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A guide for California wanna-bees

A sweat bee collects pollen from a California poppy. (Photo: Rollin Coville)

The 1,600 species of wild bees that buzz their way to California gardens and green spaces get hungry, and there's a lot city dwellers and suburbanites can do to create an appealing buffet for the valuable pollinators. California Bees & Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists is a friendly new guidebook that shows readers how to make native bees thrive in an urban environment—and makes the case for why it's important to help them do so.

Home gardeners will want to post the chapter “Urban California's Best Bee Attractors” in their toolsheds for constant reference at planting time. Naturalists and other curious types wanting to identify and learn about the bees already visiting their gardens or communities can browse accessible chapters parsing the huge diversity of species. Educators will find general information useful for lessons for even the youngest of audiences, including who stings and why, where bees sleep at night, and who does the “waggle dance,” a “figure-eight shimmy” used for communication in hives.

An ochraceous chimney bee rests on a bushmallow flower. (Photo: Rollin Coville)
With honeybee populations declining due to colony collapse disorder, the role of wild bees as pollinators is more important than ever — to everyone, not just large-scale farmers. The beautifully illustrated book, including stunning critter close-ups by photographer Rollin E. Coville, offers a wealth of information. In addition to expansive advice for growing and managing bee-friendly plants, the book even includes a section describing citizen science projects enthusiasts can participate in.

The book project is a University of California-grown collaboration. Co-authors are Gordon Frankie, a UC Berkeley professor of entomology; Robbin W. Thorp, a professor emeritus of entomology at UC Davis; Coville, an insect and spider photographer who received a Ph.D. in entomology from Berkeley; and Barbara Ertter, a curator at the UC Berkeley-based University and Jepson Herbaria.

The book is published by Heyday Books in collaboration with the California Native Plant Society.

Related

Foodie Bees: Insects Head Downtown for Dinner, National Geographic article.

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 8:09 AM
Tags: honeybees (1), native bees (1)

When your fish pond is an egret's sushi buffet

Egret downs another fish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ah, the joy of a fish pond. 

Goldfish swimming lazily beneath pink waterlilies,  doves splishing and splashing, frogs jumping and croaking, dragonflies darting and ambushing, and honey bees collecting water, trip after trip, for their colony.

Wonderful, right?

Not exactly. Not always. 

Not when you operate a free sushi buffet for egrets. Free? The only “bill” around is the one they're using to snag your fish. 

Last winter when the crape myrtle tree that shades our fish pond dropped its leaves, it was easy viewing and easy pickings for the egrets. Step up to the board walk, dip down and eat your fill. The main perpetrator was a Great Egret, about 3 to 4 feet tall, which true to its name, exhibited a Great Appetite. Thirty fish went down the hatch, including Bubba, Nemo and Goldie.  Fortunately, they were not koi.

Looking through the terracotta pipe. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We were rather fond of them, though.  

How can you protect your fish pond from egrets?

Say that you don't want to net your pond or string fishing line over it. Nor do you want to play rap music, add plastic decoys (crocodiles, alligators, owls, snakes and bigger egrets), set mouse traps, install a motion-detector flood light, or change your pond logistics or landscape. 

You also don't want a water scarecrow that will spray water every time it detects motion. You don't want something that uses compressed air to scare the livin' daylights out of your neighbors in a dead sleep, not to mention the folks in the next zip code.  And, you don't want to enlist the help of your Resident Alert Dog (RAD) for Egret Duty (ED). (Besides at 5 a.m., RAD is not alert. He's sound asleep on the corner of the bed, dreaming of chasing cats that run, not 3-foot-tall egrets that don't.) 

What can you do for little or no cost to protect your pond from egrets? 

A terracotta castle.

A terracotta pipe lowered into the pond makes an excellent “hidey hole.” It's heavy. Egrets can't move it or reach it. It's earthy. Terracotta is Latin for ”baked earth.” It's used for bricks, flower pots, water and waste water pipes, and to tile the roofs of Spanish-style homes. 

And it makes a wonderful hidey-hole, as fish can dart in and stay in as danger lurks.

Of course, there could be some problems.  If your goldfish are accustomed to surfacing when their food magically appears, they may also surface when an egret shadows the pond. But just as the “second mouse gets the cheese,” many will escape to the hidey hole. 

If you want to learn more about koi, tropical fish, and water gardens, visit this page, California Aquaculture, part of the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

Another good UC resource is Water Gardening: Aquatic Gardens, Not Aquatic Pests: How to Practice Responsible Water Gardening. It offers a wealth of information and links to more information.

True, egrets are majestic birds, but we'd rather the sushi buffet be in a restaurant, not in our fish pond. 

Pink waterlilies glowing in a garden pond. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Pink waterlilies glowing in a garden pond. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pink waterlilies glowing in a garden pond. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Terracotta pipe can be a hiding place for fish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Terracotta pipe can be a hiding place for fish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Terracotta pipe can be a hiding place for fish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Terracotta pipe lowered into a fish pond. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Terracotta pipe lowered into a fish pond. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Terracotta pipe lowered into a fish pond. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 8:16 AM

Conservation organization California Trout helps establish endowed chair at UC Davis

Jeff Thompson, California Trout's executive director, does a little fly fishing on the McCloud River. He played a crucial role in establishing the organization's partnership with UC Davis to ensure that research, teaching, and outreach on wild trout, salmon, and steelhead will continue for many years.

