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Opportunity knocks for aspiring naturalists in California

The California Naturalist program will be offered in an eight-day immersion course in Cambria this month, and in a slower-paced eight-week program that starts in September in San Luis Obispo, reported Michele Roest in the San Luis Obispo Tribune. California Naturalist sessions begin in September in a wide range of California locations, including Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Sacramento and Yosemite National Park.

In all cases, fulfilling the course requirements will allow participants to join the growing ranks of California Naturalists in the Golden State, which number nearly 2,000.

The California Naturalist training involves both classroom and field sessions.

In her article, Roest likens California Naturalists to the well-known UC Master Gardeners. Master Gardener volunteers share research-based gardening information with the public. California Naturalists extend information to the public about natural California. The CalNat program also offers volunteers the opportunity to participate in nature-based activities in other capacities, such as citizen science, service to partner organizations or hands-on conservation.

The eight-day class in Cambria, Roest wrote, provides comprehensive information on "everything from algae to zebras." Zebras in California? There are a few who wander the land around Hearst Castle along Highway 1, descendants of zebras brought to San Simeon by the late Randolph Hearst.

The eight week program is offered in collaboration with Cuesta College. 

"The program is ideal for adults who want to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of California's natural history," the article said. 

It's a resume-builder for those seeking jobs in environmental fields, and includes the option of four units of transferable UC credit for students.

Posted on Friday, August 17, 2018 at 9:40 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Noah Crockette: From an 11-Year-Old Bohart Intern to an 18-Year-Old Entomology Student at Cornell

Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, shares a laugh with Noah Crockette, now an entomology major at Cornell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“Go as far as you can [young scientists]. The world needs you badly.”—E.O Wilson. That sign greets visitors to the Bohart Museum...

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 3:23 PM

Stockpond Diversions

I have been getting some calls recently regarding SB 88, the legislation related to reporting stock pond diversions. UCCE advisors Julie Finzel,...

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 12:06 PM

Joy and the Digging Dog

Two years ago, when life and work were particularly tumultuous, I turned to my husband and said, “Life is already chaotic; let's get a puppy!”  Really.  I actually said that.  And we ended up with a digging dog in our newly redone backyard.

Roxy is a Bernese Mountain dog whose enormous paws are perfect for scooping and moving massive amounts of dirt.  She expresses such delight as she excavates a hole and dirt goes flying!  At one point, she was even scooping plants out of my larger pots.  It's especially exciting when she hits a whistling drip line, which creates a fountain, which then creates a mud puddle, which apparently is the most fun of all to dig in.  She is not trying to hide or escape.  Rather, her digging is a picture of pure joyfulness. 

While we've had several dogs, I've never had a digging dog before and so it wasn't really on my radar.  At first, I chalked it up to puppy behavior and tried to redirect Roxy when we caught her digging.  When it became apparent that the behavior was going to continue for a while, I researched the following reasons why dogs dig and tips for preventing digging.  I'll share them in the hopes that they may help someone else with a digging dog (I'm sure I'm not the only one) preserve at least a portion of their backyard garden.  Ideally, you will be able to identify the reason for your dog's digging and address the underlying cause, such as boredom, separation anxiety, looking for a cool place, hunting for prey, or other reasons.  But digging is an innate canine behavior, so sometimes a digging dog just has to dig!

  • Exercise.  To address inactivity and excess energy that can lead to digging, a leading suggestion is to provide the dog with more exercise.  This didn't really work for us, although perhaps it prevented worse behavior.  Roxy already gets two walks a day of at least two to three miles each.  As my husband ruefully said, “exercise only makes her stronger.”  In fact, she is more prone to dig after a long, vigorous walk.   She is especially energized then!
  • Activities.  Some dogs dig because they are bored.  Provide them with toys and chews that distract them or give them a chance to work for a reward.  We had limited success with this approach, which gave us up to approximately 1.5 hours of non-digging time.  For us, a long morning walk followed by some treat-dispensing toys was optimal.
  • A cool place.  Some dogs dig to create a cool space to rest so providing a cool area might help.
  • A place to dig.  If you are able to supervise and redirect your dog, consider creating an acceptable place to dig.  We sunk a big rubber container into the ground and created a “treasure chest” which we filled with buried toys.  Needless to say, Roxy loved it!  Because however, we could not supervise her every minute, we were not consistent in catching her digging elsewhere and redirecting her to the treasure chest.  Otherwise, I actually think we may have had more success with this approach   Some people wondered if creating a “dig zone” might create an incentive for Roxy to dig elsewhere, but since she was already digging everywhere else, we decided it was worth a try. 
  • Deterrents.  If the dog tends to dig in certain areas, try making those areas inaccessible by covering them plastic mesh, rocks, or other material.  Some people recommend citrus peels, but Roxy finds them to be delicious.  We were somewhat successful in using short border fencing (the wire type that is about 12-16” tall) around plants and our vegetable garden.  For some reason, this provided a sufficient deterrent even though Roxy could easily step over it.  It also made our yard look like a plant zoo with many plants in “cages” until they grew over them.  Not the look I was hoping for.  Also, in our case, deterrents in one area only led to a game of “whack-a-mole” around the yard where Roxy simply moved onto a new location once we closed off a previous digging location.  At one point, I even had to “fence off” my pots. 
  • Gophers and moles.  We are fortunate that we don't have burrowing animals in our backyard, but Roxy loves to dig in gopher holes in my parents' yard.  Controlling such animals may help minimize digging.

