Saturday, April 28, 2012

Land Planarians in Portland? Who Knew!?

Oregon State University, like many land grant Universities, has an Ask an Expert service.  Through this service, anyone can submit a question on just about any topic: gardening, nutrition, agriculture, livestock, landscaping, pesticides, hens, food safety . . . . you get the picture.  Your question is then answered by an Oregon State University faculty member, or in some cases, expert Master Gardener volunteers.

Many people submit photos of insects, arthropods or other invertebrates that they would like us to identify.  I have quite a bit of training in entomology (M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and post-doctoral research at UC Davis).  I'm not usually stumped.  But this week, a question referred to me by one of our most prolific Ask an Expert volunteers left me perplexed.

What is this?

I had no idea!

The picture is in 2 frames.  The one on the left shows the beginning of a 'nob'.  The one of the right shows the same critter, a few moments later.  The photo was taken in Multnomah County (photo posted with permission of the person who submitted the question).

Luckily, I'm not the only person at Oregon State University who can field such questions.  The esteemed Dr. George Poinar, a courtesy professor of Entomology at Oregon State University, provided the answer.

"I think it is a land planarium of the family Geoplanidae.  Very little is known about them, but they suddenly appear and then are gone.  The structure sticking down on the ventral (bottom) side would be the pharynx.  They are predaceous, eating earthworms and snails. The systematics (biological classification) is complicated, and photos are difficult to find on the web."

Poinar then added further details.

"The Geoplanidae is a large, diverse family with several subfamilies.  Check the images of the members and the 6 tribes of the Rynchodeminae. Some of these are round in cross-section.  It would be nice if someone did a synopsis of this group along the Western coast."

Since so little is known about this group, and so few photos are posted on the web, I wanted to get this information posted.  It's a real treat to glimpse something so rare and fleeting in our own backyard.  

By the way, Dr. Poinar's extraction of 130 million old DNA from insects preserved in amber was the inspiration for Micheal Crichton's novel turned movie, Jurassic Park!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Your Questions Answered, Intrepid Web Searchers

A few of the notable searches, that have lead folks to my blog, are questions that are relatively easy to answer. So, here it goes.

Q: Can flea beetles come from dogs?
A: No. Flea beetles are herbivores, that have to feed on plants to grow and reproduce. Fleas are parasites, that need a blood meal in order to grow and reproduce.

Q: How do you kill cabbage worm eggs?
A: The best thing to do is to first make sure you know what cabbage worm eggs look like. Next, use your fingernail to 'pop' them or squeeze them. If you don't want to pop them, you can simply knock them off the plant. Once the egg hatches, the caterpillar won't have anything to eat. Since it will be too small to burn all the energy needed to find a cabbage or kale plant on which to feed, it will likely die before it reaches a meal. For a least toxic pesticide, you can use horticultural oils to smother the eggs.

Cabbage Worm Eggs
Cabbage worm eggs (two of them) on kale.

Q:  Can you grow potatoes without soil?
A:  Yes, you can grow potatoes hydroponically, or without soil.  The University of Florida has a nice set of instructions on the topic.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's National Volunteer Week!

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Dear Oregon Master Gardeners,

All this week, the National Extension Master Gardener Blog will be celebrating National Volunteer Week and the great work of Master Gardener volunteers.

Here in Oregon, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank all of the Master Gardeners who volunteer their time and talents to make our communities a better place to live.

The preliminary numbers for our impact in 2011 (I still need to double check all entries to ensure accuracy) are:
  • There were 4,009 active Master Gardener volunteers in 2011.  Of these, 765 (19%) were new trainees, and 3,245 (81%) were veterans who had been active as a Master Gardener for one year or more.
  • In Oregon, Master Gardeners donated over 181,000 hours of volunteer service to Oregon State University Extension, in support of sustainable home and community gardening programs.
  • Together, we made over 200,000 contacts!  That's over 200,000 people who attended a Master-gardener led class, called into the Master Gardener plant clinic hotline, talked with us at a Farmer's Market, worked with us in a school garden, or otherwise benefited from the research-based advice of a Master Gardener volunteer.
  • Master Gardeners were featured on the television 170 times, interviewed on the radio over 270 times, and featured in the newspaper 407 times.  This greatly extends the outreach and education provided by Master Gardeners, well beyond the 200,000 person to person contacts in 2011.
  • Nearly 11,000 pounds of produce were donated from Master Gardener demonstration, community and private gardens to local food banks and food pantries.  This value includes only documented pounds of produce, and is thus likely an underestimate of what was actually donated. 
Oregon Master Gardeners are volunteering in schools, in prisons and in hospitals.  We deliver classes in community gardens, private home orchards, farmer's markets and classrooms.  We teach people to rely less on pesticides, and more on cultural, physical and biological pest control methods.  We bear witness to kids getting excited about their first gardening success.  We re-assure adults that we all have plants that die-off, vegetables that don't bear fruit, and pests that we just can't seem to keep at bay.

Master Gardener 10 Minute University-Edible, Beautiful Plants from Clackamas County on Vimeo.  10-Minute University is an award-winning program of the Oregon State University Master Gardeners in Clackamas County.