California once teemed with millions of native salmon, trout and steelhead. The state has 31 distinct types of these iconic, majestic fish. But decades of degradation to aquatic habitat has depleted their numbers in many areas of the state. According to a report by UC Davis fisheries professor Peter Moyle and colleagues, 20 of these fish species are in danger of extinction within the next century. They are important species not just for the recreational or commercial benefits they afford, but also because they are a direct reflection of the health of the environment.

“Large self-sustaining populations of native salmon and trout are found where streams are in reasonably good condition,” Moyle wrote in his 2008 report, “SOS: California's Native Fish Crisis.” This report was commissioned by the conservation organization California Trout (CalTrout), which exists to support conservation science, education, and advocacy efforts to protect California's water resources and fisheries.

Moyle, whose academic home is the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, is no stranger to CalTrout. He is the foremost authority on California's native freshwater and anadromous (sea-run) fishes and has been a leader in research and conservation efforts. His research has provided the core science essential to statewide conservation planning for freshwater and estuarine native fishes, especially salmon and trout. Graduate students who studied with Moyle now occupy many top-level fish ecologist and management positions in state and federal agencies, as well as key nonprofits like CalTrout.

A Russian River steelhead gets released back into the waters of this important North Coast waterway.
“Peter has been an invaluable resource and instrumental in establishing such a strong scientific foundation in our work,” said CalTrout's executive director Jeff Thompson.

In May of this year CalTrout and UC Davis announced the formal creation of the Peter B. Moyle and California Trout Endowed Chair in Cold Water Fishes. The endowment will provide crucial support for the chair holder's scholarly activities, teaching, and public service involving cold water fish and aquatic ecosystems. He or she will teach department courses, mentor graduate students, conduct research and outreach, and provide leadership in the conservation of cold water fishes and their ecosystems. The university recognizes that salmon, trout, and steelhead are the major drivers of many conservation efforts and will have the highest priority in the chair's program.

Most of the contributors to the endowment are CalTrout board members such as Nick Graves. He and his wife, Mary, explored many trails and trout waters in the Sierra Nevada over the years and have enjoyed larger rivers flowing from the Trinity Alps, Mt. Shasta, and the Siskiyou Mountains. “The opportunity to create a scientific chair whose research targets California waters, in perpetuity, is a comforting thought,” Graves said.

“I have worked with the organization since its earliest days and have always admired the dedication of its members to aquatic conservation,” Moyle said. “I am biased, of course, but I think CalTrout has made a very smart investment in the future by creating an endowed chair.”

Jacob Katz (left), director of California Trout's salmon and steelhead initiatives, and Professor Peter Moyle (right) are pictured at the Yolo Bypass, where their research is evaluating the importance of the area for rearing juvenile salmon.

 

Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 at 8:58 AM
Tags: California Trout (1), CalTrout (1), cold water fish (1), Moyle (2), Peter Moyle (3), salmon (4), steelhead (1), trout (1)

Outreach lessons for the information age

Researchers, farmers, and agricultural professionals learn from one another in discussion at a recent field day.
In the information age, helpful information can be amazingly hard to find. Certainly for agriculture, the landscape is rife with expertise, experience, and knowhow. But connecting to the knowledge and linking knowledge-seekers with knowledge-holders can feel like an imperfect science. Research relevant to one crop may be irrelevant to the more than 300 crops grown in California. The unique experience of an individual farmer can be difficult to transfer to another.  

As an outreach professional working with the University, I am constantly seeking new ways to engage with the agricultural community, and ways to improve how agricultural knowledge is produced and transmitted. How can solutions to agricultural and sustainability challenges be informed by farmer experience and scientific research together? And how can we best provide specific information when and where it is needed?

In the new publication, “Extension 3.0: Managing Agricultural Knowledge Systems in the Network Age” by Mark Lubell, UC Davis professor of environmental acience and policy, UC Davis ecology alumna Meredith Niles, and Matthew Hoffman of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, I've gleaned some important lessons that can guide my own work and the work of my organization in trying to effectively find solutions to California's agricultural challenges. A few to share include:

  • Knowledge is produced and distributed by a network, not an individual. Understanding key linkages in a community or area of research can dramatically shorten the distance between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders. Track and understand how farmers and agricultural professionals learn from one another, and understand who they go to for their information and who they trust.
  • Boundary-spanning partnerships across different agricultural sectors serve to connect different actors together, building social networks that co-create and distribute knowledge. This practice is common for many. But these partnerships can always grow, and unexpected partners can breathe new life into existing collaborations.
  • Online information technologies can be innovative ways to connect and learn, but will never be a substitute for personal and in-person connections. A combination of the two may provide extended platforms for knowledge sharing, and help expand networks.

