Spring Bloom in Fall--It's a Problem

In today's SF Chronicle (January 1, 1917), I wrote about plants that bloomed last fall in San Francisco that ought not to have been blooming until spring, caused by continuing climate change.

While it's true that we typically have our warmest "summer" weather from mid-September to mid-October, this weather has been lasting longer than usual. Last fall, the warm days and mild nights lasted until near the end of November. We celebrated time spent outdoors in nice weather, but some of our garden plants reacted by blooming and leafing out as if it were spring. This is a problem for the plants, which put energy and physical matter into doing this, so that when spring really does come, they have less stored matter and food energy to do it all again. This weakens the plant, leaving it more susceptible to all kinds of setbacks.

Case in point is my apple tree, which has borne bountiful crops of delicious apples for 30 years. But recently it has been trying to bloom in fall. Then, because winters aren't quite cold enough, it blooms later than usual in the spring. And, because of the energy it used up in fall, it blooms more sparsely. Two years ago, it had practically no fruit.

Last year it did better, though not as well as it used to do. The photo below, which I sent to the Chronicle, but they didn't use in the paper, shows my tree last November, with a few last apples and last leaves till hanging on while blooms and new leaves opened all around them. Now, on January 1, all the new leaves have succumbed to cold, wasting all that effort.

Apple 11-17-16 Sq IMG_8892 copy

If you are growing other temperate plants in the Bay Area, such as cherries and plums (ornamental or fruiting), magnolias, lilacs, or azaleas, you may be having the same kind of problem. What's to be done to save our plants? Obviously continue to work against climate change, a movement in which California in general is doing well.  But we can also join an effort to record the changes, in which our regional data will provide extremely valuable evidence.

More data about how climate change is affecting plants in our region is especially important so that we are represented in a system that has so much more data from cold-winter regions.

There are two organizations that are seeking citizen science data. One is the National Phenology Network (www.usapn.org/), sponsor of the National Phenology Project. It studies both plant and animal species. Another, Project Budburst (budburst.org), is studying only plant responses. Phenology is the study of what plants and animals do in response to seasonal changes.

Sending records to these databases is easy to do online. Log in, choose a plant, and tell them what it is doing on various dates. Children can do it at home and school classes can do it. Both web sites have curriculum information to help teachers fit the work into classes. It teaches observation, appreciation of plants, climate science, ecology, and how science is done

So as our new, and rather unnerving, year begins, please help observe and record what is going on with nature. Your reports will be powerful.

Healthy Schools Information

I am giving some classes about pest management for some school garden coordinators in San Francisco. Because of this, I have been researching the legalities of pest management in California schools. Below are some links to information that explains the Healthy Schools Act, including lists of pest management chemicals that can be used in schools without posting, and explanations of how to post use of a chemical that isn't on the list.

Note that the rules were set up mainly for inside and landscape usage, rather than for food gardens. The active ingredients that are exempted from the Healthy Schools Act are all basically food products, so are permitted in food gardens, but there are inert ingredients that aren't, so to find out which these are, see the EPA list of inert chemicals that can be used in "food use sites". (Pesticide labels also indicate whether the product is legal to use in food gardens.)

http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/   This is the main page of the CDPR School IPM Program. It provides overall info on regulations that  apply to schools, and allows you to link to the next two useful pages: 

http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/overview/hsa_faq_color.pdf  This document provides FAQs on the Healthy Schools Act.

http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/schoolipm/school_ipm_law/exempt_products.pdf   Here you can read about Pesticides & Inert Ingredients that are exempted from the Healthy Schools Act (The actual lists start on page 3--scroll down) (This document also includes links to the EPA minimal risk pesticide list and to the list of CDPR exempted products) 

http://www.epa.gov/opprd001/inerts/section25b_inerts.pdf  This is the list of inert ingredients permitted for use on food crops.

www.cdpr.ca.gov   To see if a pesticide is registered (legal) in California (Click on: Look up pesticide products.)

www.npic.orst.edu. Use this site to research a pesticide ingredient through the National Pesticide Information Center, sponsored by the EPA, go to  Look for Active Ingredient Fact Sheets.There are technical or general Information Sheets, depending on your interest and technical background. There are also sheets on inerts and much other useful information on this site. You can also call them to ask for information in person.

www.ipm.ucdavis.edu  Click on Home and Garden Turf and Landscape, then on Pesticide Information, then on "Home & Landscape Active Ingredients Database." Also, within the pest management writeups, there are comparison charts for various pesticides, telling you what parts of the environement they might harm and other health and environmental factors you might consider when choosing among alternatives. 

See also my book, Golden Gate Gardening. The chapter on IPM includes much information about choosing and using pesticides. In addition, the book's Appendix IV, pages 390-397,  explains pesticides in greater detail, including how to read a label and detailed analyses of common active ingredients you may be thinking of using in your garden, so you can make informed choices among your options.