Category Archives: Instructional Activities

Planning and Planting Your Winter Garden

This is the layout for the Hamilton High School fall/winter 2013 school garden. What’s yours?

Bed 1 – Fava Beans
We will follow this with corn in the spring.

fava beans

Fava beans

Bed 2 – Lettuce
We will broadcast lettuce seeds creating a lettuce “patch” rather than conventional rows.

lettuce patch

Lettuce patch

Bed 3 – Beets, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Red Sorrel
Red Sorrel is a perennial. We will plant at the southern end of the bed.

red sorrel

Red sorrel

Bed 4 – Potatoes, Dandelion greens, Garlic, Shallots.
Garlic and shallots will take the longest. We will plant those at the northern end of the bed.



Bed 5 – Broccoli, Kale, Cauliflower, Choy Sum (red stem), Cabbage, Radishes, Arugula
All the Brassicas are grouped together. Makes crop rotation a breeze.



Bed 6 – Peas, Carrots, Celeriac, Cilantro, Parsley
Other than peas all are in the same family, again facilitating crop rotation. Celeriac is a close relative of celery.

pea seedling

Pea germination

Herb Bed – Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary, Tarragon, Horse Radish, Ginger, Fennel, Cumin.
Other than fennel and cumin all perennials.



Harvesting Swiss chard and Kale

Beans are done; corn is done. Squash plants all have powdery mildew and it appears to be spreading to the cucumbers and tomatoes. Welcome to the dog days of summer.

Usually during this time we not only harvest the remains of our summer crop but we also look forward to the fall and the new season of cool-weather crops. I am perusing seed catalogs as we speak.

Two plants that you must consider this fall are Swiss chard and Kale.

swiss chard and kale

Both are highly nutritious and extremely high yielding. You will get more yearly produce from one square foot of swiss chard than you will from any other vegetable. Period.

Lacinato Kale aka Tuscan Cabbage, Cavolo Nero, Dinosaur Kale or Black Tuscan Palm, is an heirloom that can grow to 5-6 ft tall under ideal conditions. Like Swiss chard it is a biennial, which means it goes to seed every two years.

Kale leaves can reach 18” long so giving the plant plenty of room is key.

We planted both of these in the early fall and both are still producing weekly harvests, even through the dog days of summer.

Zucchini Pollination – Pop Quiz

The following are squash flowers from a zucchini plant. One is male, the other is female. Can you identify which is which? I’ll give you a hint…when the male pollen fertilizes the female ovary zucchini seeds are created and the ovary swells to carry the seed.

Here’s a thought, wouldn’t it be great if “the birds and the bees” were taught where the birds and the bees actually congregate? What do you think?


Female Squash Flower


How To Transplant a Tomato Seedling

Tomatoes plants are almost always transplanted into our garden from seedlings. Whether you grow the seedlings yourself or buy them from a nursery it is best to remove the lower branches and bury the stem up to the uppermost leaves.

tomato seedling

Original tomato seedling

tomato seedling 2

Tomato seedling with lower stems removed

Tomato Seedling Transplanted

Tomato seedling transplanted up to lower leaves.

The reason we do this is because the hairs along the lower stem will develop into roots. They will enable the tomato plant to take in more water and nutrition from the soil.

tomato hairs

Tomato “hairs”

Seed Saving in a School Garden

It is late winter and many of the crops from our September planting are either finished (cauliflower, broccoli, peas, beets, and carrots) or bolting (cilantro, lettuce, arugula). Now is the time to pick out which plants we want to save for seed. Choose plants that are healthy, vigorous and with characteristics worth saving. The red Lollo Rosso lettuce below is being chosen for its deep red leaves. We have placed a stake next to with a large circled “S” on it. This is to remind us that we are saving this plant for seed and not to harvest it.

Saving lettuce seed

Our arugula was fantastic this year, the lobed leaves were very mild compared to the more bitter arrow-like leaves even late into the season so we are letting the entire patch go to seed.

arugula patch

“Maintaining the genetic diversity within a population is the key to its continued evolution and the ability of the plants to adapt to varying environmental conditions. To avoid detrimentally decreasing the genetic diversity being maintained within a population of plants, seeds should be saved from the greatest possible number of plants that meet the selection criteria.” – Suzanne Ashworth, “Seed to Seed”

oakleaf lettuce

Green Oakleaf Lettuce being saved for seed

Mushrooms in your Vegetable School Garden


During mild, wet, winter months it is not uncommon to see mushrooms growing among your vegetables. With mushrooms invariably come questions: what is it and what do we do about it.

First, DO NOT EAT THEM, mushrooms may be lethally poisonous, especially with young children and older adults.

A recent case of mushroom poisoning occurred in California when a care-giver at a nursing home picked some poisonous mushrooms and served them in a gravy. Four individuals died.

Mushrooms are a fungus and classified in the kingdom of Fungi, which is different from the other kingdoms such as Animalia, Bacteria and Plantae.

They show up in plant beds often when there is woody mulch present.


In nature, Fungi are part of the great recycling that occurs in forests and other woody areas. When trees and plants die in the forest, mushrooms assist in their decompositon.

To rid your beds of mushrooms do not just remove the mushroom but also the surrounding soil. This way they will have less chance of growing back.

