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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)

Lessons from California’s urban farms

Urban farmer Pilar Rebar gives a UC ANR team a tour of her organic seedling operation in Richmond, Calif.
Urban farms are popping up around the state, and a UC ANR team recently took a close-up look at urban agriculture in California. In particular, we wanted to learn about farms in cities and on the edges of cities that are selling or distributing their products. We visited urban farms and interviewed farmers to find out about their operations, their challenges, and especially, what UC ANR could offer that would be most helpful. We used what we learned to create the UC ANR Urban Agriculture website, a portal where California's urban farmers can find information they need on a wide array of topics. Here are a few of the insights we gained on our visits.

California's urban farms are usually small, but not always.

Among the 27 farms we visited, the median size was one acre (in other words, half of the farms were larger than an acre, and half were smaller). And the range in size was wide. The smallest was 3,000 square feet, while the largest was 1,000 acres! Excluding the 1,000-acre farm, the average size was 2.8 acres. Compared to the average size of a farm in California, which is 328 acres, according to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, urban farms are very small.   

Some experienced farmers, many beginners

Two farms were multi-generation family farms started in the 1950s by the current farmers' parents or grandparents and these farmers are highly experienced. Although their farms now operate in urban environments, they didn't start out as urban farms. “The city came to us,” as one farmer put it. The other farmers we interviewed have been learning farming from the ground up.

Not-for-profit models are prevalent

Among the urban farms we visited, most are part of a non-profit organization or government agency with a larger mission. Urban farming is used as a vehicle for reaching the organization's goals, for example, teaching business skills to youth, or improving healthy food access in under-served communities. 

Many challenges starting up

When asked about challenges in starting up their urban farms, the most common issues farmers mentioned were business and financial planning, marketing, and accessing land. From a business perspective, most urban farmers were still learning how to make their enterprises profitable. They also struggled with production issues such as crop planning, pests, and irrigation. And many had encountered confusing zoning issues and regulations.

Urban farmers dive into policy

Of the 27 urban farmers we interviewed, 19 were also involved in advocating for local policy change to facilitate urban agriculture. As one interviewee said: “In order to start the urban farm, we have had to jump into policy work to get it off the ground.”

How can UC ANR help?

One theme that emerged through our visits and discussions with urban farmers is the need for a ready and reliable source of information on everything from starting a farm to production to local regulations. With experts around the state, UC ANR has access to research and information on a wide variety of farming and related topics. The UC ANR Urban Agriculture website has been created as a resource for urban farmers in California, where we'll continue to add helpful material, urban farm stories from around the state, and updates on policies in our metropolitan areas. We encourage urban farmers and urban agriculture advocates in California to connect. Suggest ideas for our blog, share information and photos about your urban farm, and ask questions, via our Facebook page and Twitter. We look forward to hearing from you!

Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 5:28 AM

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

It's October - Take the kids to a farm!

Before Halloween comes the harvest festival and the pumpkin patch.

Although most of us don't live on farms or have relatives who farm, the shortening days and the crispness in the air still remind us somehow that it's harvest time. All over California, farmers are opening their gates and sharing their harvest celebrations with the rest of us. What better time to make sure the kids know where pumpkins, corn, and everything else they eat comes from?

Here are some family-friendly harvest celebrations coming up soon:

  • Sierra Oro Farm Trail Passport Weekend, Butte County - Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 11, 12
    Passport holders can set their own pace, take self-guided tours of the scenic agricultural trails, meet local farmers and winemakers and sample the amazing bounty of locally-owned wineries and specialty farms located throughout Butte County.

  • Shone Farm Fall Festival, Santa Rosa - Saturday, Oct. 11
    The festival, which marks the Farm's 42nd year, will include activities such as apple pressing, a rotten tomato slingshot game, pumpkin and vegetable picking, hayrides and tours of the 365-acre farm and forest. Santa Rosa Junior College Agriculture & Natural Resources Department students will demonstrate wood milling, compost making, lead tours and introduce visitors to the farm's horses, sheep and chickens, and talk about their upkeep. In addition, children can have their faces painted and make stick horses and other crafts. This free festival runs from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11. The farm is located at 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville. For more information, visit shonefarm.com.

  • Stehly Farms Organic Pumpkin Patch, San Diego - Sunday, Oct. 12
    Kids are back in school, the nights are (hopefully) getting cooler, and fall is here! What better way to celebrate than some pumpkin picking? Pumpkin Picking. Tractor Rides. Farm Stand. Devil Dogs BBQ. Market Juices. All Ages Welcome! $6, Kids 4 and Under Free

  • Farm & Barn Tour, Placer County - Sunday, Oct. 12
    The whole family will enjoy the PlacerGROWN Farm & Barn Tour, a FREE self-guided expedition of farms, ranches, and vineyards in the beautiful countryside of Placer County. Each farm venue will feature different activities, tours, and demonstrations. Locally grown produce, meats, wine, and more will be available for purchase. Learn more
  • PlacerGROWN Harvest Festival, Rocklin - Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 18, 19
    Don't miss the PlacerGROWN Harvest Festival, a FREE event of family fun including a pumpkin patch, pumpkin lighting display at dusk, movie in the park, scarecrow building contest, farmers' market and more.
  • Work Day & Barn Dance, Pescadero - Saturday, Oct. 18
    Celebrate the spirit of community with Pie Ranch at this monthly ritual of touring or working together on the ranch, sharing locally grown food, and then spinning, laughing and dosey-doing together into the night. 

  • Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) Day at the Pumpkin Patch, Nicasio - Sunday, Oct. 19
    Pick an organic pumpkin, make your own cheese, taste local Marin wine and beer, pick up locally sourced sandwiches, salads and burgers from The Farmer's Wife and Stemple Creek Ranch, and let the kids go crazy with crafts at MALT Day. This event is free and open to the public.

  • Live Earth Farm Harvest Festival, Watsonville - Saturday, Oct. 25
    Celebrate the Bounty of the Pajaro Valley and the Monterey Bay Area! Join us for fun on the farm for the whole family. Honor the changing of the seasons and celebrate the Harvest with us on the farm.

These and many more farm and ranch events can be found on the UC Agritourism Directory, www.calagtour.org, managed as a public service by the UC Small Farm Program.

Have fun!

Posted on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 9:25 AM

Management of 'Hoppers' that Infest Alfalfa in California's Southern Desert

Hairy alfalfa vs non hairy 2014

Introduction Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) has been cultivated in California since it was first introduced from Chile in 1850. Alfalfa yields can be reduced by several species of insects, such as leafhoppers in the genus Empoasca. These leafhoppers are...

Hairy alfalfa vs non hairy 2014
Hairy alfalfa vs non hairy 2014

Hairy alfalfa in right hand versus smooth alfalfa in the left hand.

Hairy alfalfa vs non hairy 2014b
Hairy alfalfa vs non hairy 2014b

Posted on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 2:10 PM
Tags: Alfalfa (15), IPM (8), Leafhoppers (1), Management (1)

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