by David Goldstein
Gardening has always been a popular hobby, and interest in planting and tending plants has surged during the social isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic. As one measure, “the renowned seed company Burpee sold more seed packets this spring than at any time during its 144-year history” and “Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society has seen a five-fold rise in queries for gardening advice on its website during the lockdown,” according to the landing webpage of goodnewsnetwork.org, quoting news first reported by Reuters.
Locally, the Ventura County Master Gardener program, organized through the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Ventura, is also experiencing high demand for gardening advice. The organization has modified its help line so volunteers can continue assisting the public without endangering their own health during the pandemic. The Master Gardener helpline desk has temporarily shut down its phone service but continues to respond to emails. If you need gardening tips, email questions to email@example.com.
Also, you can still bring plant samples to the UC Cooperative Extension office for identification of plant types and analysis of problems. Bring plant samples to 669 County Square Drive, Suite 100, Ventura. There is a bin with instructions outside the main door of the office.
The Master Gardener program is still seeking new recruits, although the next Master Gardener training class is not scheduled until September 2021.
Gardening in Ventura County has the potential to benefit the environment in at least five ways. Planting selection and garden design can help local animal species thrive; planting gardens to slow, spread and sink water reduces runoff to the ocean; planting shade trees and reducing paved areas cools urban areas; plants produce oxygen, consume carbon dioxide,and filter particulates, improving climate and air quality; and food-producing plants can reduce food packaging and pollution associated with transportation.
On the first point, related to the potential for local gardens to benefit local animals, nearly a decade ago, Dr. Reese Halter, who was then on the faculty of California Lutheran University, calculated that bee pollination contributed over $180 million annually to the economy in Ventura County. In workshops titled “Birds, Bees and Butterflies” and “Herbicides and Pesticides Explained,” Dr. Halter taught methods for reducing pesticides without causing infestations as well as the following ways local gardens can help. His advice included limiting lawns; grass offers little food or cover for wildlife. Increase vertical laying, creating plant structure between the ground and the tree canopy. Provide water, but take measures to ensure you do not breed mosquitoes. Replace exotic and invasive plants with native vegetation to provide food and cover. On the final point listed above as a benefit of gardening, growing your own food reduces packaging. Fruit and vegetables often come from supermarkets in plastic packaging, and transport packaging used to move produce from fields to your supermarket shelves includes pallets, shrink wrap and padding. Growing your own food avoids this waste.
Of course, Ventura County’s productive soil and sunny climate sometimes result in an excess of food produced by diligent gardeners. Avoid food waste of this type by giving excess to neighbors and friends. To give away food while social distancing, put a box of your excess produce on your curbside with a sign saying “Free,” or list it for free curbside pickup on Freecycle.com, the Ventura County Free Barter and Trade Facebook group, or the free section of Craigslist. For especially large harvests, contact Food Forward or FOOD Share, which glean for the hungry.
With the onset of winter weather in Ventura County, many local gardeners this month, including my wife and me, are planting seeds in raised beds, preparing to grow lettuce, peppers and tomatoes. Others grow celery, chard, spinach, eggplant, radishes, kale, broccoli, beets, cauliflower and cabbage at this time of year. In parts of the county with harsher weather, some start these seeds indoors.
David Goldstein is an Environmental Analyst with Ventura County Public Works and can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.