Seeds of Elizabeth Way

by Alexandrea Mendoza, University of the Pacific Student

MENDOZA_cropSome of my first memories are of a messy little garden in the side yard of the first home that I ever knew on Elizabeth Way. It was a small garden, probably no bigger than fifteen square feet. There were tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, spices and other greens. My mom and I loved our little garden. I remember holding the seeds in my hands when my mom would let me help plant the next round of plants. I would wake up and run down the hall and push away the blinds on the sliding glass door just to look at the progress that our plants had made. I would also try and help water the plants too, but when you are two feet tall you can only reach so far back. I remember one time picking off a tomato and being told to take a bite out of it and absolutely disliking the taste. It gave my parents a good laugh and to this day I still do not like tomatoes. Our garden was beautiful, green, and full of life, unfortunately it’s been years since I have seen my first home on Elizabeth Way and our messy little garden.

I have always wanted to go back to my mother’s little garden of my childhood and play around in the dirt. There was something special and enticing about placing seeds in the ground and watching them grow; it was like magic. But instead of magic beanstalks, they were just beanstalks. As I got older, the memory of the garden has become faint and I can only remember bits and pieces of it. Since leaving our first home on Elizabeth Way my mom and I have not been able to start another messy little garden. And after moving away from home for the first time, the memory and reality of having another seed in my hand seemed impossible. I am filled to the brim with extra-curriculars and academics. It looked as if it would never happen, until now.

Mendoza with Lexi

Alex and her buddy Lexi show the seedlings they started from seed

My sustainable gardening class has given me the opportunity to go out to the community garden and have a plot to share with someone who I consider family. For the first time in years I got to hold another seed in my hands (broccoli seeds are much smaller than I remember!). For the first time in years I got to stick my hands in the dirt. I felt as if I was home, and as if I was holding the seeds of my childhood. They seemed so small and frail in my hands, and holding them felt different as well. When I think about holding them as a child, to me they were magical. As I held them as an adult, they still had that sense of wonder and awe, but instead I felt more soothed and comforted. I felt such content even though my plot partner and I were frantically trying to plant, water, and label all of our seed cells; we were so spastic that we forgot to put our own names on the label. Planting our seeds may have been stressful, but the most stressful part was trying to figure out what we wanted to plant in our twelve foot square plot. We had a few options to choose from, but even then we still had some difficulty.

Looking through seed catalogs was extremely overwhelming. I never knew that there were so many different varieties of the same plant. When I think of carrots, I just think of big carrots and baby carrots that you buy in packages in the grocery store. I had no idea that there were different varieties called “Dragon,” “Danvers,” “Paris Market,” etc. The amount of different varieties is incredible. Each seed holds a different path and can be something completely different, and sometimes totally new. What was even more incredible was the fact that each type of seed had its own story, its own origin and its own personality. It really put into perspective and reminded me that plants are just as diverse and unique as people.

To me a seed is one of the purest forms of life. When it is untouched, it has the potential of producing a new, beautiful outcome. I am so excited to have the chance to recreate the messy little garden of Elizabeth way with the seeds that have been provided to me. My seeds are in small planting cells right now, but soon they will be beautiful, green and full of life. These will be the seeds of Pacific.

To My Dear Little Bloomsdale Spinach

by Hannah Edwards, University of the Pacific Student

EDWARDSI know you’re young, so you might not understand what I’m about to tell you, but I feel like you should know how I reacted when I held you in my hand for the first time. Holding you was something I’d never done before, and it felt strange to see you resting on my palm. I could barely see you, and I began to worry that you were gone because I dropped you. I was lucky, for I hadn’t dropped you; you were just hidden in the grove of my palm, watching as I panicked and tried to find you.

Unfortunately, now was time for me to let you go, to plant you in the home you would remain in for a few days or weeks. After that, however, I need to transfer you to a bigger home; the first one would not be able to contain you or the sibling I planted with you. Don’t be scared, little one, because you will never be alone in the larger estate. Some of your siblings will be accompanying and staying with you for the remainder of your life. The others, however, are being sent somewhere else, for there are too many of you to inhabit the larger home. You see, when you are little, you live close to your siblings, only an inch apart, but when you begin to sprout, and your roots begin to stretch, you cannot handle the nearness of your siblings and fight each other for space. I’ll interfere before this happens and move you 6-8 inches apart, so I don’t have to see you get hurt.

