • Project Leads Welcome New Volunteer Trainees
    Project Leads Welcome New Volunteer Trainees

    In this month's The Latest Dirt, we present the New Volunteer Trainees bios, photos, and a message from NVT Co-Leads John Fike and Dorothy Abeyta. Here, Executive Committee Project Leads extend a warm welcome and describe the many opportunities available to the UC Master Gardener Trainees.

  • Volunteer Recognition Dinner Tops off Amazing Year
    Volunteer Recognition Dinner Tops off Amazing Year

    Article & photos by Simone Adair

    As I looked around the large community room, seeing so many familiar faces was lovely. I hadn’t seen many of the UC Master Gardeners that filled the room since before the Pandemic. I only knew some of them from Zoom calls. It wasn’t long, though, before hugs and handshakes were had by all. Delicious-looking food slowly filled the tables, everything from appetizers to magnificent desserts. There was a warm glow and holiday cheer all around.

  • Major Milestones Honored at Recognition Dinner
    Major Milestones Honored at Recognition Dinner

    By Simone Adair

    One of the highlights of the recent 2023 Volunteer Recognition Dinner was the honoring of UC Master Gardeners, who have volunteered a significant amount of hours with pins and new badges. Our UC Master Gardeners are awarded based on their inputted hours into VMS, starting at 100 hours and going to 7,500 hours.

  • New Additions to Our Garden
    New Additions to Our Garden

    By Greg Letts

    You will see some new additions to Our Garden on your next visit.

    Two large, barn-red sheds have replaced the old sheds at Our Garden, and the fenced area has expanded 10 feet.

    For several years, squirrel nests and gopher tunnels have undermined the foundations of the old sheds. The floorboards were rotting beneath the storage racks.

  • Help Desk Tackles Forgotten Spring Bulbs
    Help Desk Tackles Forgotten Spring Bulbs

    By Sara Hoyer

    Client’s question:

    I purchased some spring bulbs early last fall and then forgot to plant them! I purchased some daffodils and crocus. Is it too late to plant them - once we dry out a little bit, obviously? I purchased these from High Country Gardens, so they are on the drought-tolerant end of the spectrum. If it’s too late to plant, how should I store them? In the garage, freezer, fridge??

  • In Memoriam: Kathy Gage
    In Memoriam: Kathy Gage

    By Simone Adair

    It was with sadness that we learned of our friend and colleague Kathy Gage’s passing on Saturday, January 6, after a long battle with cancer. When I became Editor of The Latest Dirt, Kathy quickly volunteered to help in any capacity needed. She wrote and helped edit many articles for our internal newsletter. Kathy was always available with advice or as a last-minute writer. She always brightened my day with her quick wit and thoughtfulness.

The Latest Dirt

Volume 13, Issue 5 - November 2023

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the November issue of 2023. It is chock full of a wide array of articles and updates. It makes me truly appreciate all I continue learning as a UC Master Gardener. We have so many resources available – attending webinars and garden talks, working in four different CoCoMG gardens, and watching YouTube and Vimeo videos. Thank you to all our contributors and the hard work you put into strengthening our organization.

In this issue, David George returns to interview Bill Miller. Many of you know Bill from Ask A Master Gardener Booths. He’s also a member of the Executive Leadership Team. Bill shares his background, as well as great advice for new members.

It is such a pleasure to introduce our newest member Of the UC Master Gardener Bisso Lane crew. Diana Garcia–Colmenarez is our new Administrative Assistant. Diana is also a San José State University graduate student in the Environmental Studies Department. I had the great privilege of chatting with her, and I write about her below.

In an article by Laura Brainin–Rodriguez, newer UC Master Gardeners who volunteer with Ask A Master Gardener booths share their backgrounds and perspectives. Also, we learn more about the recently held EBMUD Landscape Advisory Committee meeting at the Richmond Library highlighting the Richmond Low Water Demonstration Garden. The interest in the Garden from so many partners is fantastic.

Karen Maggio shares an update on the Family Harvest Demonstration Garden in Pittsburg, CA. The landscape plan, developed by the UC Master Gardener Team, and project priorities recently took shape during several weeks of team meetings. Steve Carter shows his enthusiasm for Growing Gardeners in an article about the four successful beginning gardening courses held this year. And Gail Burt thanks all the CoCoMGs who contributed to the Speakers Bureau’s outstanding year.

Lisa Bramblet writes about all the changes at the Rivertown Demonstration Garden, including a new Bee Hotel. Hospitality Committee Co-Coordinators Muriel Wilson and Virginia Saifer share details on the upcoming 2023 Annual Members Recognition Potluck Dinner. Pam Austin reviews the new Ladibug document camera that you can check out.

First, Laura Brainin-Rodriguez chats with project leads about their contributions, how they sustain their engagement with CoCoMGs, and what is most meaningful for them.

Simone Adair, Editor

  • EBMUD Highlights Richmond Low Water Garden
    EBMUD Highlights Richmond Low Water Garden

    Article and Photos by Simone Adair

    East Bay Municipal Utility District recently held a Landscape Advisory Committee meeting at the Richmond Public Library highlighting the Richmond Low Water Demonstration Garden. Kristin Bowman and Jolene Bertetto, Water Conservation Program Managers, brought together members of the public, as well as UC Master Gardeners, staff of The Gardens at Heather Farm, Contra Costa Water employees, City of Richmond parks staff, local landscape architects, and landscape contractors to discuss demonstration gardens and placemaking principles.

  • The Ties that Bind!
    The Ties that Bind!

    By Laura Brainin–Rodriguez

    I became a member of the Executive Leadership Team in July 2023, after being a Co-Lead for the Ask a Master Gardener Project since 2018. I’m now partly responsible for the whole organization rather than a single project. I get a sense of the breadth and scope of what we do for the residents of Contra Costa County by attending Executive Committee meetings.

    For this article, I received input on what makes UC Master Gardeners so unique from leads of 11 of the 18 projects and those CoCoMGs leading incubation/larval projects. I also contacted the Finance Chairs since what they do serves the entire organization in a way that makes the rest of our work possible.

  • An Interview with Bill Miller
    An Interview with Bill Miller

    by David George

    Bill Miller has been a leader all his life. He inspires other UC Master Gardener volunteers with his caring attitude and soft-spoken approach to whatever roles he attempts in the program. His thoughtfulness and dedication are visibly demonstrated as an essential contributor to the Executive Leadership Team. I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill the other day to learn more about his background, his current interests, and his advice on how to be an effective volunteer and a happy one.

  • New Admin Assistant Joins CoCoMGs
    New Admin Assistant Joins CoCoMGs

    By Simone Adair

    Please join me in welcoming our new Contra Costa County UC Master Gardener Administrative Assistant, Diana Garcia–Colmenarez. Diana is also a San José State University graduate student in the Environmental Studies Department, focusing on Fire Ecology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

  • New CoCoMGs Share Their Love for Gardening
    New CoCoMGs Share Their Love for Gardening

    By Laura Brainin-Rodriguez

    Ask a Master Gardener wrapped up another stellar season, reaching 8127 people in the 2022–2023 fiscal year. The AAMG season runs from April–October, straddling two fiscal years. While we don’t yet have our numbers for calendar 2023, from April–September 2023, we have already reached 6921 contacts before we add our October numbers.

  • The Family Harvest Farm Demonstration Garden Takes Shape
    The Family Harvest Farm Demonstration Garden Takes Shape

    By Karen Maggio

    The John Muir Land Trust staff (operators of the Family Harvest Farm) and apprentices got their first look at the draft plans for the UC Master Gardener–operated demonstration garden in Pittsburg, CA, on August 30th. The UC Master Gardener team presented both a professionally done full plan as well as a first–phase plan.

  • Cheers to the Growing Gardeners for a Successful 2023!
    Cheers to the Growing Gardeners for a Successful 2023!

