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Simple tips for the best Thanksgiving

            “What if, today, we were grateful for everything?” asks Charlie Brown.

 

You don't need to be a beloved cartoon character to understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. Giving thanks seems like an excellent goal for this year's celebration … and every day, really. Here are some important steps for a healthy, delicious and memorable holiday.

First, be safe
Millions of Americans will be celebrating this Thanksgiving. Foodborne illness is a real concern. So, let's make sure everybody enjoys the meal and doesn't get ill.

From safely thawing a turkey to making sure it's properly cooked, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a range of tips to keep your holiday safe. (One hint: take care with the stuffing). The USDA's famous Meat & Poultry Hotline will remain open on Thanksgiving Day until 11 a.m. PST; their team of experts is on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Turkey hotline

Want a little extra help? If you've never cooked a turkey, Noelle Carter breaks it down for you in this brilliant step-by-step primer; it appears in the Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times has created an interactive menu planner that factors in the number of guests, dietary preferences, your cooking experience and provides a game plan for the big day (tips, recipes, etc). It's useful...and fun!

No, Thanksgiving feast would be complete without pie. Whether you're a sweet potato or pumpkin pie fan, good crust is essential. Making a good pie crust isn't rocket science...but it does involve molecular science. In this video, University of California researcher Amy Rowat uses science to show you how to make the best pie crust ever.

Second, savor the meal

Did you know that there's a science to eating? Before you pile lots of food on your plate, take time to consider these seven steps from University of California scientists and researchers; they will assure that you savor every bite of your meal.

 

Third, don't waste

Enjoy your meal, but make it a point to reduce food waste this holiday season.

UC ANR researcher Wendi Gosliner of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute recently shared this information about #foodwaste:

“Food waste presents a major challenge in the United States. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of the food produced nationally never gets consumed, causing substantial economic and environmental harms. Wasted food utilizes vast quantities of precious land, water and human resources, yet rather than nourishing people, it feeds landfills, producing methane gasses that poison the environment. Much of the food waste (43%) occurs at the household level.”

 

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We sought out experts from UC ANR's Master Food Preserver Program for advice on how to use leftovers. Some takeaways: refer to this food storage chart to determine how long you can safety store leftover food. For more tips, click here. Leftover turkey can be used to make a delicious homemade stock that can serve as the base for additional meals. We provide a recipe and information about how to safely preserve stock here.

However you celebrate Thanksgiving, the staff of UC ANR wishes you a safe, happy and healthy holiday.

 

Editor's Note: UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. We operate the 4-H, Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver Programs. We live where you live. Learn more here. Are you a #veteran or #beginning farmer interested in learning more about poultry production? UC ANR is co-hosting a series of poultry workshops beginning in December and throughout 2017. Get the details here.

Related Reading:

Learn more about native and indigenous foods from Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Tribe in the Pacific Northwest; the post appears on the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Friday, November 17, 2017 at 8:24 AM

Thanksgiving persimmons are autumn joy

Persimmons

When the weather cools in the fall and the holidays draw near, orange orbs ripen on persimmon trees in California to offer a fresh autumn sweetness in time for Thanksgiving recipes and holiday décor.

At the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center (SCREC) in Irvine, a collection of 53 persimmon varieties are at their peak in November when the public is invited for tasting and harvesting at the annual persimmon field day.

“We want to raise awareness about persimmons,” said Tammy Majcherek, SCREC community educator. “It's a beautiful tree and a great addition to any landscape. Persimmon trees provide shade in the summer, healthy fruit in the fall, then drop their leaves and allow the sun's warmth to come through in the winter. It's a win-win situation as far as landscape trees go.”

Visitors are briefed before entering the persimmon variety block to taste and harvest persimmons.

The persimmon collection came to the research center in the 1960s, when the late UCLA subtropical horticulture professor Art Schroeder arranged to move his collection of persimmon varieties to another venue because the pressure of urban development at the Westwood campus became too great.

Persimmons are native in two parts of the world, China and the United States. The Chinese persimmon made its way to Japan, where its popularity soared. The American persimmon comes from the Southeastern United States, however, most California persimmons trace their lineage to Asia.