 Two years later, the digging has slowed, but not stopped.  Our backyard renovation isn't the oasis of peacefulness I once envisioned; instead, we have a yard full of caged plants, half-hidden, mulch-covered mesh, numerous dog toys, and a few holes.  I can't pull weeds without a smelly, dirty plush toy being shoved in my face in an effort by Roxy to get me to play.  But she makes me laugh and remember how fun it is to be invited to play.  I wouldn't trade a pristine garden for all the joy that my digging dog brings. 

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 9:29 AM

University researchers and organic farmers to build soil as nature intended

A USDA grant will allow a group of California organic farmers to team up with researchers from the University of California, Chico State and Fresno State to determine whether tilling less soil on the farm will improve production of vegetable crops.

The aim is to duplicate the soil environment found in natural areas – typically concealed by plants, leaves and other organic debris – to improve agricultural soil health, increase production, reduce water use and avoid leaching nutrients out of the root zone.

“Tilling the soil is common on farms, but our research shows that it often isn't necessary, and can even be detrimental,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist. “In nature, organic matter on the soil surface creates a protective layer and promotes biological activity that is beneficial to plants and the environment.”

A group of organic farmers, shown above, are working with UC researchers to minimize tillage and optimize soil characteristics on their farms.

The three-year project, funded with $380,000 from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Conservation Innovation Grant program, involves six organic farmers who are already experimenting on their own with cover crops, compost and minimum tillage to grow high-quality organic produce.

“This is a group of outstanding farmers,” Mitchell said. “It's very encouraging to see this sort of care for the soil. They recognize that taking care of the soil biology is useful to produce crops.”

One of the participants, Scott Park of Meridian, Calif., 50 miles north of Sacramento, has been building the soil on his farm for 38 years.

“We put 10 to 15 tons of biomass on every acre every year,” Park said. “This has given me good soil structure, water percolation and water retention, and we're having some really good results.”

Park said he tweaks his farming practices each year. To date, he has tinkered with reduced tillage, but isn't sold on a no-till system.

“I'm doing minimum till now, but it can be better,” Park said.

Teasing out those improvements is a goal of the project, which includes trials on four farms and two 12-acre demonstration plots, one at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points and the other on the Chico State campus.

“Each of us will be trying to get closer to the goal of reducing tillage to promote soil health. We all want to develop strategies that might work, and not repeat mistakes,” Mitchell said.

The USDA grant funds will enable the farmers and researchers to gather accurate data about the agronomic and economic impacts of the new farming systems and use state-of-the-art equipment and technologies as they experiment with new techniques.

For example, the team is working with a Salinas company that is bringing a Spanish transplanting technology to California. The company, Tanimura & Antle Produce, will allow a demonstration of a plant tape that holds sprouts spaced ideally for a broccoli field planting in the West Side REC plot. (See video below or on YouTube at https://youtu.be/6pkmQVNjH1I .) The technology holds promise for reducing tillage, cutting back on labor, using less seed, and bringing the crop into production earlier in the season.

Planting cover crops is another way farmers and researchers will seek to improve soil health, though this process is a challenge in organic farming systems. On conventional no-till and minimum-till farms, the cover crop may be sprayed with an herbicide before planting seedlings in the cover crop residue. Possible solutions are chopping up the cover crop or using a roller-crimper machine.

“These technologies would provide considerable advantages in organic systems, but very little research has been done to quantify how these practices might influence soil function and cropping system resilience in California,” Mitchell said.  

As part of the project, a farmer network will be developed for information sharing, 18 public extension events will be held, six videos will be created and curriculum will be developed to extend the research outcomes.

For more information, contact Jeff Mitchell at jpmitchell@ucanr.edu, or (559) 303-9689.


 

In the video below, see an overview of transplanting technology developed in Spain that will be part of the soil building research.

Posted on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 8:34 AM
Tags: CASI (15), Jeff Mitchell (33), organic (24)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

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