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Adapting to drought by removing urban landscapes has unintended impacts

A Western scrub jay on a California lawn. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)
Removing landscaping in urban areas to adapt to the California drought carries a gamut of potential repercussions on wildlife and the environment, reported LA Weekly. Two of Gov. Brown's water conservation rules - withholding water from grassy road medians and encouraging residents to remove their lawns - are taking an unexpected toll.

The subject was raised recently by two University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) experts in a position paper they published on their website, the story said. Don Hodel, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in LA County, and Dennis Pittenger, UC ANR Cooperative Extension area environmental horticulturist at UC Riverside, said landscapes and turf offer tremendous benefits to residents, communities and the environment.

"Nobody thought this out," Hodel said. 

The LA Weekly article also quoted Loren Oki, the UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist for landscape horticulture based at UC Davis. Among the obvious problems created by California's turf-removal program, Oki said, is "encouraging people to plant during the heat of the summer, which is the worst time" for new plants to survive in the ground. He predicts many of the low-water plants will not survive the late-summer heat.

Another UC Davis scientist, biochemistry professor William Horwath, raised the potential for turf removal to kill the "decomposition community" that lives in soil.

When cities and homeowners remove vegetation from land, that diminishes the diversity of the soil biology, especially the larger fauna such as worms, which feed off of the droppings of leaves and other materials from plants.

"If you are not growing anything, just gravel or mulch, you'll be losing a lot of worms, and you will at the same time be losing a lot of carbon from under the soil back into the atmosphere," Horwath said.

Oki was one of the authors of a recent post on the UC ANR California Institute for Water Resources blog, The Confluence, that provides practical, well-thought-out advice on drought-tolerant landscaping in California.

"A variety of options exist for gardeners implementing landscaping changes," the article says. "Trading in your turf for concrete, rock, or artificial turf are options. However, none of these selections promote healthy soils and other ecosystem services. In fact, all of these options can be problematic because they create a heat island effect and may have water infiltration or runoff issues."

The story details seven strategies for conserving water while maintaining a living landscape.

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 12:07 PM

UC hosts conference on widely used pesticide threatened with prohibition

UC ANR expert says plant nurseries have a need for neonicotinoid pesticides.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are at the center of a global storm. Implicated in the mysterious deaths of honeybees, neonics (as they are often called for short) were banned in Europe for two years in 2014. In Canada, neonics have been banned in Ontario and several other cities and counties.

In the U.S., President Obama this year asked for a detailed report to determine the best ways to protect pollinators. His request asks the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and “take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators.”

In California – where neonics are used widely in tree crops, vineyards, field crops, nursery plants and home gardens – growers are concerned that a safe and effective class of pesticides will be pulled from their collection of tools.

University of California researchers will explore the science-based research on neonics at a public conference from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the UC Davis Conference Center, 550 Alumni Lane. UC Davis professors, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers and state officials are among the presenters.

Jim Bethke, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor, will be part of the afternoon panel at the event to address the use of neonics at plant nurseries.

“There is a place and a need for neonicotinoid pesticides,” Bethke said. “A tremendous amount of research has been done on the impact of neonics on honeybees, and the impact is minimal. The research is showing that there may be impacts in some uses that we need to take a closer look at. But to eliminate an entire class of pesticides from all applications doesn't make sense.”

Nurseries typically use the pesticide before the plants are shipped to retail outlets. The pesticide is not applied at retail stores. Plants are then purchased by consumers and put into landscapes. By that time, the amount of the pesticide left in the plant is very small.

“Our research has shown that there is a clear decline of the product in the plants over time,” Bethke said. “The concentrations found in nectar and pollen are at such low levels, they won't have any impact on pollinators.”

For this reason, the researchers have concluded that neonics are not contributing to colony collapse disorder, the unexplained bee die-off that has plagued commercial honeybee hives during the last decade.

“Beekeepers use more toxic pesticides than the neonics on honeybee colonies to control mites in the hive, which is far more impactful than neonics will ever be,” Bethke said.

