In case you missed the webinar on our garden bee research, I’ve embedded the video, below. The entire webinar is about an hour.

And, make sure to mark your calendars for Monday, October 22nd at 11am PST. Aaron Anderson will be presenting a FIRST LOOK webinar on his research on native plant-pollinator associations. Visit the hypertexted link, above, to register for this FREE webinar.

Aaron was sharing some of his latest data with me, just this past week. His data, collected at replicated field plots in Aurora, Oregon, echoes what we’ve seen in home garden sites around Oregon: for native bees, Douglas Aster was a top performer.

If you are interested in hearing more about our research, please consider sitting in on one of the upcoming webinars we are presenting, as part of the Advanced Training Series for Master Gardeners, organized by OSU Extension Faculty Member, Brooke Edmunds. Gail will be speaking on August 30th, about garden bees. Aaron will be speaking on October 22 on his native plant research. There is also a presentation in November by Melodie Putnam (not in our lab group ~ but a great speaker) on plant galls.

Webinars qualify for Master Gardener continuing education units in Oregon. The webinars are free, but you must pre-register. After the presentations, all webinar recordings are posted on Brooke’s YouTube channel.

More details, and link to the registration page, can be found, below.

Thursday 8/30 at 11am PT

The latest research on bees in the garden: an update from the OSU Garden Ecology Lab.

Speaker: Dr. Gail Langellotto (OSU)

 https://learn.extension.org/events/3443

Monday 10/22 at 11am PT

‘First Look’: OSU Research on Native Plants in the PNW Garden

Speaker: Aaron Anderson (OSU graduate student)

https://learn.extension.org/events/3494

Monday 11/19 at 11am PT

The Weird and Wonderful World of Plant Galls

Melodie Putnam (OSU Plant Clinic)

https://learn.extension.org/events/3493

Missed a webinar? 

Catch up with the 2018 series here: https://tinyurl.com/yczwxjvr (opens in YouTube)

It has been a busy summer in the Garden Ecology Lab!

  • Mykl Nelson successfully defended his thesis on urban garden soils, and graduated with a M.S. in Horticulture this past June.
  • Gail, Aaron, and Mykl all shared their research results with Master Gardeners, at the recent Growing Gardeners conference.
  • Aaron continues his fieldwork, documenting the attractiveness of several Willamette Valley native plants to pollinators. You can find his full list of plants here.
  • Aaron launched the survey part of his research, to document the attractiveness of these same plants to gardeners. If you would like to participate, you can find our recruitment letter, here.
  • Gail and Isabella continue to sample insects on a monthly basis, from 24 Portland area gardens. Our July sample has been pushed to the week of July 30th, because Gail was invited to serve as a panelist on a USDA grant panel. Sampling takes four long days ~ made all the more difficult by Portland’s heat wave. But, sampling during the heat wave will be interesting. Do garden habitats become even more important to bees, when the heat dries up forage in natural and wild habitats? We shall see.
  • Bees from our 2017 sampling effort have been pinned, labelled, and sent to the American Museum of Natural History for expert identification. Thank you to the Oregon Master Gardener Association for a $500 grant to help pay for the expert bee identification.

Today, I’m packing field supplies and clothes for the July 30-August 2nd garden bee sampling effort. It seemed like a good time to provide an update on our garden soils work. I wrote this article for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon quarterly magazine. I thought that others who are interested in garden ecology might be interested in seeing an update on this work. We are currently working on a manuscript of Mykl’s research, for submission to the journal Urban Ecosystems. In the meantime, some of the highlights can be found below.

**********************

Despite the popularity of urban agriculture, we know virtually nothing about urban agricultural soils, including residential vegetable gardens. We thus studied urban garden soils to get a sense of the characteristics of residential-scale, urban agricultural soils in western Oregon. Last year, we took soil samples from 27 vegetable gardens in Corvallis and Portland, and tested for differences between garden sites based upon bed-type (e.g. raised beds versus in-ground beds). All gardens were managed by certified Extension Master Gardeners.

If you have taken a Master Gardener soils class, perhaps you have heard the soil management mantra ‘just add organic matter!’. This mantra comes from the idea that adding more organic matter (OM) can improve soil tilth and nutrition. However, this mantra was derived from research in large-scale farming systems, where farmers often struggle to raise their soil OM by even 1%, across tens or hundreds of acres of crop production.

We found that nearly every garden that we sampled had an excess of OM (Table 1). Soil management guidelines suggest that farmers should aim for 3-6% soil OM. Across all of our garden study sites, vegetable garden soils were on average 13% OM, by volume. Raised beds were significantly over-enriched in organic matter (15% OM, on average), compared to in-ground beds (10% OM, on average). To put it another way, Master Gardener-tended vegetable gardens were over-enriched in OM by 2-5 times the recommended level!