It’s difficult to truly explain the feelings I felt when I held you. I was excited to plant you, scared to drop you, and I wanted to watch you grow. I know this might seem strange, but I know what is inside of you and I know how you are meant to grow. Inside of you, there is a little bud attached to a stem, and when you are nurtured, they will emerge, and you will begin the cycle of becoming a vegetable. It seems impossible that something so vital to every species on earth comes from something as tiny as you, but you don’t think it’s impossible. For you, it’s natural. Your ancestors were introduced into this world in 1874 by D. Landreth & Sons seed company, the same company that in 1872 developed the first steam-powered tractor for plowing fields. Feeding people is what you were made for, and I know that you will grow for me if I give you the correct amount of attention.

Edwards_direct seed 2

Hannah Edwards direct-seeds peas in her Robb Garden plot.

I need to be honest for a moment. Before I began the process of planting you, I didn’t want anything to do with you. I didn’t understand your importance, and I thought you would be a nuisance I would need to deal with for the next three months, but now that I have spent some time studying you and other seed varieties, I realize that the complexity behind you and your history is truly incredible. You’re not just a seed that I need to care for; you’re a symbol that carries “memories from different eras and social relations.”  You do not simply sprout and grow into something animals eat; you help “represent the taste of…childhood” and “reconnect people and places throughout generations…and across borders” (quotes from Aistara 2014). It’s incredible how influential and powerful you are, and I can now appreciate you for what you are, not for what I imagined you to be.

I’m reaching the end of this letter, and now I must tell you the true reason why I am writing you. You see, while you were my first seed, you will not be my last. There are so many varieties of seeds that I want to grow and experience. You already know about the Slobolt lettuce, since I planted them alongside you, but soon, there will be more. You were the first seed I planted, and that fact will never change, and I will continue to provide you with the correct temperature, moisture, air and light you need to germinate. You will not be forgotten, I promise, but I need you to promise me something. When I plant these seeds, directly into their forever home (for they do not like being transplanted), I need you to breathe and survive, for I do not know what I would do if you left and denied me the sight of you fully grown.


Your Loving Gardener

Work cited: Aistara, Guntra A. “Actually Existing Tomatoes.” Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Antrhopology 69 (2014), Stichting Focaal and Berghahn Books.

Teaching Sustainable Gardening at Pacific

by Patty A. Gray, Garden Program Director

Patty bike profle picAt University of the Pacific, one common experience that all first-year students share is to enroll in a series of courses called The Pacific Seminars, better known on campus as, simply, PACS. These seminars explore the question, “What is a good society?” while developing students’ critical thinking skills about significant personal, social, and political issues by means of extensive writing, reading, and class discussion. These are small-group classes where students get lots of individual attention from instructors and can form a close cohort with their classmates.

In their first semester, all students in all classes are following the same syllabus with a set of common readings. But in the second semester, they are offered a choice of 38 different topics, each one a special interest of the instructor. This spring, I offered one of these PACS choices, and you’d better believe I jumped at the chance to hook some fresh, young souls into the wonders of food growing.

“Sustainable Gardening” is a course that starts from the premise that a good society is one that provides its citizens with pure, nutritious food to eat in a way that does not deplete the earth by its production. An even better society is one in which its citizens possess the knowledge and skills to grow some of their own food, sharing food, knowledge and seeds in the process. Students are encouraged to move beyond being passive consumers of whatever is marketed to them as edible, and to become active, engaged citizens who exercise responsible food selection based on their social awareness of how food is grown, treated, transported and marketed.

One key way I try to activate their awareness is through hands-on work in the Robb Garden. Each student is planting and tending a small garden plot, selecting which varieties they want to grow, starting some plants from seeds, transplanting seedlings into their plots, and learning how to deal with weeds and insect pests that appear. In the end, they will harvest and eat the food they have grown.

