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Dry Farming

Photo by Jutta Thoerner


Dry Farming

By Jutta Thoerner   UCCE Master Gardener


I have heard about dry farming crops in agriculture, could I save water in my garden with the same method?  Susan, Paso Robles


Dry farming is a technique that has been used for thousands of years in the Mediterranean regions for farming olives, grapes and grains. How does it work? Using a tillage technique, the farmer/gardener starts to work the soil as soon as possible after the last rain of the season.  By disking (two passes) and using a roller, the goal is to have three to four inches of dry, even soil when cultivation is done. This is often called dust mulch or dust blanket and it traps the moisture in the soil.

In order for this technique to work, several key elements have to be present. The soil must have good water holding capability, which excludes sandy soils or heavily fractured soils. This technique requires a minimum of 10-12 inches of rain during the rainy season. If the crop is a permanent crop, such as grapes or tree crops, sufficient spacing between the plants is required to avoid competition for water and nutrients. Planting the appropriate rootstock for permanent crops is essential for dry farming in an orchard or vineyard.  Under the right conditions, the following vegetables, fruits and nuts can be successfully dry farmed in California: tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, olives, grapes, garbanzos, apricots, plums, pears, apples, various grains, potatoes, almonds and walnuts.

The farmer/gardener has to be content with lower yields, often 1/3 of the yield expected from irrigated crops. Fruit and nut crops are often too small for produce buyers from large grocery stores and markets, even though they are generally sweeter, denser and store better than commercial grown products.

Here are some interesting water saving facts from a UC Davis cost study.  If not irrigated, these crops would save the following amounts of water: two feet per acre for potatoes (Klamath basin), three feet per acre for apples (Sierra Foothills) and 16,000 gallons/acre for lightly irrigated grapes (Napa Valley). While dry farming is not for every grower or for every region in California, it could be a promising alternative system in times of uncertain water supply.

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Volunteer Insurance Coverage for Master Gardeners

Reappointment is now complete - along with digitally signing the appropriate documents to continue as a University of California Master Gardener you may have also heard about a fee for insurance.

Hartford Accident and Injury insurance acts as a secondary insurance and covers up to $10,000 of personal expenses tied to an injury sustained while serving as a Master Gardener. For example, if injured while serving as a volunteer, you would first allow your primary insurance to take effect and file a claim with Hartford for any out-of-pocket expenses, such as a co-pay. In the event that an injury is sustained by a volunteer who does not have primary medical insurance, a Hartford claim may be filed but the policy limit remains at $10,000.

Hartford insurance is for personal injury only and does not cover property damage, liability, or injury to any non-volunteer parties.

A separate Automobile Liability insurance covers volunteers acting in official capacity. Volunteers must confirm through an annual agreement that they meet UC minimum insurance requirements, commonly referred to as “50/100/50” and have a valid driver's license in order to qualify for this coverage.

This is often confusing for volunteers as fees for the Hartford Accident and Injury insurance are collected at reappointment time when volunteers identify whether they will drive on behalf of the University and are asked specifically about their vehicle insurance coverage. By opting not to drive for the University , volunteers are not exempt from needing Hartford Accident and Injury coverage.

Whether you are asked to pay the fee individually or the county program finances the fee for the group at large, every UC Master Gardener volunteer must be covered under the Hartford Accident and Injury Insurance.

For more information about Hartford insurance or to download a claim form click here.

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 9:50 AM
  • Author: Aubrey Bray

Spiders and Spiders, Oh, My!

Black widow spider protecting its eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Odds are that Justin Timberlake won't be there.

Neither will J. K. Rowling, author of the wildly popular Harry Potter series of books.

They hate spiders. In fact, by all accounts, they have arachnophobia, an intense fear of spiders that affects some 3.5 to 6.1 percent of the U.S. population.

No wonder the Bohart Museum of Entomology has themed its open house on Saturday, July 26: "Arachnids: Awesome or Awful?"

The event, free and open to the public, takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of Academic Surge on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.

Many locally found spiders, including the black widow, jumping spider and cellar spiders--alive and specimens--will be exhibited. Want to know what the spider is that's dangling from your zinnias or crouched on a sedum or hiding in your woodpile? The Bohart Museum officials will tell you all about them.

Spiders are found throughout the world, except in Antarctica (where Timberlake and Rowling have probably pondered as suitable living quarters.)

A special attraction at the Bohart Museum will be Rosie, a 24-year-old tarantula reared by entomologist/Bohart volunteer Jeff Smith of Sacramento. Visitors are invited to hold it and photograph it.

Crab spider nailing a fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will be present to talk about insects. He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide, which is available in the Bohart gift shop. Thorp will be available to sign the books. 

Children and/or family activities are also planned, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart. 