This excess in organic matter likely contributed to excessive levels of other soil parameters. For example, most garden study sites were above recommended levels for electrical conductivity (a measure of soil ‘salts’). All gardens were above recommended levels for sulfur (S), phosphorus (P), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) (Table 1). Only nitrogen (N), potassium (K), and boron (B) were generally within recommended levels (Table 1).

Table 1. Percent of garden study sites that were within, above, and below recommended ranges for various soil parameters. OM: organic matter. EC: electrical conductivity. N: nitrogen. S: sulfur. P: phosphorus. K: potassium. Ca: calcium. Mg: magnesium. B: boron.

Soil Parameter Percent of Garden Study Sites
Within Recommended Range Above Recommended range Below Recommended Range
OM 6% 94% 0%
EC 18% 82% 0%
N 70% 30% 0%
S 0% 100% 0%
P 0% 100% 0%
K 73% 24% 3%
Ca 0% 100% 0%
Mg 0% 100% 0%
B 42% 3% 55%

The excessive organic matter in residential-scale garden soils makes sense, when considered in the context of garden size. In small garden plots, gardeners can easily over-apply products which have been recommended for successful, large-scale, agricultural production. It is easy to imagine that the over-abundance of organic matter in soils results from large amounts of compost added to a relatively small area.

Our results point to the importance of conducting periodic soil tests in garden soils. Instead of ‘just adding organic matter’, gardeners need to understand where they are starting from, before adding amendments and fertilizers to their soil. Apply focused applications of specific nutrients (such as boron or nitrogen) to correct nutrient deficiencies, as needed, while avoiding additions of nutrients that are at relatively high levels. For example, nitrogen is extremely mobile in soils, while phosphorus tends to build up over time. Adding focused applications of synthetic (15-0-0) or organic nitrogen (in the form of feather meal) can help meet crop needs without providing excessive amounts of phosphorus, over time. Gardeners who annually apply organic matter to their soils, without the benefit of a soil test, may be unintentionally adding too much phosphorus to their soils. Soils with excessive micronutrients may hinder plant growth. Soils with excessive phosphorus might contribute to water quality issues in their watershed. Excessive phosphorus also harms or kill beneficial mycorrhizal fungi.

garden ecology lab

garden ecology lab

Urban agriculture has received a lot of attention over the past decade, as more folks are looking to localize their food supply, reduce food miles, and/or exert greater control over their food. Urban agriculture, however, brings a distinct set of challenges from farm systems in more rural regions. For example, urban farms tend to be relatively small and diverse (which can make it challenging to rotate crops), and are often close to neighborhoods and housing developments (which may make urban farms more prone to nuisance complaints). Urban farmers tend to be younger and to have less experience in agriculture, compared to rural farmers, and in need to high levels of technical assistance from Extension and other providers (Oberholtzer et al. 2014). However, many of the resources that Extension has to offer are focused on traditional growers, rather than new urban farmers.

Our lab group wanted to examine an issue that is specific to urban growers, and for which we could find very little information: urban agricultural soils. Soil scientists have prioritized research on urban agricultural soils as a key priority for the 21st century (Adewopo et al. 2014). Yet for his thesis work, Mykl Nelson could only find 17 academic papers that looked at urban agricultural soils in the United States. Most of these studies focused on

residential-scale or community-scale urban agriculture (in home or community gardens). Only one paper looked at soils on an urban farm.

Still, residential- and community-scale gardening is an important type of urban agriculture. In Portland, a conservative count of 3,000 home gardens collectively covers more than 20 acres of land (McClintock et al. 2013). In Chicago, residential food gardens cover 29 acres of land, and represent 89% of all urban agriculture (Taylor and Lovell 2012). In Madison, WI, more than 45,000 food gardens cover more than 121 acres of land (Smith et al. 2013).

For Mykl’s thesis, he looked at urban soils from 27 Master Gardener-tended gardens, in Portland and Corvallis, OR. Even though all gardens were tended by OSU Extension trained Master Gardeners, they were incredibly diverse: 74 different annual crops, and 58 different perennial crops were grown across these gardens. Unique crops included kalettes, papalo, thistle, savory, paw paw, quince, sea berry, and service berry, among others.

In terms of the soils, Mykl found that soils were within the recommended range for physical parameters, such as bulk density, wet aggregate stability, and soil compaction. However, home garden soils tended to be over-enriched in soil organic matter. Growers generally aim to foster soils that are between 3-6% organic matter. However, Mykl’s tested soils were on average 13% organic matter! Raised beds were on average 15% organic matter. In ground beds were a bit better: 10% organic matter, on average. So to put this another way, Master Gardener vegetable garden soils had 2-5X the recommended level of organic matter for productive agricultural soils. We suspect that Master Gardeners were annually adding organic matter to their soils, without necessarily knowing the baseline levels in their soils. Adding more organic matter, without knowing where you’re starting from, encourages over-applications.

