Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

UC blogs

During California Invasive Species Action Week, learn about invasive species

Californians can help in the fight against invasive species by learning and participating during California Invasive Species Action Week, June 2–10.

During the week, the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program invites the public to spend lunch learning about invasive tree killing pests, aquatic nasties like quagga mussels and nutria, and how the invasive weed/wildfire cycle is altering our ecosystems. http://ucanr.edu/sites/invasivelunch/

The invasive species killing trees is causing sugar volcanoes to erupt on avocado trunks and branches that might be infected with Fusarium dieback. Fusarium dieback is a invasive, beetle-vectored disease that causes damage on avocado and more than 39 other tree species. The disease has spread in urban forests and wild lands in the Los Angeles basin since early 2012, and in Orange and San Diego counties since early 2013 and Ventura County in 2015.

The symptoms — staining, sugary exudate, gumming and beetle frass — are often noticed before the tiny beetles (1.5–2.5 mm) are found.

As its name suggests, these beetles bore into trees. Near or beneath the symptoms, you might notice the beetle's entry and exit holes into the tree. The female tunnels into trees forming galleries, where she lays her eggs. Once grown, the sibling beetles mate with each other so that females leaving the tree to start their own galleries are already pregnant. Males do not fly and stay in the host tree.

Shothole borers have a special structure in their mouth where they carry two or three kinds of their own novel symbiotic fungi. Shothole borers grow these fungi in their tree galleries. It's these fungi that cause Fusarium dieback disease, which interrupts the transportation of water and nutrients in the host tree. Advanced fungal infections will eventually lead to branch dieback.

Early detection of infestations and removal of the infested branches will help reduce beetle numbers and therefore, also reduce the spread of the fungus.

  • Chip infested wood onsite to one inch in size or smaller. If the branch is too large to chip, solarize them under a clear tarp for several months
  • Avoid movement of infested firewood and chipping material out of infested area

Avocado is one tree host. Shothole borers successfully lay eggs and grow fungi in many tree hosts, with some of these trees susceptible to the Fusarium dieback disease. For more information about tree host species, where the shothole borer is in California, and what symptoms look like in other tree hosts, visit the UC Riverside Eskalen Lab website or the Invasive Shot Hole Borers website.

Content in this post taken from the UC IPM Avocado Pest Management Guidelines. Faber BA, Willen CA, Eskalen A, Morse JG, Hanson B, Hoddle MS. Revised continuously. UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines Avocado. UC ANR Publication 3436. Oakland, CA.

Posted on Monday, June 4, 2018 at 1:04 PM

Radiant daisy-like sunflowers produce a valuable crop with little water

Sweeping acres of striking golden flowers may soon grace California's desert southwest. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali believes sunflowers may be an ideal crop for the state's most punishing agricultural region.

California produces more than 90 percent of the country's hybrid sunflower planting seed, which is shipped around the nation and world. The seed is used to grow sunflower seeds for a healthy snack or salad topper, and for seeds that are expressed into sunflower oil, valued for its clean taste and polyunsaturated fat.

Sunflowers are a potential drought-resistant rotation crop in the Southern California desert.
 

Most California seed is produced on about 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. But the plant's low water use and early maturity hold promise for production in Southern California's low desert.

Bali's research began two years ago with 1,800 plots of sunflowers, nearly 300 different genotypes, at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. All plants were well-watered for four weeks before drought treatment started. In 2016, the trial plots were irrigated at 60 percent of the area's ETo (the full amount of water used by well-irrigated, mowed grass in that environment), and at 100 percent.

“Sunflower is a California native species grown as a hybrid seed crop,” Bali said. “With limited water, we wanted to look at varieties that tolerate drought and stress.”

That year, Bali found significant variation in yield across the varieties, but no difference between plots that received 60 percent of ETo and 100 percent

“I've been doing deficit irrigation for a long time,” Bali said. “I never expected that.”

For the 2017 season, the 60 percent ETo plots were dropped to 10 percent to better understand the implications of severe drought on the sunflower cultivars.

“The emphasis in 2017 was to intensify our drought treatment, giving less water earlier and to quantify the genotypes' drought avoidance strategy by digging up roots and using computer image analysis to determine root traits,” Bali said.

