IF YOUR FINGERS have been itching to get out in the garden, bring them — and your notebooks — to Our Garden.
For the second year, the Bay Area News Group and the Contra Costa Master Gardeners invite gardeners of all abilities and interests to join us at the Contra Costa Times headquarters in Walnut Creek for seven months of gardening classes.
Our Garden was planted last year and now is a fully established, year-round demonstration garden. Every Friday from April 9 through October, you can come out to see what we're growing, hear a lecture from a knowledgeable gardener and find answers for your gardening questions and problems. And just as important, you can join our community
The project was launched last year as a way to teach others how to garden using environmentally sound, practical gardening techniques. We aren't completely organic, but we try to come as close as we can.
Almost all of the seeds and plants were donated, as were the volunteer hours of Master Gardeners who kept the garden growing in sometimes less-than-ideal conditions. The produce grown in Our Garden — as well as fruit and vegetables readers brought in to donate — were given to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano.
Although we were brimming with enthusiasm and expertise, Our Garden was slow to produce because initially most of what we grew was consumed by a nearby colony of ground squirrels that
never met a plant they didn't like — and chomp to the ground.
Donated fencing and an inexpensive battery-operated electrical barrier saved Our Garden and by summer's end, we'd donated almost 500 pounds of produce.
We've continued growing over the winter, harvesting bumper crops of beets, cabbage, kale, turnips, peas, broccoli and cauliflower. We also planted some beds in cover crops of fava beans, rye, vetch and wheat to improve the nitrogen in our soil.
Now, with warmer weather here at last, we're ready to transition into our spring and summer gardens. We've got big plans and we hope you'll be part of them.
Here are the particulars: Our Garden is adjacent to the visitor's entrance parking lot at the Contra Costa Times building, 2640 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek. Classes are 10-11 a.m. Fridays, with a few exceptions. There is no fee for the classes or other services. The Contra Costa Master Gardeners, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Service, will be on hand to answer your gardening questions 10 a.m.-noon Fridays. In addition to questions, you also can bring in sick plants for diagnosis and bugs for identification. The classes are taught outdoors alongside the garden, so wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and in the hotter months bring a hat or umbrella for shade. We have shade, but it can still get warm. When your home garden gets going, you can bring extra produce to donate to the hungry. This year, the bulk of our produce will be given to Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa, which feeds hundreds of needy people in area soup kitchens.
Our Garden schedule April 9: Starting your garden (includes a demonstration of double digging), Janet Miller, Master Gardener and head gardener for Our Garden April 16: Vegetable starts and starting seeds, Janet Miller and Helen Erickson, master gardeners April 23: Composting, Linda Mizes, CCCSWA Home Compost Instructor April 30: Good bug, bad bug, Emma Connery, Master Gardener program coordinator May 7: Testing your soil, Steve Andrews, soils biologist, UC Berkeley May 14: Xeriscape landscaping, Gary Gragg, Golden Gate Palms and host of HGTV's "Superscapes." May 21: Summer care of roses, Joesene Adams, American Rose Society May 28: Memorial Day weekend, no class June 4, Gardening and your mental health, Craig Chalquist, Master Gardener June 11: Gophers, Kathy Echols, Diablo Valley College horticulture instructor June 18: Growing lavender, Kathy Southern, master gardener June 25: Plant propagation, Helen Erickson, Master Gardener July 2: Independence Day holiday, no class July 9: Birds and bees -- boxes and holes, Brian Murphy, Mt. Diablo Audubon Society July 16: Composting, Linda Mizes, CCCSWA Home Compost Instructor July 23: Container gardening, Shawna Andersonn, Orchard Nursery July 30: Gardening with wildlife, Gary Bogue, Bay Area News Group columnist Aug. 6: TBA Aug. 13: Starting your winter garden, Janet Miller, Master Gardener Aug. 20: TBA Aug. 27: Landscaping with native plants, Jeanine Holmlund, Master Gardener Sept. 3: Labor Day weekend, no class Sept. 10: Tomato tasting. Bring your favorites and taste some of ours. Sept. 17: UC Davis All-Star plants, Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture, UC Davis Arboretum Sept. 24: TBA Oct. 1: TBA Oct. 8: TBA Oct. 15: Pruning deciduous plants, Carla Preisler, Master Gardener Oct. 22: Winterize your garden, John Gingrich Oct. 29: Come celebrate the end of the season.
This list of classes is subject to change, but here's what we've got planned.