Lubell's article calls on extension systems and professionals to be “experimental, adaptive, and creative with program design and implementation.” At the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, we are working to integrate some of these principles into our own projects. One effort, the Solution Center for Nutrient Management, will incorporate in-person and online discussions about seasonally-relevant nutrient management topics. Our goals are to create helpful ways for researchers to conduct outreach, improve access to research on nutrient management, and better connect different groups to share their nutrient management knowledge and experience through social networks.

Extension 3.0 offers a strong way to harness all that's developed in the information age and turn it into useful, accessible, and trusted knowledge. Many UC offices are taking up the charge, and we're excited every time a new effort arises.

Learn more from the article, and connect with Mark Lubell, Matthew Hoffman, and Meredith Niles on Twitter.    

Posted on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Balancing food safety and water quality not cheap or easy, but it can be done

Comanagement conference participants discuss farming and conservation efforts at a diversified organic operation.
Fresh produce growers are challenged to protect soil and water quality on their farms as well as support wildlife populations by preserving their habitat. At the same time, growers must protect their crops from contamination by pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses. None of this is cheap or easy, but it can be done.

To help farmers and growers efficiently achieve the best results, the University of California Cooperative Extension, in collaboration with the Farm Food Safety and Conservation Network brought together 80 people on Aug. 20 for the seventh annual Food Safety and Water Quality Co-management Forum.

Participants represented food safety and conservation professionals, food safety auditors, academics, and government agency personnel. This cross-section of the fresh produce community provided diverse perspectives beneficial to discussions on balancing food safety and water quality objectives in agricultural production. As State Water Resources Control Board member Steve Moore noted, "Decisions based on collaborative efforts have the most durable solutions." 

Forum participants heard the latest information on drought effects to water resources and innovative strategies to provide water to agricultural operations, including existing recycled water projects. Panelists presented the latest information on existing and pending regulations that affect co-management, and fresh produce growers discussed practical strategies to manage agricultural production for food safety and sustainability outcomes.

“Research is continuing to support the decisions of fresh produce growers in balancing food safety and water quality on their farms” explained Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “The question now is how do we put that knowledge into action in the face of the current California drought and pending state and federal regulations of both water resources and food safety? Discussion among stakeholders, whether that be produce growers and buyers or conservation professionals and policymakers are a key component of the process of co-management.”

The forum concentrated on the types of practices and policy programs that may help, and discussed strategies, both field-based and policy-driven, that might support progress in addressing persistent resource concerns relevant to agricultural production.

“This forum always provides a great networking opportunity for any decisionmakers influencing policy or implementing environmental protection or on-farm food safety strategies,” said Kaley Grimland-Mendoza, small farmer enterprise development specialist for the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association.

The first panel of the day focused on the opportunities and challenges of co-managing water resources and food safety in California's current drought. The panel was moderated by Johnny Gonzales, water resource control engineer and Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program coordinator with the State Water Resources Control Board, and included Robert Johnson, assistant general manager and chief of water resources planning for the Monterey County Water Resources Agency; Robert Holden, principal engineer of the Monterey County Water Pollution Control Agency's Castroville Seawater Intrusion Project; Jeff Cattaneo, San Benito County Water District manager; Samir Assar, director of Produce Safety for the US Food and Drug Administration; and Moore.

A panel of local growers representing diverse commodities and operational sizes discussed their daily process of co-managing for food safety and water quality. The panel included Michael Brautovich, senior manager for Farm Quality, Food Safety and Organic Integrity at Earthbound Farm/Natural Selection Foods; Brendan Miele, director of Domestic Farm Relations for Jacobs Farms / Del Cabo Inc; Chris Drew, Sea Mist Farms production manager; and Rebecca Bozarth of Harvest Moon Agricultural Services.

Following the panel discussions, participants visited an organic vegetable farm near Salinas. The landowner, growers, conservation, and food safety professionals discussed food safety and water quality opportunities, challenges and possible alternatives with an emphasis on solutions that exemplify co-management. The discussion also included questions that arise in a decision-making process and where more information or research is needed.

FDA's Samir Assar participated both as a panel member to answer questions about the proposed Produce Safety Rule and in small group discussions during the field exercise to explore co-management challenges and strategies at one local produce farm.

“The farm visits are essential for farmers to observe what food safety practices others are implementing to reduce risks and tailoring such practices to their farm operations while maintaining on-farm conservation value,” Grimland-Mendoza said. “It would be great to have representation and participation from large produce buyers, who have historically been the most skeptical of co-management strategies and have required the most stringent food safety practice requirements.”

Participants were surveyed before and after the forum. “After the forum, 96 percent of the participants felt they understood co-management principles, 31 percent higher than at the start of the day,' Bianchi said, “and 85 percent of the participants felt that they could incorporate what they learned into the decisions they make.”

For more information about co-management, visit http://cesanluisobispo.ucanr.edu/Co-management_of_Food_Safety_and_Sustainability or contact Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperation Extension farm advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, at (805) 781-5949 or mlbianchi@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Friday, September 19, 2014 at 3:52 PM

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