From the UC Blogosphere...
The Hungry Caterpillar
By Andrea Peck
The thing that's bugging me right now is the bug that continues to decimate my purple passion vine (Passiflora incarnata). It is a small nuisance of a caterpillar with a hello-I'm-here orange color that lies beneath medieval looking black spines. It has a name: The gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. I know what you are thinking: how threatening can a tiny caterpillar be? Truthfully, it is not. At least not always.
The gulf fritillary is a lovely little orange butterfly that flirts around like a copper-headed lass. It chops its wings in a quick and erratic motion as if it is making cutout snowflakes in the air. It's pretty. It's pretty common if I may run the risk of sounding snide. Or maybe it is just in my garden that it seems like there is an overabundance.
Her (or his) delicate dabbling amongst your plumage does nothing to illuminate the seething spawn that will eat your plant, leaves, flowers, fruit and all. Oh, wait. Where is my passion vine? Where has it gone? Has it been consumed by its own host?
Yes. It has. The guest has proliferated to the point of devouring the host. The sight before your gardening eyes is no less than the image of a Bosch painting brought to three dimensions. Your lovely vining plant has diminished to the point that survival seems unlikely. You are fearful, scared, anxious. Pick one.
The passion vine is what we call a host plant. It provides (free of charge, I might add) housing and sustenance to the gulf fritillary during its larval stage of growth. The leaves provide food for the caterpillars and a home for the chrysalis. Butterflies then visit to lay eggs and the process proceeds.
Normally this is a situation that does no harm to the passion vine. Provided the plant is healthy and well-established there should be no cause for concern. But, in my own case, the plant has not had time to gain ground. It is a new planting. Now it is a struggling new planting.
It needed help. First aid. Red Cross for plants.
So I jumped in like an Emergency Tech and grabbed (gently) about ten large offenders. I placed them in a bucket to be relocated to another, more established, passion vine that is at least 100 steps away. Once the pillagers were successfully relocated I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
So there you have it – you have been forewarned. Hosts are good. Visitors are good. But, once in a while you may need reinforcements to end the party before you get demolished.
Lessons from Beautiful Tuscany
By Steve McDermott UCCE Master Gardener
We live in one of the 5 Mediterranean climate regions of the world. The others include Western Australia, Chile, South Africa, the Mediterranean region, which includes Italy, and of course, coastal California. All 5 of these regions share a mild climate and a similar plant pallet. For instance, during a visit to the famous Chianti wine region of Tuscany in Italy, you'll find an environment similar to parts of San Luis Obispo County where the winters are clement, the sky is sunny, and the yearly rainfall is scant. There, the rolling hills of Tuscany are covered in ribbons of grapevines, interspersed with small farms that are planted with olive trees and aromatic lavender.
Some wonderful plants have adapted to these Mediterranean climates. Olives, lavender, and a long list of beautiful plants do well in climates that receive lower annual rainfall.
The next Advice to Grow By workshop - “Under the Tuscan Sun” - will feature presentations on cultivating and maintaining plants found in northern Italy, including fruiting olive trees and lavender. Useful parallels will be drawn from small farms and regional gardening in Tuscany.
The workshop will begin with the general concept of a Tuscan landscape and will then focus on the care of fruiting olive trees, specifically Tuscan cultivars as they are similar to our California Mission olive tree. We'll discuss irrigation techniques, fruit fly management, harvest procedures, and the techniques used for processing olives for extra virgin olive oil.
Join the Master Gardeners and a local olive grower for “Under the Tuscan Sun” on Saturday, September 20, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 am. We'll meet under the shaded pergola in the Garden of the Seven Sisters, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Seats fill up quickly so come early for a good seat! No pets please; service animals only. The garden will remain open to the public following the event from noon to 2:00 pm.
UC Master Gardener programs in Riverside, Santa Clara, Orange and San Diego counties have won the program's Search for Excellence competition, announced Missy Gable, director of UC's statewide Master Gardener Program. The triennial Search for Excellence awards afford county programs the opportunity to share successful projects, including demonstration gardens, workshops, presentation or hands-on programs, community service, horticulture therapy, research or youth programs.
Educating the public was the focus of the Search for Excellence 2014 competition. The entries were judged by a team of experts selected from throughout the state.
"Congratulations to all the Master Gardeners involved in carrying out these innovative projects," Gable said. "This competition celebrates the hard work of dedicated UCCE Master Gardener volunteers across the state."
The Search for Excellence competition winners will be honored at the 2014 UC Master Gardener Conference, Oct. 7-10 in Fish Camp, Calif. The next Search for Excellence competition will be in 2017.
