More time at home, and for many, fewer dollars coming in amid the realities of the pandemic, has set the stage for a surge in home gardening.
And that’s just where the UCCE, University of California Cooperative Extension, specialists come in.
“We are getting more calls and a high percentage of people are interested; there is more interest from people wanting to grow their own food than ever before,” explained Master Gardener Program Coordinator Anne Schellman, of the UCCE in Stanislaus County. “People have been attending our online classes.”
An added benefit of the online learning is having a librarian that recommends different books to go along with the classes, helping enhance the learning experience.
For those interested in getting started, Schellman said the Central Valley is uniquely located so that they can basically garden throughout the year.
“They can visit their local nursery or garden center for seeds and plants,” Schellman added.
Especially good to grow in the fall-winter season are vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, peas, beets, lettuce, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens and turnips.
“Root vegetables should always be planted from seeds,” noted Schellman.
For the true beginners, other vegetables can be purchased from stores and transplanted into home gardens.
“They need to prepare the soil, use some compost and mix it into the ground first,” Schellman said. “Look for an area that gets six to eight hours of sunlight or more, lettuce can take a little less.”
It doesn’t really take much room to plant a small home garden and, along with providing a payoff that you can enjoy at the dinner table, gardening is also a good, physical activity that offers the chance for some exercise.
The Master Gardener program through UCCE turns 40 years old this year, Schellman said, and is active in most counties around California. In Stanislaus County, the program started in 2018 but it has been in existence for several years in areas including San Joaquin and Merced counties and in cities ranging from Sonora to Fresno. There are trained master gardeners available to help those with questions or the novice looking for guidance.
“We have 55 master gardener volunteers (in Stanislaus County) that were trained for six months, every week they trained for five to six hours,” Schellman explained of the extensive requirements.
The most recent group to go through the training was able to start the year with the sessions in person but, after March, had to regroup and get all the trainees set up on Zoom so they could continue with the weekly meetings online.
Schellman said she was proud to see that all 31 people that started the training in the latest group of master gardeners made it through the additional challenges associated with learning through the pandemic and all graduated the class.
“Once you graduate, you give back to the community, donate your time,” she said.
They have master gardener volunteers in the Riverbank and Oakdale areas, Denair, Salida, Turlock and more.
Last year, as part of ‘giving back’, the UCCE Master Gardner program had representatives at the Oakdale Farmers Market each week and also were at the Modesto Farmers Market in addition to attending a variety of community events.
The UCCE also has a demonstration garden at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center on Cornucopia Way in Modesto and are planning a November groundbreaking for new ‘theme gardens’ on the site which, when able to open to the public, will be a sensory learning experience.
Schellman grew up in Modesto and said she developed an interest in gardening early on, noting that her grandfather would have her help out in the garden, planting some items on her own and assisting with the maintenance.
She went on to attend Cal Poly to study horticulture, after first learning about the field of study at Modesto Junior College, and has a degree in Environmental Horticulture Science.
“This is the perfect job for me,” Schellman admitted of sharing her knowledge and passion for gardening – both for food and fun – with others.
Online classes that focus on a variety of gardening topics are available to anyone interested; the October-November class will be on ‘Water Wise Gardening.’
Despite the hiccups caused by the shutdown of in-person meetings and the loss of several on site opportunities to meet with the public, Schellman said the master gardener program is “still growing” and seeing plenty of interest in those wanting to be involved.
For more information, call the Modesto office at 209-525-6802 or email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Our goal is to help people, using research-based information, to sustainably garden,” Schellman said.
At Stanislaus County’s UCCE, there are a number of options for assistance. They include:
(209) 525-6802; Answered Wednesdays from
9 a.m. to noon or leave a message.
Current videos available on the YouTube channel are: Fall Vegetable Gardening, Spring Vegetable Gardening, Herb Gardening, and Native Pollinators.