    By Steve Carter

    The Growing Gardeners Team has recently concluded a successful 5th season of presenting the popular Vegetable Gardening for Beginners course to a host of budding members of our gardening community. This year, we had four courses and registered 224 students! A testament to the popularity of this course, openings for each were often filed within minutes after registration opened.

  • Speakers Bureau Wraps Up Phenomenal 2023
    Speakers Bureau Wraps Up Phenomenal 2023

    By Gail Burt

    A time to reflect and give thanks…

    As we wrap up another season, I want to thank all the UC Master Gardener volunteers who generously contributed their time and knowledge to help the Speakers Bureau deliver on our mission to distribute home horticulture and pest management information.

  • Living in Wildfire Country: Unexpected Dangers in the Firewise Garden
    Living in Wildfire Country: Unexpected Dangers in the Firewise Garden

    Article and photos by Marilyn Saarni, Resilient Regenerative Firescaping Certified (Rescape, 2020)

    Little lessons learned digging in the dirt. I’ve now converted about 75% of my garden to firewise landscaping. Along the way, I’ve been learning (through painful encounters) about unwise plant choices and maintenance details that require PPE (personal protection equipment—that phrase often characterizes the onset of COVID). I’m passing on some of these lessons here, hoping to save others from stabs, infections and frustration. And it saves you some money, too, as you can avoid adding these plants to your garden but then pay big bucks to remove them.

  • Holiday Party
    Holiday Party


    We’re getting ready to honor our efforts and wonderful members
    for all of 2023’s efforts, so mark this date on your calendar!

    DATE: Monday, December 11, 2023
    TIME: 6-9:00 PM
    PLACE: Pleasant Hill Community Center
    320 Civic Drive
    Pleasant Hill, CA94523

  • Ladibug, Ladibug…
    Ladibug, Ladibug…

    By Pam Austin

    You know the song. But in this case the Ladibug can’t fly home. School Gardens Lead Pam Austin has recently acquired the Lumens Ladibug, an extremely versatile document camera. It is also portable and wireless. This document camera can capture real-time 3D objects and display the project onto a screen or monitor. It is available to borrow, and Pam will provide training.

The Latest Dirt

Volume 13, Issue 4 - September 2023

Editor's Note: Welcome to your September edition of The Latest Dirt. While summer may be waning, we are still experiencing beautiful weather. Gardens everywhere in my neighborhood are in full bloom. My fruit trees are providing a bounty of sweetness, and everything is green everywhere. Here in West County, the temperature is moderate. There is still mist in the mornings, and the afternoons are a luxury. With slightly higher temperatures, Central and East Counties have also been enjoying perfect weather.

Soon, Fall and Winter will return, but only after a truckful of weeds will need pulling. I'm being cautious this year to remove any fallen leaves or dead foliage, especially after watching the devastating footage of the fires in Maui. Marilyn Saarni writes an impressive article on the firestorm, tying it back to our California fires and what Firewise practices you can follow around your property.

In this issue, David George delivers another outstanding interview with Terri Takusagawa, the first Triple Platinum volunteer. After reading his interview, you won't be surprised by this, considering the monumental job she's done for the UC Master Gardeners.

Liv Imset describes an inventive pilot program at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cerrito that collects water onsite using a fog collector. Separately, Dawn Kooyumjian, our UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator for Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, will present on the transformation of the Richmond Low Water Demonstration Garden, in partnership with EBMUD, at the Richmond Main Library, Friday, September 29, 1:00 - 2:30 pm (in person) — https://www.ebmud.com/about-us/events/event-details?occurrenceID=4783.

Anne Sutherland recounts this year's Jardineros highlights of the many potting up classes given to Spanish-speaking mothers at various elementary schools and the Monument Crisis Center.

Sheila Weston at the Help Desk shares an interesting query from a client trying to identify a smallish-looking fly with a green cast tormenting his tomato plants. Terri Takusagawa comes through with the identification. And finally, Janet Miller gives us an update on the incredible bounty of Our Garden and shared with our good friends at the Monument Crisis Center.

Simone Adair, Editor

  • The Power of Collaboration: Why Every Project Needs Co-Leads
    The Power of Collaboration: Why Every Project Needs Co-Leads

    By Kirsten Mollo

    As we continue to nurture our programs, fostering growth and beauty in our community, it’s crucial to remember that successful projects often rely on the strength of collaboration. While gardening is often seen as an individual endeavor, there’s immense value in working together towards common goals. One way to harness this potential is through the role of co-leads in our projects.

  • Living in Wildfire Country: Reflections on the Maui Fire
    Living in Wildfire Country: Reflections on the Maui Fire

    By Marilyn Saarni, UC Master Gardener 2018
    Vice Chair West Contra Costa Fire Safe Council

    The August 2023 Maui fire was devastating. As of September 8, 2023, the confirmed death toll is 115, and 66 people are still missing. Among the 55 names released of those who died, 22 were in their 70s, and another 13 were in their 60s, emphasizing the vulnerability of our elders in catastrophic wildfires like Maui’s. Over 2,200 structures were destroyed, 86% identified as homes. While insurers state that insured claims will be ~$3.5 billion, total community losses will likely be $5–6 billion.

  • An Interview with Terri Takusagawa
    An Interview with Terri Takusagawa

    By David George

    When it comes to volunteering hours, no one does it more often these days than Terri Takusagawa. Terri has gone ‘Triple Platinum’ in hours volunteered to the program (7,500+), a level that has never been reached. Yes, many of our longer-tenured UC Master Gardeners have volunteered as many or more hours as Terri through their dedication to the program for many years. But Terri incredibly achieved this distinction in just six years! I had the opportunity to interview her recently about her experiences and learn about her goals for the future.

  • Water, Water: Everywhere and Nowhere, All At Once
    Water, Water: Everywhere and Nowhere, All At Once

    Reporting from Oslo, Norway
    By Liv Imset
    Lately, it seems like water, in one way or another, makes headlines every day. There are reports of either not enough or too much at once. Some recent examples:
    October 2019 to 2022 were three of the driest years on record in CA. In the fall of 2022, both California and Nevada were almost 100% in either moderate or exceptional drought conditions.

  • ¿Qué pasa, Jardineros? (What’s happening, Jardineros?)
    ¿Qué pasa, Jardineros? (What’s happening, Jardineros?)

    By Anne Sutherland

    This year’s highlight has been teaching hands-on potting up classes to Spanish-speaking mothers at local elementary schools. We began these classes last year, and the word is spreading.

    You may recall from last Winter’s The Latest Dirt [1] that I met Marisa Neelon, the Nutrition, Family & Consumer Sciences Advisor for UCCE in CoCoCo. She put me in touch with Santos Lopez (see photo with baby). Santos is the EFNEP* Community Nutrition Educator for UCCE. [2] He teaches nutrition classes to Spanish-speaking mothers of Contra County County students. With the help of school staff, we have continued a program for these mothers to learn to grow their own food. Container gardening makes the most sense since many of the families have little or no garden space.

  • Bug ID: It Takes a Team
    Bug ID: It Takes a Team

    By Sheila Weston

    In July, a client brought specimens of an insect to the Ask A Master Gardener table at Our Garden that he thought were damaging his tomato plants. They looked like flies but were actively moving around in the container. AAMG team members couldn't examine them at the table.

    He said these have been around his plants for the last three years. The plants have grown well and have flowered but failed to set much fruit. He has seen small bugs on the leaves that look like 'fast-moving aphids,' which he thinks are the 'nymphs' of this fly and are causing the lack of fruit.

  • News From Our Garden
    News From Our Garden

    By Janet Miller
    Photos by Greg Letts

    The summer season at Our Garden has been one of our busiest and most productive. The year started out with more challenges than we have ever experienced. The heavy rains and cold temperatures lasted longer than ever; windstorms blew apart our hoop houses, and seedlings sat sadly in sodden beds, refusing to budge.

