Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Multnomah County Master Gardeners in the News

The Multnomah County Master Gardeners are back in full force, and are doing great things in their community.

Check out the two linked articles, in the sentence above, for more details.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Invasive Species Resources for Master Gardeners

If you haven't had the opportunity to listen to OSU Sea Grant Extension's Rob Emanuel talk about how Master Gardeners can help in the prevent the introduction, establishment and spread of invasive species, you're in luck! Rob has graciously put together a list of resources that Master Gardener volunteers can refer to when working with clients.

His Power Point presentation, 'Invasive Species 101: A Primer for Master Gardeners' is posted online for all.

Here, you can view a list of species which have been classified as noxious weeds in Oregon (i.e. they are invasive). The savvy or long-time gardening may recognize that many of these beautiful plants were once popular among gardeners. These include Bachelor's Button, Spurge Laurel, and Old Man's Beard. Now, instead of being the propagators of invasive plants, gardeners are valued partners in the fight against invasive species.

Why should we be worried about invasive species?

** Invasive species often outcompete native plants and animals, which results in a loss of native biodiversity. If you've ever seen native riparian areas become overtaken by Japanese Knotweed, it is a loss of native beauty and biodiversity to mourn. Or, a drive up to Portland along I-5 provides a glimpse into how English Ivy can overtake forest fragments.

** Invasive species can be costly! For example, leafy spurge is abundant in the Oregon counties of Klamath, Grant and Cook. Where is it present, it can reduce the carrying capacity for cattle by 50-75%! Scotch Broom infestations in Western Oregon are estimated to result in an economic loss of $47 million dollars, due to a reduction or loss of timber production.

Educate yourself about invasive plants, and you are in a prime position to educate clients about the potentially negative impacts of invasive species on our environment and our economy.

When a client comes into the Plant Clinic, or calls the gardening hotline and asks 'What is this plant?' - you have an educational opportunity.

First - inform the client that the plant is designated as a noxious weed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Second - give the client who can't part with the beautiful Butterfly Bush (or another attractive invasive) options for control. Deadhead invasive ornamentals faithfully before they go to seed. Use root barriers to contain an invasive in your yard. Dispose of invasive plant materials (clippings, pulled plants, flowers, ANYTHING) by bagging them in a sealed plastic bag and placing them in the trash. Where municipalities allow, invasive plant materials may be burned.

Third - become familiar with the latest control options for a particular plant. Because Japanese Knotweed is able to grow from even the tiniest of stem fragments - mechanical cutting and removal is not an effective means to control this plant. Leave a small stem fragment (about the size of your thumb) on the ground, and the plant may come back in force. Instead, herbicide applications are much more effective. Of course, whenever using any type of pesticide, including herbicides, follow all label directions and check the PNW Weed book to make sure that a particular herbicide is registered for use by homeowners.

Finally - don't propagate the spread of invasive plants. Don't share a plant with your friends unless you know it is non-invasive. Plant native plants and non-invasive plants in your garden. Check for potential 'hitchhikers' on plants you purchase from a local nursery or at a plant sale. Become educated about the primary invasive plant species in your area - as well as species that are a potential threat to your area, but have yet to be found (hello, garlic mustard!). If you find an invasive plant that is new to your area, report it to the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gardeners Mini-College (2009) Registration is Open

The 26th annual Gardeners Mini-College will be held from August 5-8, 2009 at the CH2M Alumni Center on the OSU campus in Corvallis, Oregon. Mini-College is an educational event put on by the OSU Master Gardener Program and the Oregon Master Gardener Association (OMGA).

The theme for this year's Mini-College is “Backyard Food Solutions: Local. Sustainable. Secure.” Choose from over 30 talks, tours and workshops, on a variety of topics, including:

cover cropping your vegetable garden, home winemaking, backyard chickens, organic vegetable gardening, heavy metals in garden soils, home orchards, backyard wine and table grapes, composting, season extenders, making teas from garden herbs, dealing with deer and other mammals in the home garden, an in-depth look at garden fertilizers, etc.