Of course, they do plenty of reading and writing in the course. Each student is researching a topic related to sustainable gardening for a research paper that is their main focus in the second half of the course. In the first half, I have had them write three short, descriptive essays: the first describes their experience with seeds; the second is based on an interview with a gardener; and the third asks them to reflect on gardening as a form of civic engagement.

Each essay is peer-reviewed by three classmates, and one of the things I ask students to comment on is whether or not they think their classmate’s essay merits being published on this blog. When there is a consensus around an essay, and if the student agrees, it is put in the hopper for publication.

So this blog is about to be taken over by the voices of Pacific students. I hope you will enjoy reading their work as much as I have.

Giving Thanks for Gardens

by Patty A. Gray, Garden Program Director

Patty bike profle picNature is a gardener. When we leave it alone, Nature produces perfectly sustainable gardens – nothing is brought in, nothing is taken out. Nature’s gardens are not static; they ebb and flow along with patterns in weather and fire and the serendipity of animal visitations. Nor are Nature’s gardens wildernesses – humans have been walking through them since time immemorial, harvesting their bounty, learning from them, imitating them with cultivated gardens.

There was a time hundreds of years ago when humans were pretty good stewards of Nature in this land we now call California, but today humans of that sort seem to be overrun by humans who don’t value Nature, either willfully obliterating it for their own short-term gain or simply being ignorant of how absolutely essential it is to life.

pie pumpkin 1

Photos by Alaya Hubbard

The more I see Nature’s gardens being eaten away by development, the more I want to cultivate imitations of Nature’s gardens in urban and suburban spaces, and encourage others to do the same. The willful short-termers may be lost to this cause, but fortunately I think there is a much larger share of humans who simply have not yet had their connection to nature activated. That’s an opportunity.

So if I give thanks for anything this week, it is for gardens. I am feeling grateful for what they teach us, and how they begin to transform us the minute our fingers touch the green of their myriad plants. This week I am going to walk into the Robb Garden at the University of the Pacific, I am going to pluck out pumpkins and sweet potatoes, and then I’m going to make pies. I wish for you the pleasure of preparing something from a garden this week, and sharing it with someone you care for.


Gardening with Purpose

by Patty A. Gray, Garden Program Director

PattyGrayAs part of the University of the Pacific’s “Leading with Purpose” campaign, Pacific students, staff and faculty have been asked to reflect on the question, “What’s my purpose?” and answer it in a single statement. Exercises like this can easily slip into the superficial, but I like the way Pacific’s promotional video about this caught people in the act of not being able to answer the question right away. There’s an appealing honesty and informality in this that rings true and resonates with my experience since joining Pacific less than a year and a half ago.

All of this inspired me to think about my own purpose as Garden Program Director at Pacific. Here’s how I would put it:

As Garden Program Director, my purpose is to connect people with the green, growing world, to find people (especially students) who would never in a million years think of themselves as gardeners, and help them have an experience in nature that transforms their understanding of where our food comes from, and transforms as well the way they think about their capacity to grow at least some of the food they eat.

All of this purposeful reflection is part of a campaign to demonstrate that Pacific is a worthy beneficiary of the generosity of our donors. The support we receive from donors is hugely significant at Pacific, and this is particularly so for the Pacific Garden Program. The Ted & Chris Robb Garden and the Bon Appétit Native Plant Garden would not exist if were not for the generosity of two donors: Walter Robb and Fedele Bauccio. But I know that not everyone who supports these gardens has the capacity to donate on the scale of these two founding donors.

So I love what Pacific is up to this month: next week, on November 15-16, we will be having a 24-hour marathon called the Day of Giving. It starts at 11:15am on the 15th and ends at 11:16am on the 16th. The focus is not on the size of the gifts, but on the number of people we can involve in giving gifts of any size. If you’ve taken a stroll down that walkway with the Robb Garden on one side and the Native Plant Garden on the other and felt a sense of happiness that comes from being surrounded by nature’s beauty, this is an opportunity to express your appreciation through direct support.

