Backyard Orchard News
New this year – snow in Lathrop!
Christmas carols fill the air, Santa chats with children in the general store full of sweet treats and local crafts and families meet live raindeer and baby farm animals. Meanwhile, a crew of farmworkers-turned-snowmakers work 24 hours a day blowing 100 tons of snow onto a tube-sledding slope. It's all at the Dell’Osso Family Farm right off Highway 5 just south of Lathrop. Welcome to the latest family adventure in the San Joaquin valley, Holidays on the Farm.
Ron and Susan Dell’Osso started taking their October pumpkin patch and corn maze seriously about eight years ago, and last year about 140,000 people showed up to buy pumpkins, enjoy the corn maze, haunted house, pony rides, pumpkin blaster, and otherwise play on Dell’Osso Family Farm. Tourists contributed about 50 percent of the San Joaquin County farm’s gross annual income. The other 50 percent of income comes from 350 acres of pumpkins, Indian corn and other seasonal specialty crops sold wholesale through a broker to grocery stores throughout the Western United States.
This March, the Dell’Ossos started researching Christmas attractions in order to extend their agritourism season. They bought a train and a zipline, built a general store with a bakeshop, learned how to make snow and opened the first annual “Holidays on the Farm” in late November. The train, zipline and store make business sense when they are amortized over both the October and December holiday seasons. The Snow Tube Mountain is already popular, with online reservations recommended for the $15.00 90-minute sessions of tubing, since the hill can only hold 250 tubers each session.
Why would these third-generation farmers turn to corn mazes and snow-making? Susan Dell’Osso explained that agritourism spreads the risk. Commercial farmers hope to make a three percent return on crops like alfalfa or pumpkins, and some years, like last year, 50 percent of the pumpkin crop can be wiped out by wet weather and mold problems.
Holiday attractions like Dell’Osso’s are also great ways to connect to and support the local community and offer low-cost entertainment for local families. Dell’Osso Family Farm tries to keep the prices low. There is no charge for parking or admission and some activities like the hay rides and go-cart speedway are free. They also include more than twenty local non-profit organizations by offering concession opportunities for volunteers to donate their time to benefit organizations including the Lathrop Senior Center, the Lathrop Police and Fire departments and the Lathrop Square Dance Club. In addition to extending the work season for many farmworkers, all of the agritourism employees are hired locally, and the popular operation is a major contributor to the local tax-base.
Watch for more pumpkin patch operators to jump on the December holiday wagon next year!
If you look closely at the colorful ceramic sign at the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, you'll see an entrance to a bee hive.
Entrance? Right. There's a hole in the skep, which tunnels to a hive in back of the sign.
And if you look really closely at the entrance, you'll see guard bees guarding their turf. They don't like home invasions or unwelcome visitors. When bees from other colonies try to sneak in to rob the honey stores, the guards chase them out.
The sign? It's the work of Davis artist Donna Billick, who co-teaches art-and-science classes at UC Davis with entomologist-artist Diane Ullman, a professor in the Department of Entomology.
Look for their students' "bee art" next spring at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted this fall next to the Laidlaw facility. A public opening is set for June 19.
Sign of the Times
Guarding the Hive
It's a career high.
Three University of California professors were among the 10 inducted as Fellows at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting held Dec. 13-16 in Indianapolis.
When you consider that the ESA selects only 10 members--or not more than 10--each year from its 6000-member roster to become Fellows, that's indeed a high honor.ESA spokesperson Richard Levine says that Fellows are selected for their outstanding contributions in one or more of the following areas: research, teaching, extension, or administration.
The accomplishments of Leal, Federici and Raikhel could fill several books.
An insect-net salute to the UC trio!
It's quite an honor to be elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
And it's a double honor when two persons from the same department at the same university receive the honor the very same year.
That's what happened today.
Professors Richard "Rick" Karban and Jay Rosenheim of the Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, were both named Fellows. They're among the 531 new Fellows announced today--with eight from UC Davis. Fellows are selected by their peers for their “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.”
Karban was selected for “distinguished contributions to the field of plant-herbivore interactions, particularly for work on induced plant resistance and volatile cues used by plants” and Rosenheim for “distinguished contributions to the field of ecology, particularly for empirical and theoretical contributions to our understanding of insect predator-prey and host-parasitoid interactions.”
Rosenheim and Karban share a love of entomology, research and teaching. You can read more about their accomplishments here.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology now has a total of seven AAAS Fellows: James Carey, elected in 2000; Bruce Eldridge, elected in 1981; Waler Leal, 2006; Robert Page (UC Davis emeritus professor who's now at Arizona State University), 2006; Thomas Scott, 2007, and now Karban and Rosenheim
Rosenheim, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1990, received another outstanding honor earlier this year: he was honored by the Associated Students of UC Davis for excellence in the classroom. In fact, he was singled as the most outstanding teacher in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
And Karban? Since joining the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1982, he's graduated 14 graduate students or post-docs; 13 are professors at top institutions, including UC Davis (3) and Cornell (3).
What a treasure!
Have you seen the Xerces Society's new online Pollinator Conservation Resource Center?
This is something that's long been needed. It's a wealth of information--that's why it's a treasure.
As Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says: "...the resource center gives access to all you need to complete a pollinator conservation project in any region of the United States. When you visit the resource center, select your region from the map to access plant lists, details of creating and managing nest sites, pesticide protection guides, and practical guidance on planning and implementing habitat projects on farmlands, gardens, golf courses, parks, and wildlands."
"We want the resource center to be the most comprehensive source of pollinator conservation information currently online and will update it as often as we can, adding new materials as they become available."
Shepherd says the resource center is "the result of a collaboration with Neal Williams of the University of California, Davis. In particular, we thank Katharina Ullmann, previously with the Xerces Society and now a member of Neal Williams' research group, for gathering many of the resources."
Among the others lending their expertise: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who maintains an office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
How easy is it to use this site?
Say, for example, you want to plant a bee friendly garden. All you do is click on a link and you'll know what to plant seasonally in your area and what each plant will attract. Then you can click on the various pollinators to see what they look like.
If this Web site were gold, it would be in Fort Knox.
Female sweat bee