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Mulching Police on Patrol!

May 25th, 2011

Fine Mulch

Coarse Mulch

To mulch or not to mulch?  That is the question!  Mulching is great for your garden and believe it or not, it’s actually required by law.  Don’t worry – if you do not mulch you will not be taken to “non-mulchers” jail or even fined, but mulching is an important part of water conservation and is included in the 1990 Water Conservation in Landscaping Act (AB325). This act was designed to encourage backyard gardeners to abide by seven basic principles of water conservation, one of which is mulching.

Mulch is defined as any material applied to the surface of the soil to improve the texture. Mulching reduces water evaporation from soil by 50 percent, thus reducing the need to frequently water. It also protects soil from erosion, suppresses weeds by 2/3 by blocking them from sunlight and inhibiting their ability to grow, and also serves as a soil conditioner. Earthworms, which aerate the soil and leave castings (worm poop) that act as a high-quality fertilizer, are also very much attracted to mulch.

Mulching also reduces crusting and soil compaction (that’s when the soil dries out and cracks). It does this by lowering the soil temperature by almost 10 degrees. In the winter it can have the opposite effect by contributing to warming of the soil, protecting it from those frosty winter evenings.

Mulch is usually applied to vegetable gardens once the soil has warmed up; around spring time or a little later. The coarser the material the deeper the mulch should go. The California Master Gardener’s Handbook suggests the mulch depth should be around 1-3 inches for finer materials, such as sawdust and grass clippings, and for coarser materials, like bark or straw or even shredded plant matter, use 3-6 inches. But be careful not to put mulch too close to the stem of plants or the trunks of trees as it may retain too much water and have damaging effects on the plant, like crown rot.

Thank you Shirley Porter, Nevada County Master Gardener, for providing us with this information from The Curious Gardener newsletter published by Nevada and Placer County UC Cooperative Extension.  Their website is filled with great information, classes and events.  Check it out here!

Example of Mulching Several Inches From Tree Trunk


An Introduction to Our Guest Writer Jennifer Baumbach, Solano County Master Gardener

March 31st, 2011

About me

I have the pleasure of working for the Solano County Master Gardeners: a fun-loving, happy group of people with different backgrounds who love what they do and do it well. We have doctors, teachers, microbiologists, a clown, and even people who had never gardened before. If they have a desire to learn and share their knowledge, we love to have them in our program.

Jennifer Baumbach, Solano County Master Gardener Program Coordinator

A native of Dixon, I come from a family of botanists and farmers, but did not realize my interest in gardening until I went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I fell into horticulture by accident; a Biological Sciences major with plans for being a dentist, I took Gardening 101 as an elective and learned that I had a flare for the subject.

After graduating, I returned to Dixon and while working at the Department of Fish and Game in Sacramento I heard about recruitment for the Master Gardener Program. Previous to that moment I had never heard of the UC Cooperative Extension or the Master Gardeners. I wanted to volunteer my knowledge to the people of Solano County, so I took a training course and became a Master Gardener in 1998. In 1999 I got the job as Program Coordinator and have been working in Solano County ever since. I also received my Master’s Degree in Environmental Horticulture in 2009 from UC Davis. As a program coordinator I help administer day-to-day operations, and also am a resource to other Master Gardeners and to the public.

In particular, I have an affinity for plant and insect identification, specifically weed identification. My own home garden is a bit of a wreck as there is no plan; I plant what I like. I am an ornamental plant lover but am trying to branch out by trying my hand at apples. I also want to build raised beds to grow peppers and tomatoes. I am also particularly interested in salvias, especially the Salvia melissodora (grape-scented sage.)


Website Wednesday: Edible Yardworks

September 1st, 2010

Ever walked out to your garden with a big to do list full of great ideas, only to find yourself standing in the same spot ten minutes later thinking “Where do I start?” Well we think we may have found an answer to that question. The Edible Yardworks website is a great place to look for a starting point for various gardening projects. And did we mention it is a Northern California specific webpage! This website is an amazing resource for people looking for that starting place.  It has 15 different ‘How-To’ topics for those interested in finding out more about everything from composting to mushroom farming.

The creator of this site, Stacey, also offers private classes on how to grow organic and cook great meals. Even better, her price for a class with more than three students is $15 per person! We think that is so reasonable, so, for those of you in Northern California get some friends together and make a night of it!

