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The Latest Dirt - May 2023
  • 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.