California leads the nation in persimmon production, according to the California Department of Agriculture Crop Report, but with a value of about $21 million in 2012, it represents just a small fraction of the state's $19 billion 2012 tree fruit and nut value.

A display of fuyu-type and hachiya-type persimmons helped participants distinguish which fruits are ready to eat.

Nevertheless, to the visitors who came out to tour UC's collection at SCREC, persimmon is a choice fruit. Participants on the early-morning VIP tour received a large shopping bag to fill with various varieties of fuyu and hachiya persimmons. Fuyu are flat, yellow-orange fruit that can be eaten right off the tree like apples or allowed to mature to a super-sweet soft pulp. Hachiya are redder, heart-shaped and astringent when not fully ripened. “If you bite it, it will bite your mouth right back,” said one participant.

However, after ripening to a jelly soft pulp or dried, the hachiya is equally delicious.

Shirley Salado, supervisor of the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in San Diego County, attended the persimmon field day to collect persimmons and information about the healthful fruit.

Shirley Salado, the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program supervisor in San Diego County, attended the persimmon tasting to gather fruit and information for her education program.

“The fuyu is great to eat,” Salado said. “When they ripen and become very soft, you can put the pulp in a blender and then freeze in zipper bags to add to healthy smoothies.”

Salado collected two large bags of persimmons to share with her nutrition education staff.

“Not everybody knows about these,” Salado said. “This gives them a chance to look at the fruit. This is what we promote.”

Jean Suan, right, plans to dry her persimmons using the traditional Japanese hoshigaki method, in which the whole fruit is peeled, as shown on the left, then hung on a string outdoors. For several weeks, the fruit is massaged every few days, until the sugars form a frost-like dust on the surface. The result is fruit with date-like texture and strong persimmon flavor.

Following the tour, coordinator of the UC Master Food Preserver program at SCREC Cinda Webb demonstrated safe consumption by making cinnamon persimmon jam, dried persimmon chips, and a gourmet persimmon, basil, beet and rice salad.

UC Master Food Preserver coordinator in Orange County Cinda Webb, right, and Master Food Preserver Mabel Alazard, make persimmon jam.
 
UC Master Food Preserver coordinator Cinda Webb adds persimmons to the salad. (Recipe below.)

Wild or brown rice persimmon salad

4 cups wild or brown rice, cooked
2 Fuyu persimmons, chopped
1 cup cooked, chopped beets
1 cup basic, chopped
8 oz feta cheese
½ cup orange cumin vinaigrette

Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup)

½ cup orange juice
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1½ tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp salt

Directions

  1. Whisk together vinaigrette dressing ingredients
  2. Stir basil, beets, persimmons and feta into rice and toss with ½ cup vinaigrette.
  3. Top with persimmon slices and extra chopped basil for presentation.
A member of the Rare Fruit Growers Association, Dewey Savage, showed a fuyu persimmon with browned flesh. The browning is caused by alcohol released by the seeds inside the fruit. The alcohol neutralizes tannins that make the persimmon astringent. The natural chemical reaction results in sweeter fruit.
 
UC Master Gardener volunteers prepared persimmons for the variety tasting.
 
 
Participants evaluated persimmon varieties based on attractiveness, astringency, sugar, flavor and overall performance.

 

Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 8:02 AM

Why you should 'know beans' about beans

Northern white beans, soaked overnight and ready to cook. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)If you say "I don't know beans" about beans, you ought to.

Beans are one of civilization's earliest cultivated crops, dating back to the early seventh millennium BCE. Today there are more than 40,000 varieties of beans worldwide.

Beans can also have a place on the Thanksgiving table. The Maple Spice blog for vegans shares a meat-free substitute for turkey that combines mashed white canelli beans, nutritional yeast, vital wheat gluten and spices to create a loaf that slices like turkey breast. UC CalFresh, one of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' nutrition education programs, developed a recipe for black bean and mango salad that makes a healthful and colorful accompaniment to a traditional Thanksgiving meal. (The recipe is below.)

