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Oh the weather outside is fungal - It’s like a mushroom jungle

Mushrooms are popping up all over California thanks to the wet rainy weather we have had across the state recently. They seem to magically appear overnight, like umbrellas on a sunny beach day. This fascinating occurrence doesn't actually happen overnight as it may seem, but they appear once moisture becomes available. Mushrooms expand rapidly by absorbing water from the surrounding soil and consequently ‘pop' out of the ground.

Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a fungus and come in myriad shapes, sizes and colors. They are typically the only part of a fungus that can be seen because the mass of the organism is located underground.

There are approximately 14,000 different classified species of mushrooms, here are a few of my favorites:

Agaricus campestris (fairy rings): According to UC IPM, fairy rings get their name from the ancient belief that mushrooms grew in circles where fairies dance. Fairy ring fungi can cause circular rings in grass, ranging from 1 to 12 or more feet in diameter. (Photo: UC IPM / Jack Kelly Clark)

 

 

Boletus edulis (king bolete): A mighty mushroom of the mycology world, king bolete can be an exciting find. With a cap up to 10 inches across and a thick stem, these club like mushrooms have a wide range. In the home landscape, they can most commonly be found under conifer trees planted in turfgrass. (Photo: Strobilomyces)

 

Laetiporus sulphureus (chicken of the woods): A showy and beautiful shelf-like mushroom, chicken of the woods is easy to spot because of its bright yellow color. They most frequently grow out of wounds on trees and each ‘shelf' can be up to 10 inches across. (Photo: Bruce Hagen)

 

Nidula Candida (bird's nest): Like their name implies, these small mushrooms are reminiscent of birdsnests, complete with tiny eggs. These mushrooms are most commonly found on decaying wood, typically on fallen trees or in soil with bark mulch. These tiny mushrooms aren't easy to spot as the largest caps are only ½ inch across. (Photo: Nathan Wilson- Mushroom Observer)

The next time you see mushrooms, consider what might be happening underground in your soil. For more information on mushrooms including identification and management, visit UC IPM online.

Enjoy the wet weather and the next time you find yourself excited over a new fungal find, here is a jingle to celebrate the season:

Let it Rain (sung to the tune of ‘Let it Snow')
by Ann King Filmer

Oh the weather outside is fungal
It's like a mushroom jungle
But since we've got much to gain
Let it rain! Let it rain! Let it rain!

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 10:26 AM

Five ways NOT to poison friends and family during the holidays

The food-safety danger zone is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
‘Tis the season for gathering with friends and family and eating. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus for the rest of us, many of us invite people to our homes during the holidays and leave food out to graze. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, caution UC Cooperative Extension nutrition experts.

You may be thinking, “My family has eaten food that has been sitting on the table longer than two hours and survived.” Consider yourself lucky.

“We keep learning more about foodborne illness,” says Patti Wooten Swanson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor in San Diego County. “We probably did get sick, but we thought it was something else, like the 24-hour flu.”

She added that kids, diabetics, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

For the holidays and all year long, Wooten Swanson offers these food safety tips:

  • Thaw turkey or meat in the refrigerator.
  • Don't wash raw meat or poultry in the sink before cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat or poultry is done.
  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
  • On the fourth day, throw leftovers away.

Guacamole and salsa shouldn't be left out for longer than 2 hours.
Thawing foods correctly and storing them at the right temperatures is important, said Wooten Swanson.

“Bacteria grow very rapidly,” she said. “From 40 degrees to 140 degrees is what we call the danger zone. We encourage you to get food out of that temperature range as soon as possible. Don't let food sit on the table after you finish eating and go to watch TV.”

While you're watching football, she also recommends not leaving food out the length of a game.

“Chips are fine to leave out,” Wooten Swanson said, “But put the salsa and guacamole in small containers, then put out new bowls at halftime. Take away the original containers to wash or discard.You don't want to refill a bowl that has been out for 2 hours.”

Washing your hands can prevent bacteria from spreading to food.
Food safety begins with clean hands.

“We put an emphasis on hand washing because it can prevent cross-contamination, which helps prevent foodborne illness and can keep us healthy during the flu season,” said Connie Schneider, director of the UC Youth, Families and Communities Statewide Program.

She recommends rubbing your hands together with soap and water for 20 seconds to thoroughly clean them.

The UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) teaches hand washing as a food safety practice in its nutrition classes for adults and children. After taking the class in San Diego County, 72 percent of the 340 participating adults improved their safe food-handling practices and 55 percent of 1,231 children improved, said Wooten Swanson, who oversees the nutrition and food safety education program.

For more food safety resources, visit UC Cooperative Extension's  "Food Safety for the Holidays" website http://ucanr.edu/HolidayFoodSafety and Nebraska and Iowa State Cooperative Extension's food safety website at http://www.4daythrowaway.org.  For USDA recommended temperatures for cooking meat, visit http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/05/25/cooking-meat-check-the-new-recommended-temperatures.

