Safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced today (Dec. 4) that a Stop Use notice and statewide quarantine have been issued for the organic fertilizer product AGRO GOLD WS to all organic operations registered in California.
Residents who use the product in their gardens or landscapes should also be aware the product may contain weed killers, said Chris McDonald, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor.
"Home gardeners should not use the organic biological amendment Agro Gold WS, which is commonly sold as a bundled package with the organic herbicide Weed Slayer," said McDonald. "CDFA has found Agro Gold WS to have been adulterated with the herbicides glyphosate and diquat, which may kill your plants."
He advises home gardeners to read the CDFA press release at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/egov/press_releases/Press_Release.asp?PRnum=20-173 for more information.
An international team of researchers has established a connection between ancient Indian rock art painted in a Kern County cave and a common California plant that was used by Native Americans in their sacred rituals.
This is the first time a hallucinogen has been tied to rock art, the researchers said in their article published in the November 2020 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
UC Cooperative Extension advisor David Haviland, a Kern County entomology expert, was able to work with the researchers to confirm the notion that one of the images painted on the Pinwheel Cave in Wild Wolves Preserve is likely a sphinx moth, an insect that pollinates Datura. Datura is a genus of plants native to North America that include the common agricultural pest jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and sacred thornapple (Datura wrightii).
“I've experienced hundreds of sphinx moths pollinating Datura,” Haviland said. “The sun starts to go down, the large white flowers open up and attract the moths. Scientists have reported that, after drinking the nectar with their long proboscises, they fly a little erratically, suggesting that, even to the moths, the nectar has a small narcotic effect.”
An image in the cave appears to show a human figure with a sphinx moth head. In another part of the cave, Native Americans painted a bright red pinwheel shape, which the scientists believe depicts a Datura flower as it swirls open. The most telling evidence that connects the Datura to the cave art is dozens of masticated wads of Datura plant fiber that were found pressed into crevices inside the cave.
“This indicates that Datura was ingested in the cave and that the rock painting represents the plant itself, serving to codify communal rituals involving this powerful entheogen,” wrote the researchers in their PNAS article.
Datura is known to have been used by Native American youth when initiated into adulthood, where the root was processed into a tea known historically as toloache. Datura could also be taken throughout their lives to invoke supernatural power for doctoring, counteract negative supernatural events, ward off ghosts or see the future.
Today, Native Americans' descendants recognize the plant's toxicity and no longer ingest Datura, while still respecting their ancestors' knowledge in using a substance that was dangerous and could result in death if the dosage were miscalculated.
“The authors of the article agree: the plant can be highly toxic and should never be consumed,” said David Robinson, United Kingdom archaeologist and the research leader.
Robinson and his team noticed the clumps of fiber, or quids, tucked into crevices on the wall when they were researching Pinwheel Cave in 2007. Quids are commonly found where Native Americans have chewed vegetation to extract nutrition. The scientists analyzed the quids for ancient DNA evidence, but found none. They did discover the wads of vegetation were not comprised of a typical Native dietary staples.
The scientists used three-dimensional digital microscopy on 15 clumps found in the cave, and identified evidence that the Native Americans' chewed and bit the quids with their teeth to extract atropine and scopolamine – two hallucinogenic alkaloids found in Datura. Almost all the samples are Datura wrightii. One exception was a quid of Yucca.
Fifty-six clearly identifiable quids were found in the Pinwheel Cave crevices, but traces of fibrous materials in crevices indicate there were many more in the past that are now gone. Based on radiocarbon dating, the oldest quid studied contained 400-year-old plant material; the newest one was from 130 years ago.
With the scientific analysis of the quids, the researchers were able to interpret the ancient rock art images.
“Rather than the art depicting what is seen in a trance, the pinwheel is likely a representation of the plant causing the trance,” the article says. “The rock art thus established the space where individuals underwent a deeply meaningful first-hand entheogenic experience within the context of an important communal site.”
With winter soon upon us, it's a good time to treat your garden bed just like the one where you tuck in at night, says Dustin Blakey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, director and UC Master Gardener coordinator in Inyo and Mono counties.
Blakey hosted a webinar on Facebook during Healthy Soils Week 2020 (Nov. 30 – Dec. 5) to advise home gardeners how to promote healthy soils to maximize their gardening success.
“Some genius suggested we call garden plots ‘beds,'” he said. “It makes sense. Mom was right. Don't stand or walk on the bed. Keep it neat and tidy. And cover it, in the case of a garden bed, with organic mulch.”
The goal is to end up with garden soil that holds adequate water, nutrients and air, supports soil life forms, like worms, insects and microorganisms, and is convenient to work with.
“If I have to get a mallet to bang a trowel into the ground, it's not healthy soil,” Blakey said.
As a first step, designate permanent walkways in the garden so only those areas become compacted by foot traffic, leaving the plots where vegetables will be grown undisturbed.