"Not only are beans a healthy food choice, but they are also a healthy choice for our world," said UC Cooperative Extension advisor and dry bean expert Rachael Freeman Long. "Beans fix most of their own nitrogen so require fewer inputs for production compared to other sources of protein and they're cheap! Plus some, like garbanzos, are grown during the wintertime, so they're less dependent on irrigation."

The different varieties of beans include garbanzos (chickpeas) as well as black eyes, limas, and common beans like pintos and kidneys.

You probably won't find a bigger fan of beans than Rachael Long. "I eat them at least once a week or more," she said. "I love going on our Cal Beans website and getting new recipes. Summer time, I love beans on my salad, especially garbanzos. At this time of year, I love soups with beans. My favorite is the kale white bean sausage soup. If I want to go vegetarian, I'll leave out the sausage or sometimes fry up some tofu sausage for flavor. And, it just so happens that this is the soup in the current bean blog. I got the original recipe from one of our nutrition staff at our office."

Yolo County Farm advisor Rachael Long in a dry bean research field at the University of California, Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Long says that Cal Beans is an important site for bean growers and industry folks, too. "It's supported by the California Dry Bean Advisory Board, an important funding source for my work. Right now, I have a grant to look at seed moisture and quality at harvest (possibly drying down seed too much at harvest results in internal injury to planting beans (seed stock)."

What do you know about beans? Do you know that California grows the canning quality beans?

"We have the perfect weather conditions for those large, creamy beige-colored beans," Long said. "Other states like Washington grow about 100,000 acres of garbanzos for humus (but a lower quality bean and we can't compete with their free water via rainfall."

California farmers supply virtually all of our country's dry lima beans, Long notes.  In 2012, California farmers grew about 23,000 acres of baby and large limas, valued at $30 million that year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

California farmers supply virtually all of our country's dry lima beans, says Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Long. This photo was taken in 2013 at a  research site during the UC Davis Dry Bean Field Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Long has authored two UC ANR manuals about beans (Lima Bean Production in California and Common Dry Bean Production Manual) and is just finishing the garbanzo production manual (it's in peer review).

"Lima beans are a major dry bean crop for California, representing a significant portion of the total dry bean acreage in 2013," she wrote in the Lima Bean Production in California. "Lima beans are primarily grown for the dried edible white bean in California, although a limited but stable acreage is also for seed production. As with all dry beans, limas are a nutritional and healthy food choice, being an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lima beans are also an important rotation crop for farmers because the plants fix nitrogen, add biomass to the soil, and require relatively few pesticides."

Lima beans belong to the species Phaseolus lunatus, distinct from the common bean, P. vulgaris.

"Common dry beans include the market classes kidney, cranberry, pink, black, white, yellow, pinto, and red, all of which are different types of a single species (Phaseolus vulgaris) that was originally domesticated several thousand years ago in the areas that are now Mexico and South America," Long wrote in the Common Dry Bean Production Manual. "Natural selection and breeding programs lead eventually to the current market classes, which are mainly distinguished by seed size, color, and shape, and plant growth habit. Currently, there are no commercially available genetically modified varieties of P. vulgaris."

"Dry beans," Long points out, "are grown in California mainly for human consumption, though a limited but stable acreage is dedicated to seed production. Dry beans are nutritious: they are high in starch, protein, and dietary fiber, they have no cholesterol, and they are an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers dry beans to be both a vegetable and a protein source."

Beans are delicious, nutritious and brilliant. This is a cranberry bean in the UC Davis research field. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Rosane Oliveira, director of the UC Davis Integrative Medicine Program and an adjunct assistant professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Health Sciences, recently praised beans as one of the "Fab 4" plant foods in her "21-Day Food Challenge" blog.

Beans are brilliant, Oliveira says, because they:

  • Are an excellent source of fiber, protein, iron, and magnesium
  • May add up to 3-4 years to your life if you eat one cup a day
  • Keep your blood sugar level stable for up to six hours
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes

Indeed, there's even a National Bean Day, observed annually on Jan. 6. Want to know more about beans? You'll find a wealth of information about dry beans from the U.S. Dry Bean Council.