You may dispose of poisonous mushrooms in your compost pile. They are actually very helpful in breaking down organic matter.

For more info see, Mushrooms in the Garden Beds from the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.

mushroom gills

mushroom gills

Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program 2013

The Common Ground Garden Program of the University of California Cooperative Extension Los Angeles will be offering the MASTER GARDENER VOLUNTEER TRAINING PROGRAM, 13 Saturdays, March 2 – May 25, 2013, 9am-4pm, plus additional required continuing education opportunities to be announced.

Important Dates:
January 4: Last day to request application survey link
January 15: Last day to submit completed online application survey

· Any resident of Los Angeles County with an email address and computer access. Most communication will be by email and websites.
· Anyone who wants to help teach low-income and limited-resource people how to grow more nutritious vegetables and fruits.
· We especially invite residents of inner-city neighborhoods and bilingual gardeners.

You must be on either or both of our resource elists:
1) Community Gardening and Food Security, 2) School Gardening.
· If you’re not on either elist, email Yvonne Savio, by January 4, 2013 and indicate which elist(s) you want to be on (you can be on both).
· If you’re already on either or both elists, email Yvonne Savio, by January 4, 2013 to request the online application link.
· Complete and submit the online application by January 15, 2013. No application will be considered before then.

· Accept 50 applicants. Main criteria for acceptance (if you meet these criteria, please apply; if you don’t meet these criteria, please gain more experience and apply in the future):
1) prior community service utilizing gardening,
2) know gardening basics,
3) passion for helping low-income gardeners,
4) given presentations,
5) work well with people of diverse backgrounds, and
6) initiative in starting and carrying through projects.

· On February 1, 2013, we will email you whether or not you have been accepted into the program. Please don’t contact us earlier.
· If you have been accepted, we will email you a Live Scan form and list of Live Scan locations in L.A. County for required fingerprinting and criminal background check by the U.S. Department of Justice. This must be done for our program specifically, only at these locations, regardless if you’ve done it for another agency. Note differences in prices, hours, and whether an appointment is required.
· If you have been accepted, we will email you instructions to join our MGs-only Yahoogroup. You can use either your existing email address or your new Yahoo email address to receive all of our MG emails and materials. You will receive LOTS of emails!
· On February 15, 2013, we will post onto the MG-only Yahoogroup your first assignments due on March 2, the first day of class.
· Teach you how to garden successfully. Topics and garden activities will cover basic plant science, propagation, fertilization, irrigation, soil, compost, vegetable and herb and fruit gardening, flowering plants and trees, Integrated Pest Management (diseases, weeds, insects, small animals), tools, how to start community and school gardens, and outreach techniques.
· Provide you with Volunteer and Continuing Education opportunities all over Los Angeles County.

WHAT YOU’LL DO if you’re accepted into the Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program
· By February 14, 2013, mail the Live Scan form completed by the Live Scan operator.
· By February 14, 2013, pay course fee online with credit card (you’ll receive the link upon acceptance), or mail check for $200 made payable to “UC REGENTS”.
Low-income residents may apply for a deferred payment plan – see application for details.
· By February 14, 2013, join our MGs-only Yahoogroup and make sure you’re receiving program postings.
· By March 1, 2013, become familiar with our Common Ground public website and our MGs-only Yahoogroup website.
· Attend 13 classes on Saturdays, March 2 through May 25, 2013, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, at a location to be announced. You must attend the first class on March 2. After the first class, you may miss only one class – and only with prior notice. Some meetings will be at various garden sites; we encourage carpooling.
· Give gardening workshops at community gardens, school gardens, seniors’ gardens, housing development & other low-income gardens.
· Answer gardening questions at gardens and fairs, on your phone, or by your email.
· Help with program activities and workshops.
· Post all your Volunteer and Continuing Education hours on our online Statewide MG Volunteer Management System (instructions provided).
· Starting in June 2013, attend monthly MG Continuing Education meetings on the second Saturday of every month at different garden locations.

· University of California publication California Master Gardener Handbook; and discounts on other UC publications.
· Certificate of Completion of Class Instruction – after completing the 13-week training program and passing the take-home, open-book examination.
· Monthly Continuing Education meetings with speakers and activities on in-depth gardening topics.
· Frequent emails of Volunteer and Continuing Education opportunities and other program information.
· Annual recertification as an active MG after you post online at least 50 Volunteer hours by June 30, 2014. (Future years’ minimum annual requirements are 25 Volunteer and 12 Continuing Education hours.)
· Joy and satisfaction that you’re helping other gardeners grow more nutritious vegetables and fruits, you’re making new friends, and we’re all working together to beautify our neighborhoods and “Green LA”!

For More Information – Email Valerie Borel at by January 4, 2013.

The University of California prohibits discrimination or harassment of any person in any of its programs or activities (Complete nondiscrimination policy statement can be found at

Direct inquiries regarding the University’s nondiscrimination policies to the Affirmative Action Director, University of California, ANR, 1111 Franklin St., 6th Floor, Oakland, CA 94607, (510) 987-0096.

Note: Yvonne Savio, Program Manager, will be out of the office from 12/15/12 to 1/1/13. Also, UC Cooperative Extension will be at a new address starting in the new year and we are not sure if our computers will be up and running immediately. Therefore, we recommend that you send Yvonne Savio an email by 12/13 to request the application survey link.