Yang said some folks are "creeped out" by spiders while others are eager to see them. The open house will be an informational activity about them, but other insects will be there as well. In addition to its nearly eight million insects founds throughout the world, the Bohart houses live Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks, which visitors enjoy holding and photographing. A new addition is a Peruvian walking stick with red wings, yellow eyes and a velvety body.  

This week is also National Moth Week.

The museum's gift shop, open throughout the year (credit-card purchases are accepted), includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.

The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.

Bohart officials schedule weekend open houses throughout the academic year. The museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information is available from Tabatha Yang at or by telephoning (530) 752-0493.

A jumping spider ready to jump. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A jumping spider ready to jump. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A jumping spider ready to jump. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The eyes have it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The eyes have it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The eyes have it. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 10:22 PM

Perfect Camouflage

What a perfect camouflage!

Have you ever seen a green praying mantis hiding among the green growth in your garden?

Concealed. Disguised. Camouflaged.

The praying mantis is a patient insect. It will lurk for hours in its familiar prayer-like position, ready to ambush passing prey, usually an unsuspecting insect like a honey bee, bumble bee, sweat bee or grasshopper. Then with a movement faster than you can say "What the..." it will strike, grabbing its prey with its spiked forelegs. The target, unable to escape the deadly grip, becomes its meal. No catch and release here!

There's a reason why many folks have never seen a praying mantis. It's like trying to find Waldo, especially when the mantis is camouflaged in the vegetation and lying motionless.  

Wikipedia tell us that the mantids, in the order Mantodea, comprise more than 2400 species and about 430 genera in 15 families worldwide.  Some 20 species occur in North America, according to entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Author of  The Handy Bug Answer Book, Waldbauer writes that the introduced Chinese mantis is the largest "at a length of asmuch as four inches."

Some praying mantids have been known to catch hummingbirds, and you know how quick hummers are. See a photo published by National Geographic and watch a scene on YouTube.

Camouflaged praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Camouflaged praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Camouflaged praying mantis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Exposed! Praying mantis peering around green stems. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Exposed! Praying mantis peering around green stems. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Exposed! Praying mantis peering around green stems. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 10:59 PM

Daily Life For Master Gardeners

Topdressing Anyone?

By Andrea Peck


There is always some sort of discrepancy that faces a family. There are never clear seas. A day or a few may go by without a ripple, but that is the extent of unfettered peace; it is not meant to endure. We are plagued by a few thorny subjects; one or two points of contention, and here and there, a set of little hardly-important wobbles.  The topic of repotting a large plant is one such wobble. It is a subject that is broached with care lest it become a hardy point of disagreement. The plant is there. Always there. But the adult occupants of the home skirt around the issue; clearly no one wants to deal with its silent presence. Perhaps one adult shies away from heavy lifting. The other balks at the cost of a new, larger pot. Maybe you are the gardener. Maybe your significant other has trash duty.

In quiet moments, one of these adults may begin to speak on the subject and then trail off and turn away.

The conversation starter, weak though it may be, at least gives the speaker the honor of making an attempt. A response that sounds like gobbledygook may ensue. Then suddenly, the topic is dropped and both backs are turned towards the offending indoor item. It is a primitive move.

Ah, the quandaries that beset a family.

But, don't break out your white board and begin brainstorming just yet. Resist the urge to find an online article called “How to Get Your Spouse to Deal with the Indoor Plant.”

There is a better way.

Repotting need not be the answer at all. Not when you have topdressing. Doesn't that have a fancy ring? Can you just see yourself the next time this pseudo conversation appears out of nowhere?

Your spouse: Hmmm. Should that plant? Repotted? Um. (This is said in an incomprehensible dialect that sounds purposefully similar to a Neanderthal).

You fight your normal urge to turn away.

You channel Audrey Hepburn and say (cooly): You know, darling, I recently read that repotting is pase╩╣ when it comes to large plants. In fact, we can topdress our ficus instead. What do you think?

You can even appropriate a slight European accent to drive home the idea that this is in fact de rigueur. 

Once your partner agrees, joy ensues. Love and dopamine shower you both as you have now headed off what could have become a Stage 1, Bone of Contention-type marital issue.

So, are you sold?

Well, then, let me tell you it could not be easier. Instead of lugging that old platypus of a plant outside and buying a heavy and expensive new pot that won't fit in your car, simply let the soil of your plant dry out.

Then, let your plant crumble into dust and buy a fake plant.

Ha! Ha! Just kidding. You can see how I get myself into trouble.

Okay, back to topdressing. Let the top inch of soil dry out and loosen it with a fork. Gently remove that soil with a spoon. Then, with the fork, make gentle perforations in the remaining soil. Finally, replace the soil that you excavated with a quality potting soil. Try to do this yearly in the spring.

Then, find your new best friend and go out to dinner with the money and time you saved.


Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 12:43 PM

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