Bali attributes the sunflower crop's low water needs to its deep tap root and crop production timing. Sunflower in the low desert may be planted from January to February, and harvested in May and June.

“Sunflower water needs are relatively low since they are harvested before the hottest part of the summer,” Bali said.

His research is continuing in 2018.

Currently, the majority of California hybrid seed sunflower is grown in the Sacramento Valley.

A new UC publication, Sunflower Hybrid Seed Production in California, is now under review and is expected to be available to producers in fall 2018. Written by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Long and colleagues, including Bali, the publication outlines crop production standards, land preparation, fertilization, pest management, harvesting and more.

Long said sunflowers are favored for crop rotations because they help in long-term management of weeds and diseases, the plants add biomass to the soil after harvest, and they are a profitable specialty field crop.

Read more about California sunflowers in a Green Blog post by Rachael Long, Sunflower seeds are boosting California's ag economy.

Posted on Friday, June 1, 2018 at 8:41 AM

Strawberry stands sell berries fresh from the field

Nathan Punh, left, talks with UCCE farm advisor Margaret Lloyd, who works with about 60 Mien farms in the Sacramento area.

Slugs, snails, ants, aphids, spider mites and inclement weather conspire against strawberry growers harvesting perfect red berries to sell. 

“Farming is hard work,” said Fam Lee, as she pulled a weed from a row of strawberry plants. Lee and her husband Nathan Punh are among about 60 Mien farmers in the Sacramento area who call on Margaret Lloyd, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor, for farming advice.

Fam Lee examines a strawberry for insect and slug damage. “Although we are not organic farmers, we always want to go with organic,” she said.

“Although we are not organic farmers, we always want to go with organic,” said Lee. “For example, we have slugs and ants, I asked Margaret if it's okay to put organic slug bait around the plant as long as it doesn't touch the berry. She said that's the best way to do. We work closely with our extension staff.”

In the Sacramento area, many of the Mien-owned farms are husband and wife teams. The typical couple farms an acre or two themselves, picking berries to sell the same day at a roadside stand, which provides the family's primary source of income.

Mouang Saetern harvests strawberries.

“Many of them grew up on farms in Thailand or Laos growing vegetables or growing rice or soybeans,” said Lloyd, who serves small-scale farmers in Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. “A lot of them come from farming backgrounds so when they came to this country, they also sought out an agrarian lifestyle.”

Some Mien growers had never seen a strawberry before arriving in California, but chose the high-value crop to maximize returns on their small plots of land.

To help Mien growers develop successful strawberry farms, Lloyd updates them on regulations and shares growing tips at an annual extension meeting, visits them at their farms, and records videos demonstrating how to do things such as using compost to fertilize the crop.

Visiting Mien farms makes it easier for Lloyd, right, to demonstrate practices for farmers who aren't fluent in English.

“Because of language barriers, coming out to the farm regularly is a big part of the job,” said Lloyd, who partners with staff from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) to assist Mien farmers.

“Once we're on the farm, we can communicate in-person more easily,” she said. “Often times it involves pest identification, so I'll show them how to use a hand lens and how to identify spider mites, aphids and lygus bugs, for example.”

“A lot of them have children who speak English fluently so if they don't speak English fluently, sometimes the children come out and help.”

The UC-patented strawberry cultivar Albion produces large, sweet berries.

For the past five years, Lee and Punh have been growing and selling strawberries at a farm stand on Bond Road, between Bader and Bradshaw, in Sacramento. They grow Albion, Chandler, Santa Rosa and Seascape – sweet, delicate varieties, some of which aren't found in supermarkets because the berries don't store and ship as well. They typically begin harvesting berries at the end of March and pick through July or August, depending on the weather. This year, the first berries were ruined by spring rain and frost.

Savvy consumers will ask for certain varieties by name, Lloyd said. “Chandler is well-loved by consumers for its delicate flesh and sweet flavor. Albion produces larger berries that are also very tasty.”

Established farm stands, like this one on Florin Road at South Watt Avenue, develop a loyal following of customers who eagerly await their opening to buy strawberries.

Because berries sold at the roadside stands are picked fresh daily, the farmers wait until berries are perfectly ripe before picking them.

