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Urban Agriculture

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What to Do When Bees Become a Problem

A resident of Pasadena recently contacted me with a “sticky” problem. Bees had created a colony inside the walls of her condo and she wondered what to do. I don’t have any expertise in entomology beyond a few college classes, but I made a few phone calls to see what I could find out. 

My first stop was the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. My organization, UC Cooperative Extension, dispenses gardening advice and information on integrated pest management for gardens and farms, but we don’t have a lot available on structural pests. The Agricultural Commissioner’s office regulates pest control and monitors insect populations, especially invasive insects. It turns out they have two inspectors on staff who field the bee-related questions that arise around the county.   I spoke with Inspector Erineo Ada, who can be reached at 626-459-8895. The other inspector is at 626-459-8894. Inspector Ada says they get many calls about bee swarms, both outdoors and within structures. 
 
Inspector Ada told me that once bees get into a structure, there are basically two options for removal. The first option for homeowners is to hire a licensed pest control operator who is registered to do structural work. The alternative is to hire a beekeeper who will remove the bees and find them another home. I did a quick web search and was able to find at least three companies in the Los Angeles area who do live bee removal. 
 
He also suggested that homeowners with a bee problem contact their local vector control agency. Sometimes these agencies can actually come remove a swarm if it is outside of a structure, for example, in a tree. There are two major vector control districts in Los Angeles County. The San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District is on the web at http://www.sgvmosquito.org/ and the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District can be accessed on line at http://www.lawestvector.org/ .
 
It’s much easier to keep bees from getting into a structure than it is to get them out once they’re established. The Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s website has a great on-line guide on how to bee-proof your home at http://acwm.co.la.ca.us/scripts/proofing.htm .

Bee Swarm
Bee Swarm

Photo by Kathy Garvey, UC Davis Dept. of Entomology

Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Lincoln’s Land-Grant Legacy Alive in Los Angeles

I’m a week behind schedule in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, but in the spirit of “better late than never” I decided to write a Lincoln-themed post anyway. As former Presidents go, Lincoln’s been getting more than his share of attention since the recent election of another Senator from Illinois. Among his many enduring legacies, Lincoln helped to create the national extension movement that continues to serve our country to this day. By signing the 1862 Morrill Act into law, he made it possible for states to open public universities that would provide education for the average person, focused on agriculture and other practical subjects. 

The Morrill Act offered states a grant of federal land to finance a new university. These new institutions of higher learning became known as land-grant universities, and were charged with helping the nation improve its agricultural production to feed a rapidly growing population. Over time it was clear that the new land-grant campuses needed to take their information out into communities where it could help people most directly. By 1914, each state's land-grant university had county-based extension offices in place to share research-based knowledge at the local level. 

Here in California, our land-grant institution is the University of California. There is a University of California Cooperative Extension office in most counties in California, funded in partnership with the local county and the US Department of Agriculture. UC Cooperative Extension takes information developed at the UC campuses and makes it available to local communities. We also conduct applied research to address local problems. We focus our efforts on the themes of good nutrition, a healthy environment, gardening, agriculture, and positive youth development.

When Lincoln signed the Morrill Act 147 years ago, the US was a nation of farmers. Today, less than two percent of the population engages in farming.  Yet the issues we address are highly relevant to a more urban population. Cooperative Extension continues to work with farmers. Urban residents value having farms nearby so that they can have farmers markets and some measure of regional food security. Cooperative Extension’s expertise in nutrition helps communities struggling to overcome challenges like childhood obesity and diabetes. We continue to tailor our 4-H Youth Development Program to new audiences of youth, who learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through more than 80 projects ranging from photography to marine biology. Our expertise in natural resources has allowed us to help find solutions to critical environmental issues such as management of wildfire and water pollution. 
 
More details about UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County are available at our website at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/.  Although the world has changed so much, I like to think Abe Lincoln would approve of the continuing influence of his Morrill Act and its land-grant legacy on communities like Los Angeles. 
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 2:25 PM

Rooftop Gardens in Los Angeles

In dense urban communities it can be a challenge for gardeners to find a plot to call their own.  Community gardens are one strategy to create garden space for people without backyards.  Another possibility is to look at rooftops for garden space.  Today’s LA Times Home and Garden Section features a local chef who has developed a garden on a rooftop in Beverly Hills which supplies some of the herbs and vegetables he uses at his restaurant. Photos and the article are available at http://tinyurl.com/ct2wje .

Another more extensive rooftop garden was recently created on a mid-rise residential building in downtown Los Angeles.   This project, entitled SYNTHe, will include fruit trees and vines along with vegetables.  Take a look at the photos and description at http://tinyurl.com/c3qfbh.