Bottom line: Beans should be an important part of your diet. You can call them "nutritious," you can call them "delicious," or you can call them "brilliant." They're all three.

Mango and black bean saladUC CalFresh mango and black bean salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups peeled, pitted and diced fresh mango (about 2 small mangos)
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons 100% orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl. Salad may be served right away, but is best if covered and chilled for a least 1 hour for flavors to blend.

Posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 10:03 AM

Barn owls help clean up rodents naturally

Barn owl adult. Photo by G. Rohman.

The screech of a barn owl at night may be startling or annoying to some. But others may find their harsh calls satisfying, knowing that barn owls are out, feeding on pesky rodents.

They're fierce hunters with a voracious appetite for mice, voles, gophers, and rats. A family of five barn owls, including two adults and three young will feed on about 1,000 rodents during a season. When they nest twice in a year, that number doubles and you wind up with some good help on rodent control that's safe and free.

So, the next time you hear that eerie, rasping sound at night, don't panic. Instead, think about all the good the owls are doing. Even better, invite a family of barn owls to your property by building a nest box for them and creating a home.

Identifying barn owls. If you're lucky to spot one in an old barn where they're often found (hence their name), they have iconic white heart-shaped faces, white chests, and tan-colored backs with spots. Barn owls are nocturnal and can be recognized by their drawn-out rasping screech. Unlike other owls, they don't hoot. They often shriek when they leave their roost to hunt and make hissing and snapping sounds when startled.

Barn owls have excellent vision and hearing for finding prey in the dark and capturing it with their sharp talons and beaks. They're quiet hunters, flying close to their prey without being heard, due to specialized feathers, making them incredibly good predators. Barn owls are found world-wide and occupy a wide range of habitats, including natural, agricultural, and urban areas, but prefer to hunt in more open areas as opposed to forests. They readily hunt rodent pests in grape vineyards, alfalfa fields, and along levees, making them valuable allies for farmers.

How do you attract barn owls? Barn owls are cavity nesters, including cliffs, trees, and buildings such as barns, so they will readily use nest boxes. Plans for how to build nest boxes can be found in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) booklet, Songbird, bat, and owl boxes. This handy guide also shows how to attract insectivorous birds and bats to help control insect pests naturally.  Barn owl boxes and plans can be found online or through local sources, such as G. Rohman (photographer). Barn owls begin nesting in February, so now is the time to put up a house before males and females select nest sites. Boxes should be mounted 10 feet off the ground on metal poles to prevent mammal predators from accessing the boxes and feeding on eggs or chicks.

Paint the boxes white to keep them cooler and help prevent weathering and face them northeast. Add some timothy hay for bedding (often sold in small bags in stores for rabbit feed). Wooden nest boxes are generally preferred over plastic ones. Fifty gallon drums can also be used; just remove the top, retaining a lip so the chicks don't fall out, add some hay, and hoist it up on a rafter in a barn and secure it well with a chain. Avoid disturbing nest boxes during the breeding season (February through August), as barn owls will often abandon nests if disturbed while nesting. 

Photo of barn owl house on a pole

Who moves into the nest box? A family of barn owls. Females generally lay four to seven eggs from February to April, which hatch in about 30 days. While they incubate the eggs, the males bring food to the nest. The baby owls fledge in about 10 weeks, but stay around the nest until fall, when they wander off, usually within 30 miles of where they were born. Sometimes a second clutch of eggs is laid in May. Barn owls do not migrate, so tend to stay in an area year-round and will reoccupy a nest box the following year. They generally forage about one to three miles from their roosts. They are only mildly territorial in that they will defend their nests if you get too close. This means that you can put up several nest boxes in an area and expect occupancy from several families. Barn owls generally only live for about two years. Great horned owls are the fiercest predator of adult barn owls (and collisions with cars).