You do NOT have to be a current OSU Master Gardener in order to attend Mini-College. This conference is open to all! This event is the Statewide Master Gardener Conference for Oregon gardeners. Please join us!

Online registration is open until July 15, 2009. Early bird registration discount ends on June 26, 3009.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Program

I have been asked to provide testimony to the Oregon Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities House Committee, that describes the importance of the School Garden Component of House Bill 2800. The bill supports activities that would encourage local school districts to purchase Oregon Agricultural products for school lunches, as well as to support garden-based educational activities.

Below, for those who are interested, is the testimony that I will deliver on April 2, 2009.

April 2, 2009
Chair Clem, and members of the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities House Committee:
My name is Gail Langellotto, and I am the statewide coordinator of the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program.
I am here today, to discuss how the school garden component of House Bill 2800 is important to promoting healthy food choices in young children. Specifically, studies have shown that children who participate in school garden activities are more willing to taste vegetables, are more knowledgeable about nutrition, increase their fruit and vegetable consumption and tend to prefer fruits and vegetables more than children who don’t have the opportunity to learn by gardening.
What we have seen in our own work in school gardens, right here in Oregon, supports what is reported in the scholarly literature.
Some of the children that Master Gardeners and others work with in school gardens come from families who grow their own food - many do not.
As the children begin to work in the garden, it is not uncommon to hear ‘I wouldn’t eat anything that doesn’t come from a grocery store’. However, the children are both surprised and excited to discover that this is how their food supply begins. Better yet – when the children learn that they will be eating food that they, themselves, will grow – the smiles and lip-smacking and pretend nibbling are an undeniable endorsement – growing your own food is good.
At Yaquina View Elementary school, 1st and 2nd graders plant seeds in the classroom in April, transfer their seedlings to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Garden in late May, and harvest the food to take to the local Food Share in September.
Each fall, Master Gardeners teach a nutrition class, where the children get to see, feel, smell, and taste the harvested vegetables and herbs. Who would’ve guessed that beets and beet greens have been ranked as favorites of 1st and 2nd graders? Carrots, peas, beans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are also quite popular. Nasturtium petals, on the other hand, didn’t rank high on their list - too peppery!
The children love the hands-on process of growing food. From the beginning, the children know that they are growing food to help others. This may be one of their first community service lessons. In September, as the children were harvesting and packaging their produce, one student said that he would like to keep what he had helped to grow - but he also understood that others in the community were hungry and this food would help them. May I remind you that these incredibly thoughtful and compassionate words were spoken by a 2nd grader.
Another child was so excited to show off his garden and his gardening skills, that he called his grandfather, 130 miles away in Portland, and excitedly told him that he HAD to come down for the garden harvest. A proud grandfather beamed and took pictures, as his grandson picked the vegetables and herbs that he helped to grow.
With the help of a greenhouse, 5th graders at the Yaquina View Elementary school propagated vegetables, which were then sold at the Newport Farmer’s Market. The funds raised went towards a field trip to the Fruit Loop in Hood River – once again re-enforcing the fact that a healthy and vibrant local food system is important to healthy kids and healthy communities. These 5th graders were able to develop their gardening and their entrepreneurial skills, as well as to expand their appreciation of food production.
Although the examples I provided today are from an elementary school in Lincoln County, we have seen similar, positive results in many schools across the state. In programs supported by Master Gardener volunteers, children as young as 3 years old have been introduced to gardening. From preschool to 5th grade – the results are undeniable – working in the garden and growing their own food ignites children’s excitement about and acceptance of a diverse array of vegetables and fruits in their diet. It is at this young age that patterns of healthy eating are often established.
As an employee of the state, I am not able to explicitly endorse HB2800, but I hope that the examples and testimony that I have provided speak to the importance of school gardens and the school garden component of HB2800, to healthy kids and healthy communities.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.
Gail Langellotto
Statewide Coordinator - OSU Master Gardener Program

Monday, March 30, 2009

Edible Portland Magazine

I will return to blogging on the science underlying gardening and issues related to gardening soon. Currently, I am writing a short piece on compost teas.

