Spring 2021 - Volume 2, Issue 2

Hello Gardeners,

"It is difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts
while eating a homegrown tomato"
Lewis Grizzard

It is time to begin looking ahead and planning for the future! UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa worked diligently to make this possible: Yes! We will be holding our popular Great Tomato Plant Sale.

Spring is the season of birth & renewal and the earth is responding to its call. Isn't it exciting to see so many flowers and trees coming into bloom? We dedicate our spring issue to pollinator gardening with wonderful articles about butterflies, bees, and CA native plants. The article on Self-watering containers is a great idea for gardening in smaller spaces with some additional tips on water conservation. Last but not the least, our 2021 educational program of upcoming talks and classes will certainly help you spring right into action!

Hedwig Van Den Broeck, Editor
Great News! The 2021 Great Tomato and Plant Sale
It is with great pleasure and pride
that the UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa announce
 the Tenth Annual Great Tomato Plant Sale.
by Liz Rottger and Mary Jo Corby

The online order form will be available April 6th at 8:00 am and we will start to fill your orders on April 7th. This sale will continue while inventory lasts. We are particularly thrilled that during these challenging times we are once again able to offer our fellow residents of Contra Costa a wide variety of tomato, eggplant, pepper, and other summer vegetable plants and herbs for their home gardens. This year’s sale is a demonstration of our commitment to a brighter future for all of us with the promise this summer of a wonderful harvest of home-grown vegetables. There is nothing like biting into a sun-ripened, backyard cherry tomato to make us feel that all is well with the world.

As in past years, we are offering curated collections of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and many other summer veggies and herbs, selected by Master Gardeners because they thrive in our climate. Since the Covid social distancing guidelines are still in force for our county, this year’s sale will be different than in previous years.

There will be no in-person sale. All purchases will be made online.

Our website has detailed description lists of the more than 100 varieties of summer vegetables we are offering this year. Shoppers can start to peruse our extensive collection and make their selections. On April 6th, we will release an online order form on our website that shoppers can easily fill out and return through the checkout process. All plants will cost $4.00 each and payment will be CASH OR CHECK ONLY. Checks made out to UC Regents are preferred. Master Gardeners will fill each order and when it’s ready, the shoppers will be contacted via a phone call to let them know that their orders are ready for pick-up. Pick-ups will only be at Our Garden, the UC Master Gardener demonstration garden, located at the corner of N. Wiget and Shadelands Dr in Walnut Creek. Shoppers will pay when they pick up their plants. Due to space constraints, we can only hold an order for 48 hours once a shopper has been called. Although we will have close to 20,000 plants for sale this year, shoppers should plan to get their orders in early to be sure they get the particular varieties they want. We look forward to filling your personal orders very soon!
Pollinator Gardening for Butterflies
by Kate Verhoef

When we think of butterflies, it is generally the adult (imago) that comes to mind. These “self-propelled flowers” (as described by science fiction author R.H. Heinlein) bring joy and awe to gardeners of all ages, and no wonder! With their vibrant, intricate wing designs, fluttering movements and short lives, they are the epitome of ephemeral beauty. But they are also beneficial insects: when they fly from flower to flower sipping nectar, they transfer pollen granules from one flower to another on their delicate, spindly legs and short, hairy bodies.

When it comes to gardening for butterflies, though, it is important to also remember the other three stages of a butterfly’s life: egg, larva, and pupa (chrysalis). Adult butterflies will only lay their eggs on specific host plants, that is, plants which their larvae (caterpillars) can eat and on which they form their chrysalises. Often invisible to the naked eye, butterfly eggs hatch into voracious larvae which start out tiny but quickly grow to the size of a human adults’ pinkie finger. From there, they form a pupa in which they remain until they are ready to emerge as an adult. The adults then mate, lay eggs, and soon afterwards, die. 
Gulf Fritillary / Passion Vine
Western Tiger Swallowtail / mixed
pollinator border
Host plants for five Bay Area butterfly larvae
and best cultural practices that will help you create a habitat for butterflies
Useful resource: Butterfly Nectar Plant List
Pollinator Gardening for Bees
Native California Bees
by Laurinda Ochoa

With the alarming decline in honey bee populations, University of California scientists, agricultural growers and home gardeners are recognizing the important role native bees play in pollinating our vegetables, flowers, fruit and nut trees. Everyone with outdoor space can help to encourage a healthy urban bee population.

These two University of California research projects offer practical advice for gardeners interested in creating habitat for bees: The UC Berkeley Bee Lab and the UC Davis Haägen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. A small urban garden can attract 40–50 different bee species by providing the basic necessities of food, water and shelter, and by planting the proper bee plants that can produce year-round bloom.

California is home to 1,600 bee species, about 40% of all Northern American bee species. UC scientists estimate there are 100 native bee species in the East Bay. These bees vary in size, color, nesting behaviors, food, and flower preferences. Most native bee species are short-lived and seasonal and emerge from their nests only when their preferred flowers are in bloom. These bees rely on these favored flowers for pollen and nectar to survive, carry out pollination, mate and provide food for their young.

What is that buzzing sound?
By Janice Winsby

Imagine yourself strolling in your garden on a beautiful spring day. Slowly, you become aware of a sort of buzzing sound coming from somewhere nearby. It suddenly hits you that it sounds like bees—a whole lot of bees. You step around the side of your garage and see several flying every-which-way around a brown mass hanging above your head in a redwood tree. What is it? Why is that happening? What should you do?