Other speakers at the conference will address pesticide regulation of neonicotinoids in California, neonicotinoid risks associated with invasive species management, and past and current neonicotinoid and bee research.

Registration for the conference is $50, including lunch and a post-conference social hour. To register, go to the California Center for Urban Horticulture website. For more information, contact CCUH representative Kate Lincoln at kmlincoln@ucdavis.edu, (530) 752-6642.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 8:58 AM

Nurturing culinary skills in 4-H

Julianna Payne with her gluten-free cupcakes. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Many young adults entering the workforce know little about meal preparation.

Not so for those enrolled in the foods and nutrition program in UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' (UC ANR) 4-H Youth Development Program. Youths as young as five learn how to prepare healthy nutritious food.

And yes, they learn how to make desserts, such as special treats for their family and friends at Halloween.

Former Solano County 4-H All-Star Ambassador Julianna Payne was so interested in the foods and nutrition project offered by the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, she plans a culinary career.

"That's where I found my love of cooking and most especially, baking," said Payne, 19, who just completed her 14th year in 4-H, including 10 years in foods and nutrition.

4-H is administered by UC ANR Cooperative Extension offices in every California county. The program focuses on leadership and life skills.

"I believe that one of the most important life skills a person needs is knowing how to cook for themselves," Julianna said.

Payne, a 2014 high school graduate, is in her second year at Solano Community College, Fairfield. In the spring, she plans to attend an area culinary school to earn her associate degree in baking and pastry.

"During my 10 years in the food and nutrition project, I made so many things I could not even begin to count," she recalled. "I have made savory things like tamales, empanadas, raviolis, and chilis and I have made sweet things like, peppermint bark, pumpkin scones, toffees, and chocolate orange cupcakes."

Julianna, who joined 4-H at age 5, went on to serve as president of her club for three years. Her experience, enthusiasm and commitment to 4-H led to her being selected for the county's highest 4-H honor: Solano County 4-H All-Star Ambassador.

Her mother, Sharon Payne, is a former community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club and a past president of the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council.

“4-H is a fantastic youth development organization that teaches youth life skills, leadership and citizenship,” said Sharon Payne, a 13-year 4-H volunteer.  “Within their projects, youth can learn about whatever topic that interests them, from foods to computers or animals to robotics. Project work stimulates interests and skills and can introduce youth to careers they may not have otherwise considered.”

A perfect dessert or Halloween treat. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
So it's not surprising that the youth development program (now in the midst of enrolling new members for the 2015-2016 year) nurtures interests, teaches life skills and molds careers, including culinary careers. 

Said Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H Program representative: “The 4-H Youth Development Program has a long history of promoting healthy living among youth and their families.  Reconnecting youth to a healthy food system and teaching them how to grow and prepare fresh food is the focus of many 4-H healthy living programs.  4-H adult volunteer leaders provide mentoring to 4-H members, which plays a vital role in helping them select career paths and achieve success.”

As for Julianna Payne, she is continuing to hone her skills. She entered her gluten-free chocolate/orange cupcakes at the recent Solano County Fair, Vallejo and drew rave reviews from the judges,  staff and volunteers who sampled the cupcakes.

Soon she will be teaching other 4-H'ers as she herself was taught.

“I plan on giving back to 4-H this year by becoming a project leader myself," Julianna said. "I will be teaching a cupcake project for 5-to-8-year-olds in the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club."

Here's the recipe:

Gluten Free Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting, Chocolate Drizzle and Candied Orange Peel

For the Cupcakes:

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cup boiling water
1-3/4 cups all-purpose gluten free flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°F. Line about 30 muffin cups (2-1/2 inch in diameter) with paper or foil baking cups.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, orange juice, orange zest and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Fill cups 2/3 full with batter.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool completely in pans on wire rack. Makes about 30 cupcakes.

For the Frosting:

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Orange zest

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract the orange juice and orange zest.