What you’ll be supporting is more than the aesthetic beauty of the gardens – it’s the capacity of the gardens as special natural spaces of experiential learning for students, as well as the whole community. The size of the gift doesn’t matter – we’ll make it go far, just like a single packet of seeds can bring a whole garden bed into bloom. If you’ve got a particular idea of how you’d like your gift to be used, we’d love to hear it – and we’ll make it happen. You can stroll by anytime and see. Come on over!

Gardens, Prisons, Connection, and Community

by Patty A. Gray, Garden Program Director

PattyGrayEarlier this year, I had one of the most remarkable experiences of my life when I followed Amy Boyer, Program Manager with Insight Garden Program, through the gates of the California Health Care Facility (CHCF), a prison located just south of Stockton. Along with two other visitors, I was undergoing a trial visit to see if I might be a good fit as a regular volunteer with the program. Insight Garden Program has a constant need for volunteers; and so if you are looking for a challenging and inspiring volunteering opportunity, this post is for you. Further down I share ways to get involved, including meeting Amy in person at an event on Pacific’s campus next week.

Insight Garden Program (IGP) transforms the lives of people who are incarcerated by creating garden spaces inside prison grounds and then connecting inmates to the plants in ways that help them to see themselves as worthy beings who can thrive if they become deeply rooted and reach for nourishing influences, just as plants do. Founded by Beth Waitkus 15 years ago, IGP now has gardens inside eight prisons in California. At the time of my visit, CHCF was next on their list for establishing a garden.

Our little group was heading for a small chapel deep inside the prison grounds, but first we had to make a progressive transition from ‘outside’ to ‘inside’, passing through a couple of checkpoints and several rattling metal gates, and trekking across the barren grounds of the prison. Amy has done this more times than she can count, and she led us calmly, coaching us along the way about what to expect. I did not see so much as a weed anywhere as we walked, let alone any verdant green landscaping – just tall chain-link fences, guard towers, pavement, and desolate expanses of gravelly, sandy-colored ground.

For Amy, bringing a bit of garden green to such bleak and barren spaces is only a small piece of the transformation. The program is really about building community – and not just among IGP’s participants, although that is of course important. But even more important is for people both inside and outside of the prison to recognize that they are members of the same community. The checkpoints and fences that so severely mark the difference between “inside” and “outside” can make a prison seem like an island; but the community is one whole, and it helps people on the inside to know that those on the outside know about them and care enough to connect. It can make a tremendous difference for them when they finally step outside the prison gates to freedom.

We finally reached the small chapel, situated inside its own fenced enclosure and surrounded by a yard just as barren as the rest of the prison. The people enrolled in Amy’s course were waiting for us outside, and they greeted Amy with genuine warmth – she had already worked through one semester with them and was well into the second. She coaxed everyone to move out into the yard and form a circle, and then she began to lead us through a meditative grounding exercise, starting by asking everyone to imagine they had roots extending deep into the earth, seeking out nutrients and cooling moisture.

As we stood there in the chapel yard, I noticed that there was, in fact, a bit of vegetation there, exactly three types of plants: Bermuda grass, bindweed, and cheeseweed – all prime examples of invasive weeds that were the bane of my existence as a tender of the Robb Garden on the campus of the University of the Pacific. I delighted both at the irony of finding only these tough customers growing on the grounds of a prison, and also at the glorious audacity of green growing things: what we consider an unwelcome weed in the garden is an inspiring example of the capacity of life to find a way in the seemingly most inhospitable of conditions. And in this place, these weeds were welcome harbingers: within a few weeks, a cultivated garden would be carved into this tough, dry ground, and the IGP’s participants could begin to observe not only the life of plants, but plant visitors, such as hummingbirds and magpies.

Eventually we went inside the chapel to sit down for the more formal instruction of Insight Garden Program’s curriculum. The prisoners were more talkative than any group of college students I’ve ever taught, and their comments were thoughtful and articulate. More than once I heard a profound observation that challenged or inspired me to deeper reflection. I came away having gained far more than I gave.