The Western, or European, honeybee (Apis mellifera) was introduced to the United States in 1622 to produce honey and pollinate imported fruit species like almonds, cherries, blueberries, melons, and apples. As avid consumers of fruits that require cross-pollination by bees, we are completely dependent on them for these fruits to form. “The pollination of California’s almond crop, worth over $4 billion to our state’s economy in 2012, is the largest honeybee management event in the world,” according to Gordon W. Frankie’s book, “California Bees & Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists” (Heyday). Since 2006 however, beekeepers around the world have reported the decimation of bees to what has commonly come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Approximately 30% of honeybee colonies are lost each winter to CCD. Its cause—or causes—are still unknown. 

Spring is here!
You may also want to read our spring garden and landscape checklist
Self-Watering Planters
for gardening in small spaces
by David George

When it comes to gardening, any space will do. An apartment or condominium’s patio or entryway is great, as long as you have sufficient sunshine and water. Self-watering planters are great for limited spaces. Container gardening though is a skill to master.

Self-watering planters conserve space and water, are convenient, and can be built by you for less than $10 each. Many how-to videos on the web and YouTube will pop up in search results, and the web offers self-watering kits you can install into your existing planters. Many plastic containers are “food-grade” so they don’t leak chemicals, but check to make sure.

Spring into Action - Inspect Your Irrigation System
by Lori Palmquist

As spring marches steadily toward us, it’s just about time to fire up the ol’ pipes and tubes. Here in the Bay Area, as you know, we generally have a “six months on, six months off” irrigation cycle. We turn it off in November and back on in April, depending on when the rain arrives, if it arrives, and how much we get.
The rainy season this year has been lackluster, to say the least. We’re quite a bit under our historical average for this time of year. So whether you’ve turned off your irrigation system or not, you’re due for a seasonal maintenance regime that will:
     Prevent water waste
     Extend the useful life of your irrigation system
     Save your plants
     Ultimately save you money in repairs and high water bills
The UC Master Gardener volunteers of Contra Costa County are actively involved in bringing you educational programming.
  • scheduled talks and webinars,
  • recorded talks and webinars,
  • Growing Gardeners classes,
  • and, all UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa information

visit our website often, subscribe to our Youtube Channel & to this Newsletter, and follow us on social media.
Greg Letts
New Classes for 2021!

Join us this spring as we kick off an expanded schedule of our popular “Vegetable Gardening for Beginners” and “Jardineros en el Huertocourses. Start planning now to reserve a spot:

  • Vegetable Gardening for Beginners. March 27,April 3,10,17 FULL
  • Jardineros en el Huerto. May 1,8,15,22
  • Vegetable Gardening for Beginners. June 8,12,19,26 
Announcing Our New Spanish Language Beginning Gardeners Training and Web Page!
The Spanish Growing Gardeners – Jardineros en el Huerto has completed its pilot of the virtual (Zoom) Growing Gardeners training called “Cultivo de verduras para principiantes.” The training was a huge success, and we’re excited to offer it to Spanish-speaking households again in May. Visit our Jardineros web page for more information and updates.
¡Estamos anunciando nuestro nuevo entrenamiento de Jardineros en el Huerto y sitio web!
Jardineros en el Huerto ha completado un curso piloto por Zoom llamado “Cultivo de verduras para principiantes.” El entrenamiento fue un gran éxito, y estamos felices de ofrecerlo nuevamente a la comunidad hispana de nuestro condado en el mes de mayo. Visite nuestro sitio web Jardineros para más información y actualizaciones. 

Feel free to email us at [email protected] with any questions.
Are you one of the almost 2,000 individuals who has viewed one of our educational speaker programs in 2021? If not, we have you covered; they are all available for on demand viewing from the comfort of your home. In 2021, we continue to offer monthly webinars (3rd Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.) and post a recording of each program on our YouTube channel (@CoCoMGUC) within a few weeks after the live program. 

Here is a list of our 2021 programs. January and February programs are up on YouTube. We hope to see you during the live program for one or all of the upcoming talks!
presented by Joie Spinelli and Dennis Shusterman
April 20th. at 6 pm
Family Corner
Spring issue question:
I have scales but I don't measure weight
I'm an insect but I'm not a cockroach
I feed on nectar but I'm not a bee
I'm colorful but I'm not a rainbow
I flutter but I'm not a hummingbird
What am I?
Answer to our winter issue question

Does Potting Soil contain:
  1. a lot of natural soil
  2. half natural soil, half amendments
  3. the correct answer: NO natural soil

Activities for the whole family:
Our Demonstration Gardens
The Help Desk
Got a Gardening Question? Our Help Desk is staffed 50 weeks of the year, 
Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-Noon. 
Currently, we are communicating through email ONLY
Email us at [email protected].
In your email request:
  • Include your name and city (plant advice depends on local conditions!).
  • Describe the problem in detail. Include the name of the plant if known, when the problem began, and cultivation history such as watering, fertilizing, pruning, pesticides, etc.
  • Send photographs, if appropriate.
"When the flower blossoms, the bee will come."
Srikumar Rao

Images used in this newsletter are credited to UCANR.edu, UC Davis, Briana Van Den Broeck, Kate Verhoef, Maxpixel, Lori Palmquist, Sandy Steinman, Greg Letts, Janice Winsby, Terry Lippert, and H. Van Den Broeck
Visit us at our website, subscribe to our Hort CoCo blog, follow us on social media