UC Cooperative Extension is asking California farmers and landowners to help track the the state's wild pig population, reported Julia Mitric on Capitol Public Radio News. Signs of the pig's presence are hard to miss, UCCE advisor John Harper told the reporter.
"It looks like you came in with a rototiller and just uprooted everything," he says. "It's like ground squirrel mounds or gopher mounds on steroids because the pigs can go over such a large area."
California's wild pigs have a variety of origins. Harper says many are descended from domestic pigs who were released into the wild by humans or escaped on their own and bred with game hogs such as the Russian boar hog. Wild pigs root around in the soil for truffles and small plant roots with their sharp tusks tear, destroying plants and grasses that sheep and cattle like to graze on. They also open up the land for erosion and invasive species.
"So you might get something like 'medusahead,' an invasive grass that tends to crowd out other more desirable forage species," Harper said.
A team of UC Cooperative Extension scientists have created a GIS-based mobile app that works on Android and Apple devices to make it easy for landowners to participate in the study.
“Rangeland managers and farmers can enter data into the app from the field so that we can estimate the land area and economic impacts of feral pig damage over a longer time period,” said Roger Baldwin, UC Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UC Davis.
Learn more and sign up to participate in the study on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources news website.
True to its name, a listicle published on BuzzFeed News about genetic modification of foods caused a buzz during Thanksgiving week. Writer Stephanie Lee reported that many techniques have been used over the centuries to tinker with the DNA of fruits, vegetables and animals to make them prettier, tastier and easier to grow.
Largely based on an interview with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alison Van Eenennaam, the article said some changes were accidental acts of nature, some from traditional cross breeding, and others are crop improvements by genetic engineering. None of these changes make food fundamentally unsafe or unhealthy.
"It's up to us as parents or humans to seek out correct information," Van Eenennaam said. "And that's why my kids are vaccinated, we drink pasteurized milk, and we happily eat GMOs."
Cross breeding and selection have transformed scrawny poultry into today's plump, meaty domestic turkey. Corn is descended from a barely edible grass. Spontaneous mutations from solar radiation produced Washington navel oranges. Seeds exposed to radiation by scientists "randomly scrambles the genes inside them and yields desirable traits," the article said.
More than 90 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified. Most goes to ethanol plants, animal feed or processed food, but, "In 2011, Monsanto began growing sweet corn engineered with a protein that helps fight off pests. It's meant to be eaten directly and sold in grocery stores."
The article generated a few online conversations, with comments from those praising the article and others suggesting it was not balanced.
"I cannot believe this is your header Thanksgiving article," wrote one reader. "Seriously, who paid you?
Another said, "The anti-GMO movement isn't really about food safety ... it's primarily an anti-corporate movement."
The article said the FDA requires that food derived from GMO plants to meet the same food safety requirements as food from traditionally bred plants.
"What I would be more worried about is undercooking my turkey, because then I could actually be exposed to salmonella — that actually could kill people," Van Eenennaam said.
Before you gobble down that Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, take a moment to maximize your enjoyment.
The University of California has experts on every topic imaginable, including food and the science of taste and sensory experience. Here are their pro tips on making the most of your holiday meal.
1. Slow down and pay attention
People get the most pleasure from their food when they take the time to savor it fully, said UC Davis sensory scientist Michael O'Mahony. Try having everyone at the table taste the same food and then describe all the sensations they get from it. Everyone can write them down and then share their lists with each other. The person who finds the most sensations wins.
2. Smell your food
Flavor comes from both smell and taste, but the brain makes it difficult to tell the difference. When you smell your food while eating it, the volatile molecules go up to the nose through a back passage and stimulate the smell receptors. That's one of the ways the brain knows there is food is in your mouth. But rather than triggering a smell sensation, it feels like a broadening of taste.
Here's an experiment to show how much smell contributes to flavor: Hold your nose while putting some food in your mouth. Concentrate on the taste sensations you are getting. As you swallow, release your nose and notice how the flavor expands. The experiment works best with foods that have a strong odor such as a wine, sweet fruit drinks or gravy.
“Every time you eat you experience an illusion,” O'Mahony said.
3. Add salt in a pinch
If your host happens to serve a cheap red wine that is high in tannins (bitter), here's a tip to make it taste better: Put a pinch of salt in your mouth, O'Mahony said.
“The salt suppresses the tannin,” O'Mahony said. “Taste it again and it will taste like a mature wine.”
4. Think beyond bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami
Are there more than just five basic tastes?
“It depends what you mean by basic taste,” O'Mahony said. “No one has ever really defined it properly. So it is a bit silly to say there are five things when we haven't actually defined what we are talking about. Whatever definition we choose, we don't know how many there are. There are certainly lots of different tastes.”
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, convened a taste panel to help develop the honey flavor wheel with more than 100 flavor profiles from leather and lemon to cotton candy and even cat pee.
“In general, honey is called sweet, but it has a huge amount of flavors,” Harris said. “Cat pee,” she adds, “is real. It's very pungent.”
5. Try new things
There are more than 300 honey varieties available in the United States. Citrus has even more diversity.
Tracy Kahn curates UC Riverside's Citrus Variety Collection, one of the world's largest with more than 1,000 varieties of citrus and citrus relatives.
“We have ranges of colors, sizes and shapes,” Kahn said. “There are fruits that are red, blue, purple, orange and yellow. There are fruits as big as a person's head and as small as a green pea, and a tremendous amount of aromas.”
UC Riverside itself has developed more than 40 citrus varieties, including popular Tango mandarins, and is working to develop new varieties all the time, including ones resistant to citrus greening disease.
