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Home is where the habitat is: This Earth Day, consider installing insectary plants

Help the environment on Earth Day, which falls on Sunday, April 22, this year, by growing insectary plants. These plants attract natural enemies such as lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Natural enemies provide biological pest control and can reduce the need for insecticides. Visit the new UC IPM Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to use these plants to your advantage.

The buzz about insectary plants

Biological control, or the use of natural enemies to reduce pests, is an important component of integrated pest management. Fields and orchards may miss out on this control if they do not offer sufficient habitat for natural enemies to thrive. Insectary plants (or insectaries) can change that — they feed and shelter these important insects and make the environment more favorable to them. For instance, sweet alyssum planted near lettuce fields encourages syrphid flies to lay their eggs on crops. More syrphid eggs means more syrphid larvae eating aphids, and perhaps a reduced need for insecticides. Similarly, planting cover crops like buckwheat within vineyards can attract predatory insects, spiders, and parasitic wasps, ultimately keeping leafhoppers and thrips under control.

Flowering insectaries also provide food for bees and other pollinators. There are both greater numbers and more kinds of native bees in fields with an insectary consisting of a row of native shrubs planted along the field edge (called a hedgerow). Native bees also stay in fields with these shrubs longer than they do in fields without them. Therefore, not only do insectaries attract natural enemies, but they can also boost crop pollination and help keep bees healthy.

Insectary plants may attract more pests to your plants, but the benefit is greater than the risk

The possibility of creating more pest problems has been a concern when it comes to installing insectaries. Current research shows that mature hedgerows, in particular, bring more benefits than risks. Hedgerows attract far more natural enemies than insect pests. And despite the fact that birds, rabbits, and mice find refuge in hedgerows, the presence of hedgerows neither increases animal pest problems in the field, nor crop contamination by animal-vectored pathogens. Hedgerow insectaries both benefit wildlife and help to control pests.

How can I install insectary plants?

Visit the Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to establish and manage insectary plants, and determine which types of insectaries may suit your needs and situation. If you need financial assistance to establish insectaries on your farm, consider applying for Conservation Action Plan funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Sources:

Posted on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at 2:00 PM
Focus Area Tags: Pest Management

UC study seeks street trees that can cope with climate change

The changing climate predicted for California – including less rain and higher day and nighttime temperatures – is expected to cause chronic stress on many street tree species that have shaded and beautified urban areas for decades.

Realizing that popular trees may not thrive under the changing conditions, UC Cooperative Extension scientists are partnering with the U.S. Forest Service in an unprecedented 20-year research study to expand the palette of drought-adapted, climate-ready trees for several of the state's climate zones.

“The idea is to look at available but under-planted, drought-tolerant, structurally sound, pest resistant trees for Southern California that do well in even warmer climates,” said Janet Hartin, UCCE horticulture advisor in San Bernardino County.

Hartin, a 34-year veteran advisor, said the project is her first to stretch to 20 years; it will likely extend past her tenure with UCCE.

“I'd like to retire in five or six years,” she said. “But I'm very excited about being a pioneer in a study that will continue with my successors. I think it's important for our children and our children's children, as well as for the environment.”

At the end of 2019, with three years of data on tree health and growth rates, the scientists expect to be able to publish the first results and make them available to arborists, urban foresters and residents throughout the regions of the study.

Twelve tree species were selected for each climate zone in the comparative study, with several area parks used as control sites. Hartin and her Southern California research collaborators – UCCE advisors  Darren Haver of Orange County and Jim Downer of Ventura County – worked closely with UC Davis plant biologist Alison Berry, UC Davis research associate Greg McPherson and USFS research urban ecologist Natalie van Doorn to select promising species.

They looked for trees that are already available at local nurseries, but are underutilized. The trees in the project exhibit drought tolerance and disease resistance, plus produce minimal litter. The researchers also sought trees that would provide ample cooling shade for a long time – ideally 50 years or longer.

The varieties come from areas around the world with climates similar to California. Two trees planted in replicated plots at the UC Riverside Citrus Field Station are native to Australia, two are native to Oklahoma and Texas, one is native to Asia and two are non-native crosses of other trees. Three of the trees are native to California: the netleaf hackberry, Catalina cherry and island oak.