Barn owl bringing a rodent back to the nest box, photo by Gary Rohman

What are they eating? The favored prey of barn owls is rodents, including voles and gophers. Like other owls, they often swallow their prey whole and then undigested bones and fur are coughed up (regurgitated) as owl pellets. These pellets can be dissected and prey readily identified by the skeletons left behind. Farmers appreciate owls and other raptors because they feed on rodents that can damage their crops and irrigation systems (Wildlife Survey).

UC ANR researchers, including Roger Baldwin, UC Cooperative Extension vertebrate pest control specialist, are currently evaluating the economic impact of barn owls for rodent control in agricultural lands. It is important to note that rodents reproduce rapidly so barn owls cannot always keep up with rodent outbreaks and other methods of control might be needed to prevent crop damage (Rodent Control). But, every rodent a barn owl takes is one less we have to deal with!

How about maintenance? Barn owl boxes need to be cared for and cleaned once a year during fall or winter (October to December) as the pellets can quickly fill up a nest box. Doors for accessing the inside of the boxes need to be secured, hinges lubricated, and mounting structures checked during annual inspections. Avoid breathing unhealthy dust when cleaning the house and always make sure no one is home. Although this takes time, the pellets cleaned out might have added value. A Yolo County farmer mentioned he has a buyer for his pellets, which are used for science projects where students dissect them to learn about skeletons and barn owl diets. He read his recent owl pellet invoice noting, “The pellets are graded from small at 10 cents each to premium at 20 cents each and I sold over 100. Barn owls are great!”

Barn owl pellets, photo by Chuck Ingels.
 
Barn owl with prey, photo by Gary Rohman
Posted on Monday, November 13, 2017 at 8:36 AM

UC IPM’s Farrar briefs legislators on threats to California winegrapes

Jim Farrar, left, updated legislators on pests and diseases that pose a threat to California wine grapes.

Recent surveys in the North Coast have found that 90 percent of the powdery mildew samples collected were resistant to strobulurin fungicides, the director of UC Integrated Pest Management Program told legislators at a joint hearing of the California Assembly and Senate Select Committees on California's Wine Industry. A potential solution is breeding winegrapes to be resistant to powdery mildew, but a drawback is that the wine industry is largely known for its varietals.

“Professor Andy Walker at UC Davis has succeeded in crossing winegrapes with a wild grape species that is naturally resistant to powdery mildew and then crossing the offspring back to the parent winegrape variety for several generations,” said James Farrar, who was invited to speak at the committees' informational hearing on “Fire Recovery and Pest Management Awareness” at UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 7.

Powdery mildew symptoms shown on cabernet sauvignon grapes.In addition to powdery mildew, he also talked about red blotch virus, which was relatively recently identified in California, and grapevine leafroll associated virus and the mealybug species that transmit the virus. Bob Wynn from the California Department of Food and Agriculture gave an update on Pierce's disease and its vector glassy-winged sharpshooter.

Farrar warned the legislators of increased human health risks due to “unintended consequences of social pressure” on the herbicide glyphosate, which growers use to control weeds under grapevines rather than tilling the soil, to comply with Natural Resources Conservation Service and Salmon Safe guidelines.

“Recent social pressure resulting from the International Agency for Research on Cancer labeling glyphosate a probable human carcinogen and news stories indicating detection of glyphosate in wine have caused some growers to look at other herbicides,” Farrar said. “The other choices are glufosinate, which is more risky to applicators, less effective, and more expensive, and paraquat, which has similar price and effectiveness, but much greater risk to applicators. Paraquat is a restricted-use pesticide that is highly toxic to humans – 3 teaspoons will kill an adult. It has a higher risk ‘Danger' label in contrast to the lower risk ‘Caution' label for glyphosate.

“This is an increased risk to human health as a result of misplaced public perception of risk.”

Farrar closed his comments by saying, “The County Agricultural Commissioners and county-based University of California Cooperative Extension advisors are vital in the continued efforts to manage winegrape pests and diseases. They are the frontline support for growers and pest control advisers in this effort.”

To read the full transcript of Farrar's comments, visit http://ucanr.edu/files/273433.pdf. His handouts on grape pest management are at http://ucanr.edu/files/273434.pdf.

 

Posted on Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 4:05 PM

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