Thus, on this day, and every day - I hope that Oregon Master Gardeners know that you make a real and positive difference in this world - as well as in my world.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How Much Does a Vegetable Garden Cost/Save?

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Finally!  A day without work to play in the vegetable garden.  My peas are coming up!  The potatoes have poked through the soil.  My seed starts have all sprouted!

Raised Bed Cloche
Raised bed cloches, such as this one in a Master Gardener demonstration garden in Lincoln City, OR, are a great way to get a jump start on the growing season. 

The time I get to spend in the garden is truly a gift.  Even better, my garden is a gift that keeps on giving.  We haven't bought garlic or shallots since we started gardening (I always overbuy and overplant).  My kids don't like to eat peas, unless they're straight from the garden.  Herbs are always clipped from the perennial rosemary and thyme shrubs, out front.  We celebrate with fresh salsa and pesto, when we harvest our cilantro and basil.  And, like many gardeners, we have been known to leave bags of tomatoes and squash on the doorsteps of our unsuspecting neighbors.

Although I am totally sold on vegetable gardening as a way to have more direct control over what my family eats, as well as way to supplement our family food budget - I thought it might be useful to spell out the approximate monetary value of home vegetable gardening.

Thus, I tracked down as many references as I could, that detailed how much it cost to start a vegetable garden, as well as how much their garden yielded.  I came up with 6 studies, that reported 8 observations.  The sources include:
  • James Stephens and colleagues 1980 paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society (Volume 93, pages 70-72).  They report on two separate gardens in this paper: one in Tallahassee and a second in Jacksonville.  Time spent in the garden was tracked, and charged at $3.10 per hour.
  • J.D. Roth's Get Rich Slowly blog, where in 2008, he and his wife tracked how much a vegetable garden cost and saved for one year.  They spent a total of 54 hours in their Oregon garden, between their January start date and October harvest.  I did not add in the cost of their labor in their reported costs of $318.43.
  • Stall's 1979 paper published in the  Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society (Volume 92, pages 213-214).  Labor, water and travel costs not included in the reported costs.
  • Roger Doiron's Kitchen Gardeners blog, where he and his wife tracked how much food they could grow over six months in their large, home garden in Scarborough Maine.
  • Cleveland and colleague's 1985 paper, published in HortScience (volume 20, pages 694-696), where they looked at the costs and yields of vegetable gardens in Tucson, Arizona, over 2.5-3.0 years.  Labor costs were included in total cost of establishing and maintaining the gardens.  As you might expect for desert gardens, the greatest cost incurred was the cost of irrigation water.
  • Utzinger and Connolly Harrison's 1978 paper, published in HortScience (volume 13, pages 148-149).  I admit that I didn't read this paper (no electronic access to this paper), but secondarily cite information, as reported in Cleveland et al. 1985. 
For each garden, I looked at the difference between yield and cost (difference = yield - cost).  I adjusted the value of the difference to its 2012 value, using an online Consumer Price Index inflation calculator.  I then divided this adjusted difference by the size of the garden, to arrive at the value per square foot of garden area.
Source Location Size (Square Feet) Cost Yield Difference Difference, Adjusted to 2012 Value Value/Square Foot
Stephens et al. 1980 #1 Tallahassee, Florida 1,400 $70 $384 $314 $874.14 $0.62
Stephens et al. 1980 #2 Jacksonville, Florida 638 $83.00 $416.00 $333.00 $927.03 $1.45
Stall 1979 Homestead, Florida 600 $333.65 $495.70 $162.05 $512.02 $0.85
Doiron 2009 Scarborough, Maine 1,500 $282.00 $2431.00 $2149.00 $2297.80 $1.53
Roth 2008 Oregon 878 $318.43 $606.97 $288.54 $307.42 $0.35
Cleveland et al. 1985 #1 Tucson, Arizona 833 $45.00 $154.00 $109.00 $232.38 $0.28
Cleveland et al. 1985 #2 Tucson, Arizona 627.5 $56.00 $178.00 $122.00 $260.09 $0.41
Utzinger and Connolly Harrison 1978 Columbus, OH 150.7 $46.00 $90.00 $44.00 $154.80 $0.41

Altogether, the gardens had an AVERAGE VALUE OF $0.74 / square foot of garden area, and a MEDIAN VALUE OF  $0.62 / square foot of garden area. 

For a modest-sized garden, 200 square feet in size, that's a return of $148 in the first year.  For larger gardens, 500-700 square feet in size, that's a return of $370-$518 in year one, alone!

In at least 5 out of the 8 observations (all but Cleveland et al. 1985, and maybe Utzinger and Connolly Harrison 1978), the costs incurred included what was needed to establish a garden, and not simply to maintain a garden.  These costs are sure to decrease in subsequent years, as the cost of maintaining a garden is substantially less than start up costs.

Thus, even in the first year after establishment, the net economic benefits of vegetable gardening are positive - and these economic benefits are sure to increase in years two, three and beyond.