The Latest Dirt

Volume 13, Issue 3 - July 2023

Editor's Note: Welcome to your July edition of The Latest Dirt. Summer has finally arrived. I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful weather and not overheating, especially our Central and East County UC Master Gardeners. I have truly been enjoying our garden. Well, except for the weeding. Our weeds have benefitted from all the rain we had this year.

One thing is for sure. Project Leads have not been resting this summer. They've submitted great articles, which I hope you'll enjoy. Jon Dwyer updates us on the Annual Reappointment Process and the recent Spring Social at Our Garden. Janet Miller also writes about the transitions at Our Garden. She also describes the new Family Bed to demonstrate what is possible in a small family plot!

Laura Brainin-Rodriguez explains what happens at an Ask A Master Gardener table and why our CoCoMGs should consider joining this fantastic volunteer Project. Karen Maggio shares with us what's happening at our various Community Gardens around the county, including the Gehringer Pollinator Garden in Concord. Kate Verhoef, in her last article for The Latest Dirt before her departure, describes how School Gardens impact our communities and the many projects volunteers have completed at schools around our county.

Susan Heckly shares two interesting Help Desk questions posed by local gardeners and expertly answered by Stephanie Hargrave on problems with succulents and unhappy Bee's Bliss. Kathy Gage describes the South County Gatherings at CoCoMGs various gardens. And Liz Rottger and Liv Imset thank the many UC Master Gardeners who've volunteered their time at the Water Conservation Garden.

But first, David George and I present an interview with departing School Gardens Lead Kate Verhoef. Kate shares many of her upcoming plans, including a 200–mile solo walk in Dorset called "The Hardy Way." I, for one, will miss Kate and her inspiring volunteer spirit. As we say in the Coast Guard, fair winds and following seas, my friend.

Simone Adair, Editor

  • An Interview with Kate Verhoef
    An Interview with Kate Verhoef

    by David George and Simone Adair

    Talented Contra Costa UC Master Gardener Kate Verhoef is leaving our program this summer. She plans to travel to Europe, teach part-time, and visit her family in Canada. As much as we hate to see Kate go, we celebrate her many contributions to our program during her tenure. Simone and I met with Kate to gain her perspective on her volunteer years and what our program can achieve going forward. 

  • Volunteer Support Hard At Work
    Volunteer Support Hard At Work

    By Jon Dwyer

    The Volunteer Support project of the Contra Costa County UC Master Gardener’s organization is one of only three of the 15+ projects that are 100% “inward facing,” which means that all of the various activities within the project are in support of the UC Master Gardeners and do not deal with the general public.

  • News From Our Garden
    News From Our Garden

    By Janet Miller

    Even though we just passed over the summer solstice, ushering in our warmest season, it feels like Spring has just begun. With the record–breaking rainfall, which we are grateful for, our garden beds were way too soggy to work at the normal time. 

  • What Happens at Ask a Master Gardener Tables?
    What Happens at Ask a Master Gardener Tables?

    By Laura Brainin–Rodriguez

    Ask a Master Gardener tables are staffed at many of our Contra Costa farmers’ markets and single–day events. At these tables, we offer University of California vetted gardening advice: we show people how to use gopher traps; how to use shade cloth; how to employ hardware cloth to exclude rodents; how to deploy nets to protect fruit trees and supply information on trapping earwigs and snails.

  • Community Gardens – Measuring Success
    Community Gardens – Measuring Success

    By Karen Maggio

    Engaging community, demonstrating best practices, encouraging teamwork, teaching and sharing experiences — this is what we do as UC Master Gardeners, in community gardens throughout Contra Costa County. The many successes we share come in different forms and sometimes defy quantitative measurement.

  • School Gardens Impact Our Communities
    School Gardens Impact Our Communities

    By Kate Verhoef

    Now that my time as School Garden Co–Lead is coming to an end, I’ve been thinking about all the different ways that the School Gardens team has impacted youth, parents, educators and school communities over the last couple of years. There have been one–off but helpful visits to check and repair irrigation systems, consult on pruning, or determine what non–human animal is chomping leaves.


  • Problems with Succulents
    Problems with Succulents

    By Stephanie Hargrave

    Client’s question:
    I live in Walnut Creek and recently had my front and backyard landscaping done. A couple of the cactus plants seem to be dying. They get full sun and initially twice a week water. Now they are on a weekly watering schedule. Please advise.

  • Water Conservation Garden is Grateful
    Water Conservation Garden is Grateful

    By Liz Rottger and Liv Imset

    The Co–Leads of the Water Conservation Garden, Liv Imset and Liz Rottger, thank all the UC Master Gardeners who have been coming out and kick–starting our second season of this new pilot project. We would like to recognize the West County UC Master Gardeners who have been helping us to convert a dead hillside into a vibrant eco–system: Pam Austin, Titania Buchholdt, Trish Clifford, Linda Garcia, Lorene Holmes–Dees, Brian Kerss, Dan Lent, Lauren Maghren with Baby Benjamin, Rachel Maldonado–Aziminia, Ken and Molly Ong, Val Simonetti, Mary Stewart, Barbara Turunen and Vivien Williamson.

  • Bee's Bliss Unhappy in Pleasant Hill
    Bee's Bliss Unhappy in Pleasant Hill

    By Stephanie Hargrove

    Client’s question: I’m wondering if I should prune back my Salvia Bee’s Bliss, I live in Pleasant Hill. The leaves yellowed after the winter, and I thought it was due to too much moisture from the winter rain. Now it’s dried out, so maybe I didn’t give it enough water this spring? How hard should I prune it back, and can I do it now or wait until fall?

  • Get Real in the Garden — CoCoMG South County Gatherings
    Get Real in the Garden — CoCoMG South County Gatherings

    By Kathy Gage

    Several years back, three South County UC Master Gardeners from Alamo, Danville and San Ramon — Bonnie Dwyer (class of 2013), Bob Archer (class of 2019), and Janette Drew (class of 2016) — came up with the idea of hosting early evening informal and unofficial get–togethers for South County CoCoMGs. We’d gather at members’ houses to view their gardens and enjoy each other’s company, sharing appetizers and drinks. In Bonnie’s words, “We are calling it Get Real in the Garden because anyone willing to host is meant to share their garden just as it is…the real garden, not the cleaned–up garden!”

The Latest Dirt

Volume 13, Issue 2 - May 2023

Editor's Note: Welcome everyone to your May edition of The Latest Dirt. This is such a great time of the year. Spring is well on its way, if not with a few extra downpours. Hopefully, your garden is filled with blooms. We finally got through pulling the weeds in our garden and have filled in empty spots with new plants and herbs and vegetables, including a few tomato plants from this year's big sale in Richmond.

Mary Jo Corby summarizes sales in both central and western parts of the county and highlights both front-of-the-house and behind-the-scenes activities. As a West County resident, we were particularly happy to have the Great Tomato Plant Sale back in Richmond, after a four-year hiatus. Congratulations to the many volunteers who made both these events such an amazing success.

David George interviews the inimitable Emma Connery, who shares many of her memories of the early years with the UC Master Gardeners. Like me, I'm sure that you also remember fondly Emma's instruction during your New Volunteer Training, especially her love for insects. Following David's interview is a heartfelt article about Emma Connery by Liz Rottger.

Lori Palmquist shares her expertise on which irrigation smart controller is best for your garden. As she says in her article, "Smart controllers have revolutionized irrigation, and the water savings are pronounced and undeniable."

Take a moment to read about our new Acting/Interim County Director Sheila J. Barry. She has extensive experience serving also as Santa Clara's County Director, as well as the Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor for the San Francisco Bay Area.

But first Robyn Barker, Executive Leadership Team Member, describes some of the upcoming events on the horizon, such as the Annual Business Meeting and the Get-Together at Our Garden in June. She also bids us a fond farewell from the ELT as she and other ELT members and EC officers near the end of their terms.

Simone Adair, Editor

  • April Showers Bring May Flowers
    April Showers Bring May Flowers

    From the Executive Leadership Team...

    “April showers bring May flowers”

    Ah, the lovely month of May! Even the word sounds sweet on the tongue.

