UC Food Blog
Why is the name Hilgard held in such high regard? Eugene W. Hilgard played a pivotal role in the development of California agriculture, from analyzing the Central Valley's potential as fertile farmland to promoting quality in the state's burgeoning wine industry.
Born in 1833 in Germany, Hilgard is considered the father of modern soil science in the United States. After stints at the University of Mississippi and University of Michigan, in 1875 Hilgard came to UC Berkeley as dean of the College of Agriculture and served as founding director of UC's Agricultural Experiment Station.
Hilgard began his 30-year UC career as a one-man operation, visiting farms throughout the state, inviting growers to send him their questions and answering their letters personally. He helped to inventory the state's diverse soils and taught farmers to better understand them. Under his supervision, soil maps were produced for the first time for many California counties. His research helped show how to remove salts from the alkali soils in the Central Valley, turning what was once barren land into one of the world's most productive farming regions.
With California agriculture now a $45 billion industry and Cooperative Extension celebrating its centennial, it's a good time to toast someone who helped lay the foundation for that success: Eugene Hilgard.
It looks harmless enough – a light dusting like baby powder sprinkled on the leaves. But powdery mildew can attack new buds and shoots, stunt growth and distort plant development. If not controlled, the fast spreading fungus can cause billions of dollars of crop damage in California. For example, powdery mildew is the most significant disease affecting grapes in California, with all productive acreage treated to help minimize loss. Borne by the wind, its spores race through fields and can easily damage a season's crop, resulting in losses of 30 percent or more.
Growers combat powdery mildew with sulfur, fungicides, and other deterrents, but treatment is costly, and timing is difficult. But a much more precise strategy may be on the way.
With the funding from UC Berkeley's Bakar Fellows Program, which supports early-career faculty conducting commercially promising research, Wildermuth is applying her discoveries to protect commercially valuable crops. She uses a plant in the mustard family popular with researchers for it small, sequenced gene and a short life cycle.
“We've already identified the parallel genes in a number of important crops,” she said. “By targeted breeding to limit these genes' powdery mildew-promoting effects, we should be able to protect plants without extensive chemical treatments.”
When powdery mildew spores land on a leaf, the spore germinates and bores through the leaf surface to make a lobe-shaped feeding structure. The fungus also influences nearby plant cells, manipulating the leaf cell physiology to gain nutrients. A high nutrient supply is needed to support the large fungal network on the leaf surface and the formation of new spores, which propagate the infection.
Wildermuth's lab used a highly refined technique under an optical microscope to scrutinize the fungus-plant interaction and focus in on the plant cell housing the fungal feeding structure and the neighboring leaf cells.
"We can see these cells under the microscope and use the laser to cut them out. The dissected cells literally drop into a tube below," she said. "It's quite fun to do."
The research team isolated the cells and extracted the RNA. They then determined which genes are turned on and which are turned off in specific cells at the infection site versus uninfected cells. They zeroed in on genes likely to be critical to the infection process, and used plants in which these genes were knocked out in order to see if the plants respond differently to powdery mildew.
The lab identified a set of genes that actually help the mildew fungus steal more food from the plant. The process, called endo-reduplication, allows cells in the leaf to increase production of DNA without dividing – one of the few ways cells can increase their metabolism and size, Wildermuth says.
“The fungus induces endo-reduplication in the plant cells underneath the feeding structure, and gains access to more nutrients in the leaf.” This, in turn, spurs fungal growth and reproduction. “We showed that if the DNA-enhancing process is blocked, the fungus gets put on a diet, and its proliferation is limited,” she says.
The Bakar Fellowship supports her current effort to determine whether similar genes in grapes, tomatoes and other crops threatened by powdery mildew can be targeted to limit the fungus's growth. Crop strains in which these genes are less active or even absent could be selectively bred to thwart fungal growth.
It's that time of year! March is National Nutrition Month®, and we're getting ready for this year's theme to “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” Eating right can be challenging as healthy foods are often misunderstood to be bland, flavorless, boring, and not worth the time, but this isn't always true! Eating right can be delicious, flavorful, quick, and easy, and – most importantly – you can enjoy it too!
Adding salt is a popular way to add flavor to meals, but that doesn't mean it's healthy. In fact, most Americans are getting too much sodium from the foods they eat, increasing the risk of chronic disease. Try these sodium-busting tips to make your family's meals healthy without banishing the flavor:
- Choose fresh foods that are naturally low in sodium such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs and milk
- Skip the salt and kick up the flavor with herbs, spices or fruit juices
- Drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce the amount of salt
- Read the Nutrition Facts label to choose low-sodium foods and look for terms like “no added salt”
Eating right can be difficult at any time of day, especially first thing in the morning when you'd rather snooze for another hour or two. It's not uncommon for us to skip breakfast altogether or quickly shove a naked piece of toast in our mouths before hurrying out the door. Are you curious to know what it's like to actually enjoy eating right in the morning? Find out by making traditional morning meals more nutritious and delicious at home or on the go:
- Top oatmeal or low-fat yogurt with chopped nuts or slices of fresh fruit
- Blend a quick breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, strawberries and a banana
- Spread peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla, add your favorite fruit or granola, roll it up, and you're ready to head out the door
- No time to make breakfast in the mornings? Make a breakfast burrito the night before so it's ready for you to grab and go. Stuff a whole wheat tortilla with your favorite filling like scrambled eggs, low-fat cheese, and black beans
To learn more about National Nutrition Month® and for more tips on eating right, visit www.eatright.org/nnm
California 4-H is biking its way to healthy living. At the World Ag Expo in Tulare last week, 4-H members from across the state came to help at the California 4-H booth in the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources tent. In honor of UC Cooperative Extension's 100th anniversary this year, California 4-H presented activities focused on healthy living.
