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Make it a healthy Halloween!

Orange fruit cups with jack-o-lantern faces drawn on the plastic.
Around this time of year, candy is flying off the shelves and headed to a classroom or workplace party near you. 

It's not too late to mix things up this year, by bringing one of many creative fruit and vegetable goodies to your spooky bash.

What about healthy ideas for children's parties? Think outside the wrapper! Consider handing out non-food items this Halloween. You can purchase many of these items for the same price as sweets. Pro tip: check out your local dollar store or hit up the party favor aisle at most department stores for bulk buys at low prices.

Here are a few non-food ideas:

  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Crayons
  • Spider rings
  • Bouncy balls
  • Yo-Yo
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Kazoos
  • Stickers

For more ideas about healthy holiday celebrations, visit, or contact your local University of California Cooperative Extension Nutrition Education Program.

Two creative and healthful Halloween party ideas.
Two creative and healthful Halloween party ideas.

Photo credit: and

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 8:47 AM
Tags: Halloween (1)

Is that a light brown apple moth?

It's easy to confuse light brown apple moth caterpillars (above) with look-alikes, including orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller and apple pandemic moth.
Nursery workers are the first line of defense in detecting light brown apple moth when growing ornamental plants in commercial nurseries. A new brochure and video can help those in the field distinguish light brown apple moth from several look-alike caterpillars.

Light brown apple moth is currently under a California Department of Food and Agriculture quarantine that regulates the interstate shipment of plants to keep the moth from spreading to new areas. It has been quarantined in various counties throughout coastal California ranging from Mendocino to San Diego.

An exotic and invasive pest from Australia, light brown apple moth has a host range of more than 2,000 plants. It is a pest to a wide range of ornamental and agricultural crops, including caneberries, strawberries, citrus, stone fruit, apples, and grapes. The caterpillars eat leaves and buds, leading to weak or disfigured plants. They also can feed directly on fruit, causing the fruit to be unmarketable.

Correct field identification of the light brown apple moth is the first step in containing the spread of this moth. Unfortunately several other leafroller caterpillars, including the orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller, and apple pandemic moth, look similar to light brown apple moth caterpillars. This makes photo identification tools that can go into the field with workers, like the Field Identification Guide for Light Brown Apple Moth in California Nurseries, a useful resource for nursery workers.

The field guide was created by Steven Tjosvold, Neal Murray, University of California Cooperative Extension; Marc Epstein, Obediah Sage, California Department of Food and Agriculture; and Todd Gilligan, Colorado State University with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM).

For more information on light brown apple moth and other leafrollers found in nurseries, see the UC Pest Management Guidelines for Floriculture and Nurseries.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 10:03 AM

UCCE helps span the boundary between fire science and fire management in California

UC Cooperative Extension is conveying fire science to wildland managers.
After academics complete fire science research, the results often end up gathering dust on a shelf. UC Cooperative Extension is now playing a significant role in bridging the gap between wildland fire science and wildland managers across the United States.

“It is a classic disconnect,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in the Central Sierra office. “That's why Cooperative Extension was formed almost 100 years ago. Policymakers could see that research advances weren't being implemented on farms. The same thing has happened in natural resource management.”

For example, Kocher said, scientists have known since the 1960s that systematic fire suppression has many negative consequences, but it took a very long time to get that message into practice by agencies charged with managing wildfire.

“After the Great Burn of 1910, which killed 87 people, there was a public clamor to attack fire and treat it as an enemy,” Kocher said. “We've come a long way since then. Now land managers have a good understanding of how important it is to have low-intensity fire in Sierra forests.”

Fire agencies are now beginning to understand that they must pay attention to technology transfer. Kocher believes UC Cooperative Extension is a logical player in the process.

“Cooperative Extension is the exemplar,” Kocher said. “We try to get new and evolving understanding into the hands of people who use the information to made decisions – not just land managers, but the public and policy makers as well.”

Beginning in 2009, the federal Joint Fire Science Program created 15 regional fire science exchanges to accelerate awareness, understanding and use of wildland fire science. Scott Stephens, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, leads the California consortium. Stacey S. Frederick serves as the consortium's full-time coordinator. Other UC academics involved are Kocher and Yana Valachovic, UCCE advisor in Humbolt and Del Norte counties.

Since its inception four years ago, the consortium has hosted webinars, conferences and symposia, and offered field consultations, field trips, tours, demonstrations and expertise. Another significant role of the group has been distilling academic fire science research reports into easy-to-read one-to two-page research briefs. To date, well over 100 briefs have been written by the consortium on a wide range of topics.

The California Fire Science Consortium maintains a comprehensive website that contains links to the research briefs, webinar recordings and information about upcoming events. The consortium also offers a twitter feed @cafirescience and Facebook page and you can sign up for their monthly newsletter here.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 9:58 AM

Pests make it challenging to grow chile peppers

A selection of hot chile peppers, a California-grown vegetable that adds spice to life.
Ethiopian, Mexican and Thai cuisine all taste distinctly different, but they have something in common: chile peppers. Demand for chile peppers is growing steadily and California is a leading producer of the vegetable that adds spice to life. Cash receipts for California chile peppers increased from $59 million in 2010 to nearly $100 million in 2012, according to USDA statistics. In Santa Clara County, 70 varieties of peppers are grown. Peppers are challenging to grow because they are susceptible to diseases, many of them spread by insects.

“Tomato spotted wilt virus spread by western flower thrips is a big problem for peppers,” said Shimat Joseph, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Tomato spotted wilt can cause a plant to produce discolored fruit that is unmarketable and it can kill the plant. Joseph advises pepper growers on integrated pest management methods to control insects.

“We believe it is critical to manage thrips early in the season because when the plants are small, they are more vulnerable,” Joseph said, “and the disease may not show until later in the season.”

He is currently studying the effects of applying insecticides a month after transplanting to discourage thrips from feeding. He also recommends removing weeds, which can host the virus.

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 10:17 AM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Tags: chile peppers (1), vegetables (32)

Date label confusion leads to food waste

After the "use by" date, the product may not be at its very best, but it is typically still safe to eat.
A lack of information and misinterpretation of the dates on food labels leads to a tremendous amount of unnecessary food waste, said Chutima Ganthavorn, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor in Riverside County.

There are no federal guidelines for dating food products; 20 states have laws on the books about food dating, but they are inconsistent.

“Dates on manufactured food products usually indicate how long the food can be kept on store shelves for best quality, but it is unrelated to its safety,” Ganthavorn said.

Canned goods past the expiration date are still safe to eat if the can is not dented, rusted or swollen. On the other hand, perishable foods that have not reached the expiration date may not be safe to eat if they were not refrigerated properly.

Improved understanding of the dates on food products can help consumers avoid waste. “Sell by” is simply a guide for grocery stores. “Best if used by” indicates when the product is in optimum condition. “Use by” is a recommendation to consumers to eat the food with top quality and flavor. After these dates, Ganthavorn said, the product may not be at its very best, but it is typically still safe to eat if it has been stored and prepared appropriately. The key is to follow safe food handling and storage guidelines.

Posted on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 8:35 AM

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