In the meantime, I wanted to draw attention to Organic Gardening Certificate Program, which is currently taught in the Portland Metro area. This 57-hour training was created by OSU Extension, Oregon Tilth, and other program partners to support the groundswell of interest in organic gardening, ecological landscaping, and food security in the Portland metro area.

The 2008 Organic Gardening Certificate Program (OGCP) is the focus of the cover story for the spring Edible Portland magazine in both the print and online versions.

Check it out at and click on the “Dig in” link and look for the article entitled “First Class.”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's Like NPR for Insect Geeks

I don't consider the word 'geek' to be a pejorative. In fact, I consider it a compliment when someone calls me a 'geek'. Even better is to be called a 'bug geek'. Thus, you can imagine my delight when I found out that Anna Fiedler (a Ph.D. candidate in Entomology at Michigan State University) partnered with Jake McCarthy (an editor in the Department of Animal Science at MSU) to write and produce InsectaPodCast.

In a recent American Entomologist article, Anna wrote that the target audience for the podcast is primarily kids and young adults. One of the goals of InsectaPodCast is to get kids excited about the field of entomology. I'm MUCH older than the target audience (by about 30 years), yet I found myself LOVING the segments. The episode about insect collections is thus far my favorite, perhaps because of my own mixed feelings about collecting insects that I love (i.e. killing insects that I love), for scientific study.

Check it out, and perhaps subscribe to the RSS feed, if you like what you hear.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Request! Do sonic deer deterrents work to prevent deer damage in yards?

A Master Gardener in Clackamas County, OR requested that I blog on sonic deer deterrents as a potential means to keep the often ubiquitous and unwanted garden visitor away.

A 1995 study found the Yard Gard (sic) Ultrasonic Yard Protector to be ineffective at deterring deer from feeding on apples in two yards with a history of deer damage. Control (no Yard Gard device) and treatment (Yard Gard device present and turned on) feeding stations were established at each yard. Twenty apples were placed at each feeding station. Feeding stations were restocked for the duration of the study.

Deer consumed 96% of the 380 total apples at the control stations (no Yard Gard) and 98.9% of the 380 total apples at the experimental stations (Yard Gard device present and turned on). Behavioral observations suggest that the deer were alert or nervous when the Yard Gard device was 'on', but this behavior did not translate into reduced deer damage.

The scat (poop) and tracks of several other vertebrates were found near the feeding stations. These include squirrels, crows and turkeys.

The bottom line for the home gardener: the ultrasonic deer deterrents are not likely to reduce deer damage to your garden.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Organic Produce – More Nutritious than Conventionally Grown Produce?

At last year’s Mini-College, a presentation on organic food production caused a minor amount of controversy when the speaker mentioned that organically produced foods are healthier than conventionally produced foods. Since the OSU Master Gardener Program strives to rely upon and present unbiased, research-based information, some Master Gardeners questioned the research underlying this statement. Thus, I thought I would blog on what is known (from peer-reviewed scientific studies) about the nutritional content of organic versus conventional produce.

First, let me define organic versus conventional farming methods. Although the USDA lists a lengthy definition and regulatory text for organic production systems, I think that it will be more useful to distill down the definition for this blog. Organic farmers work to build and maintain the organic matter in their soils and the natural pest control agents in and near their fields (i.e. predators and parasitoids). Organic farming systems tend to be more diverse (in both their crops and associated organisms) than do conventional systems. Cultural, physical and biological controls of pests are emphasized over chemical controls. External inputs of pesticides and fertilizers are reduced. When pesticides and fertilizers are used, organic forms of these products are used. Synthetic forms of these products are not allowed in organic production systems.

Conventional farming systems, by comparison, do not focus on soil management, biodiversity within their fields and cultural or physical controls of pests. Biological control of pests is often disrupted or difficult due to the use of pesticides (which may be organically derived or synthetically manufactured).

Organic farm production often occurs at a smaller scale, and requires more labor, than does a conventional farm. This is why organic produce can be more expensive than conventional produce.