For the Garnish:

3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate baking bar
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
1 orange

Melt chocolate in a bowl over a double boiler. Drizzle over cupcakes. Peel the orange and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Boil in water until tender. Drain. Heat sugar and water in pot until dissolved. Simmer orange peels in sugar water for 30 minutes. Set on cooling rack to cool. Once cool, toss in granulated sugar and set as garnish on top of cupcakes. Enjoy.

Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Julianna Payne's cupcakes were a big hit at the Solano County Fair. From left are Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of McCormack Hall; Julianna Payne; Sharon Payne, assistant superintendent; and Angelica Gonzalez, staff. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey).
Julianna Payne's cupcakes were a big hit at the Solano County Fair. From left are Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of McCormack Hall; Julianna Payne; Sharon Payne, assistant superintendent; and Angelica Gonzalez, staff. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey).

Julianna Payne's cupcakes were a big hit at the Solano County Fair. From left are Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of McCormack Hall; Julianna Payne; Sharon Payne, assistant superintendent; and Angelica Gonzalez, staff. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey).

Posted on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 at 8:10 PM

Video series with water saving tips debuts

Missy Gable, director of the UC Master Gardener Program, works on video series.
The University of California Master Gardener Program offers simple tips for saving water in home landscaping in a six-part video series that debuts today, Aug. 24.

In the first episode, embedded below, UC Master Gardener director Missy Gable tells viewers about prioritizing plants in the landscape when making irrigation decisions. Because of the four-year drought, most California residents are required to reduce their water use 25 to 36 percent. Gable recommends making trees and shrubs a top watering priority in your home landscape because they take longer to become established and are more costly to replace, while inexpensive and easily replaced annual plants are a lower water priority.

Each Monday for the next six weeks a new water-saving video tip will be released on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) YouTube channel, in the UC Green Blog, and on UC ANR's Facebook page. Topics will include irrigation timing, the importance of mulch, use of fertilizers, weed removal and adding compost.

The UC Master Gardener Program is a statewide network of more than 6,000 volunteers, organized under the auspices of UC ANR, who provide research-based gardening information to residents of California. County-based UC Master Gardener volunteers answer home landscape and gardening questions by phone and email; interact with community members at fairs, festivals, nurseries and farmers markets; manage demonstration gardens; and work with children and adults in establishing school and community gardens. Click here to find a local UC Master Gardener Program.

UC ANR also has numerous online resources for California gardeners.

Additional water-saving tips from Gable and her UC ANR Cooperative Extension colleagues are in a recently published guideline published on The Confluence, a blog of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2015 at 8:55 AM

Give oaks water once a month

Even though California's majestic oak trees are generally considered drought tolerant, the last four years of well-below-average rainfall are taking a toll, reported the Sierra Sun Times.

"In some parts of the state, oaks are being deprived of water for as long as nine months, creating extreme water stress," said Greg Giusti, a forest and wildlands advisor for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. Giusti is headquartered in the UC ANR Cooperative Extension office in Mendocino County. 

Giusti and Kris Randal, the UC Master Gardener coordinator for Mariposa County, suggest that California residents with oaks on their property give the trees a good soaking once a month during the summer.

The water should be applied around the drip line - the area below the outstretched branches - but not near the trunk. A permeable soaker hose is an ideal tool for slow application over the wide area. Allow the water to run until it has soaked down to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, which can be detected with a long probe such as a screwdriver. "If it comes up with signs of moisture at the tip, you're good," the article says.

Randal said it is important to let the soil dry out completely between waterings, because oaks are susceptible to root fungus that can grow in warm, damp soil.

Even if water is unavailable and the leaves begin to turn brown or fall, the experts suggest waiting for spring before considering removing the tree.

"If you tree leafs out, it's still alive," Randall said. "And in this drought, give it extra time to leaf out."

A large blue oak in Mariposa County.

 

Posted on Friday, August 21, 2015 at 12:58 PM

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