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Good News on the Monarch Butterfly Front

She came, she saw, she oviposited, she nectared and she left.  That's the extent of our sole monarch sighting in our Vacaville pollinator...

Monarch laying an egg in Vacaville on Oct. 9. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch laying an egg in Vacaville on Oct. 9. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch laying an egg in Vacaville on Oct. 9. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, October 22, 2021 at 4:12 PM
Tags: Art Shapiro (243), milkweed (45), monarchs (50), UC Davis (260)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources

Gala Apples are Delicious

Two springs ago while shopping at a big box store in Vallejo in the pre-Covid era, I purchased a Gala apple tree sapling with its roots wrapped up in a bag.  In my mind, I was already crunching into a crisp juicy apple.   I was eager to take it home and transfer it to a 7-gallon bucket.  I filled the bucket with planting soil and placed in a sunny spot in the garden. 

I carefully water the tree and watched it grow.  In late summer I found a nice sunny spot in my garden where the tree could get 6 hours plus of sun and dug a 7-gallon hole in the clay.  I made it twice the diameter of the little sapling and deep enough so the crown would be above the surface.  It grew and grew and the next spring many new leaves and branches appeared but no flowers.  Gala apple trees can grow as high as 25 feet or if you get the dwarf type 10 feet.

This spring I got excited as I noticed new buds appearing on the tree.  Sure, enough they were flowers! I was going toger apples!  How many I did not know.  I figured a half dozen or more but I was wrong the tree gave me a dozen-plus apples! Galas are self-pollinating so there is no need to buy another apple tree.

Apple blossoms in the spring.

I sampled the apples once they started to change color.  The young apples were crisp with just a tinge of sweetness and tartness.  As they got redder the flavor grew more intense.  Gala apples have a good storage life. Put in a cool place and chomp on them a month later! They will just burst with flavor.  Gardening takes patience, it takes time.  But if you work at it, you will be rewarded. 

Ready to pick. photos by Brenda Altman


I can't wait for next spring to see how many more apples I'll get.  I will remove the smaller apples growing next to a larger apple in the hopes of getting bigger apples but fewer apples.  I will also prune some of the lower branches. 

Sometimes you can find real bargains at a big box store.  Do your research before you buy and select the saplings that look promising.  If the tree is not already established, I prefer to transfer trees to a seven-gallon container and let the roots develop before I commit them to the ground.

For more information:\gala/htm gala apples

Posted on Friday, October 22, 2021 at 2:25 PM

The Boh-Art Drawing Helps Mark an Important Anniversary

Insect enthusiasts will love the Bohart Museum of Entomology's latest art piece, commissioned as part of the museum's 75th anniversary. A small...

Posted on Thursday, October 21, 2021 at 5:14 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Economic Development, Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources

Can California native plants be used as cover crops to benefit farmers and native ecosystems?

In late February, in an almond orchard in the Sacramento Valley, the fall-planted cover crop mix of grasses, brassicas and legumes had barely produced a green fuzz above the soil surface, and it was unclear when it would bloom. Unfortunately, this scene is becoming more frequent across California, as climate change causes more prolonged droughts and rain-dependent winter cover crops can barely grow, which delays or reduces bloom, essential for supporting pollinators. Fortunately, California native plant species have evolved with drought and have developed many strategies to survive and reproduce in those conditions.

Poor growth of cover crops during a dry winter. Photo by Sonja Brodt

Would it be possible to capitalize on the over 9 million acres of cropland in California for drought resilience and habitat restoration by utilizing more native species as cover crops? Our team at the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) spent some time considering various native plant species and their potential ecological and operational attributes as cover crops. For a full list of species and their attributes, see

Many native species are so well adapted to drought that they will still germinate and bloom during extremely dry years, for example, annuals like Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa) and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Alternatively, perennial bulb species like Prettyface (Triteleia ixioides) and Bluedicks (Dipteronstemon capitatus) become dormant during the dry summer, retaining their bulbs below ground and re-growing when the rains return. These species could perhaps fit well in no-till orchard systems. Summer dormancy is important for tree nut growers because they usually need clean ground under the trees during harvest. Moreover, the costs to terminate and reseed would potentially be eliminated. While these species are well-known by Native Americans for their edible bulbs, at this point in time, we are not aware of any cover cropping trials having ever been conducted with these species. 