In fact, a 1998 study of the cost difference between organic and conventional produce in Tucson, AZ found that red delicious apples were 44% more expensive than conventionally grown applies. Similar results were found for broccoli (+76%), carrots (+78%), leaf lettuce (+92%), and tomatoes (+62%). [Gary D. Thompson and Julia Kidwell. 1998. Explaining the Choice of Organic Produce: Cosmetic Defects, Prices, and Consumer Preferences American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 80: 277-287.]

Unfortunately, I could not find more recent numbers in the peer-reviewed literature. OSU Master Gardeners – would you care to help me out with a quick and easy research project? If so, contact me via this blog.

What about the nutritional content of organic versus conventionally-produced foods? A 2003 study by Asami and colleagues looked at the total phenolic content of marionberries, strawberries and corn that were produced by organic, ‘sustainable’ and conventional methods. In this study, organic fields were managed to adhere to USDA organic production standards. Sustainable fields were managed to ‘meet the needs of consumers without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Information is presented on the fertilization regime of the sustainable fields (synthetic fertilizers were used), and on the pesticides used (none in one field and herbicides in a second field) but additional information on sustainable management practices were not presented in this paper.

The authors looked at total phenolic content of these plants, because polyphenols, in particular, are known to have anti-oxidant properties. For marionberries and corn, higher levels of total phenolics were found in organically and sustainably produced, relative to marionberries and corn from conventionally managed fields. Sustainably produced strawberries had higher total phenolics, relative to conventionally produced strawberries (the authors did not include organically grown strawberries in their study) – but only when strawberries were frozen, and not when they were freeze-dried or air-dried. [Asami, D. K., Hong, Y-J., Barrett, D. M. & Mitchell, A. E. (2003). Comparison of the total phenolic and ascorbic acid content of freeze-dried and air-dried marionberry, strawberry and corn grown using conventional, organic and sustainable agricultural practices. J. Agric. Food Chem. 51(5):1237-1241.]

Two recent review papers found similar results (Zhao et al. 2006, Benbrook 2009). Nutrient density and secondary plant metabolites (many of which are known to have anti-oxidant properties) tended to be higher in organically-produced foods than in conventionally grown foods.

Why might organically grown foods have more nutrients and anti-oxidants that conventionally grown foods?

First, organically-grown foods are often grown in soils with abundant and balanced micro- and macro-nutrients. This is because organic food production emphasises the accumulation and retention of organic material in the soil. This may translate into produce that contains a more balanced array of vitamins and minerals.

Second, insects may feed upon organically-grown crops more often than they damage conventionally grown crops. This may be due to differences in pesticide use in organically versus conventionally-managed fields. When insects feed upon a plant, they can induce or trigger the plant’s chemical defenses against herbivory. These chemical defenses can include polyphenols – which are known to have antioxidant properties.

What does this mean for the home gardener?

Managing your soil to encourage and maintain a high level of organic matter, and minimizing or removing pesticid use in your vegetable garden can yield multiple benefits. First, these management practices are generally more environmentally friendly than are the repeated and unncessary use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in the home garden. Second, these management practices may result in you and your family enjoying fruits and vegetables that contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidents than those that come from vegetable gardens that are managed without regard to soil health or the non-target effects of pesticides.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Benefits of Indoor Plants

The benefits of gardening are not limited to the beauty and productivity of an outdoor garden. Indoor garden plants have long been known to have positive effects on the mental and physical health of office workers. Specifically, a 1998 study by researchers in Norway revealed that workers in offices complained less about fatigue (reduced by 30%) and cough (reduced by 37%), and reported lower levels of throat and skin discomfort (reduced by 23%) relative to workers in offices without plants.

Now, a group of Korean researchers may have identified a mechanism for these positive benefits of indoor plants. (Kwang et al. 2008. Efficiency of Volatile Formaldehyde Removal by Indoor Plants: Contribution of Aerial Plant Parts versus the Root Zone. Horticultural Science 133: 479-627.)