“Along parts of the Oregon Trail, almost 200 years later you can still see the ruts where the wagon wheels rolled, and plants aren't growing there,” Blakey said.
He recommended gardeners cover their walkways with gravel, decomposed granite or organic materials like wood chips, bark or grass. Installing raised garden beds is an ideal way to differentiate growing and walking areas. In his own garden, Blakey built the beds four feet wide to have easy access to all the plants while standing on the walkways.
Add compost to the soil inside the beds to reap a variety of benefits.
“It's often said, no matter the problem, compost is the solution,” Blakey said.
Compost provides a food source for beneficial microorganisms in the soil. If soil is sandy, compost helps it hold water and nutrients. If the soil is clay-like, compost loosens the soil, making it more friable.
Covering the garden soil surface with mulch or cover crops is also critical to soil health, Blakey said. The topping moderates the soil temperature, supporting the organisms living below ground. The covering helps prevent weeds, and as the mulch breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil.
“You can also grow cover crops,” Blakey said. “I'm surprised how few gardeners use cover crops. Put some seeds in the ground instead of buying a bag of amendments.”
Cover crops can be part of a healthy garden crop rotation, keeping roots growing in the soil all year long.
“Grasses scavenge nutrients. Legumes fix nitrogen. I grow sweet potatoes. They shade everything and keep the weeds at bay. A daikon radish cover crop penetrates deep into the ground, naturally tilling the soil,” he said.
Blakey discourages a common habit of some long-time gardeners, frequent rototilling with a heavy machine, and rather encourages what he calls “gentle tilling.”
“You don't need power equipment. Experiment with using a shovel,” he said. “My soil is loose and easy to work. Some beds, I don't even turn. I just plant directly in the healthy soil.”
View a recording of Blakey's one-hour webinar on healthy soil on the UC Master Gardener Program Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UCMasterGardeners. The UC Master Gardeners offer many online gardening resources and programs in most California counties. Find your local program at http://mg.ucanr.edu/FindUs.
In less than a decade, some of the burned expanses from this year's megafires could burst into intense flames again, reported Ula Chrobak in Scientific American.
Frequent, low-severity fires, which clear out patches of low-lying vegetation and dry leaf litter, have an preventative effect. Research shows that areas burned by megafires are more likely to become susceptible to fires again.
UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor Susie Kocher said that a century ago, before officials quashed all wildfires, only 5% to 10% of Sierra Nevada fires would burn at high severity. Today, the proportion of high-severity fires is between 40% and 60%.
“That's way outside of what we think would have been natural,” Kocher said.
After high-severity fires, the landscape is scorched and shadeless. Without mother trees, it may take a long time, or even be impossible, for conifers to move back in. With open land and sunlight, shrubs sprout amid downed dead pines, which over time accumulate dead twigs and leaves. If there is a spark, the shrubbery and fallen wood can sustain another large fire.
“Ultimately, all of these lands are going to need management within anywhere from two to 10 years —and probably closer to two to five years after a fire—to maintain that reduction in fuel,” said Kate Wilkin, a fire scientist at San José State University. As climate change makes California hotter and drier, increasing the propensity for monstrous fires, this need will only grow.
While COVID-19 has put the world on pause, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources continues to bring the power of UC research in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, and youth development to local communities to improve the lives of all Californians.
On Tuesday, Dec. 1, UC ANR will be participating in #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals to celebrate generosity worldwide. #GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, after Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
With the #PushPlayCA theme, UC ANR is counting on the public to help it push past the obstacles of 2020 to serve Californians. Recently UC Cooperative Extension has been helping residents prepare their homes to withstand wildfire, giving virtual gardening lessons to people who want to grow their own food, and helping small family farmers find new markets for their produce after their restaurant contracts were canceled due to COVID-19.
“Gifts to UC ANR help ensure we can continue to provide essential resources and trusted information to the people of California in times of crisis and beyond,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “Your investment supports research, education and services in your community and in all 58 counties in California. We can't do it without your help!”
Donors may designate the UC ANR programs or locations to which they wish to donate. The website ucanr.edu/givingtuesday contains links to all UC ANR programs, research and extension centers and UCCE offices.
UC ANR anticipates an exciting campaign thanks in part to generous donors, volunteers, staff and board members who have given a total of $40,000 in matching funds—a tremendous incentive to donors across the state who want to double the impact of their gifts.
Gifts made online starting at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 1 are eligible to be matched until the matching funds are depleted. “That means stay up late on Nov. 30 to double the value of your gift,” said Emily Delk, UC ANR director of annual giving.
To give gifts and support UC ANR programs and research for a healthier California, visit ucanr.edu/givingtuesday on Dec. 1.
To learn more about what UC ANR is doing in your community, visit https://ucanr.edu and follow @ucanr on social media.