“Trees are a long-term investment,” Hartin said. “A tree will live 50, 70, 90 years. The proper selection is very important to help ensure longevity.”

Making the long-term investment with the proper selection yields considerable returns. In a warming world, trees are natural air conditioners.

“Urban areas create heat islands, with dark asphalt surfaces reradiating heat. Cities can be 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the surrounding environment,” Hartin said.

Other tree benefits include soil health and stability, wildlife habitat and aesthetic beauty.

Following are a sampling of trees that are part of the comparative study:

Acacia – A 20-foot-tall, 20-foot wide evergreen that is drought resistant, and withstands moderate irrigation.  Native of Australia.

Palo verde is a drought-resistant tree. (Photo: Bri Weldon, flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Blue palo verde – A tree that reaches about 25 feet in height, the Blue palo verde is drought resistance and lives 50 to 150 years. Its trunk, branches and leaves have a blue-green hue. Native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico.

Brazilian cedarwood – A native of Brazil and Paraguay, the deciduous tree grows to 50 to 65 feet. The tree produces pale yellow tubular flowers in the spring.

Catalina cherry – Native to the chaparral areas of coastal California, the Catalina cherry grows to 30 feet high. The evergreen tree tolerates drought when mature. It produces sweet purple-to-black edible fruit.

Chinese pistache – A deciduous tree with beautiful fall color. Grows to 35 feet tall, 30 feet wide. Drought resistant, but tolerates moist soil. Native to central and western China.

Desert willow – Growing to 30 feet tall and living 40 to 150 years, the desert willow tolerates highly alkaline soil and some salinity. A deciduous tree, it boasts large pink flowers all summer that attract hummingbirds and other wildlife. Native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico.

Escarpment live oak – Native to west Texas, this tree is cold hardy and drought tolerant. Typically evergreen, it can be deciduous in colder climates.

Ghost gum – Very tall at maturity and drought tolerant. An Australia native.

Indian laurel – Commonly called a ficus, this is a 35-foot-tall, 35-foot-wide tree at maturity that is drought resistant and tolerates highly alkaline and saline soils. Shade potential is high. Native of Asia and Hawaii.

Ironwood – A southwestern and northern Mexico native, Ironwood is semi-drought resistant once mature and tolerates alkaline soil. Ironwood, which grows to about 33 feet tall, can live 50 to 150 years.

Island oak – This tree is native to five of six California off-shore islands. Drought tolerant, it grows to nearly 70 feet tall when mature.

Maverick mesquite – Native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, this tree does well in full sun and is drought resistant once established. The tree grows to 35 feet tall. The Maverick mesquite is a thornless variety.

Mulga – A versatile and hardy tree that grows 15 to 20 feet in height, the mulga – a Western Australia native – tolerates hot and dry conditions. The leaves are evergreen and the tree has yellow elongated fluffy flowers in spring.

Netleaf hackberry – A California native, the netleaf hackberry grows to 30 feet. Its deep root systems and heat resistance makes the tree idea for urban conditions.

Climate-ready trees planted in 2016 at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center.

Rosewood – Native to southern Iran, Indian rosewood grows to 65 feet tall, and 40 feet wide. Evergreen. Semi drought resistant and intolerant of alkaline soil.

Shoestring Acacia – Evergreen and 30 feet tall when mature, shoestring acacia is drought resistant and thrives in slightly acidic to highly alkaline soils. Native to Australia.

Tecate cypress – A native of Southern California and Mexico, the Tecate cypress is very drought tolerant. Its foliage is bright green. Young trees are pyramidal in shape, becoming more rounded or contorted with age.

Partners in the tree study are Los Angeles Beautification Team volunteers, LA Parks and Recreation team, Chino Basin Water Conservation District, and Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

Funding and other support is provided by LA Center for Urban Natural Resources Sustainability, ISA Western Chapter, Britton Fund, USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station, and the UC system.

Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 at 11:35 AM
Tags: climate change (28), Earth Day (3), Janet Hartin (3), trees (3)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Mandarin drought tips featured in final video of drought series

Because periodic droughts will always be a part of life in California, the UC California Institute for Water Resources (CIWR) produced a series of videos to maintain drought awareness and planning, even in years when water is more abundant.