Researchers from Korea's National Horticultural Research Institute examined the ability of Ficus benjamina and Fatsia japonica to absorb formaldehyde from the air. To study this, the researchers pumped formaldehyde into a container that held one of the two plants, or into a container that was empty. On average, containers with plants removed 80% of the formaldehyde from the air in only 4 hours. Containers without plants lost only 7% of the formaldehyde in 5 hours. Plant leaves reduced more formaldehyde during the day, while roots of reduced more formaldehyde at night. This suggests that formaldehyde is taken in through plant stomates during the day, when rates of photosynthesis are highest. The night removal of formaldehyde by the root zone suggests that soil microbes play an important role in formaldehyde removal.

Formaldehyde is a common household VOC (volatile organic compound) that is known to have negative effects on human health. In fact, VOC's, including formaldehyde, have been linked to 'sick building syndrome'.

What is the bottom line for the home gardener, or the party guest who is looking for a suitable hostess gift? Indoor plants will reap multiple benefits, not the least of which is better air quality, for the gardener or the gift recipient.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Landscaping with Native Plants

If you attended the 2008 Master Gardener Mini-College, perhaps you heard Doug Tallamy speak about the importance of native plants to the conservation of bird and insect species. A seminal paper, which provides data in support of Tallamy's arguments, was recently published in Conservation Biology (Burghardt, Tallamy and Shriver. 2009. Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes. Conserv Biol. 1:219-24).

Burghardt and colleagues measured the diversity of birds and caterpillars (which are, of course, the larval or juvenille form of butterflies) in 12 suburban yards in Pennsylvania. Six yards were landscaped almost exclusively with native plants (43% native and 6% exotic plant cover), and the other six were landscaped with exotic shrubs and groundcovers (although, native trees were present on these properties; 18% native and 26% exotic plant cover).

The abundance of caterpillars (the larvae of butterflies and moths) was 4 times greater on the 'native sites', relative to the 'exotic' sites. In addition, the number of different species represented by these caterpillars was 3 times greater on the 'native' sites, relative to the 'exotic' sites. Approximately 19 species of bird were found at the native sites, compared to 11 species at the 'exotic' sites. Mean abundance of birds at the 'native' sites was 17, compared to 11 birds at the 'exotic' sites.

Why do yards landscaped with native plants contain a greater abundance and diversity of birds and butterfly larvae? Burghardt and colleagues hypothesize that greater food availability for caterpillars at 'native' sites creates greater food availability for birds at such sites. Because many plant feeding insects can not feed exotic plants, and because many birds rely upon insect protein (rather than seed protein) to rear their young, planting native plants seems to cascade up the food chain - fostering an increase in abundance and diversity of plant feeding insects, which in turn fosters an increase in abundance and diversity of insect-feeding birds.

What does this mean for the home gardener? A yard landscaped with native plants can be beautiful, may reduce your fertilizer and water use (if you zone your plants accordingly, and if the natives are adapted to your soils), and can help to conserve biodiversity in your area.

For more on native plant gardening, please visit the Eco-Gardening website created by OSU Extension's Linda McMahan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy President's Day

In honor of President's Day, I thought I would take a few moments to honor some of our past presidents, who were also prolific gardeners.

Topping this last has to be the first President of the United States of America (one of my personal heros, for the way that he so selflessly stepped away from power, despite the protests of many compatriots). George Washington farmed at his Mount Vernon estate, where he overcame the poor soils by practicing a relatively novel plan of crop rotations. When he abandoned tobacco farming in about 1765, he switched to wheat and at least 60 other field crops.

Of course, we can not forget Thomas Jefferson, who grew more than 170 varieties of fruit and 330 varieties of vegetables in the gardens at his Monticello estate, and had a special interest in the pea plant. In fact, Jefferson cultivated over 22 varieties of pea. Following the expedition of Lewis and Clark, Jefferson developed a curiosity about the plants of North America, and how they could be used for practical purposes.

In 1825 John Quincy Adams developed the first flower garden at the White House. Adams also planted herbs and vegetables at the White House, as well as ornamental trees.

In 1835, Andrew Jackson established a White House orangery (a type of greenhouse) where tropical trees and flowers could be grown. Jackson also added the Jackson magnolia to the White House grounds. The orangery was demolished in 1857. In 1878, Rutherford B. Hayes started the tradition of planting commemorative trees for Presidential Inaugurations - a tradition that persists today.