This remarkable classroom dynamic was no fluke: Beth Waitkus explained to me how she worked with educators with neuroscience backgrounds to develop a curriculum that roots learning in practice. She also has grounded the work in appreciative inquiry: providing the opportunity for people to recognize their assets rather then dwell on their deficits. The program encourages them to identify strengths that can be valuable to the community when they return home. Amy says that many people inside have to think about what is really important to them, what really matters, how they can contribute to society – because they have to go before parole boards and convince them they are ready to be released. This work is not trivial, she says, and it can be really illuminating for everybody in the conversation.

Volunteers are an important part of this dynamic. Volunteers offer program participants an opportunity to hear about what is going on outside and to learn about other people’s lives. By the same token, program participants get to tell their own stories of their lives on the inside. As one young man told me, it meant a lot that someone from the outside came and looked him in the face and saw him as a fellow human being – in spite of our differences, in spite of the sharp markers of “inside” vs. “outside”.

I had desperately wanted to volunteer with the program, which is why I went on the prison visit in the first place – and the visit only confirmed for me that nothing could be more worthy of my time and effort. But I finally had to admit to myself, and to Amy, that my all-consuming job as Garden Program Director at University of the Pacific would not allow me to make the kind of commitment that was needed, even if it was only once a month. Then I realized there was one thing I could do: in the program’s own spirit of connecting people, I could help Amy to connect with potential volunteers in the Pacific community.

If you are over the age of 21, are comfortable in encounters with different cultures, are a good listener, and love to learn from other people, then volunteering with Insight Garden Program could be an extremely rewarding experience for you. You have a chance to find out first hand from Amy Boyer when she comes to give a talk at Pacific on October 26, 2:30pm, in the University Library’s Community Room. Join us!

Biointensive Instensity

by Patty A. Gray, Garden Program Director

PattyGrayOur student Garden Planning & Planting Lead, Laura Navarro, has returned to Pacific’s campus and to the Robb Garden like a dirt-churning whirlwind. If you stop by the Robb Garden these days, you’ll see mounds of freshly-turned soil where compacted earth had been, as Laura transforms what used to be a barren patch of the garden into soft, tidy beds. She has tenderly tucked seedlings of broccoli, kale and lettuce Into these fresh garden beds, as carrot seedlings and single-leafed grain seedlings spring up alongside.

Laura spent her summer at two Ecology Action gardens in Northern California – the Golden Rule Garden in Willits, and the Victory Gardens for Peace in Mendocino – learning biointensive gardening techniques. Now in her Junior year at Pacific, she is registered for internship credits in Environmental Science, advised by Dr. Lydia Fox, and she is applying what she learned in the Robb Garden.

2017-09-18 17.47.23There’s no doubt about it: biointensive gardening is intensive – labor intensive. New beds are carved into soil by hand through double-digging – as in doubly deep. Insect pests are picked off by hand or sprayed with a biodegradable soap solution and then gently washed off. Weeds – many of which are desirable vegetables and flowers that simply managed to seed themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – are plucked out by hand.

For Laura, it is a labor of love, never mind how cliche that may sound. She loves the work, and she loves the plants – she talks about them as if they were her children. She built her own wooden flats for starting her seeds, which she keeps in a makeshift nursery on a table in the Robb Garden, sheltered from the sun’s full intensity behind a screen of tall tomato plants. Watching her hunched over her seedlings in a garden bed, I have seen her straighten up, sigh, and declare beatifically, “I’m so happy,” with an unmistakable expression of bliss on her face.

Laura blisses out

But this is anything but mere hippy-dippy dabbling for Laura. She has brought scientific precision to the planting practices of the Robb Garden. The seeding of each vegetable variety is timed by counting back from the average first frost date in our area, and she created a spreadsheet to track the timing of pricking out the seedlings and later transplanting them to garden beds. If you look closely at the beds she has planted, you will see small labels for each vegetable variety with a set of codes that she developed. If you understand her coding system, you can instantly know the history of each plant starting from its seedhood.

Lauraa's flats  Laura's labels

It is an absolute joy to hand over responsibility to a Pacific student and watch her grab onto it and unfurl it like it was a set of wings carrying her aloft and not a weight dragging her down. The Robb Garden is designed to be a space of ‘experiential learning’ for students; that’s become quite a buzz word in higher education these days, but Laura makes me believe in it. We can stand back and watch her learning and growing through direct experience of nature in the garden.