The final video of the three-part series, which focuses on drought strategies for citrus, was launched April 6 on the UCTV Sustainable California channel. The first episode, which centered on alfalfa production, premiered Feb. 2 on the UCTV Sustainable California channel. The second video, on almonds, was launched March 2 on Sustainable California. A trailer with clips from all three episodes is here.  

The videos are inspired by a collection of 19 drought tips produced by CIWR in collaboration with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers during the drought of 2010-16. The tips cover a broad spectrum of California crops, from alfalfa to walnuts. Topics also include salt management, use of graywater in urban landscapes, and the use of shallow groundwater for crop production. 

The drought tips collection and the drought tip videos were sponsored by the California Department of Water Resources. Following are links to each of the videos:

Drought strategies for alfalfa

The CIWR drought tip series opens with Cannon Michael of Bowles Farming in Los Banos. The alfalfa grower works with UCCE specialist Dan Putnam. “There's a lot of misunderstanding about alfalfa as a crop,” Michael said. “It does take water to grow it, as with anything, but you get multiple harvests of it every year.”

Drought management for California almonds

The second episode features almond producer Raj of Meena farms. He works with David Doll, UCCE advisor in Merced County. “One positive of this drought,” Meena said, “is that it has forced us all to be more efficient in how we use our water.”

Irrigating citrus with limited water

The series finale features Lisa Brenneis of Churchill-Brenneis Orchard in the Ojai Valley of Ventura County. She worked with UCCE advisor Ben Faber to install a new water-efficient irrigation system. “Irrigation is the only job we really have to do,” Brenneis said, “and we have to get it as right as we can.”

UCCE advisor Ben Faber is featured in the CIWR video on drought strategies in California mandarin production.

For a complete list of drought tips, see http://ucanr.edu/drought-tips.

Posted on Friday, April 6, 2018 at 7:33 AM
Tags: alfalfa (6), almonds (8), Dan Putnum (1), David Doll (3)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

UCCE advisor Rachel Surls receives 2018 Bradford Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award

The Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis has announced that Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor for Los Angeles County, is this year's recipient of the Eric Bradford and Charlie Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award.

Rachel Surls (Click image to download high-resolution version.)
Surls has been committed to community gardens, school gardens, and urban agriculture since long before our cities took notice. For 30 years, she has worked at the UC Cooperative Extension Office in Los Angeles County, helping to bring city-grown food into the mainstream.

The Bradford Rominger award, given yearly, honors individuals who exhibit the leadership, work ethic and integrity epitomized by the late Eric Bradford, a livestock geneticist who gave 50 years of service to UC Davis, and the late Charlie Rominger, a fifth-generation Yolo County farmer and land preservationist.

“In her three decade career with UCCE, Rachel has developed a strong program addressing some of our most critical issues in sustainable agriculture,” says Keith Nathaniel, the Los Angeles County Cooperative Extension director. “She does so with innovative strategies, working with all aspects of the LA community. After 30 years doing this work, she continues to be active in the community she serves.”

In Surls' career, gardening has been a tool to build science literacy for school children, to increase self-sufficiency for communities impacted by economic downturn, and to create small businesses for urban entrepreneurs. As the interest in and support for urban agriculture has grown, she has been in the heart of Los Angeles, ready to respond to the needs of the city's farmers and gardeners.

Her role at Cooperative Extension started as a job to help start school gardens in LA. “I would drive to any school that wanted me and help them dig in the gardens,” Surl said. “I could find teachers who were interested in starting gardens, but I couldn't find principals and administrators to support it.”

Early on, some counseled Surls to find an area of expertise that was more serious than community and school gardens. Despite the criticism, “I just chugged along, doing what I knew was good and what I cared about,” Surl said.

And over time, the value of these programs has become more apparent, and support for them has grown. Surls continued along, working to start community gardens at public housing facilities, and overseeing the Los Angeles County UC Master Gardener program.

In 1997, she stepped into a role as the UC Cooperative Extension county director, ensuring the success of extension efforts for all of Los Angeles County for the next 14 years.

In 2008 came the great recession, and with it an uptick in public interest in home grown food.

“We were getting more and more calls in our office on how to be more self-sufficient,” Surls said. “The economics of the time rattled people, so they were thinking more about how to grow their own food, and how to maybe make some money by selling what they grow. And people needed the support and guidance to do that.”