The consistent 'winners' in these papers included:
  • salad greens
  • tomatoes
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • potatoes
  • strawberries
These were the fruits and vegetables that yielded the most, in terms of dollars saved by not having to purchase these items.  However, to truly get the best value from your vegetable garden, it is important to plant what your family likes to eat.  No one really liked the green tomatoes (or the pear tomatoes) that I planted a few years ago.  Lesson learned.  I scratched those from my list.

On the other hand, my kids couldn't get enough green peas or kale.  Thus, I am more than accommodating with space for these favored fresh veggies.

To cut our garden start up costs, my husband and I did the following:
  • We compost everything we can for the free soil amendments that composting yields.  Our first year garden was planted in subpar (cheap) soils that we purchased (but we still had a great harvest!).  Years two and three were amazingly productive.  I give credit to the compost.
  • We built raised garden beds out of recycled/reclaimed fencing material.  The fencing material had not pressure treated.  CCA, or copper chromated arsenic treated wood should be avoided -  primarily because of the hazards with handling the wood, rather than the wood contaminating the garden produce.  Other wood types are likely okay.
  • We started gardening with what I like to call the 'starter set of seven' - vegetables that do well with little work, in most home gardens.  My starter set was:  peas, leaf lettuce, summer squash, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, garlic.
  • We were proactive in our pest management.  I like walking the garden every day, and this helps me catch problems before they grow out of hand.  Cabbage worms in kale?  I hand picked them off, nearly every day.  Slugs clipping my seedlings (which is happening right now)?  Time to pull out the Sluggo.  My husky is eating the peas again?  Ugggh.  Time to fence her out.
  • Kids in the household = free help with weeding.  My kids have come to understand that it takes time and effort to grow our own food.  They normally leave the garden to me - but will help spread wood chips (as a weed-suppressing mulch) or will help hand weed beds - when asked.  I also invite them to plant with me.  At 17 and 15 years old - they take real delight when they see something that they planted and harvested on our dinner plates.  
  • We hand water everything.  A turf professor once told me that he thought watering should be as burdensome as possible, so that folks realized how much water they were using to maintain their lawns and their garden.  I've taken that to heart - and hand water (every day, in the heat of the summer) our vegetable garden, as well as a few ornamentals.  This cuts down on our water use, which cuts down on irrigation costs.
  • We're learning to preserve what we grow, so that there is no waste.  We're still not perfect in this regard (some tomatoes have been known to be worked into the soil at the end of the season, rather than put up in cans).  But, we're getting better, and we accept mistakes.  Gardening should be relaxing, and not one more thing that stresses you out. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Tribute to Louise Aunspach (1913-2012)

One of the best parts of my job is that I have the opportunity to meet and work with so many amazing Master Gardener volunteers. By far the most difficult part of my job is bearing the loss of amazing and inspiring individuals who I truly admire.

Long-time Oregon Master Gardener Louise Aunspach passed away on March 27, 2012, at the age of 98. She would have celebrated her 99th birthday in June. Louise was a member of the very first Master Gardener training class that was held in Lincoln County, in 1996. For her class project, she designed and planted a garden for the Alzeheimer's Unit at Newport Rehabilitation Center, in Newport Oregon. Louise was an active Master Gardener volunteer, contributing to OSU Extension, the Lincoln County Master Gardener Association, and the Central Oregon Coast community in so many ways. Louise has been a mentor for many Lincoln County Master Gardener training classes, and served as the Lincoln County representative to the Oregon Master Gardener Association. She was honored as the Lincoln County Master Gardener of the Year in 2000, and was again honored as the Behind Scenes Awardee in Lincoln County in 2005.

What I will most remember about Louise was how much fun she always seemed to have at Mini-College. Last year, Mini-College was held in Lincoln County - and at 98 years of age - Louise was there with a huge smile on her face. It was lovely to have a visit, and to see her reconnecting with old friends on her home turf. I also remember Louise from my first Mini-College, in 2007. Little did I know that Louise was a regular at Mini-College, attending every one from 1996-2005.

Louise's friend, Sally N., was kind enough to share a profile that she had written about Louise in 2006. Reading the stories that Louise shared with Sally, it was impossible not to smile. Louise danced with Ronald Reagan! She won joined the Navy in 1941, where she was on the tennis team and earned an Expert Pistol Medal! She sang in the Navy Hour Chorus on an NBC radio show, where she was directed by Fred Waring! She taught needlepoint at Shasta College in Redding, CA for 17 years, and tended a garden of many roses, pyracanthas and oleandar for 29 years in Gerber, CA. Her secrets to longevity?: getting into all the trouble that she could, and inheriting good genes - but not often wearing them.

Louise gardened on the Oregon coast for about 28 years. Her wealth of knowledge about how to successfully garden in the challenging climate of the Oregon coast have benefited many gardeners. Calendulas, osteospermums and gallardias were among her recommendations. She also loved zinnias (me too!), but found that they didn't easily prosper in the cool climate of the coast.

A memorial service will be held on April 21, 2012 at First Presbyterian Church in Newport Oregon (227 NE 12th street).

Louise will be in my heart and on my mind at this year's Mini-College, and when my zinnias and calendulas are in full bloom in my garden.  We'll miss you, Louise.