    It’s mid-morning in the growing season. We in Contra Costa County continue to savor the last of the wild California poppy bloom as the hillsides slowly give up their springtime green. The leaves on the trees are turning from a fragile gold to the solid green of summer.

    For gardeners, it’s a month of expectancy. Will my seedlings result in a bountiful harvest? Did I plant the tomatoes deeply enough? Was it too early for the eggplants and peppers? All those flowers in the orchard? Fruit? Or disappointment?


    By Mary Jo Corby

    A huge BRAVO to all the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County!!! The 2023 Great Tomato Plant Sale was very successful indeed!

    At a glance:

    • The 3-day sale idea was a success! Many customers commented that they saw the long line on Saturday and decided they would shop on Sunday or Monday. We had a steady stream of customers on both days. Then, with many plants left at Our Garden, we decided to have a second Saturday sale, which again attracted a steady stream of customers. THANK YOU to all who rallied for the second event!
    • The ADA section was very well received. Those shopping in this area were very grateful not to have to stand in a long line or walk on the ever-so-tricky mulch.
    • Holding a sale in Richmond for the first time since 2019 was a smashing success! It was a beautiful day, and it was so heartwarming to hear from those who shopped the sale just how thrilled they were to have the event back in their area.
    • Plant sales for Central County over all the sale days (CoCoMG pre-sale, 3-day sale, Wednesdays and second Saturday) nearly reached our 2022 total. The Richmond
      sale put us OVER THE TOP with their $19,800 in sales, making 2023 the highest earning GTPS to date!

  • The Good ‘Ole Days of CoCoMG! An Interview with Emma Connery
    The Good ‘Ole Days of CoCoMG! An Interview with Emma Connery

    by David George

    Emma Connery has seen it all. A lot of change and growth has occurred since she joined the UC Master Gardener program in Contra Costa in 1994. I was honored by the opportunity to interview Emma on Earth Day and listen as she compared today’s broad-reaching, community-based program with what it was like in the early years.

    What did you do before the Master Gardener program, Emma?

    “After high school, I went right to work at Pacific Bell, as it was known at the time. The only positions open to women without a college degree were for operators – you know those folks who helped with directory assistance and long-distance calls. I rose through the ranks over 27 years to the position of phone network designer and then as data compiler for the director in charge of rate increases. I retired from the phone company in 1992 and enrolled in college and earned degrees in horticulture (’94), entomology (’98), and integrated pest management (’03).”

    When were you certified as a UC Master Gardener and what role did you play in those early years?

    “I was certified in 1994 and have the second most longevity of all active volunteers still in our program (after Prabhakar Sathe). The program was very small when I joined, maybe less than 50 volunteers. There was just a Help Desk and no other community outreach, so that is where I started. All our funding at that time came from UC and went towards the salary of the Program Coordinator, with no money left for program supplies or equipment. The Help Desk was located in the back room of an elementary school in Pleasant Hill. We had one desk and one phone. The only resource materials were a few newspaper articles and a handful of non-UC books.

  • Light Up the Night
    Light Up the Night

    By Liz Rottger

    First as a UC Master Gardener, then as Association President for two years and finally as UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator for six years, Emma Connery has been a transformative force in CoCoMG, working tirelessly to create new opportunities for UC Master Gardeners to get involved and impact their communities. As she always said, “members expand our mission.”

    She was tremendously instrumental, for example, in the expansion of CoCoMG into West and East County. I remember running with Emma an extension cord some 500 feet from a nursery school, across a playground and street, to the cash registers at a community garden without any electricity so we could have our very first West County Great Tomato Plant Sale in 2014.

  • Smart Controllers for the Win! Choose Which One is Best for You
    Smart Controllers for the Win! Choose Which One is Best for You

    By Lori Palmquist

    Smart irrigation controllers are the intelligent choice for our gardens. They automatically adjust the irrigation schedule daily, based on changes in the weather. They’re like a thermostat for your landscape. And how great is it that our water providers are paying us to use them?

    Did you know that smart controllers have been around for more than 20 years? And did you know they can potentially lower your water use (and thus your water bill) by at least a third during the irrigation season (generally May through October in the Bay Area)? They’re already required by our landscape ordinance in California (MWELO). This is because they’re a VAST improvement over the scheduling habits most people have with conventional irrigation controllers. They automatically adjust your irrigation based on real-time weather. Many of them even look at the forecast and adjust based on that. And most of them provide remote access and programming. 

    Smart controllers have revolutionized irrigation, and the water savings are pronounced and undeniable. With the advent of WiFi controllers and the resulting saturation of the smart controller market (pun intended), the prices have been driven down by demand and intense competition among controller manufacturers. And with the water districts providing such great rebates, the barrier to using these valuable water savers has vaporized.

  • CoCoMGs Get New Interim County Director
    CoCoMGs Get New Interim County Director

    By Simone Adair

    Please join me in welcoming our new Acting/Interim County Director Sheila J. Barry. She’ll also be standing in for Alameda County. Barry serves as the County Director for Santa Clara County, as well as the Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor for the San Francisco Bay Area.

    According to the UCCE Santa Clara County website, Barry conducts applied research on grassland and oak woodland management. Sheila works with cattle ranchers and public agencies to promote working landscapes that conserve biological diversity and protect water quality.

    She has a Master of Science degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University and Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree in Agricultural Science and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from University of California Davis. Barry is licensed by the State of California as a Certified Rangeland Manager.

  • Help Desk Answers Question About “Wild Greens”
    Help Desk Answers Question About “Wild Greens”

    Client’s Question:

    There is an abundance of these two “wild” greens in my large garden area. I’d love to harvest them if edible, so I would like an ID and any suggestions you may offer. Thanks very much. 

    Susan Heckly’s reply:

    Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk. And thank you for sending good photos of the plants you need identified. 

  • Help Desk Responds to Phase of the Moon Timing
    Help Desk Responds to Phase of the Moon Timing

    Client’s question:

    Thank you for your “ASK US!” service. We will need to begin weed whacking soon, before our house is completely overgrown. Is there an optimal time to cut weeds based on the phase of the moon (or any other factors)?

    Susan Heckly’s response:

    Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk with a question about weeds. The best time to cut weeds is as early as possible. Ideally, weeds should be removed before they get a chance to set seeds. Once seeds are formed, even if they are not ripe yet, they will continue to ripen on the cut plant. If you don’t remove them from the landscape, they will reseed and give you a great weed crop next year—and in subsequent years. There’s an old saying— “one year of seeds gives you seven years of weeds” from seeds that lie dormant in the soil.  

The Latest Dirt

Volume 13, Issue 1 - March 2023

Editor's Note: Welcome everyone to the March edition of The Latest Dirt. If you're like me, you are looking forward to the spring. It has been a cold, wet winter. Our garden clean-ups here at home have been soggy, though we've had some beautiful clear blue skies. We've rushed out on those days to do some weeding, and it seems like all the rain made our weeds stronger than ever.

So it is with great happiness to read this month's articles. Mary Jo Corby and Robin Moore talk about this year's Great Tomato Plant Sale, our first in-person event since 2019. Several other articles focus on pollinators and beneficials, starting with Liz Rottger's article on the pollinator garden at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cerrito.

Robin Mitchell shares a beautiful article on the many benefits of Fuschia plants for our birds and beneficials. Anne Sutherland describes the history of the Jardineros and then talks about the current events and projects. The Help Desk's Terry Lippert describes the effect of pouring alcohol in your yard. Lisa Bramblet gives a first-hand view of dealing with 811 - Call Before You Dig. Kate Verhoef updates us on a School Garden event. And Laura Brainin-Rodriguez describes the 2023 Ask A Master Gardener project, as well as looks for new volunteers.

But first Greg Letts, Executive Leadership Team Member, looks forward to spring, as well as giving us additional information on the upcoming Great Tomato Plant Sale

Simone Adair, Editor

  • Spring is in the Air
    Spring is in the Air

    Article and photos by Greg Letts

    The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicted above average rain this winter and they nailed it. I don’t recall them mentioning anything about local snow, but there it was. But it is now time to move on.