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Rat poison used in marijuana grows harming wildlife

Pacific fisher is another victim of illegal marijuana grows.
Post-mortem tests on Pacific fishers that are part of an extensive UC study have determined that most had a significant amount of rodenticide in their bodies when they died, reported Kellie Flanagan in the Sierra News Online.

The fishers are being monitored by a team of scientists affiliated with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), a joint effort by the University of California, state and federal agencies and the public to study management of forest lands in the Sierra Nevada.

To learn the animals' habits and habitat, the SNAMP wildlife team has placed radio-tracking collars on about 100 fishers over the years, with around 30 collared at any given time. When animals being monitored die, they are collected to determine the cause. Anti-coagulants were found in the livers of 90 percent of the fishers.

A likely source is rodenticides left behind at illegal marijuana grows in the forest, the article said.

"SNAMP discovered the rodenticide poisoning issue in the fisher population, and we knew we needed to find some money to clean up the raided sites," said Anne Lombardo, SNAMP representative based in Oakhurst, Calif. "That's our contribution to putting science on the ground."

Nov. 5 - 14 about 100 volunteers and agency personnel cleaned up 13 Sierra Nevada marijuana cultivation sites to restore habitat, and remove risks to wildlife. The teams dismantled and remediated sites previously raided or partially cleaned up, and documented and removed all toxicants found.

Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 2:13 PM

New GMO alfalfa holds exciting possibilities, UC expert says

Growers can produce more nutritious alfalfa using new low-lignin variety, says UCCE's Dan Putnam.
Good news for dairy cows. Science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value. The new alfalfa variety – genetically modified in a way that puts brakes on the lignin-producing gene – was deregulated by USDA in November.

“In general, a reduced lignin trait in alfalfa is very welcome,” said Dan Putnam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “The low-lignin trait has some interesting potential implications for dairy cows and other ruminants, as well as for yield, agronomic efficiency, and even energy and water use efficiency.”

The new variety, called KK179, was developed by Forage Genetics International, Monsanto and the Nobel Foundation. Some of the field testing took place at UC Davis and the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake, Calif.

KK179 differs from most other GMO agricultural crops in that the modification improves the plant quality. Other common modifications, such as glyphosate resistance and addition of a Bt gene, were designed to help with pest control.

Another difference is the source of the modified gene, Putnam said. In glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa, for example, the plant was modified by inserting a bacteria gene. Gene segments reducing lignin were derived from alfalfa itself.

Lignin is a fibrous part of cell walls in plants. It strengthens stems, helping the plant grow upright. However, its concentration in alfalfa is high compared to other forages, a drawback for what is considered the premiere forage of dairy cows.

“Farmers often try to cut early to reduce lignin,” Putnam said. “Unfortunately, yields are decreased by early cutting, often by many tons per acre. If growers were able to harvest later and still obtain good quality, yields would improve.”

That leads to the potential energy- and water-conserving aspects of the KK179 alfalfa.

“If growers reduce harvests by one each year and increase yields with no quality penalty, energy use would decline,” Putnam said. “Also, the amount of milk produced per unit of water used to grow the feed may be increased.”

KK179 won't be for everybody, Putnam cautions. Some export markets reject GMO technology, so growers should check whether their markets will accept alfalfa with the low-lignin trait. Another concern is the possibility of gene flow for farmers who grow alfalfa seed for organic production or export.

“Further research and experience by farmers and researchers are needed to fully understand the importance and implications of reduced-lignin alfalfa on farms,” Putnam said, “but this trait holds some very exciting possibilities.”

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025

Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 8:13 AM

California enjoying a respite from the drought

Paul Vossen
Rain over the last few days in California, which some are describing as falling in "biblical" proportions, will bring welcome relief from the historic drought, if not mark its end, reported the Olive Oil Times.

"The storm will partially replenish water supplies, but there is still a long way to go," commented Dan Flynn of the UC Davis Olive Center.

The lack of rainfall the last few years has left many olive farms with low soil moisture, stressing the trees, said Paul Vossen, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Sonoma and Marin counties.

"Part of that stress influenced the crop load, which was lower than normal, and it also advanced the ripening of fruit," Vossen said. "This autumn harvest was at least two to three weeks early and was finished by Thanksgiving."

The story said the California drought cut U.S. olive oil production by 25 percent.

“The rainfall we are receiving right now is welcome for refilling the soil profiles, so that the olive trees can start off next spring with good growth,” Vossen said. “It is also a relief to see enough rain to start to see a replenishment of our reservoirs, so that irrigation water will once again be plentiful for next summer's needs. Even though we may get some temporary flooding, all in all, this rainfall is a welcome thing.”

 

Posted on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 10:08 AM

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