Come see.

Comfort with Complexity

by Patty A. Gray, Garden Program Director

PattyGrayThere is a fascinating body of cancer research that, oddly enough, has relevance for the health of the garden (see Siddhartha Mukherjee’s article “Cancer’s Invasion Equation” in the Sept. 11, 2017 issue of The New Yorker).

Research increasingly demonstrates that cancer cells are always present in our bodies to some degree; they are never completely eradicated. But they also may never manifest in harmful ways if the proper environmental conditions to suppress them are maintained – the health of the body’s immune system. One way to treat malignant cancer is to use chemotherapy, which knocks back cancer cells – but it is also toxic to the whole body, damaging the very immune system that fights the cancer cells.

As I was reading about this, I was reminded of weeds in the garden (not that it takes much to remind me of the weeds in the Robb Garden – I have a much more intimate relationship with them than I would care to admit). Weeds and their reproductive parts – seeds, rhizomes, etc. – are always present in the garden. We pull and pull and pull weeds, but there are always more popping up behind the ones we got rid of. Of course, we could treat the weeds with a systemic herbicide, but that would be like treating a cancer with chemotherapy: it would knock back the offending weeds, but it would also damage, even kill, the plants that we want in the garden (I won’t even go into the damage that the herbicide residues could do to the bodies of the humans who ingest them).

Both approaches – chemotherapy on humans, herbicides on plants – address an invading organism by making the entire environment toxic. And yet, neither method will ever completely eradicate the presence of the invaders. Every Gardener knows that weed seeds are always present, perhaps unseen, but nevertheless lying dormant beneath the soil surface.

The agricultural methods we’ve come to take for granted involve mechanically tilling the soil – which brings those weed seeds to the surface where they delight in the sunshine, water, and ideal growing conditions created for them – and then spraying chemicals to kill the weeds. When the chemicals threaten to damage the desired crops, the crops are genetically modified to resist that damage. Rather than working with the natural conditions of soil and plants, we’ve worked against them.

There is another way, of course, and that is to accept the perpetual presence of weeds, but to encourage the environmental conditions that create balance and prevent weeds from taking over. Minimal tilling of the soil (which not only keeps weed seeds way down under but also preserves the structure of the soil), keeping the soil covered at all times with green plants (crops or ground covers), and pulling weeds to weaken their photosynthesis mechanism – these are examples of techniques that work. But it requires one to feel comfortable with complexity – to be willing to figure out how all the parts of the intricate environmental system work together, and to work with that system and not against it.


Tomato Woe

by Patty Gray, Pacific Garden Program Director



That’s how I always thought of Sacramento and the Central Valley when I was spending part of my childhood here. In my memory, tomatoes were everywhere, always ripe, always perfect. I later had good success growing my own tomatoes in Southern Illinois, but then my travels took me to much cooler climes, first to Alaska, and then to Ireland. After spending the last eight years struggling to grow the juicy orbs in cold, damp, mostly-cloudy Dublin, I thought growing tomatoes in Stockton would be fool-proof.

So does that make me a fool? Because here in the Robb Garden at University of the Pacific, we had practically no tomatoes this summer. Out of twenty plants, only about half produced any fruit at all, and most of those were cherry varieties. The big, plump, sun-ripened beauties I had imagined – and hankered for – never materialized.

Legend has it that Dr. Mark Brunell, when he served as faculty garden director in the Robb Garden 2012-2014, had 100 varieties of tomatoes planted, with the vines groaning under the weight of abundant fruit. When I arrived at Pacific a year ago in July, the Robb Garden sported a bumper crop of ripe tomatoes. We harvested basketsful every week, well into Fall.

This year we are already preparing to yank the plants out in mid-September, in an admission of defeat.

Just about the time I was ready to conclude I’m not the gardener I thought I was, I started getting reports from other gardeners in Stockton that they’ve been experiencing similar tomato misery. Commiseration is a wonderful resource for gardeners. It’s a chance to engage in mutual reassurance that it isn’t us, it’s Mother Nature conspiring against us. Even local Stockton gardening heroes were functionally tomatoless this summer.