    Spring is on the way. My backyard has drained, the paperwhites and daffodils are in bloom, as is my early peach tree.

    Spring also means GTPS! The Great Tomato Plant Sale, our largest activity and primary fundraiser for our program, is right around the corner. This is my fourth. Each year I am amazed that those trays of little squiggles, pictured here, turn into more than 25,000 plants that overflow the 17 hoop houses and numerous tables upon which they are staged. And then they are all gone! Most of them sold, of course, but many plants are donated to school and community gardens.


  • Great Tomato Plant Sale 2023!
    Great Tomato Plant Sale 2023!

    By Mary Jo Corby and Robin Moore

    Hello UC Master Gardeners,

    We are very excited to be back to in-person sales for both Walnut Creek and Richmond this year! The past two years’ sales have been online-only, and while many of our customers really enjoyed ordering their plants via the online system, we missed seeing the hustle and bustle of the Saturday “opening”, chatting with customers and hearing their lovely comments about the plants and how beautiful they looked. It’s time to get that excitement rolling again!

    We are trying something new in Walnut Creek this year – a consecutive, three-day, in-person sale! We are doing this for a few reasons. First, for customers who worry about gathering in crowds with Covid still lingering, this gives them a way to avoid the Saturday “feeding frenzy.” Second, we always have inventory left. Historically we’ve held the option open of holding a second Saturday sale, but it’s a hard push to put everything back together a week later for a smaller return. Our three-day sale will keep the momentum rolling, both for the customers and for us.

  • If You Plant It, They Will Come
    If You Plant It, They Will Come

    By Liz Rottger

    It was a late afternoon in early April 2022 when I arrived at Pacific Oaks Community Garden to pick up the garden’s key. UC Master Gardeners finally had a formal agreement with the community garden to take over its operations. The garden was a chain-linked fence enclosure of a steep, grass-covered hillside with a very large vacant flat area. A small community garden had struggled for several years to gain a toehold in this space without success. There were two formal, weed-choked raised beds, along with several other areas that had once been cultivated, but were now mostly covered in either wild oat grass or Oxalis. As I walked across the lot, the only sound I heard was that of the late afternoon wind that blows in from the Bay. It was a beautiful setting, but essentially dead.

  • Plant California Fuchsias Now for Hummers, Bees, and Fall Color
    Plant California Fuchsias Now for Hummers, Bees, and Fall Color

    By Robin Mitchell

    There are so many reasons to love California fuchsias! They are drought tolerant, fast-growing, small to mid-size perennials that deer generally find unpalatable. They are easy to grow, and they tolerate garden conditions well. They bloom in late summer and into the fall when most other natives have stopped blooming or gone dormant. Hummingbirds and bees love the profuse red-orange funnel-shaped flowers, and the fuzzy silver or green foliage adds lovely color and texture to your garden.

  • ¡Saludos a los jardineros maestros, especialmente a la clase de 2023!
    ¡Saludos a los jardineros maestros, especialmente a la clase de 2023!

    (Greetings UC Master Gardeners, especially the Class of 2023)

    By Anne Sutherland

    Jardineros (Gardeners) is a small group that wants to help underserved populations grow their food and learn gardening basics.  Most of us speak Spanish but recognize that recently arrived people of Asian and Eastern European extraction may also be underserved.

  • What is the Effect of Pouring Alcohol Into the Yard
    What is the Effect of Pouring Alcohol Into the Yard

    By Terry Lippert

    Client’s question:
    Can you tell me anything about pouring out old alcohol into the yard/garden/dirt?
    We have some cases of wine, champagne, & spirits.

    Terry Lippert’s reply:
    Thank you for contacting our UC Master Gardener Help Desk. You’ve asked about the effect of pouring out old alcoholic beverages (wine, champagne, and spirits) into the yard and garden. We do not recommend disposing of alcohol in this manner. It would likely kill or significantly harm your plants.

    My research located a scientific journal article published by the American Society for Horticultural Science reporting on a study of the effects of growing paperwhite narcissus bulbs with a water/ethanol mixture.

  • Call before you dig?!
    Call before you dig?!

    By Lisa Bramblet

    Yes, that’s right. It's a good idea to find out what you may be digging into before you start. If your garden site has been occupied for 20+ years and there have been various projects conducted on the site (i.e. prior digging/trenching), it's by the grace of God no previous digging has severed a vital service line. The threat of doing so does loom large, especially, when in preparation for trenching, you peel all the mulch off the original crushed gravel paths, and you find a surprise "Electrical Box" right in the middle of the garden going goodness knows where! That's when you call 811.

  • UC Master Gardeners Teach Plant Propagation to Students at John Muir Family Farm
    UC Master Gardeners Teach Plant Propagation to Students at John Muir Family Farm

    By Kate Verhoef

    In December and January 2023, School Gardens collaborated with Community Gardens to give a series of propagation lessons at John Muir Family Harvest Farm. The attendees were 14 middle school students from Antioch Charter Academy (ACA). Also present were their teacher Allen Stahler, two-parent chaperones, and Family Harvest Farm manager Mary Cherry.

    I caught up with UC Master Gardeners Suzanne Miller, Jan Manns, and Kathryn Wilson after their experience at the farm on January 12.

  • Ask a Master Gardener Wants You in 2023!
    Ask a Master Gardener Wants You in 2023!

    By Laura Brainin-Rodriguez

    AAMG kicks off its 2023 season in April. We can’t wait to get out to our 14 Farmers Markets and Our Garden tables, as well as at single-day events, including the Great Tomato Plant Sale where you get to interact with county residents and hear their gardening queries and concerns.

    Our season runs from April-October. Most markets are once a month. Our Garden is every week to reach those attending the weekly garden talks. San Ramon City Center is twice a month, and Shadelands is every other week.

    To make it possible for AAMG volunteers to join our tables we release the next month’s VMS postings on the 15th of the prior month and have a dedicated slot for the 2023 UC Master Gardener graduates. March will be different, since we have our kickoff event, in person, on March 20, 2023. We will send a Collaborative Tools message to the AAMG roster, and you can sign up on VMS.

The Latest Dirt

Volume 12, Issue 7 - December 2022

Editor's Note: All of us here at The Latest Dirt are so excited to welcome the Class of 2023 New Volunteer Trainees. We are so glad to have all of you join us. We look forward to working with you to promote sustainable gardening practices. You will have many opportunities to work in all our various programs. This issue is dedicated to your future as UC Master Gardeners.

Our Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian shares her message of welcome and can't wait for your final presentations in March. She also shares her background, as well as her goals for the Contra Costa Master Gardener Program for the next three to five years.

Our Executive Leadership Team Members also share the various programs they advise, and how excited they are to meet you. They are all available to answer your questions about how to participate in the many hands-on trainings and how to engage with the community.

We hope that your journey with the UC Master Gardener Program will be rewarding and enjoyable. As your fellow UC Master Gardeners, we are eager share our knowledge as you continue to learn and serve our local community. Again, welcome to the Class of 2023!

Special thanks goes out to Liz Rottger who took time and special care to compile all the New Trainee Volunteer Bios. And finally, happy holidays to all of you, and best wishes for the New Year.

Simone Adair, Editor

***Special Note*** If viewing on a mobile device, please use landscape orientation for the best experience.

  • Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Class of 2023
    Program Coordinator Dawn Kooyumjian Welcomes Class of 2023

    by David George

    I was honored with the opportunity to interview Dawn Kooyumjian, the Coordinator of both the Alameda and Contra Costa County’s UC Master Gardener programs for this special Class of 2023 issue. Dawn shared her warm welcome to our new trainees, her fascinating background, and her vision and program goals for the next several years.