While food production is one focus of rooftop gardening, it's not the only reason to plant on roofs.  There is a strong international “green roof” movement that promotes greening rooftops to help cool and insulate buildings and reduce storm water runoff.  Several metropolitan areas have recently promoted green roofs.  For example, starting this year New York City building owners can receive substantial property tax credits for installing green roofs.  

Anyone interested in creating a rooftop garden or green roof will need to do some research, since structural and safety issues are involved.  The weight of soil, plants and water and the weight capacity of the roof need to be carefully assessed.  I found two especially helpful resources as I looked for information on rooftop gardening.  A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle provided an overview of rooftop gardening around the United States, at http://tinyurl.com/crl673. Here in Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department has published an outstanding and extensive guide to green roofs, available at tinyurl.com/atqf7l

As Los Angeles residents continue to seek ways to improve their urban environment, rooftop gardening merits further exploration and expansion.

 

Posted on Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 11:57 PM

Local Historian Delves into South Bay Agricultural History

One of our talented Master Gardeners, Judi Gerber, is also a historian who has recently published the book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay from the Arcadia Press “Images of America” Series.  

The book is loaded with photos of Torrance and surrounding communities from the days, not so long ago, when LA County’s South Bay was home to major agriculture, including flower farms, hay and bean production, dairies and much more. Judi shares great information: for example, I never knew that Gardena was once known as the “Berry Capital of Southern California” and that Lomita once billed itself as the “Celery Capital of the World”. 
 
An image Judi shares in the book is that of flower stalls all along Pacific Coast Highway, selling the snapdragons, carnations and marigolds produced in the flower fields of Redondo and Hermosa Beach during the first half of the 20th Century. Contrast this early, pastoral Pacific Coast Highway with today’s strip-mall lined, traffic-jammed PCH. It is a vivid example of how much Los Angeles has changed in a few short decades.
 
I asked Judi how she became interested in local agricultural history. She was born in the South Bay, grew up in Torrance, and remembers visiting a local dairy as a child. As an adult, she became involved with the Torrance Farmer’s Market, and saw a need to let people know about the remaining local farming community and how to preserve it. Along with a busy career in public administration, she began a study of local farming history. Older residents of the area were very helpful, offering stories and photos, eager to share this part of their past. 
 
As her history project evolved, she somehow managed to squeeze in volunteer work with our Master Gardener Program. As a UC Master Gardener, she leads a gardening program for senior citizens at Bartlett Senior Center in Torrance. 
 
She also blogs as “LA Farm Girl” at http://www.lafarmgirl.blogspot.com/ and has published a variety of articles about farming in California. “My goal is to get people to support small farmers and become more aware of city farming”, said Judi. “California still produces more than half of our nation’s fruits and vegetables. As urban dwellers we often forget that. It’s a story that needs to be told.”

Los Angeles County Celery Production
Los Angeles County Celery Production

Bill Mertz (left) and Carl Tasche pose with their celery in LA County's Lomita, the former "Celery Capital of the World". (Courtesy of Bill Mertz).

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Master Gardeners Help Los Angeles County Residents Grow their own Food

Cooperative Extension has a wonderful resource that I’d like people to be more aware of: our amazing Master Gardener Volunteers.  We have more than 200 MG volunteers, as we call them. 

The Master Gardener Program officially began in 1978.  We maintained the program on and off over the years, depending on staffing and interest.  By the early 1990s, however, our program in Los Angeles County was inactive.  That is, until Yvonne Savio, coordinator extraordinaire joined our staff in 1995 and immediately restarted the program.  It’s been going strong ever since. 

Master Gardeners participate in extensive training then volunteer with us in a variety of ways, mostly focused on improving food access in low-income communities.  Last year our Master Gardeners reached more than 87,000 people in Los Angeles County, working with community gardens, school gardens and answering calls on our Master Gardener Helpline. 

The Helpline is a free service for Los Angeles County residents.  Anyone can call or email the Helpline with their home gardening questions.  The Master Gardener Helpline is available by phone at (323) 260-3238 or email at mglosangeleshelpline@ucdavis.edu. 

Yvonne and the Master Gardeners have been featured in the media twice in the past week.  The Los Angeles Times ran a story on Victory Gardens on January 10th, and included a mention of how our Master Gardeners have helped to promote food gardening around Los Angeles. The Times article discussed how interest in gardening is cyclical, and that when economic times are difficult, more people garden.  For example, the article mentions that a major seed company experienced a 40% increase in its sale of vegetable and herb seeds in 2007.   You can view the story at www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-victory10-2009jan10,0,7167635.story

Our Master Gardener program was also featured on Evan Kleiman’s “Good Food” Show on KCRW on January 10th.  You can listen to the interview with Yvonne at www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf/gf090110australian_olive_oil

Learn more about our Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program at this link:  celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/Common_Ground_Garden_Program/

Posted on Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 12:04 PM

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