Monday through Saturday, Lee begins harvesting her strawberries by hand at the break of dawn.

“We start at 5:45, the minute we can see, and we pick until 8 o'clock. That's our goal,” Lee said. “By 8:30, we want to open our stand and we sell until all the berries run out.”

Lee's parents often drive up from Alameda to help pick berries.

Some farm stands offer vegetables, like these red onions, to complement the strawberries.

To extend the farm stand season, some Mien farmers supplement the strawberries with other berries, strawberry jam and vegetables. They grow blueberries and blackberries, tomatoes, peppers and green beans and sometimes specialty vegetables such as bittermelon.

“Growing strawberries isn't easy, but it's enjoyable work,” Lee said.

Lloyd has updated a map showing locations of about 60 strawberry stands in the Sacramento area at http://bit.ly/strawberrystands.

To help consumers find the Mien farm stands, UC Cooperative Extension has created a map showing locations in the Sacramento area at http://bit.ly/strawberrystands.

 

Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 at 2:09 PM

A Sacramento coalition wants to serve 1 million healthy meals to children this summer

When school's out, many children who live in poverty no longer eat nutritious meals like they do during school as part of the free and reduced-cost school lunch program.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Sacramento County has joined a coalition to promote the summer meals program, which is aiming to serve one million meals during summer 2018.

UC ANR's EFNEP program staffed a booth along with the UC Master Food Preserver Program at the Million Meals Summer picnic for Sacramento youth.

The coalition was formed by State Sen. Richard Pan, who invited Sacramento students to the State Capitol for a picnic May 22 launching the “Million Meals Summer.”

“In Sacramento County, on average 1.9 million free or reduced-price lunches are served each month while school is in session,” said Sen. Pan. “For so many of these children, school meals are their primary source of nutrition.”

Sen. Robert Pan, in center with white shirt, dances with children at the Million Meals Summer picnic.

In the summertime, the number of lunches served drops to less than 10 percent of the school-year number.

“Over the last couple of years, my office has worked with a growing number of organizations to help close the gap of child nutrition,” Sen. Pan said.

At the picnic, Sen. Pan, a pediatrician, reminded the children that eating healthy through the summer will get them ready to learn when school starts again.

Students enjoyed a healthy lunch.

Sen. Pan said Kim Frinzel, associate director of the California Department of Education nutrition services division, is leading the effort to set up sufficient meal sites and encourage children to attend.

“You get a great meal,” Frinzel told the students. “You get to hang out with your friends. And you get to participate in fun activities. Clap if you will help us serve a million meals.”

Linda Dean, left, and Vanessa Kenyon of Sacramento EFNEP.

Vanessa Kenyon, EFNEP program supervisor for Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, said EFNEP will provide nutrition education training for Samuel Merritt University nurses-in-training.

“Summer meals are provided at 140 sites in Sacramento County. If the children stick around after eating, they can take part in enrichment programs. The student nurses will fulfill a portion of their service hours by sharing nutrition education resources and activities at the meal sites,” Kenyon said.

The UC EFNEP program, which serves 24 counties in California, assists limited-resource families gain the knowledge and skills to choose nutritionally sound diets and improve well-being.

The United Way California Capital Region heads the coalition of community, business and state partners supporting the Million Meals Summer in Sacramento County.

 
 
Physical activities at the picnic included parachute play.
 
UC Cooperative Extension apiculture specialist Elina Niño shared information with students at the picnic about the lives of bees.
 
A few students from American Lakes Elementary School said they would be eating at summer meal sites. Left to right are James Dixon, 9, Yahaira Ramirez, 11, Diana De La Cerda, 12, and Eduardo Liscano, 9.
 
UC ANR marketing and communications specialist Suzanne Morikawa, center, fills in a visitor about EFNEP's role in the community.
Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 1:19 PM

Growing gardeners and nourishing communities

Fresh picked beets from a raised garden bed at Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, the main food demonstration garden for the UC Master Gardener Program of Sacramento County.

Spring is here, and oftentimes the busiest season of the year for gardeners to plant edibles with dreams of ripe tomatoes and rows of juicy strawberries. But what about the “non” gardeners, you know the people who struggle to keep a cactus alive? Is there hope for a plentiful harvest for those self-identified terrible gardeners? Absolutely.