Cover crop growth with higher rainfall. Photo by Vivian Wauters

Another species with strong reseeding and more availability is the annual Lacy Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), which offers an intriguing historical precedent for developing a native species for cover cropping purposes. Native to California, it was introduced into Europe in 1832 by Germans. It is very attractive to pollinators and experienced a boom there in the early 1990s. European beekeepers and farmers have been using Lacy Phacelia as a cover crop ever since, and it has recently been gaining traction on California farms as well. California has many species of phacelia, with another, described as being even more attractive to native bees, being the annual Great Valley Phacelia (Phacelia ciliata). Besides supporting native bees, other native plant species can contribute nitrogen to the soil, such as annual Lupine (Lupinus spp.) and perennial Deerweed (Acmispon glaber), which are legumes and form an association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots.

Lacy Phacelia cover crop in a vineyard. Photo by Lauren Hale

Cover crops are not usually considered marketable crops. However, we should not preclude the potential for some plants that are useful as cover crops to provide a harvestable product as well. Native perennial fiber plants such as Indian hemp dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), narrow leaf milkweed (Asclepsias fascicularis), and common nettle (Urtica dioica) could offer the opportunity to cultivate summer cover crops that have a market value, especially in cases where farmers are already willing to irrigate their cover crops to improve their development and amplify the benefits. Bowles Farming in the San Joaquin Valley is experimenting with growing these three species for fiber production. All three also attract native bees and important butterfly species such as monarchs (as long as farmers avoid spraying insecticides). 

While we believe that some native species could open new opportunities for farmers as cover crops, we still have insufficient studies testing the effects and viability of these species. Organizations like the NRCS Plant Materials Center at Lockeford and the Xerces Society are conducting practical studies with native species, creating plant guides and working with farmers to expand their use. In addition, researchers Lauren Hale of the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Anil Shrestha of California State University, Fresno, are using a 2021 UC SAREP small grant to study the effects of native species mixes on water demand and weed populations in San Joaquin Valley grape vineyards. Hale suggests that below-ground ecosystems may benefit as much from native plants as above-ground ecosystems. Says Hale, “Because plants and their microbiomes have evolved together for millennia, it seems logical that native plants would promote a good response from the native soil microbiota.”

For additional information:

UC SAREP List of California Native Species for Potential Use as Cover Crops:

Xerces Society lists of pollinator-friendly native species for California:

NRCS California Plant Materials Center plant guides:

UC SAREP Cover Crops Database:

Posted on Thursday, October 21, 2021 at 2:51 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Poinciana-Road Trip Part 2

While walking and driving around Borrego Springs, I kept noticing these really beautiful flowering shrubs.  The bees and hummingbirds were noticing them too. I couldn't stand it and got out my phone and found them pretty quickly online.  Then, of course, I couldn't find that site again when I went back to research them. Then,I found that there are about 20 pages of sites referring to Poinciana, FLORIDA!  Seems to be quite a nice community with many of the trees called "Royal Poinciana" or Delonix regia, which is native to Madagascar.  (Brings to mind the animated movie with all the zoo creatures singing and dancing.)
photos by Jenni Dodini

Finally, I found something resembling the site I first found dealing with Borrego Springs.  The one pictured is the Dwarf Peacock Poinciana tree, Caesalpinia pulcherrima.  The site is really wonderful in describing the plants in the area.  This plant is native to Barbados and is its national flower.  It can grow 15 to 20 feet in height, but in frost-prone climates, it stays smaller and can be pruned to make a nice hedge.  That being said, it tolerates pruning very well. It needs well-drained soil and full sunlight.  The seed pods can be quite messy when they fall to the ground.  They are drought and salt-tolerant plants.
This is just another reason that visiting the desert is a nice diversion from home.

poinciana 2
poinciana 2

Posted on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 at 1:06 PM

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