    “First of all, I’d like to welcome our new Class of 2023! But congratulations are a bit premature (she laughs). The reading, homework, labs, and final presentations are meant to be both educational and challenging. We will celebrate in March. But I have seen that this class brings fantastic experience and potential to our program, and I can’t wait to see all of you certify. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed the training so far as much as we’ve enjoyed delivering it. You’ve been provided just a taste of the wonderful opportunities to come.”

  • New Volunteer Trainees in the Garden
    New Volunteer Trainees in the Garden

    Our new Master Gardener trainees!

  • When You Meet Them
    When You Meet Them

    Be sure to say hello to our wonderful new group of trainees, the Class of 2023. They have taken the time to introduce themselves to us with, what must be for them, painfully brief bios, but nonetheless packed with information about their lives and their passions. There are 25 new trainees—20 from Central County, 3 from West County and 2 from East County. We enjoyed editing these bios and we think that we speak for all of us when we tell them we look forward to meeting them in person in our projects, Demonstration Gardens, and perhaps at our upcoming holiday party on December 12th. Each year, a new class of volunteer UC Master Gardeners re-invigorates our organization and helps to expand its mission. They are our seed corn with the potential to produce in the future even larger and more diverse harvests in the communities we serve. We also thank Fletcher Oakes for all of his beautiful portraits of the new class. Editors

    Sangita Baxi, (Walnut Creek, 2 years) Growing up, my brothers and I would help my mother in the outdoor garden—weeding, mowing grass and trimming hedges, planting vegetables in a tiny plot, and digging holes for her prized rose bushes. Every spring was the same. We moved every few years and the latter half of my childhood was spent in the Midwest. After I’d been on my own for a bit, I realized I missed working in the garden and set up a container garden on the balcony of my apartment and grew herbs, flowers, tomatoes and eggplants. I was hooked! 

  • Executive Leadership Team Welcomes New Class
    Executive Leadership Team Welcomes New Class

    Welcome to the Class of 2023,

    As an Executive Leadership Team Member I work with two projects and two projects in waiting.

    • Communications: this project serves as the organizational hub for many of our outreach activities: our website, YouTube channel, social media, The Latest Dirt - our internal newsletter and News to Grow By - our public newsletter. If you like taking photographs, writing articles, filming and editing videos, posting to the blog, organizing email lists, coding web pages, sending e-blasts, etc., we have a job for you!
    • Volunteer Support: this project was recently renamed to describe the myriad of activities performed to make your volunteer experience easier and more productive. Volunteer Support hosts our social events, orders badges and pins, publicizes volunteer opportunities through our Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! newsletter, surveys our volunteers skills & interests, manages our volunteer management system (VMS), communicates with our pool of Honorary Master Gardeners, and more. We need people with a multiplicity of skills and interests. Join us!

  • Classroom Training Team
    Classroom Training Team

    Thank you to Class of 2023 Classroom Training Team

The Latest Dirt

Volume 12, Issue 6 - November 2022

Editor's Note: Our trees remind me that we are fully into fall. I'm thoroughly enjoying the changing of the colors of the wide variety of trees here in Contra Costa County. I'm also feeling very grateful for the days of rain we've had. Those were several less days that we needed to water our garden. This time of the year also brings many chores that need to be done. I spent the last few Sundays raking leaves. And it's not over.

And as fall turns to winter, UC Master Gardeners are also busy at work at the wide variety of projects in the County. Laura Brainin-Rodriguez shares with us her Ask A Master Gardener end of year report. AAMG is also seeking new Farmers Market Leads so check out her article to see if there's a good fit. Speakers Bureau Co-Lead Gail Burt shines a light on how popular webinars have been. Anne Sutherland explains what Jardineros have been doing. Soubarna Mishra highlights the many successes of the 2022 School Gardens year.

Karen Maggio, Phil Quinlan and Liz Whiteford report on the new Gehringer Pollinator Garden in North Concord. Lori Palmquist discusses the many ways in which Communications shines a light on the many CoCoMG projects. It's a great article on how we all work together. David George shares his interview of Lisa Bramblet and how Rivertown Demonstration Garden is getting a makeover. Sarah Hoyer answers this month's Help Desk question about peach trees. We also spotlight our Statewide Director Missy Gable who has been awarded this year's Distinguished Early Career Coordinator. Separately, Ann Ramirez thanks the Growing Gardeners Project team for all their hard work.

First, Executive Leadership Team Member Bill Miller celebrates all the volunteers who continue to work at Our Garden and discusses the 2022-2027 Strategic Plan and the upcoming December 12 Social Recognition and Appreciation Event.

Simone Adair, Editor

The Latest Dirt - Nov 2022
  • Hopeful, Happy, Cold, Rainy, and Wet Fall and Winter to You!
    Hopeful, Happy, Cold, Rainy, and Wet Fall and Winter to You!

    …A garden is the way that the land says, “I love you.”
    Braiding Sweetgrass—Robin Wall Kimmerer

    That’s not the normal salutation, but it is the wishful thinking found deep in our bones. Our plants and trees so need a deep watering, as do our souls. As light fades and nighttime arrives earlier each evening, we can feel the change in the weather and appreciate the rhythm of the seasons. Here’s to falling rain and mounting snowpack in the Sierra.

    By Bill Miller

  • AAMG Wraps Up the 2022 Season and Looks at 2023!
    AAMG Wraps Up the 2022 Season and Looks at 2023!

    The 2022 Ask A Master Gardener Season was outstanding! We straddle two fiscal years, so the numbers below represent our contacts from April-October 2022. This year we reached 10,508 Contra Costa County residents at the AAMG tables in 14 farmers markets, Our Garden, and at eleven single-day events! We want to thank Deb Cuevas, the AAMG Single Day Event Facilitator, who coordinates with community partners and recruits leads for the single day events.

    By Laura Brainin-Rodriguez

  • Speakers Bureau Webinars are Hits!
    Speakers Bureau Webinars are Hits!

    When the Speakers Bureau Speaks, People Listen! Here is what our audience is saying in return…

    “Beginning gardener here; thanks so much for all this amazing information.”

    “Great job all! Amazingly knowledgeable speakers!”

    “This has been an exceptionally informative, practical, and helpful seminar. Much info was covered in a short time period. Thank you so much!”

    “Thank you all for a great, interesting and inspiring presentation!”

    By Gail Burt

  • ¿Qué hacía Jardineros? What are Jardineros up to?
    ¿Qué hacía Jardineros? What are Jardineros up to?

    Many of you know that our UC Master Gardener Program Mission Statement includes reaching underserved populations in our county. To that end, a small group of us was inspired to build on the success of Our Garden, Ask A Master Gardener, Community Gardens, and School Gardens Projects by offering our assistance with their Spanish-speaking clients. Many Spanish speakers in our county are bilingual, but many are not, and to see faces light up when hearing a few words of their native tongue is heartening.


  • School Gardens Swing into Cooler Seasons
    School Gardens Swing into Cooler Seasons

    As the cool autumn breeze blows and the leaves change color, fall activities are in full swing in schools, along with preparations for a successful winter garden. School gardens take center stage at this time, with harvest festivals and educational activities.

    By Soubarna Mishra

  • The Gehringer Pollinator Garden Project
    The Gehringer Pollinator Garden Project

    We’re building a new demonstration pollinator garden at Gehringer Community Garden in North Concord. After receiving approval from the Executive Leadership in September, the UC Master Gardener team (Phil Quinlan, Karen Goodwin, Liz Whiteford, Anna Wendorf and Allison Thomas) hit the dry, weedy, ground running. 

    By Karen Maggio, Phil Quinlan and Liz Whiteford

  • Who’s Shining the Light?
    Who’s Shining the Light?

    There’s a hidden treasure in Contra Costa County. No, it’s not buried deep in a cave in the hills or in the lair of a fire-breathing dragon. It’s spread out over the whole 716 square miles of this county. It’s hidden in plain sight, sparkling here individually or glowing there collectively, depending on where and when you turn your gaze.