Surls and her partners are working to meet that need through workshops in California's largest metropolitan areas and a website of resources to help new urban farmers get a leg up on farming in the city. Surls is also a member of the leadership board for the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

The energy around urban agriculture today is palpable. And a career path that was once not taken seriously now is.

“That has really changed in our institution and culture,” Surl said. “We're hiring people to do this work!”

Persistent and focused, Surls' work is one of the reasons that progress is happening.

Surls will receive the award at the Celebrating Women in Agriculture event in Davis April 3. The event is free and open to the public. Learn more about the event here.

Bradford Rominger banner

 

Posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 8:57 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Health

California’s desert agriculture is hot stuff

Stretching from the Death Valley to Calexico, California's vast dry desert is home to a unique and important agriculture industry.

It's a place where summertime temperatures often top the 115-degree mark. Where water supplies for irrigation depend on the Colorado River, but upriver states are claiming more of it. Where evapotrasporation – a reference rate of water use in unstressed turf grass – is 72 inches per year, but rainfall is rarely more than 4.

Still, stalwart farmers grow dates, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, kale and more, plus plants for landscaping everything from family homes to beautiful and luxurious resorts. The agriculture output of the state's three desert counties – Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial – exceeds $4 billion annually.

The California desert also impacts the quality of life across the nation. If Americans are enjoying a salad in the winter, the lettuce most likely was grown in the California desert. There are bountiful winter recreation opportunities available on the beautifully manicured golf courses, parks and landscapes.

A group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) academics formed a desert workgroup to better serve the state's desert region. The group organized a symposium in February to bring together representatives from desert farm and natural resources communities, related industry and academics working in the desert.

Director of UC Cooperative Extension in Imperial County, Oli Bachie, is chair of the UC ANR Desert Workgroup.

“The close exchange of information among desert researchers, non-profit organizations, industry and clientele groups will facilitate collaboration among UC ANR, Arizona and Mexico and foster how our programs should be shaped on a regional level,” said Oli Bachie, the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Imperial County and the current workgroup chair.

With saline soil, scorching summer temperatures and limited water supplies, the desert could be considered a hotbed of the “wicked problem.” A wicked problem isn't evil, said UC Associate Vice President Wendy Powers, the symposium's plenary session keynote speaker.

“The term ‘wicked problem' was coined at UC Berkeley,” Powers said. “It's a problem with circumstances that resist resolution.”

She named climate change and the growth of the global population California must help feed as wicked problems faced by the state. Powers described UC ANR's statewide programs that are working to find solutions to formidable issues faced in California agriculture.

“We're on the verge of some serious breakthroughs as we look at solving wicked problems,” Powers said. “They are accelerated by conversations like those we're having today.”

UC ANR Associate Vice President Wendy Powers was the symposium’s plenary session keynote speaker.

UC Vice Provost Mark Bell said that the potential of UC ANR to reach every single Californian is what drew him to his position in 2017. Bell invoked Star Wars robot R2D2 for an acronym to reflect the characteristics that accurately define UC ANR.

“R2 stands for reach and relevance,” he said. “D2 is diverse and dispersed.”

UC Cooperative Extension offices serve 57 California counties and its nine research and extension centers are located in key agriculture ecosystems, including one in the low desert of the Imperial Valley.

The afternoon program of the symposium included breakout sessions to highlight programs and research efforts in three broad areas: irrigation and crop production, landscape management, and livestock and feed quality.

“This was the first attempt to organize such a regional desert-based symposium for the UCANR Desert Workgroup with the collaboration of desert-serving UCCE counties,” Bachie said. “I believe that we have registered a remarkable get-together.”

The symposium had speakers and participants from UC, USDA, California Department of Food and Agriculture, the desert agricultural industry, pest control advisors, non-profit institutions and organizations, agricultural commissioners, farm bureaus, Arizona and Mexico universities and the general public. 

“I believe that the symposium is a stepping stone for future desert research and extension meetings, conferences and symposiums among people engaged or interested in desert agriculture and natural resources,” Bachie said.

Posted on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 8:54 AM
Tags: desert (2), Mark Bell (1), Oli Bachie (1), Wendy Powers (1)

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