California Naturalist
California Naturalist
California Naturalist
University of California
California Naturalist

ANR Green Blog

Bee knowledgeable: Pollinator Week is June 19–25, 2017

Bees are the most important pollinators of California agriculture — helping farmers grow field crops, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Honey bees receive most of the credit for crop pollination, but many other kinds of bees play an important role as well. There are 1600 species of bees in California! Take time during Pollinator Week to learn about the different kinds of bees and what you can do to help them flourish.

Why should I care about other kinds of bees?

Bees other than honey bees contribute significantly to crop pollination. For example, alfalfa pollination by alfalfa leafcutter bees is worth $7 billion per year in the United States. Other bees can also boost the result of honey bee pollination — in almond orchards, honey bees are more effective when orchard mason bees are present. The more bee species, the merrier the harvest.

While growers often rent honey bee colonies to pollinate their crops, some wild bees pollinate certain crops even better than honey bees do. For instance, bumble bees are more effective pollinators of tomato because they do something honey bees do not: they shake pollen out of flowers with a technique known as buzz pollination. Likewise, native squash bees are better pollinators of cucurbits — unlike honey bees, they start work earlier in the day, and males even sleep in flowers overnight.

How can I help honey bees and other bees?

When it comes to land management and pest management practices, some bees need more accommodations than others. That's why it is important to know what bees are present in your area and important to your crop, and plan for their needs. Use this bee monitoring guide to identify bees present on your farm.

You can help all kinds of bees by using integrated pest management (IPM). This means using nonchemical pest management methods (cultural, mechanical and biological control), monitoring for pests to determine whether a pesticide is needed, and choosing pesticides that are less toxic to bees whenever possible. Check out the UC IPM Bee Precaution Pesticide Ratings to learn about the risks different pesticides pose to honey bees and other bees, and follow the Best Management Practices To Protect Bees From Pesticides.

Bees also need plenty of food to stay healthy and abundant. Plant flowers that provide nectar and pollen throughout the year. See the planting resources below to find out which plants provide year-round food for specific types of bees.

Like honey bees, native bees need nesting areas to thrive. Bumble bees, squash bees, and other bees nest underground. Ground-nesting bees may require modified tilling practices (such as tilling fields no more than 6 inches deep for squash bees) or no-till management to survive. For above-ground nesters, like carpenter bees and mason bees, consider planting hedgerows or placing tunnel-filled wooden blocks around the field. See the habitat resources below for more information about native bee nesting in agricultural areas.

 

Bee habitat resources

Sources

 

Posted on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 11:46 AM
Tags: bees (6), pollinators (4)

Better soil boosts farm profit and benefits the planet

Healthy soil does much more than hold plants upright on the surface of the earth. It is a mix of mineral bits and old plant particles teeming with microbes to form a mysterious and complex web of life scientists are just beginning to understand.

While scientists use high technology to study heathy soil – painstakingly counting soil worms and bugs, sequencing the DNA of soil bacteria, for example – some farmers know intuitively whether the soil is healthy just by walking on it.

Scott Park is a first-generation Meridian, Calif., farmer. “When I step on a field and it feels like a road, something is wrong,” he said. “If it feels like a marshmallow or sponge, that's good.”

An overflow crowd at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center learns about the benefits of farming practices that promote healthy soil.

Park shared his farming experiences with 200 farmers, industry representatives, University of California Cooperative Extension scientists, Fresno State students, news media and others during a half-day UC workshop at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points.

“The last 31 years I've been on a mission of building soil,” Park said. “I discovered it by accident and I've made lots of mistakes. But yields trend upwards every year on every crop. Being sensitive to building soil, I'm making a lot of money. And if I'm doing something for the earth, all the better.”

Park said he adds 10 to 15 tons per acre of biomass to his farm every year. He's using less fertilizer, up to 20 percent less water, and even experimenting on the farm by growing a commercial crop with just four inputs: cover crops, water, seed and sun.

“We got high-yielding, good-quality crops,” Park said. “Nobody was more shocked than I am that I got a good crop.”

Soil samples on the left break down quickly in water. On the right, healthy soil absorbs water without breaking down.

Researchers are now using the scientific method to figure out the root causes of these empirical observations.

“There's a lot going on in soil,” said Radomir Schmidt, a UC Davis soil microbiologist who spoke at the soil health field day.

A teaspoon of soil has a billion bacteria and six miles of fungal hyphae, the filaments that branch out through the soil from fungi, Schmidt said. The microbes' interaction with living plant roots, the larger pores left by decomposing vegetation and tunneling worms and insects create a system that confers resilience to unforeseen challenges – such as pest pressure, torrential rainfall and plant diseases.