When the average temperature of your hottest month is 60 degrees, as it is in Dublin in July, all you can think of as a remedy for your ailing tomato plants is more heat. It just never would have occurred to me that you could have too much heat. But of course you can. Stockton experienced a perfect storm of adverse tomato weather this summer.

Tomatoes grow best when daytime temperatures are anywhere from 65 degrees F to 85 degrees, and when nighttime temperatures do not fall below 55 degrees. If temperatures get above 95 degrees, fruit will not set on tomato plants. What’s worse, if nighttime temperatures fail to drop below 85 degrees, fruit that has set won’t ripen.

So Stockton’s weather this summer was basically a tomato disaster. During the critical window for tomato plants to flower and set fruit, temperatures were way too hot – a look at the Weather Underground historical pages for Stockton shows that we had 13 days above 95 degrees in June, 28 such days in July, and 19 such days in August. And many of those days were well over 100 degrees. The records show that low daily temperatures were plenty below 85 degrees F, but I wonder if in the Robb Garden – situated as it is amidst heat-radiating pavements and concrete buildings – does not experience warmer nighttime temperatures than the local averages.

Next year we will be ready. There are ways to place tomatoes so as to shade them during the hottest part of the day, and we can do a much better job of mulching and making daily checks of soil moisture. We cannot control nature, and our beloved tomato varieties cannot adapt to these heat extremes, but we can mitigate the effects to some extent.

We’d better start honing our mitigation skills if we want to keep enjoying ripe local tomatoes, because we might have those summer heat extremes with us for some time to come. Believe it or not.


A Sad Farewell to Ecology Action – but Big Plans Ahead!

by Laura Navarro

Navaro mug shotI am sad to say that my internship with Ecology Action is coming to an end!  😦

I have had a great time here and have met some amazing people. I have learned more than I expected and I worked harder than ever before. This was an amazing experience and I am very grateful to all the people who made it possible.

These last two weeks have been extremely hot, it’s almost as if Willits is punishing us for leaving. I am not very motivated to work in the garden when it is over 100℉ so I have been just taking it easy and not working too hard. The main task for these two weeks is harvesting fava beans. We pulled water off the favas a while ago so the soil is dry and the roots of the plants have died. I can just tug on the stock and the whole plant comes right out of the ground. I saved some of the beans for myself to take back with me. Another task that we have for these last two weeks is flatting the winter brassicas. Rachel said that most people start their brassicas a little too late; she suggests starting them in late June. I flatted kale, broccoli and cabbage to take back to the UOP garden.

We had our last class at the coastal garden where we talked about garden planning and received a certificate of attendance. We have finished the basic classes that Ecology Action provides – the classes will continue now to an intermediate level of garden planning. I really enjoyed the classes and I wish I could continue to the intermediate level. It was sad saying goodbye to the other students and the Ecology Action staff that I would not see back at the ranch, but I hope to keep in touch with everyone in the class.

Wednesday, August 2nd, was our last day in the garden, but it was too hot to be working in the garden. Instead, I spent most of my work hours cleaning the house to prepare for dinner. We planned a huge dinner to celebrate our completion with zucchini lasagna, potatoes, and fruit salad, with champagne for dessert. The house was full of people who wanted to celebrate with us!

On Thursday, we went up to the dining hall for breakfast and to say goodbye to the local Ridgewood Ranch community; Ellen gave us Seabiscuit t-shirts. I had an exit interview with Rachel and Justin while enjoying our final coffee break. I then spent an hour picking Mulberries to take home with me. After I filled a jar up with berries I was ready to pack up my car and say my final goodbyes.

Leaving the ranch was bittersweet; I met some amazing people and felt right at home in Mendocino County, but I am excited to get back to Stockton and start new projects in the garden at Pacific. I hope to have my own section of the garden this coming year to practice the biointensive method. I am leaving Ecology Action with so much knowledge, excitement, and plenty of seeds and flats to start my garden. I couldn’t be happier with how this internship turned out, I am so glad I did it!