“There's Gold in them thar hills!” Riverside County is a big county, stretching from the Los Angeles metro area to the Colorado River. The main challenge of the UC Master Gardener Program of Riverside County was how to better fulfill their mission of educating their community on sustainable gardening practices. The answer – “Gold Miners.” Riverside County was divided into nine geographic areas with a UC Master Gardener volunteer in each area actively pursuing volunteering opportunities for their peers. Since the program began in 2011, “Gold Miners” has increased the presence of UC Master Gardeners throughout the county, giving volunteers the opportunity to provide outreach closer to home, engage new members of the public and increase the number of certified UC Master Gardeners from all regions of the county.
UC Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County developed a one-acre teaching and demonstration garden on the grounds of St. Louise Hospital in Gilroy. The demonstration garden was designed to create educational outreach opportunities in the far southern portion of the county. UC Master Gardener volunteers provide hands-on public workshops in the garden as well as classes in both the hospital boardroom and community libraries. The objectives of the St. Louise Hospital garden includes teaching residents about low-water vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants well-suited to local growing conditions, and modeling sustainable gardening practices reflective of UC research-based horticultural principles.
Passionate volunteers from the UC Master Gardener Program of Orange County developed a series of 15 educational videos. Nine videos provide a comprehensive overview of the composting process and six videos concentrate on worm composting. Each series begins with an explanation of what composting is and shifts into how to start, maintain and troubleshoot a compost pile or worm bin. The videos are designed to instruct and encourage the gardening public to compost either at home or in community gardens. All of the educational videos were filmed and narrated by UC Master Gardeners. The videos are published on the UC Master Gardeners of Orange County public website.
First Runner-up - Orange County
Recognizing the need to reach a significantly larger number of home gardeners than demonstration booths and Farmers Market tables were engaging, the UC Master Gardeners of Orange County developed a speakers bureau. The criteria was simple: fulfill the mission of disseminating up-to-date, research-based information and to deliver "wow" presentations for the public. UC Master Gardeners created teaching plans, incorporating the statewide program mission and the ANR Strategic Vision to cover important topics such as gardening for improved nutrition and healthy living. Additionally, the UCCE Master Gardeners of Orange County engaged the help of Toastmasters International, an undisputed authority for training speakers.
Second Runner-up - San Diego County
UC Master Gardeners of San Diego County created a program called MG Growing Opportunities (MG-GO) which provides research-based horticulture education to teenage youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Under the guidance of UC Master Gardeners and a vocational horticultural therapist, incarcerated youth learn about ecosystem friendly, sustainable gardening. In the process, the youth acquire vocational and life skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, self-esteem, and leadership. The goals of MG-GO are to introduce sustainable gardening practices to an under-served population, highlight gardening as a healing endeavor, and develop a replicable model for statewide use.
The UC Master Gardener Program provides the public with UC research-based information about home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management practices. It is administered by local UCCE county-based offices that are the principal outreach and public service arms of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The UC Master Gardener Program is an example of an effective partnership between the UC Division and passionate volunteers. In exchange for training from University of California, UCCE Master Gardener volunteers engage the public with timely gardening-related trainings and workshops. With programs based in 50 California counties and 6,048 active members, UC Master Gardener volunteers donated 385,260 hours last year and have donated more than 4.2 million hours since the program inception in 1981.
California has emerged as the world's almond orchard because of near-perfect conditions for the crop, but in terms of production, it may have hit its peak, reported Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian.
"The future for farming almonds in California will always be there," said David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County. "It is more about coming into balance with our water resources."
The story quoted from a UC report that California farmers have spent an extra $500 million this year pumping extra water to cope with the drought.
Co-author of the study, Richard Howitt, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, cautioned against singling out particular crops.
"Don't blame almonds for the problem," he said. "The problem is one of water mismanagement."
He suggested changes in how California manages water so farmers monitor their groundwater use and replenish supplies when there is more rain.
"[The farmers] should be repaying what they are taking. And if they are taking more, as they always are in droughts, then they should be making plans to repay it back in wet years. If you treat your groundwater the way you treat your retirement account, then everything would be OK."
More information about water stress in almonds may be found in David Doll's blog, The Almond Doctor.
Because of the drought, California almond farmers have been forced to drill new wells, rely on salty groundwater for irrigation and bulldoze some trees, reported Robert Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee.
The story presented results from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, which worked with state ag officials to send surveys to 688 California almond farmers; 458 of them responded.
The survey found that nearly 70 percent of almond farmers have only groundwater to irrigate their trees. About 23 percent said they had to drill new wells and 32 percent were reconditioning existing wells.
Normally growers mix surface water with groundwater to dilute the salts in water that has been pumped up from wells. But for many farmers, that hasn't been possible this year.
"Consequently, the amount of salt in the trees has placed them under stress and it is being reflected in smaller nut size, reduced growth and the potential for small crops in the future," said Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension emeritus adviser who specialists in nut crops. He added that salt buildup can kill a tree.