As for First Ladies - Eleanor Roosevelt famously began the Victory Garden movement in 1943, when she planted a vegetable garden on the lawn of the White House and Lady Bird Johnson has long been associated with efforts to conserve native plants.

Today, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International is helping to lead a campaign to re-establish a Victory Garden on the lawn of the White House.

Happy President's Day!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lawns and Turf - Helpful or Hurtful to Global Climate Change

It is perhaps appropriate that my thoughts turn to climate change and the amount of carbon that I personally emit into the atmosphere, as I drive around the state for Master Gardener and other trainings. From January to March, I am scheduled to deliver 17 talks, that will require that I drive approximately 2612 round trip miles. Together, these trips will emit approximately 2023 pounds of carbon dioxide if I take my own vehicle (a 2006 Ford Escape, that gets 25 miles per gallon) and 1011 pounds of carbon dioxide if I rent a Hybrid sedan from OSU Motor Pool (50 miles per gallon). Because I am often asked to talk about integrated pest management, alternatives to pesticide or some other facet of sustainable gardening, I often feel hypocritical for driving around the state to teach and promote sustainable choices. But, I enjoy meeting the many Master Gardeners from across the state, learning more about Master Gardener Programs in individual counties, and always enjoy the scenary.

Given that my thoughts have turned to how much carbon I emit when I drive to teach, I thought I would blog about how much carbon we can sequester or emit via our lawn care practices.

In 2002, an article in Agronomy Journal (94:930-935) by Qian and Follett attracted much attention from scientists and industry professsionals, alike. Briefly, Qian and Follett measured the soil organic matter (abbreviated, hereafter, as SOM) in 15 golf courses that ranged in age from 1.5 to 45 years old (as of the year 2000). Because carbon is a key component of SOM (approximately 57% of soil organic matter is carbon, by weight), scientists have long used measures of SOM as a proxy for the amount of carbon sequestered by soils. Qian and Follett found that SOM increased with the age of the golf course, and that SOM continued to increase until about 31 years in fairways and 45 years in putting greens. Furthermore, Qian and Follet found that previous land use influenced total SOM. Agricultural fields that were converted into golf courses had lower SOM than golf courses that were converted from native grasslands. This last finding can potentially be explained by another study, conducted by Khan and colleagues (see below).

However, a paper presented at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union questions the overall utility of turf to moderate the emission of greenhouse gasses. Amy Townsend Small measured SOM in 4 parks in Irvine, California. The parks were established between 4 and 34 years ago. While Townsend Small found that older parks had more SOM, she also found that older parks emitted more nitrous oxide, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Although the precise cause of this relationship is not known, Townsend Small hypothesizes that a build up of nitrogen in the soils, as a result of repeated fertilizer applications, may contribute to increased nitrous oxide emissions.

In addition, a recent paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality by Khan and colleagues reports that long term application of nitrogen fertilizers to corn fields decreases SOM. Khan and colleagues suggest that excessive nitrogen applications increases the decomposition of dead organic matter and SOM by soil bacteria. This is perhaps why Qian and Follet found that golf courses converted from agricultural fields had less SOM than golf courses convereted from native grasslands - the native grasslands were not subject to repeated fertilizer applications.

Taken together, what does all of this mean for you, the gardener? Here are the take home points:

1) Plants in general, including turf grasses in lawns, sequester carbon and may help mitigate carbon emissions and global climate change.

2) The benefits we all may gain, from increased SOM and carbon sequestration, can be nullified if we use fertilizers excessively. Excess fertilizer may volatize into nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) or may accelerate the decomposition of organic matter in the soil. Neither of these is good for helping to slow global climate change.

3) Khan and colleagues suggest that farmers should get a soil test before applying fertilizers to their fields. Doing so will lessen the likelihood that fertilizers are applied excessively. I suggest the same for you and I, dear gardener. Having your soil tested prior to applying fertilizers will help to ensure that we apply only what is needed, and only when soil nutrients are truly depleted.