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From the UC Blogosphere...

California's 'exceptional drought' to cost the state millions

California suffered severe droughts in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, but the current drought is the worst in history, according to Daniel Summer, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. He outlined the reasons in a story published on Food, Nutrition and Science.

For one thing, the state's population is larger than ever before, requiring more water resources. Increased planting of trees and vines in the state has given farmers less flexibility. In addition, recent increases in crop and livestock prices increase losses from lower production, Sumner said. He suggests the drought can be a lesson for the future.

"This current drought has highlighted some weaknesses in drought preparation that could be improved for future drought scenarios," the story said.

In dry years, California relies heavily on groundwater. Sumner said the aggregate measures of groundwater depth over time and space are good, but their estimates of regional groundwater use are poor and need improvement. Improved management of groundwater basins will be key to securing California's agriculture in the future, Sumner said.

The story also quoted Leslie Roche, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Roche said the drought will have lasting impacts on how ranchers plan and prepare for future droughts.

"There is a deep undercurrent of concern within the ranching community that this drought will persist, and that practical options to maintain productivity in that event are very limited. This is true throughout all quarters of California's agricultural community,” Roche said.

Key proactive measures for ranchers to cope with drought include using conservative livestock numbers and resting pastures from grazing to enhance forage growth and storage.
Posted on Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 9:04 AM

Eric Mussen to Keynote WAS Conference

Honey bee nectaring lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen is retired but the "R" word isn't stopping him.

Mussen, who served 38 years as California's Extension apiculturist, based at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has changed the "R" word into a "K" word.

"K" for keynote speaker.

Mussen will deliver the opening keynote address at the 37th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, scheduled Sept. 17-20 at the University of Montana, Missoula, Mont.

Mussen, a five-time president and co-founder of WAS, will discuss "Changes in Beekeeping Over Three Decades" from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 in the University Center.  

The conference will take place in conjunction with the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Management, Sept. 17-21 and the Missoula Honey Harvest Festival, Sept. 20.

The WAS conference,  themed "The Path of Discovery to the Future," will be conducted by president Jerry Bromenshenk, a professor at the University of Montana and the state director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (DOE EPSCoR).

Sept. 17 is the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring, sponsored by WAS and the Bee Culture magazine.  Jerry Hayes will discuss Monsanto research and scale hives, and Dick Rogers, Bayer CropScience research and scale hives.  Other topics include wide-scale scientific experiments that can be conducted by beekeepers; interpreting hive weight and temperature; and  acoustic scanning of bee pests, diseases, pesticides, molecular genetics for queen production.

The Sept. 18 WAS agenda, with the keynote address by Mussen, includes talks on honey bee health in Canada; bees in Northern Ireland; bee health and treatments; critical issues for bees and beekeeping; and bees and bee breeding in New Zealand.  One of the speakers is virologist Michelle Flenniken of Montana State University and the former Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis. She will speak on "Honey Bee Virology and Diseases" from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. 

The Sept. 19 WAS agenda will include a keynote address, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Neonic Pesticides and the Prospects for Future Life on Planet Earth” by G. Philip Hughes, of the White House Writers' Group. (Already that has people singing "Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees"--Jewel Aken's 1964 hit.) Among the other presentations will be  “Working Bees” by Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping; critical issues for bees and beekeepers;  adapting bee management to climate change; and honey producers.

The Western Apicultural Society, founded in 1978, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization for beekeepers throughout western North America.  Membership is open worldwide. However, the organization was designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.

There's still time to register for the conference, according to Fran Bach, WAS newsletter editor.

See schedule


Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 9:12 PM

California drought steps-up need for high-tech solutions

Ken Shackel (right) demonstrates a pressure chamber
With California suffering through the third year of drought, more farmers are turning to technology that will help them make smart irrigation decisions, reported Sarah Shoen in the Fresno Bee.

The story focused on Tom Chandler, a fourth-generation Sanger farmer who uses a pressure chamber to measure the amount of water is in the leaves of his almond trees.

"Using the pressure chambers is like having a fuel gauge for your plants," Chandler said.

For the story, Shoen talked to Allan Fulton, the UC Cooperative Extension irrigation and water resources advisor in Glenn, Colusa and Shasta counties. Fulton has experience with pressure chambers stretching back more than a decade.

"Understanding what the chamber is trying to tell you helps farmers concentrate water in areas that need it the most," Fulton said. "This means more production while using the same amount of water."

The pressure chamber results show farmers whether the crops need water, or if they can get by without water at the moment.

Ken Shackel, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, learned by conducting research that dry soil doesn't mean the plant is suffering.

"You can save tons of water thanks to the chambers," Shackel said.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Carnivorous Figs: The Relationship Between Wasps and Figs

I learned a lot of new, interesting information during the Master Gardener program. One of the most interesting things that I learned, that I love to share with people, is that some figs could be considered carnivorous. Ok, maybe that is making things sound a little too much like "Little Shop of Horrors," but at the very least some of the figs you have eaten in your lifetime were not exactly vegan (yes, there is debate about this on internet forums).