Does that matter? Afterall, for years, we have been preaching that if you have sub-par soils, ‘just add organic matter’. Biological activity in these soils was great! But, the excess in organic matter promoted excess in several soil nutrients. Garden soils were over-enriched in phosphorus (mean phosphorus across all gardens was 2-3X recommended levels. Potassium in some gardens was 5X recommended levels! Gardens were over-enriched in magnesium and manganese, too. Nutrient excess was worse in raised beds, compared to in-ground gardens.

Unexpectedly, Mylk found the highest lead levels in raised beds. Often, we tell gardeners to grow their food in raised beds, to avoid heavy metal contaminants. Why would there be high lead in raised beds, if we weren’t finding elevated lead levels in nearby in-ground beds? We suspect that the lead might be coming in from compost waste that can be purchased on the retail market. If a compost product makes no nutritional claim, then it is exempt from analysis and contamination limits.

We can’t wait to finalize this work for publication. In the meantime, I wanted to share a brief update on this work.

Mykl will be defending his thesis on May 31st. We’re trying to arrange an online broadcast of the public portion of his thesis defense (1pm-2pm, May 31st). I will update this post, if we are able to get an online link for his presentation.

It’s been a busy month in the Garden Ecology Lab.

  • Gail’s manuscript on bees in home and community gardens has been published in Acta Hort. Briefly, the results of this literature review are that: 213 species of bee have been collected from a garden habitat; gardens have fewer spring-flying and fewer ground-nesting bees, compared to non-garden sites; I suspect that over-mulching might be cutting out habitat for ground-nesting bees in gardens.
  • Aaron presented his first Extension talk to the Marion County Master Gardeners. This 90-minute talk was an overview of using native plants in home gardens.
  • The entire lab is getting ready to present their research results at the 2018 Urban Ecology Research Consortium annual conference, to be held in Portland on February 5th. A few highlights of our presentations, can be found below.

Gail’s Poster on Urban Bees: we sampled bees from 24 gardens in the Portland Metro area (co-authored with Isabella and Lucas)

  • Langellotto and Messer UERC 2018 Poster: click to see preliminary results
  • Most of the bees that we collected await identification. We did find a moderate relationship between lot size and bee abundance: larger yards hosted more bees. But, we also found evidence that suggests that intentional design can influence bee abundance: one of our smallest gardens (site 56 = 0.1 acre), located in the Portland urban core (surrounded by lots of urban development) had the second largest number of bees (42), of the 24 gardens sampled. This garden was focused, first and foremost, on gardening for pollinators. The plant list for this garden (photos, below) includes: borage, big-leaf maple, anise hyssop, globe thistle, California poppy, nodding onion, yarrow, fescue, goldenrod, Phacelia, Douglas aster, lupine, mallow, columbine, meadow foam, yellow-eyed grass, blue-eyed grass, coreopsis, snowberry, Oregon grape, trillium, mock orange, pearly-everlasting, serviceberry, coneflower, blue elderberry, currant, milkweed, dogwood, shore pine, crabapple, cinquefoil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mykl’s Poster on Urban Soils: we sampled soils from 33 vegetable beds across Corvallis and in Portland (co-authored with Gail)

  • All gardens were tended by OSU Extension Master Gardeners.
  • Gardens were over-enriched in several soil nutrients. For example, the recommended range for Phosphorus (ppm in soil) is 20-100 ppm. Garden soils averaged 227 ppm. The recommended range for Calcium is 1,000-2,000 ppm, but the mean value for sampled beds was 4,344 ppm.
  • Recommended ranges gleaned from OSU Extension Publication EC1478.
  • There was a tendency for soils in raised beds to be over-enriched, compared to vegetables grown on in-ground beds.
  • Data suggests that gardeners are annually adding additional soil amendments or compost, and that there has a build up of certain elements in the soil.

Aaron’s Talk on Native Plants: measured bee visitation to 23 species of native and 4 species of non-native garden plants (co-authored with Lucas)

  • Field plots established at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center
  • In the first year of establishment, of the 27 flowering plants that were the focus of this study, seven natives (lotus, milkweed, camas, strawberry, iris, sedum, blue-eyed grass) one non-native (Lavender) did not bloom, or else did not establish
  • Several natives attracted more bees than even the most attractive non-native (Nepeta cataria, or catmint). These include:
    • Gilia capitata: Globe Gilia
    • Madia elegans: Common Madia
    • Aster subspicatus: Douglas’ Aster
    • Solidago candensis: Goldenrod