The field day was held under a tent pitched adjacent to an 18-year research trial at the 320-acre facility. The trial compares four farming systems side by side:

  1. Conventional system, with annual soil tillage and no cover crops.
  2. Conservation agriculture, with no tilling whatsoever and annual winter cover crops.
  3. No-till without the cover crop.
  4. Conventional tilling with a cover crop.

“Take a look over my shoulder to see the difference,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and the study leader. “We've found the cover crops and no-till reduce water needs, cut dust, and lower costs. And there may be more benefits than we realized.”

For example, a graduate student counted the worms, bugs, beetles and other microfauna in soil samples from each of the treatments. There were double the amount in the no-till, cover crop plots compared to the conventional farming system.

Randall Southard, UC ANR soil researcher, standing in a bulldozed pit, shows the characteristics of soil beneath conservation agriculture trials at the West Side REC.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Sloan Rice found that cover crops promote water retention in the soil after rainfall. There is very little water evaporation from the soil surface and water transportation from the cover crop plants in the winter, so little water is lost. Cover crops also promote more water infiltration below three feet.

“Cover crops for sustainable water management is particularly important considering the water supply availability and its cost,” Rice said.

Healthy soil management also shows promise in confronting global climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil, rather than depleting it.

Manager of Sano Farms in Firebaugh, Jesse Sanchez, was a speaker at the field day. He wasn't surprised by the overflow crowd.

“Farmers are more and more curious. They see some of us using cover crops, and they want to learn more,” Sanchez said. “There has been a swell of interest. I have a tremendous number of visitors every year.”

Field day participants take a close look at the soil.

For more information about soil building, see the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation website at http://casi.ucanr.edu

Posted on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 2:26 PM

Looking to hire a maintenance gardener? Make sure they are DPR certified

Memorial Day Weekend has just passed, bringing with it the unofficial start of summer. The warm weather we've recently experienced following a rich rainy season is the perfect combination for the luscious growth we see in lawns and landscapes.

Business picks up this time of year for the many maintenance gardeners who are hired to mow lawns, clean up landscapes, or get rid of unwanted insects, diseases, or weeds. What many people may not realize is that maintenance gardeners who apply pesticides as part of their services must be certified by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). Even if pesticides are not used often, such as a single herbicide application, a Qualified Applicator Certificate in the Maintenance Gardener Category Q (QAC-Q) is required. This certification allows maintenance gardeners to legally apply general use pesticides as part of their services.

Maintenance gardeners who apply pesticides must be certified by DPR. (Photo: Jack Kelly Clark)

According to DPR, approximately two-thirds of pesticide exposure-related illnesses reported between 2005 and 2014 in California came from urban settings such as parks, gardens, schools and homes. Maintenance gardeners with a QAC-Q are qualified to follow California laws and regulations that help them to use, transport, store and dispose of pesticides safely in order to avoid human injury and contamination of the environment. They are also trained in pest identification and alternative methods to managing pests without the use of pesticides.

If you are a homeowner and use maintenance gardener services or are looking to hire, be sure to use one that is certified by DPR to ensure that they have the qualifications to follow the law and apply pesticides safely around your home. View the DPR Maintenance Gardener leaflet for homeowners and consumers (PDF) for more information on what you can do.

If you are a maintenance gardener and not yet certified, visit the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website for resources to help you. The exam preparation page lists several materials such as a study guide available for purchase as well as free online modules and practice exam questions, available in both English and Spanish.

Those who already hold a QAC-Q must renew it by taking eight hours of DPR-approved continuing education (CE) courses every two years, with at least two hours in the laws and regulations category. Find approved online courses on the UCIPM training page.

For more information about the Qualified Applicator Certificate in the Maintenance Gardener Category, check out the DPR website and DPR's quick reference pocket guide (PDF).

Maintenance gardeners are qualified to follow CA laws and regulations, such as reading and following pesticide label directions. (Photo: Michael Poe)
Posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 9:13 AM
Tags: gardener (1), pesticide use (2)

Graduate Students in Extension study key California concerns

In 2013, a group of graduate students in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) at the University of California, Berkeley sought out faculty support and successfully collaborated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) to launch the Program for Graduate Students in Extension (GSE). Participants receive up to a year of funding to conduct applied research and outreach to California communities, coordinate workshops and training events, and co-author materials with ANR academics. Over the course of the three-year pilot program, 14 students from across the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have participated.

“There's really no program quite like this, where students can gain hands-on, graduate-level training in extension and outreach,” says ESPM professor John Battles, who chaired the program's steering committee. He adds, “We're grateful to all the UC ANR advisors and specialists who have offered invaluable mentorship to student fellows.”

Image of a schoolyard garden. (Photo: Alana Siegner.)

Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Education

Alana Siegner (Energy and Resources Group, 2016–17 fellow) believes that to ensure the environmental sustainability of agricultural landscapes and to improve health outcomes for young people, it's important that students understand the scientific and social causes and consequences of climate change as it plays out in the U.S. food system. During her fellowship, she adapted existing climate change curricula to fit within farm-to-school programs, integrating food- and farming-specific examples into general lessons on climate adaptation and mitigation. The lessons, designed for students in grades 8 through 10, are hands-on, interdisciplinary, and solutions oriented, unfolding in both the classroom and the school-garden environments. Siegner piloted the curricula and other professional development resources with teachers at schools in Oakland and in Washington State's San Juan Islands. 

Kripa Akila Jagannathan

Climate-Resilient Agriculture

Despite several advances in modeling techniques, climate projections are not widely used in agricultural decision-making. Kripa Akila Jagannathan (ERG, 2015–16 fellow) wanted to bridge this gap between climate science and decision-making needs by improving the understanding of what farmers consider relevant climate information. She interviewed almond growers in California about how they'd previously used climate information, what climatic variables were most relevant to them, and the content and communication methods that could make information on future climate more usable. Jagannathan's interviews showed that almond growers have experienced changes in climate over the past few decades that have affected plant growth. She hopes that providing growers with appropriate information on past trends and future projections can help them to make decisions that are better adapted to future climate.

(Photo: Stella Cousins)

Forestry and Ecosystem Education

Stella Cousins (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) collaborated with the Forestry Institute for Teachers, a free program that provides K–12 teachers in California with knowledge and tools for teaching their students about ecosystem science and forest resource management. In addition to presenting current research to participating educators, she shared do-it-yourself miniature microscopes that can help learners of all ages explore seeds, cells, fur, and other tiny wonders. Magnifying tree-core samples from the Sierra Nevada as an example, she demonstrated how a lesson in dendrochronology can facilitate classroom learning on the ways forests grow and are shaped by climate. Cousins says, “I hope that this project will support existing efforts to make sound and sustainable ecosystem-management choices, and also help foster lifelong curiosity in California's youth about the natural world.”

Conservation and Land Easements

Conservation easements are currently one of the primary channels for protecting private land. Since easements restrict development for both current and future owners, resale value is presumably diminished, and landowners are typically compensated with a one-time payment from a conservation group. Reid Johnsen (Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2016–17 fellow) wanted to explore the relationship between rancher identity, community, and potential preferences for alternative payment structures. He surveyed landowners in Marin and Sonoma counties to gauge their support for different options, including leases and annual payments for ecosystem services. He also constructed an economic model of stakeholder behavior to help assess which payment structure delivers the greatest combined welfare to landowners, conservation groups, and the public.

(Photo: Luke Macaulay)

Hunting and Conservation

Luke Macaulay (ESPM, 2014–15 fellow) surveyed private landowners and land managers in California to determine how recreational hunting may influence decisions regarding land-use and conservation practices. He regularly spoke on his survey findings and ran a workshop in Montana to encourage cooperative conservation efforts between hunters and environmentalists. “The feedback from the advisors on my mentorship team was invaluable in improving the quality of my research,” he reflects. The experience also had an impact on his career: In 2016, Macaulay was hired by CNR as a Cooperative Extension specialist in rangeland planning and policy.

Posted on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 9:27 AM

Enjoy nature, but don't love it to death

Spring is here and that means time to get outside and enjoy California's beauty. This year people are out in record numbers to see wildflowers and experience all the recreational opportunities that parks offer. CNN reported triple the usual number of visitors to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Numbers of recreational visits have surged at National Parks across the county with 330 million visitors recorded last year, during the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Recreational bird watchers in Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Recently published research shows there are recreational impacts on wildlife, even from quiet recreation activities such as hiking and bird watching. Findings were based on 274 scientific articles published between 1981 and 2015 describing the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities.

More than 93 percent of the articles reviewed indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59 percent) were negative. Hiking, for example, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy. Among the negative impacts observed were decreased species diversity; decreased survival, reproduction, or abundance; and behavioral or physiological disturbance (such as decreased foraging or increased stress). These types of negative effects were documented most frequently for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Park managers often struggle to balance the need to protect wildlife with the importance of accommodating visitors in support of the many essential benefits nature provides people and the importance of spreading conservation awareness. UC California Naturalists can often be found on the trail helping to interpret nature and focusing on leave no trace in an effort to ensure we don't love nature to death. When out enjoying nature please stay on the trail, respect seasonal closures, minimize noise, do not approach animals, and reduce your driving speed – all recommended steps to minimize the impacts of recreation on wildlife. A light touch now ensures wildlife viewing for many years to come.

Death Valley National Park visitors enjoy wildflowers from the road. Photo courtesy of the NPS.

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