Retired educator Candace Simpson continues to teach, but instead of chemistry, she is spreading science-based gardening knowledge.
She will also be sharing home-grown lemons, limes, oranges and tangerines during her citrus-growing seminar on Thursday, Jan. 21, at Rinconada Library in Palo Alto.
"Citrus is a timely topic," Simpson said. "Winter is when many citrus fruits are picked, and people think about how to protect their citrus trees from frost."
There are yellowish leaves on the mostly green Valencia orange tree in front of her Palo Alto home. She pointed at them recently and gave a piece of advice: "In winter, people may see frost damage on their citrus trees and be tempted to prune them, but pruning may stimulate new growth that could be damaged by cold weather. You should wait until spring to prune your citrus trees."
While Simpson's Valencia orange tree is laden with fruit, she said the oranges are unripe despite their golden color.
"Navel oranges are harvested in winter, but Valencia oranges are different. They are not ready for picking until May," she said.
Simpson walked to her backyard and picked plump fruit from other citrus trees. Among them was a yellow lime.
"The green limes you see at the supermarket are not fully ripe. They are actually juicier when they are ripe and yellow," she explained. "Home gardeners can get a better harvest from their citrus trees if they know how best to care for them."
That, according to her, is precisely the point of her citrus-growing seminar.
The 90-minute session, titled "Growing Fabulous Citrus," is part of a series launched by the University of California Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County and the Palo Alto City Library.
The head librarian of the Rinconada Branch, Karen Richins, calls the series of events "a fruitful partnership."
"Many Palo Alto homes are on generous lots, ideal for gardening," Richins said. "This series of garden, landscape and pest-management programs pairs neatly with the City of Palo Alto's overall strategy to advance the community's sustainability goals. Outreach to the community is an integral part of the Palo Alto City Library's services."
In the partnership, Simpson represents the Master Gardeners, a nonprofit organization sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension to distribute scientific information on home horticulture, pest management and sustainable landscape practices.
The Palo Alto Demonstration Garden of the Master Gardeners is located at 851 Center Drive. Simpson has been giving hands-on lessons there since retiring in 2003 from the Palo Alto Unified School District, where she had worked her way from a chemistry teacher to director of professional development and then to assistant superintendent of human resources.
The library seminars started at the Rinconada branch in October and are new in Palo Alto. The series is held on the third Thursday evening of every month, while the monthly demonstration garden lessons continue on the first Saturday morning of each month.
"The two sets of workshops complement each other well," Simpson said. "The demo garden provides hands-on practices, whereas the library setting enables us to show pictures of things that may not be available or easy to find in the garden, for example, beneficial insects and pests."
Simpson also teaches gardening at Palo Alto Adult School. One of her former students, Dexter Girton, has 25 citrus plants around his house in Palo Alto.
"Candace came here and diagnosed an ailing Eureka lemon tree that simply wasn't getting enough water," Girton said. "I had failed to probe the soil for moisture content. She has given me other tips about growing citrus, too."
He added that he has also learned a lot from Simpson about growing other plants. A tomato plant of his has grown from a seed of the "Palo Alto variety," which he obtained in a class, to 10 feet tall.
Another Palo Alto resident, Sara Hart, said she has likewise benefited from Simpson's knowledge.
"Information from her helped me save some of my chard when it got loopers. My lettuce and tomatoes did much better. My Meyer lemon is producing much more fruit," Hart said.
"For my lemon, lime and orange trees, Candace helped me learn what to watch out for so I could start early in controlling pests before they took over."
To Anrica Deb, another former student of Simpson's, it was "the most fun" when the Master Gardner talked about the insects in the garden.
"Candace went through all kinds of good predator insects and less helpful insects that destroy your plants," Deb said.
Simpson also once advised her to trim out the inward-facing branches of her lemon tree, and that really helped it to thrive, Deb said.
What: Growing Fabulous Citrus
Date: Thursday, Jan. 21
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: Embarcadero Program Room, Rinconada Library, 1213 Newell Road, Palo Alto
Cost: Free, no preregistration is required
2016 RINCONADA LIBRARY GARDENING WORKSHOPS
Jan. 21: Growing Fabulous Citrus
Master Gardener Candace Simpson will teach about how to care for citrus trees. The workshop will include discussions on planting location and method, pruning, fertilizing and watering, frost protection, and identifying and managing pests and diseases.
Feb. 18: Success with Low-water Ornamentals
The Bay Area's dry summer climate works well for Mediterranean plants and California natives, and Master Gardener Roberta Barnes will teach participants how to use them in the garden.
March 17: Grow Your Own Vegetable Seedlings
Master Gardeners will help locals grow vegetables from seed, including discussions on timing, soil mixes, growing pots, light and heat requirements and sources of seed. Participants will also seed tomatoes and pot young basil seedlings to take home.
April 21: Don't Squash That Bug!
Master Gardener Candace Simpson will help participants learn how to recognize helpful garden insects and encourage them to make the garden their home.
May 19: Blueberries in Abundance
Master Gardener Candace Simpson will teach about how to maximize success with blueberries. This workshop will include an overview of types of blueberries and varieties grow well in the area, and planting, feeding, watering, pruning and harvesting tips.
June 16: Tour of Library Plant Collection
Participants will take a guided tour around the library and art center during which they can learn about plants and how to grow them at home.
July 21: Pests, Diseases, and Other Problems of the Summer Edible Garden
Master Gardeners will talk about the most common challenges vegetable gardeners face during the summer, including plant diseases, physiological problems, insect pests and cultural issues. Participants are invited to bring in samples of sick plants, insects they have found damaging their plants (alive and well contained, if possible) and vegetables that don't look right.
Aug. 18: Less Work, More Food: The Joy of a Productive Fall Vegetable Garden
Participants will learn the key steps to getting a quick start and long harvest from cool-season vegetables. The workshop will include discussions on optimum planting time, soil preparation, irrigation needs, weather protection and pest management.
Sept. 15: Composting: Hot, Cold and Worm
Participants will learn the science behind turning plant debris and kitchen scraps into garden compost. Cole Smith, the Composting Education Coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Santa Clara County, will explain the principles of both slow and fast composting, as well as worm composting of plant-based kitchen scraps.
Oct. 20: Garden Myths and Garden Science
Participants will learn how common garden advice stacks up against science-based gardening information.
Nov. 17: Bare Root Planting of Roses, Fruit Trees, Berries and Vegetables
Bare root planting is a low-cost, low-effort way to get many perennials off to a good start in the garden, and early winter is the right time to do it. Master Gardeners will discuss what plants are available through bare root planting, why bare root plants often catch up to and surpass older and larger plants transplanted from containers, how to get the varieties you want and more.