Marin IJ Articles
A Typical Day at the Marin Master Gardeners' Desk
|July 11, 2005|
by Sally Lucas
Each weekday between 9-12 p.m. and 1-4 p.m. you can telephone or drop by the University of California Cooperative Extension offices in Novato and be greeted by a trained and enthusiastic Master Gardener hoping to assist you with your garden related questions. The Master Gardener program started in Washington State in 1972 and has spread to 45 states and four Canadian provinces. Here in Marin, our branch comprises over 200 certified volunteers who have completed a 60+ hour training program in plant science and horticulture.
There is in fact no such thing as a “typical” day and that is exactly what I enjoy most about my time spent at the desk. It was for me the most daunting part of my training, but is now my favorite way to contribute volunteer hours. Upon arriving at the desk I work my way through a number of tasks which include:
Ø reading the previous week’s article in the Independent Journal (and learning a thing or two from one of my talented colleagues);
Ø checking for any outstanding queries from the previous day; and
Ø looking for any plant or bug specimens to be examined.
By this time the telephone will be ringing with your calls. We can answer questions and provide information on plant health and gardening practices, including vegetable gardening, trees, soils, lawns, ornamental horticulture, insects, disease, use of pesticides and related topics. The advice we offer is based upon published research, primarily from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources faculty.
We welcome challenging and unusual questions but ask that you be patient with us, sometimes we need to speak to other experts for a second opinion. We will always get back to you even if only to tell you that we have been unable to identify the creature with 9 purple legs, a pink tail and one very large green eye!
If you have a question about a disease or infestation, we may ask you to bring or send in a sample to us to give us the best chance of identifying the problem. Try to provide a sample of both live and diseased plant material—it can sometimes be difficult to say what is wrong with a dead brown leaf other than . . . well, sir, it’s a dead brown leaf! If mailing a sample to us, please send it early in the week so the sample is not lying in the offices over the weekend, and pack in a paper bag within a sealed plastic bag. Upon receiving the plant sample we will aim to identify and report back to you with suggestions for treatment.
These are just a few of the questions we hear at the desk:
Q. I have yellow jackets in my garden, how can I deal with them?
A. There is no doubt that yellow jackets can be a nuisance when we want to be outdoors. For some people who are allergic to wasp stings it can be a traumatic experience if they are stung. If you have a nest that is close to the house, then a pest control company can remove the nest. If the problem is only occasional, then consider the benefits yellow jackets give us by controlling houseflies and pests that damage our trees and crops before trying to eliminate them. More information can be obtained from a leaflet available from the Master Gardener Desk.
Q. I have a 9-month-old baby, how do I know which plants may be poisonous in my garden?
A. When buying new plants for your garden their labels often advise if a plant is poisonous, if you are not sure, ask the Nursery. For established gardens, the Master Gardener Desk can provide you with a list of plants that are poisonous.
Q. I would like to control garden pests without using dangerous pesticides, where do I start?
A. This is a question we are always happy to help with. We encourage gardeners to consider alternatives to pesticides wherever possible. Pest management is concerned with raising healthy strong plants that, with a little help, can tolerate some pest damage yet still provide a good display or harvest. Some general garden practices which can be applied by the home gardener include:
ü soil preparation prior to planting
ü adding a desirable level of organic material
ü addition of appropriate organic fertilizers
ü correct water supply
ü good garden “housekeeping”
ü buying pest resistant varieties
ü rotating crops
ü erecting a physical barrier to protect young plants; and
ü weed control
In addition to the above “routine” questions, we do receive a number of rather interesting and more challenging questions from you. One caller recently asked me when the irrigation system should be turned on to avoid getting the daily newspaper wet. Initially, I may have answered by advising to get the newspaper delivered to a spot where it wouldn’t get wet! However, after asking several appropriate questions the problem was not with the newspaper, but rather about maximizing the efficient use of water, something we should all be concerned about. On another occasion a young pregnant woman had been bitten by a spider and was concerned whether the poison may affect the baby. We were able to identify the (dead) spider and confirm that the spider’s bite was not toxic.
Master Gardeners are here to help you, please make use of us.