For young children, Kahn suggests Kishu mandarins, which are small, seedless, sweet and easy to peel.
6. Be bold
Try mixing in your time-honored traditions with something new.
Kahn suggests making an appetizer with Australian finger lime, a citrus relative that tastes like lime but looks like caviar.
“Specialty chefs are using this,” Kahn said. “You could serve it with cream cheese and smoked salmon on crackers.”
Yuzu looks like a yellow mandarin, but it's not sweet and has a strong aroma. Its acidic juice can be used in sauces such as ponzu, she said.
Kahn also likes to add citrus to water. She suggests using variegated pink-fleshed Eureka lemons, which have rinds that are green, pink and white.
“They look beautiful in water,” Kahn said.
If you're looking for an alternative adult beverage, try mead (honey wine), said Harris, whose center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science hosts courses in making the popular drink.
This Thanksgiving, Harris plans to make a walnut-cranberry tart with honey instead of corn syrup while her daughter will make samosas instead of mashed potatoes.
“It's fun to push the envelope,” Harris said. “Let's go play.”
7. Know your limits
The holiday spread can be filled with temptations. Enjoy, but choose wisely. Don't eat until it hurts. Remember, some of the dishes might taste even better the next day.
“There are always leftovers,” Harris said.
Central Coast residents, officials, ranchers and representatives of conservation organizations came out in force to a November UC Cooperative Extension meeting sounding an alarm about the recent detection of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) in San Luis Obispo County trees, reported Kathe Tanner in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
This was the first such gathering in this county since tests confirmed that the disease made its way south of Monterey County, according to event coordinator Mary Bianchi, director of UC Cooperative Extension in SLO County. But there will be more meetings to come, she said.
Previously confirmed infestations of the disease stayed north of the Monterey County border with San Luis Obispo County. Because SOD spreads by wind and rain, experts believe the prolonged California drought inhibited the spread further south. However, recent tests confirmed the SOD pathogen, phytophthora ramorum, on oaks along the parking lot at Salmon Creek, and in bay laurel trees along Santa Rosa Creek Road, west of Atascadero near Highway 41 and along Stenner Creek and Prefumo Canyon in San Luis Obispo.
Another intensive survey to be conducted by foresters and volunteer citizen scientists in the spring will include Cambria neighborhoods, ranches and other areas. In the meantime, residents were asked to keep an eye out for SOD symptoms in local bay laurel and oak trees. SOD lesions show up as pixilated brown, black or gray areas on leaf tips. Oozing cankers on an oak tree, with sap coming out of the trunk but with no wound evident on the bark, is another sign that the trees could be infected with the pathogen that causes SOD.
Fifty-five years ago, Thomas J. Lipton Inc. funded a tea study at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, which is piquing the interest of scientists today. For 18 years, researchers pampered and coaxed 41 tea clones to determine whether tea plantations could be a lucrative alternative for San Joaquin Valley farmers.
Scientists of the time predicted a potential $25,000 economic value of future California tea plantings. Today, tea is a $3.8 billion business in the U.S. and UC Davis recently launched a Global Tea Initiative. Kearney submitted its yellowed research reports, correspondence and newspaper clippings about the long-ago tea research to the initiative's collection of research, teaching and outreach spanning agriculture, social sciences, health, culture and economics of all things tea.
That got the attention of UC Davis chemistry professor Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, who is studying microbes in the soil where tea is grown and their potential impact on the health attributes of tea.
“I believe there is a microbial exchange that ends up in the cup,” she said.
When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a prescient researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney, where they stand today as fall-blooming non-descript shrubs.
Hague, who with her students frequently travels overseas to sample soil on tea plantations, learned of the plants at Kearney and recognized the opportunity to conduct studies in California.
“It's really remarkable,” she said.
Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg believes the renewed interest in the center's tea, growing awareness about the healthful properties of tea, and increasing enthusiasm for artisanal tea and locally grown food could turn tea into a lucrative specialty crop for small-scale San Joaquin Valley farmers.
“This may be something like blueberries,” he said. “Twenty years ago, people thought they couldn't be grown in California. But with research conducted here at Kearney, there is now a thriving blueberry industry in the San Joaquin Valley and on the coast.”
It was the same intention that prompted Dahlberg's predecessors to support the tea studies in the 1960s and 70s.
At that time, 41 clones were propagated in a lathe house at Kearney, and later planted in a half-acre field plot. In 1967, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy researcher Karl H. Ingebretsen told a newspaper reporter that the plants came from clones that survived a similar USDA trial in the 1880s.
“Most of the imported plants were taken from some growing in South Carolina, where the Lipton company found them 10 years ago growing wild,” Ingebretsen said in 1967.
The Kearney superintendent at that time, Frank Coddington, said the scientists hoped successful experimentation would lead to varieties of tea suitable for mechanical harvest and the production of instant tea, a product that in those days was becoming more and more popular.
The tea clones at Kearney grew well and appeared healthy, the reports said. Tea plants tolerated California's dry climate and stood the heat when irrigated properly. Five of the 41 clones were reported to show “real promise,” but when the tea project was terminated in 1981, only a few plants representing two of the clones were saved as landscape shrubs. Nine plants now grow on the west side of a corrugated tin warehouse, and four in the shade of knobby flowering pear trees just south of the original building at the site.
Gervay-Hague plans to build on the results from early Kearney research with 21st Century agricultural production tools.
“I won't repeat the work done in the 60s, but they didn't know about the microbiome or genetics back then,” she said. “UC Davis has 3D imaging capability, which I want to use to watch the plants change. I would like to do DNA testing.”
The UC Davis chemist is applying for grants to build a repository of plants that may become the foundation of commercial tea gardens in California.