Food gardening takes some work, but if you have the determination and are willing to get your hands dirty, UC Master Gardener Program volunteers are eager to help you find success. Across almost every county in California there are passionate UC Master Gardener volunteers eager to turn your dreams of a bountiful summer harvest into a reality.

Mike G., UC Master Gardener volunteer in Solano County, shows participants irrigation parts for their home vegetable garden.

Sonoma County finds success with “Food Gardening Specialists”

The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County has spent almost a decade perfecting the art of teaching best practices for food gardening. They have found a winning formula for food gardening workshops that focus on hands-on learning and interactive demonstrations in the garden. A group of UC Master Gardener volunteers with a passion for growing edible plants joined forces and started a project aptly named “Food Gardening Specialist.”

Food Gardening Specialists receive initial training in food gardening with curriculum developed by UC Agriculture & Natural Resources experts. After initial training, volunteers continue to grow their food gardening skills with monthly speakers, discussions groups and field trips. These highly skilled and trained volunteers teach food gardening at community or demonstrations gardens across Sonoma County, where anyone is welcome to attend. 

Understanding the need to expand reach in Sonoma County, the project identified four key gardens to engage more diverse communities. Garden “captains” build relationships within these gardens, advising home gardeners and developing gardening workshops that are relevant to their community's needs. One of the core gardens provides year-round fresh produce to a number local food banks and programs that feed the hungry.

Food Gardening Specialist workshop at the Harvest for the Hungry Garden on May 12, 2018. Tobi Brown, UC Master Gardener, demonstrates how to feed and protect the soil as a garden bed transitions from spring to summer.

Stephanie Wrightson: Sonoma County Volunteer of the Year

A shining example of a dedicated Food Gardening Specialist is Stephanie Wrightson, who recently was awarded Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors “Volunteer of the Year” award. Wrightson has been a UC Master Gardener volunteer since 2010 and a member of the Food Gardening Specialist project since 2011. 

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently recognized Stephanie Wrightson with the 2018 Volunteer of the Year Award for her exceptional contributions as a UC Master Gardener volunteer in Sonoma County!

Wrightson has donated more than 3,200 hours to the UC Master Gardener Program, most revolve around food gardening outreach.

“We put on public food gardening workshops, with Spanish translators, and demonstrate sustainable best practices in the garden ... invaluable. We interact, consult, advise. We learn from each other,” Wrightson said. “Food Gardening Specialists share science-based and sustainable food gardening information with garden visitors and workshop attendees. The gardens have quickly become a social hub in the neighborhood, bringing the community closer together.”

It is clear that Wrightson's role doesn't stop at the garden's gate. Wrightson was essential in shaping the vision of the Food Gardening Specialist project while serving on its steering committee and as a project leader. She manages efforts to keep all of the food gardening content updated, posted online or shared on its social media channels. Wrightson also works closely with the translation team to identify the most popular food gardening topics to make them available in Spanish.

“Stephanie brings such an attention to detail and focus on everything she engages in; we are so grateful to have such a talented UC Master Gardener as part of our organization,” said Mimi Enright, program manager for the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County. 

Stephanie Wrightson, UC Master Gardener, teaching residents of Sonoma County about sustainable gardening practices and how to grow their own food at the Bayer Farm Neighborhood Park & Garden.

Where is food grown in your community? 

Do you grow your own food or get homegrown food from a neighbor who gardens? Is there a community garden nearby, or a farmers market with locally grown fruits and vegetables?

“It's becoming more important to understand where our food comes from and to make sure everyone knows how to enjoy its benefits,” said Missy Gable, statewide director for the UC Master Gardener Program.

The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with research-based information about food gardening, home horticulture, sustainable landscapes, and pest management practices. It is administered locally by UC Cooperative Extension offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. If you are interested in learning more about food gardening or would like to connect with your local UC Master Gardener Program visit, mg.ucanr.edu

The UC Master Gardener Program has demonstration, community and school gardens across California. Contact your local UC Master Gardener Program to find the closest garden or workshop near you.

Trusted UC Food Gardening Resources: 

Posted on Friday, May 18, 2018 at 9:27 AM

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