    By Lori Palmquist

  • Rivertown Demo Garden Gets a Makeover
    Rivertown Demo Garden Gets a Makeover

    I caught up with busy Lisa Bramblet the other day to talk about all of the exciting changes that are happening or are about to happen at the Rivertown Demonstration Garden. Lisa is a co-lead this year, along with Ken Studer and Mark Thomason, for our East County demonstration garden, formerly known as “Mangini.” I asked about her history with the UC Master Gardener program, the current work reinvigorating the planting beds, and her suggested vision to turn Rivertown into a first-rate public demonstration garden.

    By David George

  • Master Gardener Spotlights
    Master Gardener Spotlights

    Our Master Gardeners hard at work!

  • Peach Tree Starts Flowering in October
    Peach Tree Starts Flowering in October

    Client’s question
    I have a peach tree I planted two years ago. Last spring it had many blossoms until there was a cold snap. Then only one blossom managed to make a fruit. I was just looking at the tree and noticed it has a dozen or so blooms (in October!). Should I remove these, as they are very unlikely to make fruit?

    By Sarah Hoyer

  • Statewide Director Missy Gable Wins Prestigious Award
    Statewide Director Missy Gable Wins Prestigious Award

    The UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County congratulates Missy Gable, our Statewide Director of the UC Master Gardener Program, part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, on receiving the 2022 Extension Master Gardener National Coordinator Award for Distinguished Early Career.

    By Simone Adair

  • Growing Gardeners Project Has Stellar Year
    Growing Gardeners Project Has Stellar Year

    In September we completed our third and final “Vegetable Gardening for Beginners” course for 2022. We had three courses in 2022 and registered a total of 116 students. 45% of the students attended all four classes to earn a certificate. Registration representation by location: Central 49%, South 30%, West 10%, and East 11%. We are now in the planning stage for the 2023 courses. 

    By Ann Ramirez

  • Walnut Creek EcoFest Hosts CoCoMG Booth
    Walnut Creek EcoFest Hosts CoCoMG Booth

    The EcoFest in Civic Park was the opening event for Walnut Creek’s Sustainability Week (10/21–28/22). The Fest was fairly well attended by families and ‘aging hippies’ (or so Keith opined). Various vendors represented the theme of sustainability through their products (e.g., electric bikes) or purpose (Recycle Smart, Regional Parks, Farmers Markets, Save Mt. Diablo, and the like). Of course, the UC Master Gardeners were there—Keith Silva, Bill Miller (in a jester’s hat, no less!) and I, Kathy Gage.

    By Kathy Gage

The Latest Dirt

Volume 12, Issue 5 - September 2022

Editor's Note: While the summer is winding down, the heat has been on the rise around the County, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in many places. That hasn't stopped our UC Master Gardeners from accomplishing their Project goals. Kathy Gage writes about the new AAMG booth at Dougherty Station in San Ramon. Karen Maggio explains how a garden is so much more than plants. Ann Ramirez and Ann Howard give an overview of the Growing Gardeners Project. We have two Help Desk submissions this month, one on mango health and another on aphids taking over milkweed plants.

Our Garden, Rivertown Demonstration Garden and the new Water Conservation Garden in El Cerrito all give updates. Kate Verhoef recently participated in a teacher exploration seminar at Jack London Elementary in Antioch where teachers were encouraged to think like their students. Robyn Barker clears up questions about qualifying hours. David George profiles ELT member Greg Letts. Our Garden members come together to wish a happy 90th birthday to P.K. Sathe.

First, Executive Leadership Team Member Robyn Barker celebrates the visible and invisible members of our UC Master Gardener Team.

Simone Adair, Editor

***An important note — Some email programs have clipped the bottom part of the newsletter. If this happens, click the three small dots at the bottom of the newsletter. This should bring up the rest of the articles.

The Latest Dirt - Sept 2022
  • CoCoMg Team Works Together Toward Success
    CoCoMg Team Works Together Toward Success

    Ah, the bounty of late summer! At the time of this writing, the beds at Our Garden are bursting with produce: tomatoes of all shapes and colors, cucumbers, eggplants, and those irrepressible zucchinis that somehow either manage to hide until they are yule log size or else spring to that size overnight. And the flowers! Bright yellows, neon reds, and brilliant whites—unbelievably tall sunflowers with faces full of seeds, fluffy tennis ball sized zinnias and feathery cosmos. Walking in Our Garden does not fail to bring happiness and faith in the future.

  • Ask A Master Gardener Farmers Market  — Dougherty Station, San Ramon
    Ask A Master Gardener Farmers Market — Dougherty Station, San Ramon

    Blue sky, warm temps (but not TOO warm), no wind: a perfect day for a UC Master Gardener Ask A Master Gardener booth in San Ramon! As you may know, Dougherty Station is a brand new market. It opened in May 2022. 

  • More Than Plants, A Garden Is…
    More Than Plants, A Garden Is…

    A garden is certainly about plants, but it’s so much more. A garden is creativity, beauty, sanctuary, community and unique. Having had the pleasure of touring our many community gardens and urban farms this past year, one thing stands out. Gardens are personal, an individual expression of one’s self and, sometimes, a community collaboration.

  • Growing Gardeners Look to Add Volunteers
    Growing Gardeners Look to Add Volunteers

    The Growing Gardeners project was first adapted for CoCoMG in 2018 by Darlene DeRose based on a UCCE-Los Angeles County program. Monika Witte assumed the lead role just in time for the Pandemic to change everything. Monika successfully adapted the program for the Zoom platform and later added an in-person day at Our Garden. In 2022, before stepping down, Monika developed a team model with Hosts, Co-Leads and Coordinators to manage the various aspects of the program.

  • Mango Plants Are in Need of Help
    Mango Plants Are in Need of Help

    Dear UC Master Gardener,

    My mango plant seems to have stopped growing. I have several of these plants which I have sprouted from a seed. Does it require fertilizer to continue to grow? The plants are several months old. Thanks.

    Terry Lippert’s response:

    Thank you for contacting our UC Master Gardener Program’s Help Desk with your question about growing mangoes from seed. I chose your question to answer because I have always considered mangoes to be a tropical fruit and I didn’t think it could grow outside a greenhouse in Contra Costa County. I thought that the occasional winter freezing temperatures we have most years would doom the trees. So, I wondered why you would be trying to grow mango trees from seeds.

  • Update From Our Garden
    Update From Our Garden

    The summer has been good to us at Our Garden. Heat waves have been short followed by reasonably mild temperatures—a relief to the garden and the gardeners. Our twice-weekly harvests have yielded over 11,000 pounds of produce for our friends at the Monument Crisis Center, and we’re not done yet. We still have much more to come, including winter squash, sweet potatoes and cabbages – all of which tilt the scale mightily.

  • What’s New at Rivertown?
    What’s New at Rivertown?

    Rivertown Demonstration Garden has been planning and re-grouping, and planning some more, as the garden has been reoccupied over the last year, following little to no activity during the pandemic. In the midst of making plans for a mini orchard along our back fence line and a potential patio garden demonstration adjacent to our amazing Garden Shed, we determined that not only was there something hampering plant growth in the main garden beds, but that we also were not altogether feeling that the current garden configuration was much of a ‘Demonstration.’

  • “Make a Dent in the Universe!”
    “Make a Dent in the Universe!”

    I had just finished tying down the last zip-tie on the new Water Conservation Garden sign—designed by UC Master Gardener/Designer, Fletcher Oakes (2019)—anchoring it tightly to the garden’s fence, when a car stopped behind me and a young woman jumped out. She was excited and wanted to know all about what we were doing and then asked how she could get involved. She isn’t the first person this summer that has been curious about our work at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cerrito.

  • Rewarding Fun at an Antioch Elementary School Garden
    Rewarding Fun at an Antioch Elementary School Garden

    I recently had the pleasure of participating in a teacher exploration seminar at Jack London Elementary in Antioch. We gathered in a classroom and divided the teachers into three groups. Each group was given a brown paper bag full of items to remove, examine and share.