The 4-H solution is to improve young people's physical fitness, nutrition habits, and socio-emotional health using a long-term, positive youth development approach. Youth are provided hands-on experiences in consumer and family sciences, personal safety, foods and nutrition, and fitness.
Research shows that this approach works. 4-H participants are 2.8 times more likely to report healthy habits.
To promote healthy living and healthy eating habits, 4-H members and visitors rode our smoothie bike to make healthy and delicious smoothies. A smoothie bike? Yep that's right, you sit down and pedal our stationary bike and on the back is a blender, the faster you pedal the quicker you make a smoothie! The smoothies were made entirely of frozen berries, bananas, fresh spinach and juice, no ice or yogurt.
Passersby were shocked at how good our smoothies were and wanted the recipe! Numerous mothers wanted to use our recipe to increase the amount of spinach in their children's diets.
See more photos on twitter (California4H) and Instagram (CA4H).
4-H program representative Sarah Watkins pushes pedals on the smoothie bike with a young visitor.
Shorter days and colder weather means most people aren't thinking about spending large amounts of time in their garden. However, February is the perfect month to plant cool season leafy vegetables or root plants, like cabbage, beets and carrots. These nutrient-rich plants are packed with healthy antioxidants and vitamins and make the perfect addition to a hot bowl of soup. If you aren't game to play outdoors, cold winter months are a great time to stay inside and start planning for summer garden fruit and vegetable bounties.
If you're like most people you're probably already dreaming about summer fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, sweet corn, blackberries and chard. Follow these three simple tips and you'll be rewarded come summertime with enough homegrown fare to fill your fridge and preserve to carry you through the year.
Step one: plan
Instead of dreaming about a summer harvest, start planning now! Don't get caught up in the seductive call of seed packets or the dreaded 'transplant trap.' This happens when you head to your local nursery without a plan for your garden and leave with 20 plants you've never heard of before.
With California in an official drought, consider planting varieties that require less water. Some great examples of drought-tolerant plants include herbs (rosemary, sage and thyme), asparagus, eggplant, melons, squash and goji berries. Think about Mediterranean flavors, many of these varieties require less water and do well in California's hot, dry climate.
Think outside the box – it doesn't have to be just about fruits and vegetables. What does your family love to eat? Do they love spaghetti? Consider focusing on a good crop of tomatoes, peppers, onions and oregano. You can harvest enough to preserve homemade marinara for the remainder of the year. Add some jalapenos to this garden mix and you have all of the ingredients for delicious salsa, another favorite that is easily preserved.
Step two: prioritize
The size of your garden will depend on available space. When planning a smaller garden, typically 10 by 10 feet or less - prioritize with fruits and vegetables that your family will eat AND that have high or continuous yields. The goal is to produce the largest quantity possible with your available resources (space, water). Great options include tomatoes, bush beans, summer squash, chard and cucumbers. In a small space, avoid crops that monopolize precious garden space like potatoes, watermelon, cabbage and artichoke. Rather, consider purchasing these tasty delights from a local farmers market.
Expand your garden's reach by incorporating edibles into your landscaping or containers. Edible landscaping is the use of food plants as design features in a landscape. Edible plants can be used both for aesthetic value as well as consumption. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries can be expensive to buy at the supermarket, but are easy to grow at home. Visit The California Garden web for information on garden planning and individual plant spacing requirements.
Step three: prepare
Attend a UC Master Food Preserver class and learn how to manage your fruits and vegetables once they arrive from your garden and move into your kitchen. The UC Master Food Preserver (MFP) Program is a public service community outreach program focused on providing up-to-date information on food safety and preservation. Monthly classes are available, and most are free or low-cost to the public.
Preservation techniques include:
- Freezing (berries, onions, broccoli, rhubarb)
- Drying (fresh herbs, kale, root crops, peas)
- Canning (tomatoes, green beans, corn, strawberries)
Master Food Preservers have delicious recipes for salsa, corn relish, pickles, jams, jellies and much more! Winter months are the perfect time to start calendaring Master Food Preserver classes, collecting recipes and cataloging ideas for preserving your summer bounty. Find preserving research, resources or find a local UCCE Master Food Preserver class near you at on the UC Food Safety website.
With the proper planning, prioritizing, and preparation the activity level in your kitchen will be as hot as or even hotter than the temperature outside come summer harvest!