As figs are starting to show up at local farmer's markets now, I thought this would be a great time to share this little tidbit with the blog, so that other people can use this information as fun garden party banter.

Around the world there are over 700 varieties of figs, but they all fall into four types:

Common: Common figs (such as the Brown Turkey) do not require pollination from another tree, or from a wasp. True to their name, common figs are most common in home gardens. Common figs are 100% vegan.

Caprifigs: Caprifigs produce small non-edible fruit (also called a male fruit because it contains male flowers). The purpose of the caprifig is to produce pollen that fertilizes the last two types of figs, Smyrna and San Pedro. The pollen produced by the caprifig is transported to the female fruit (which contains the female flowers) by the Blastophaga wasp.

Smyrna: Smyrna figs produce a large edible fruit, but the figs must be pollinated. If the figs are not pollinated they will shrivel and fall from the tree.

San Pedro: San Pedro figs produce two crops per season. The first crop, called the Breba, ripens in early spring on the previous season's growth and requires no pollination. The second crop, also called the main crop, happens later in summer, on the current season's growth, and requires pollination from a caprifig and Blastophaga wasp.

Now, a little more about the fig's friend, the Blastophaga wasp and how figs are pollinated. What we commonly think of as the fig "fruit" is actually an accumulation of tiny flowers all contained inside the "fruit." It is these flowers that need to be pollinated in Smyrna and San Pedro-type figs. The fruits produced by Smyrna and San Pedro-type figs have an opening on the end of the fruit, called the ostiole.

Female Blastophaga wasps will lay their eggs inside the male caprifigs. The male wasps emerge, wingless, from their eggs first and fertilize the female wasps before the females emerge from the flowers they were laid in. Most male Blastophaga die before exiting the fruit.

The female Blastophaga, thanks to her wings, can exit the caprifig to enter a female fruit where she will try to deposit her eggs. On her way out of the male caprifig she picks up pollen from the male flowers which she carries with her into the female fruit. Upon entering the female fruit her wings are ripped off. She has been tricked! Not only can she not lay her eggs in the female fruit (because the female flowers are not compatible with her egg-laying needs,) but she cannot escape! Thus, after pollinating the female fruit, the female Blastophaga dies inside the female fruit (yes, the edible fruit).

These tricky figs contain a specialized enzyme to break down the female Blastophaga wasp's body, but the moral of the story is that when you eat a Smyrna-type fig, or a late-harvest San Pedro-type fig, you are eating a carnivorous fruit!

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Daily Life For Master Gardeners

Light Brown Apple Moth

By Andrea Peck


The news is full of bug sightings. Perhaps they are taking a summer vacation or perhaps we're getting better at trapping them. I've spotted my own – but I'll talk about that next week. Mine are bigger, furrier and accessorized with tails. The memories are still too painful and fresh. No, this week we will have to resign ourselves to a few small but devastating wranglers that seem to be on a roll here in San Luis Obispo County. I'm not going to talk about the single Asian citrus psyllid which was discovered cooling its heels in Cayucos recently (look to last week's post for information on that pest). This week I set my sights on a certain party of three light brown apple moths (Epiphyas postvittana) who were found and busted in Arroyo Grande. 

The light brown apple moth (LBAM) is a humble creature that is native to Australia. Despite its unimpressive appearance, this beast feeds on a wide range of plant species. During its caterpillar stage, it eats everything. Maybe it's myopic. Maybe it's just confused. These are possibilities. But, remember, this bugger is from Australia, where the men are brawny and the bugs are opportunists.  It's like the goat that started chewing on my green dress when I visited the zoo as a child. You might question its proclivities, but the reactive among us don't ask why, we just run.

The LBAM is a stealth rapscallion that varies in appearance and is difficult to identify. In fact, the only sure way to know that you have an LBAM is by inspecting its reproductive organs. In Australia the moth is considered a major pest of apples, oranges, pears and grapes. The term ‘apple moth' is deceptive, however. They prey on apples, but are polyphagous, meaning they dine on a wide variety of crops, plants and ornamentals. The LBAM prefers cooler climates with low rainfall and high humidity. Hot environments lower their survival rates and quell breeding. The LBAM is part of the leafroller family (Tortricidae). This family is distinguished by its ability to roll a leaf, sleeping-bag style, around its larvae, secure it with webbing, and then eat the leaf without leaving its cozy confines.

White or light green eggs are laid by adult moths and are typically found in masses of 20 to 50, but up to 170 eggs in a mass have been found. Eggs appear shingle-like or similar to the scales of a fish.

The caterpillar is medium green in color with whitish appearing hairs. The head is a yellow-brown. It is this stage of growth that the LBAM is most damaging.

Baciillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Bt) is one method of control. Others include: spinosad (Entrust and Success), spinetoram (Radiant), methoxyfenozide (Intrepid), tebufenozide (Confirm). Some organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates are reported to control LBAM. Pheromone mating disruption may be successful with chronic problems.  Where some damage can be tolerated, biological control, such as parasitoids may lower populations.


Currently there is a 9-mile quarantine area surrounding the homing location of the detected moths in Arroyo Grande. Management efforts continue extensively throughout the state.




Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 8:45 PM

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