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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

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
Tags: alfalfa (5), Dan Putnam (3), GMO (1)

Teaching teachers about the environment outdoors

Mike De Lasaux demonstrates how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.
One approach to improving science literacy of children is to train their teachers in environmental education. Using the forest as a classroom, Project Learning Tree, now a program delivered through UC Cooperative Extension, educates teachers about the environment and provides ideas and the tools needed for integrating environmental education into their core curriculum. 

The primary goal of PLT is to teach people how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues. This has been the vision of PLT since the mid-1970s, inspiring educators to teach and students to learn about their environment, by doing.

At the outdoor workshops, foresters demonstrate forest practices and talk about forest science. For example, Mike De Lasaux, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor in Plumas and Sierras counties, leads participants out to take tree measurements and shows them how foresters determine the age of a tree by taking a core sample and counting the rings.

“The program is designed for teachers and other educators, parents and community leaders who work with youth from preschool age up through grade 12,” said Sandy Derby, UC Cooperative Extension statewide coordinator.

Tom Catchpole leads participants through a Talk About Trees activity to gain a better understanding of forestry science and to practice applying the knowledge to activities they can do with their students.
Studies have shown that when environmental education and outdoor learning activities are integrated into curricula, student achievement increases, including their test scores in science and math.

Recognized as a leader in environmental education for more than 35 years, the program started by the American Forest Foundation enhances critical thinking, problem-solving and effective decision-making skills, Derby said.

How does it all work? Project Learning Tree collaborates with a network of more than 200 facilitators, natural resources professionals and researchers across the state to provide three types of trainings: educator workshops, training with the Forest Institute for Teachers and train-the-trainer workshops.

Project Learning Tree's educator workshops are six to eight hours on one or more days and offered at UC ANR Research and Extension Centers located around the state. They focus on introducing the goals and vision of teaching and learning using PLT best practices. Each educator receives a PLT guide for use in the classroom.

Teachers learn how to take tree measurements from Mike De Lasaux and Tom Catchpole at a Forest Institute for Teachers workshop.
Every summer, PLT participates in the Forest Institute for Teachers, a six-day intensive training offered at four locations. The participants spend the mornings with forestry experts or researchers on field excursions to learn about science, current research and issues, and management challenges from different perspectives. Their afternoons are spent applying that knowledge, working in grade-level teams to engage in best practices of integrating content into experience-based teaching.

After taking the PLT educator workshops, graduates can take a two-day training to learn how to train others. Train-the-trainer workshops are offered a few times each year in different locations. 

Project Learning Tree in California was delivered by CALFIRE for 25 years before becoming part of UC Cooperative Extension. In 2013, under UCCE advisor De Lasaux's guidance, Project Learning Tree was brought into UC Cooperative Extension to create more collaborative partnerships, engage more natural resources professionals and to expand the number of educators trained to use PLT materials.

For more information about Project Learning Tree, updates on workshops, or questions on how to become part of this expansive network, contact Sandy Derby at stderby@ucanr.edu or visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/PLT_UCCE. To learn more about the Forest Institute for Teachers, visit http://www.forestryinstitute.org.

For 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

 

Posted on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Christmas tree farmers growing Nordmann fir asked to look out for new pest

Nordmann fir Christmas trees are becoming popular on California farms because they have rich color, excellent structure, good needle retention and strong branches for ornament display.
California Christmas tree growers who have planted Nordmann or Turkish fir on their farms should be watchful for a new pest that recently made its way to the United States, said Lynn Wunderlich, UC Cooperative Extension advisor who works with Christmas tree growers in the Central Sierra.

Some research plantings of Nordmann fir at Washington State University and one Washington farmer's field have been invaded by an adelgid that appears to be closely related to silver fir woolly adelgids, a common pest on Nordmann fir in Europe. Adelgids (pronounced uh-DEL-gids) are certain types of aphids that feed on conifers.

“Fortunately, adelgids attacking Nordmann fir haven't been reported in California, but we want our growers to be aware of them and to let me know if they see symptoms on Nordmann or Turkish fir,” Wunderlich said.

White, cottony masses on tree branches and twisted, curled and discolored needles are signs of adelgid infestation.

In California, growers produce Christmas trees valued at about $6 million per year, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Nordmann fir has become a popular species for Christmas tree growers in the Sierra foothills. Native of the Caucasus in Turkey and the Republic of Georgia, Nordmanns have rich color, excellent structure, good needle retention and strong branches for ornament display. Still more advantageous is their resistance to pests and diseases that plague other popular tree species, like white and red fir.

“Because of Nordmann fir, we've been able to plant Christmas trees in areas where we could not grow white fir due to Phytophthora,” Wunderlich said. “Consumers are realizing they like it and are asking for the species.”

If the adelgid makes its way to California, Wunderlich is prepared to work with local growers to devise a control strategy based on the results of research her Cooperative Extension counterparts in Washington are conducting on the pest.

California Christmas tree farmers who suspect their trees have been infested with the silver fir woolly adelgid are encouraged to contact Wunderlich at (530) 621-5505, lrwunderlich@ucanr.edu.

An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Friday, December 5, 2014 at 8:16 AM

Drought talk draws ranchers, researchers and climatologists

 

“No matter what sector you’re in, you’re in dire straits,” meteorologist Brad Rippey told the crowd. “California is really ground zero at this point, really sticking out like a sore thumb.”

California's severe drought is entering a fourth year. With that, scientists met with ranchers to give background and gain feedback on a key climate indicator: the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The November 7 workshop held at the University of California, Davis, and webcast to 15 satellite locations across the state posed questions to a panel of experts who help publish the weekly analysis. UC Davis researchers also discussed new findings from in-depth rancher interviews along with strategies for maintaining the nutrition of cattle during the water shortage.

Read the full article at the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

 

With 83 percent of California now in the two highest categories for drought, ranchers are seeing conditions as rare as once in a hundred years.

“We learn a lot when times are tough,” said Rick Roberti, a cattle and hay rancher who attended the workshop. “We're never going to have the water we need. So we might as well learn now how to deal with it.”

In 2012, the second year of California's drought, more than 2,500 of the nation's 3,000 counties qualified for disaster loans, due to designations made through the Drought Monitor.

(Slide: Brad Rippey)

"You see the grass that we had then and the grass that we have now and it's nothing to compare to," says rancher Antonia Suenz of Marysville, California. "The climate is changing."

(Photo: Brad Hooker/UC Davis)

California state climatologist Mike Anderson showed that only 1924 saw less rain than this year, but 2014 has had far higher temperatures: “So not only are you dealing with lack of water, you're dealing with Mother Nature increasing the demand for what water you have.”

Listen to more of this conversation with Anderson at California Drought Watch

Posted on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 at 8:38 AM

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