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New advisors build of the scientific work of predecessors

Carol Frate, left, and Michelle Le Strange.
When new UC Cooperative Extension advisors come on the job, they aren't starting their programs from scratch. "We are a science-based organization," said Jim Sullins, county director for Tulare UCCE. Academic advisors document their work in reports and papers. "The next advisor can build on their (predecessors') experience, their results and observations."

Sullins was quoted in an article by Luiz Hernandez in the Visalia Time-Delta that focused on the retirements of two long-time Tulare County farm advisors, Michelle Le Strange and Carol Frate, who together represent nearly 70 years of service to farmers, landscape professionals and the public.

"Both Carol and Michelle have been very dedicated advisors, committed to their clientele, and driven to help resolve grower's problems, and helping the general public make informed decisions, based on science," Sullins said. "It will take a lot of adjustment with them not on staff.

Hernandez contacted Frate by phone from vacation in Olympia, Wash. A 36-year UCCE veteran, she commented on a research trial conducted in the 1980s in which she sought to determine how much damage an alfalfa crop sustained if irrigation stopped in the summertime.

"It has come in handy in drought" Frate said. "We showed alfalfa could withstand, survive" a water stoppage.

Le Strange, who completed 31 years with UCCE, said she became interested in food production following a trip to Mexico and Guatemala. She went to college at UC Davis and accepted her position in the San Joaquin Valley.

"We are here to help find solutions for local agriculture problems," she said. "I am proud of all the research I have done."

Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 1:50 PM

It's National Moth Week!

Greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella, a pest of bee colonies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's National Moth Week!

The event, which runs through Sunday, celebrates "the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths," according to its website. Scientists and citizen scientists are encouraged to document their findings. It's now a worldwide event.

A few nuggets from the website:

"Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.

  • Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
  • Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
  • Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
  • Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them."

Then there are, of course, the pests such as the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella. This moth slips in at night to honey bee colonies and lays its eggs. The bees struggle to remove the larvae.  Beekeepers struggle with control of the  tell-tale evidence--damaged combs.

The honey bee bible, The Hive and the Honey Bee (Dadant Publication), says the wax moth female "produces less than 300 eggs during her life span of 3 to 30 days, but a few lay as many as 2000 eggs. Mated females fly to beehives one to three hours after dark, enter, and lay eggs until they leave shortly before daylight."

Sneaky little critters!

The Hive and the Honey Bee authors relate that "the presence of the wax moth larvae usually signals a major problem such as queenlessness, an infectious disease, poisoning and starvation."

Greater wax moths are probably not what the organizers of National Moth Week, founded by two naturalists in East Brunswick, N.J., had in mind when they launched this special week! (Unless, of course, they were anglers; the larvae make good fish bait!)

Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 5:50 PM

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

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