  • Milkweed Is Overrun with Aphids
    Milkweed Is Overrun with Aphids

    Client’s question: I'm growing milkweed in hopes of creating a habitat for monarch butterflies. Every day every plant is infested with oleander aphids. I pick them off but I'm wondering if there's anything else I can do that would not require such careful attention. Thanks so much for your help.

    CoCoMG Emma Connery’s reply: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program’s Help Desk regarding aphids on your milkweed. Thank you for helping to save Monarchs by providing habitat.

    Yep, those aphids sure do love milkweed! I am sure you are finding picking off aphids pretty tedious. This is a bit of a dilemma—manage one insect on a plant while causing no harm to the other.

  • Qualifying Hours Explained
    Qualifying Hours Explained

    While working on reappointment this year, we discovered that the subject of qualifying hours was a source of confusion for a lot of UC Master Gardener volunteers. This article is intended to serve as a resource on this subject. If you don’t want to read it now, you may want to bookmark its location so that you can return in the future if you have questions.

    What hours are required?

    Our hours requirements are governed by the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program’s Administrative Handbook for Program Staff, dated June 1, 2011 (accessed August 26, 2022).

  • Interview with Greg Letts
    Interview with Greg Letts

    Greg Letts and I had a chance to sit down the other day beneath the oak tree lording over the entrance to Our Garden in Walnut Creek. We talked about his experiences so far in the UC Master Gardener program and his role on the Executive Leadership Team. Greg is a graduate of the class of 2019 and has been instrumental in several important efforts already.

    What was your career prior to being certified as a UC Master Gardener, Greg, and why did you apply for the program?

    “I had a 25-year career in the outdoor products industry, selling outdoor gear and clothing to distributors and retailers. Before that I was in the office products industry. I chose to retire in 2019 and had already applied to be a UC Master Gardener program volunteer.

  • Using Recycled Water—What You Should Know
    Using Recycled Water—What You Should Know

    From our sibling UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda County.

    The Latest Dirt has covered many aspects of living with drought as an ongoing condition of global warming. We are pleased to share with you an article by Jim Farr, a UC Master Gardener in Alameda County. Farr writes about the positive and negative aspects of using recycled water to replace from-the-tap water for our gardens. In particular, he highlights the negative impact of recycled water’s higher salt content on our landscapes. Writing in clear language, Farr helps readers understand the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ increased salinity can harm the health of our landscapes.

    Read Farr’s cautionary tale about using recycled water to help our environment.

  • UC Master Gardeners Wish a Happy 90th Birthday to PK Sathe
    UC Master Gardeners Wish a Happy 90th Birthday to PK Sathe

    Ninety years old and still going strong!! They say that gardeners live longer, healthier lives than non-gardeners and UC Master Gardener Prabhakar S. Sathe (known as PK to one and all) is an inspiring example of that idea. PK is a much beloved and valuable member of the Our Garden team and is responsible for getting most of our veggies seeded and growing throughout the year.

    However, his experience as a Master Gardener didn't start with us. PK moved to the US from his native India in 1978 after working in the Indian Diplomatic Service for over 25 years.

The Latest Dirt

Volume 12, Issue 4 - July 2022

Editor's Note: Summer has found its way to Contra Costa County, and our UC Master Gardeners volunteers have been hard at work. In this issue, Soubarna Mishra describes the summer happenings with School Gardens and the needs for the upcoming school year. Jon Dwyer describes some of the functions of Membership while also highlighting its new name: Volunteer Support. Susan Heckly also shares a recent Help Desk query about cockroaches in the garden.
Karen Maggio talks about some of the 14 different Community Gardens and Urban Farms where CoCoMGs volunteer. Val Simonetti describes the sunflowers that reside in her 97-year-old mom's garden, and the joy they bring her. Speakers Bureau welcomes aboard Gail Burt, the new Co-Lead for Webinar Programming. She describes some of the great opportunities available. Bill Miller describes how much fun and hard work volunteers are having at the Ask A Master Gardener booths around the county.
Marilyn Saarni writes a new entry in her Wildfire series. This time she describes the perils of fireworks and some of the tasks that you could undertake. David George shares his interview with Bob Archer who talks about ways to control gophers. Terri Takusagawa lists the goals of the Continuing Education (CE) Team and describes the successful CE training webinars so far in 2022.
First, Executive Leadership Team Member Hedwig Van Den Broek celebrates the many successes of this year's projects, and she thanks the outgoing Executive Leadership Team and Project Leads.
Simone Adair, Editor
July 2022
  • Celebrate endings—for they precede new beginnings – Jonathan Lockwood Huie
    Celebrate endings—for they precede new beginnings – Jonathan Lockwood Huie

    During our June business meeting, followed by a fantastic social gathering at Our Garden, we celebrated the end of a stellar year with remarkable achievements by so many of our hard-working UC Master Gardener volunteers of Contra Costa County.

  • School Garden Readiness for the New School Year
    School Garden Readiness for the New School Year

    While some schools have well-established systems in place to manage their gardens during school breaks, others struggle to keep their plants alive and weeds at bay. The children, teachers and parents who take on the responsibility of supporting school gardens during summer learn valuable lessons on gardening, especially on watering and pest deterrence.

  • Membership Project is Renamed Volunteer Support
    Membership Project is Renamed Volunteer Support

    We're changing the name of the Membership project to Volunteer Support. This recognizes the many functions of this CoCoMG project. Volunteer Support directly affects every CoCoMG.

  • An Infestation of Cockroaches in the Garden
    An Infestation of Cockroaches in the Garden

    Client’s question: We have an infestation of cockroaches in our garden. It started 3 or 4 years ago. We would see them on our neighbor’s sidewalk. Starting this year, they are making our garden their home. This is the worst we have seen in our garden. They hide between the crevices of the retaining wall blocks of the veggie garden.

  • Understanding Community
    Understanding Community

    The Contra Costa Community Garden team serves 14 very different community gardens and urban farms throughout the county. On any given day, UC Master Gardener volunteers are found in small private residential or treatment program gardens, larger public facing community gardens, or out in east county urban farms.

  • Sunflowers for Mom
    Sunflowers for Mom

    My mom says: "Optimism is hard work." In April I planted little plants that I thought would do well in her scorched-earth Inland Empire summer garden bed, which is only about 25 square feet. I'm happy to say that I've provided her with an ongoing source of interest and even joy.

  • Speakers Bureau's New Co-Lead Jumps Right In
    Speakers Bureau's New Co-Lead Jumps Right In

    I have so much to learn and contribute. Benjamin Franklin said: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” I decided to follow this sage advice and jump right in.

  • Ask A Master Gardener Summer News
    Ask A Master Gardener Summer News

    What Are People Asking Us? Apparently, this is the year of the earwig! We are inundated with inquiries about what to do about this rather daunting looking creature. Then, of course, there are numerous questions about rats, gophers, moles, mice and men.

  • Living in Wildfire Country: Summertime Fireworks
    Living in Wildfire Country: Summertime Fireworks

    At this time of the year, those of us living in Wildfire Country wake up at night and listen to booming fireworks and mentally check our evacuation preparations (“Go-bag ready? Should I update our property inventory with new video? All cats and dogs are inside and their crates and food by the door—check. Car tank full–check.”)

  • Interview with Mr. Gopher Bob Archer
    Interview with Mr. Gopher Bob Archer

    Even though Bob is relatively new to the program, he is an experienced gardener and successful gopher trapper. He worked with UCCE scientists to approve a new and effective device to remove destructive gophers from gardens. He shared with me both his background and trapping techniques for gophers and other rodents, and even demonstrated the new device and technique in a video.

  • Continuing Education: Science-based, UC-focused, Master Gardener-relevant
    Continuing Education: Science-based, UC-focused, Master Gardener-relevant

    The CE team provides learning opportunities for best practice of horticulturescience to help you carry out our mission. Our emphasis is on science-based education, preferably from UC or other cooperative extension sources, with relevance to UC Master Gardener volunteer roles.