Stacey also posts several great video from very reputable sources. Her videos are in the “Case for Edible Yards” tab at the top of the page which has 9 reasons why being sustainable is so important including Biodiversity, Industrial Agriculture, and Climate Change.

Stacey uses a clip from this movie in the Industrial Agriculture section

Corn from our garden: BEFORE and (almost) AFTER

August 13th, 2010

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again!  I love before and after photos from our garden so I thought I’d share some with you too!

To learn more about growing your own corn access this helpful download about corn from the UC Davis Vegetable Research and Information Center.  This and many other helpful links and resources can be found on the California Master Gardener Program website called California Garden Web.

To learn more about the corn varieties we have growing in the garden visit the corn page on our website.

Here is the corn on June 30 about a week or so…cute!  (Can corn be cute?)  It’s hard to believe it will ever amount to much!
Here you can see a couple rows.  Some of the seeds did not germinate.

Here is a photo of that same corn, only this was taken just over two weeks later on July 16.  They grow up so fast don’t they?
Now you can see the corn is filling in despite the few that did not germinate.

This is what they look like almost a month after (August 12, 2010) the photos that were taken just above on July 16.
We have two patches of corn growing in our ‘Malting and Brewing Bed’ just outside of the brand new Brewery, Winery and Food Processing Facility.  Perfect fit, right?
Here is a close-up of the corn blossom!  This is a really interesting variety called ‘martian jewels’ corn.  The kernels are white, but the cob is a rich purple; the flavor is hardier and richer than most typical sweet corns.

Tomato Staking 101

July 22nd, 2010

At the UC Davis Good Life Garden we stake our tomato plants rather than using cages to provide support.  Either way is fine, but we do get a lot of questions about how to go about training your tomato plants using the staking method as it does look pretty neat and it makes harvesting your crops a bit easier.  In order to answer these questions we have put together another “Gardening Along with Arlene” flyer on the topic which you can download here

 For more details, take a look at these demonstration videos.

Help Your Local Farmer’s Market Be America’s Favorite!

July 20th, 2010
It’s summertime and that means two things:  1) There are loads of delicious farm fresh produce available at your local farmer’s market every week; and 2) American Farmland Trust’s America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest has kicked into gear!
The process is simple.  To vote for our market, all you have to do is:
1.)    Go to
2.)    Type in the name of your local farmer’s market or perform a search
3.)    Click “Vote” 
That’s it. That’s all it takes to bring your local farmer’s market one step closer to being America’s favorite farmers market!
Now American Farmland Trust has introduced leader boards where you can keep track of the Top 5 markets receiving votes in your state
Want to support multiple markets in your state? Search by state and you can vote for more of your favorites – just remember, you only have one vote to cast per market! 
According to American Farmland Trust (AFT), the purpose of this contest is to re-connect local consumers to local farms, with the ultimate goal of keeping our nation’s farm and ranch land productive and healthy!  Buying at the farmers market keeps money in the local community and helps farms and ranches remain economically viable. By voting, you’re helping support farms and communities across the nation. As American Farmland Trust says, “No Farms No Food™!”

So don’t forget to vote for your local farmer’s market at and spread the word!  Big thanks to everyone who has already voted!


Amaranth Overview

July 16th, 2010

Amaranth is a beautiful plant! Take a look at the spectacular blossoms from the amaranth variety ‘love lies bleeding’ produced during last year’s summer crop.

But growing these hearty show-stoppers in your garden may not be your first choice if your goal is enough production to feed your family, but WAIT! Did you know that these plants produce tasty greens you can sauté just like you would spinach? And, from what I’ve read, the greens don’t cook down as much as spinach either. (If you’ve ever sautéed spinach then you know how unnerving that can be! You never have enough!)

Here are three varieties we are growing this summer at the UC Davis Good Life Garden…

Elephant Head Amaranth

Hopi Red Dye Amaranth

Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth (see photo above with blossoms)

The photo directly above shows how our gardener Arlene is keeping the plants bushy in order for them to produce more greens. Basically she will keep topping the main stalk of the plant. (That white spot in the middle of the photo is the tip of the topped stalk.) This process will slow the plant from sending out the lovely blossoms packed with grain, but at the same time encourages the plant to sprout more of its bushy, tasty leaves.

If you miss sautéeing winter season greens, give amaranth greens a try for the summer and fall!