Pruning can feel like one of the most intimidating parts of caring for a garden—that’s why we released our #PruneBetter series. This series of social media posts covered a wide array of common garden favorites: blueberries, hydrangea, apple trees, and more! If you missed any of the posts this year, they are all still accessible via searching #PruneBetter on Instagram or Facebook.
Our team worked hard behind the scenes to present you with science-backed and accessible content. This series started with LeAnn Locher (Master Gardener Outreach Coordinator), who envisioned utilizing OSU’s social media platforms to not only link to educational content, but to present it directly. Both Instagram and Facebook allow our team to connect directly with Master Gardeners, students, faculty, and the public from one platform. Her idea presented a fun challenge: a series of 10-second videos, each conveying and/or demonstrating a pruning tip.
The #PruneBetter team also consisted of our invaluable background researcher, Mallory Mead (member of the Garden Ecology Lab). She sourced and compiled information—Mallory also helped ensure our posts were timely (AKA posting about a particular plant during its prime pruning window).
Content creation was headed by Nicole Bell (graduate student in the GEL). I (hi, it’s me) wrote captions for the posts, but admittedly—the hardest part was trying to figure out what to put in those 10 second videos! One of my favorite parts was getting to work with my parents: Bernadine Strik (professor emeritus in Horticulture, and mom) for the blueberry content, and Neil Bell (community horticulturist for OSU extension, and dad) for most of the video content. They were the ones who inspired me to pursue a career in horticulture, so it was fulfilling and fun to show them and incorporate them into just a bit of what I’m working on.
What, exactly, does a day of planning and creating #PruneBetter content look like? Step 1: use Mallory’s background research to create an idea for videos (up to nine 10-second segments, for posts) stories (videos up to 30 seconds, and sometimes before and after photos), and the caption. Step 2: select and travel to pruning site. These sites varied from the OSU Lewis Brown Horticulture Farm, the home garden of Nicole’s parents, and gardens generously offered up for example by OSU Master Gardeners. Step 3: shoot content. Let me just say… 10 seconds goes by quickly when you’re talking! Although one of the most challenging parts of creating video content for our social media platforms, it was also a great learning experience. What information do we really need to include? What visual is most valuable to show or demonstrate? Step 4: choose the best of our material, and post! Posts included the slide of videos, the caption with supplemental information, and our stories (one of my favorite parts about creating this series was making the weekly quiz).
Throughout the #PruneBetter campaign, we were surprised and amazed at the amount of engagement and support from the community. We loved seeing your shares, comments, and messages—it means a lot. Gardening can feel like a never-ending sea of tasks, but I think it is made better with community, accessible knowledge, and (at least) knowing you’re not in the work alone! We’re not done yet—keep an eye out for more content in June (hello, apple thinning!) and beyond. As long as there is something to prune, we’ll be waiting to find and share all the ways we can #PruneBetter.
To access the supplemental resources included in the posts this year, see below.
My name is Nicole Bell, and I’m a first-year master’s student in the Garden Ecology Lab. I was born and raised in Oregon, and I’d like to think that part of the reason I’ve ended up in the field of horticulture/entomology is because I was surrounded by bugs and flowering plants growing up. My childhood backyard was filled with plants, bugs, wild bunnies, and raccoons (and our yellow lab, Bella). It was hard not to be fascinated by all the life that’s possible in just one space.
I completed my H.B.S. in Environmental Sciences here at Oregon State University in 2020. I chose to study environmental sciences because when I was entering college, I knew I cared about science and climate change, but I wasn’t sure what exactly I was interested in. It was an overwhelming decision to try and narrow down a field of study when I wasn’t even sure what the options were yet. I’m grateful that the summer before my freshman year of undergrad, my mom encouraged me to get a job… and there was an opening at Dr. Sagili’s Honey Bee Lab in the Horticulture Department. I had never worked or even thought much about bees/pollinators before, let alone considered making pollinators my focus. Long story short, I got the job as an undergraduate worker in the lab, and I learned so much about both lab and field work.
I worked at the Honey Bee Lab for over 4 years. Towards the end of my freshman year, though, I wondered what working with native pollinators would be like. I found a project offered through the URSA Engage program at OSU: studying the impacts of wildfire severity on offspring food provisions for a native bee (the blue orchard mason bee, Osmia lignaria) at the Forest Animal Ecology Lab in the Forestry Department with Dr. James Rivers. I designed an experiment and wrote my undergraduate thesis about mason bees, and I am grateful for my experience there, as I got to learn about the integration of bees and their environment. When I finished and defended my thesis, I was approaching graduation. I knew I wanted to take some time off school to enjoy reading and learning about topics that interested me outside of a classroom setting.
Science communication has become a big passion of mine. While most of my undergraduate experience (in the Honey Bee Lab and Forest Animal Ecology Lab) was hard science, either in the field or in the lab, I craved combining my passion for writing with my interest in expressing the implications of science to the public. My mom found a job posting (again… thanks mom!) for an agricultural science writing position at Washington State University, specifically the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (CSANR). I worked with an amazingly supportive and intelligent group of scientists: they gave me publications to write blog posts about, and they helped me to edit the pieces into works I am proud of. The collaboration that the team members at CSANR have is inspiring and only bolstered my interest in communication and teamwork. While none of my articles on AgClimate were specific to pollinators, the knowledge I gained about agriculture in general and how to put together a synthesized blog post about a complex study was invaluable.
I met with several different potential graduate advisors, and I was amazed with Dr. Gail Langellotto’s knowledge and passion for native pollinators and their urban habitats. Dr. Langellotto also had projects that piqued my interests and would allow me to curate a thesis that blends science and communication. While I’m just now beginning work on the methods for my thesis, I’ll be conducting a comprehensive literature review on bee communities in urban and community gardens. Additionally, I will create an iNaturalist guide on native bees in the Portland, Oregon, area.
One of my favorite things about native pollinators is just how many species are out there. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface with my current knowledge about these ecosystems and how they function, so I couldn’t be more excited to learn from other members of the lab and from my research.
What I love most about bugs, bees, and insects alike may be this: there’s a whole world underneath us and above us that we can so easily miss if we don’t look for it.
This post a from Gwynne Mhuireach, who will be studying the microbiome of garden soils . . . and gardeners!!
A little about me…
I am a researcher, farmer, and mom to twin teenagers. My formal education is broadly cross-disciplinary, including degrees in biology, architecture, and landscape architecture. While I was working on my Masters, I began studying microbes inside buildings as a member of the Biology and Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon, where we discovered that our exposure to microorganisms indoors depends a great deal on what microorganisms are present in the immediate outdoors. This line of inquiry was so fascinating that I entered the PhD program in Landscape Architecture to investigate how urban green space might influence the airborne microbial communities that people are exposed to in their daily lives. Ultimately with my research, I aim to gain a deeper understanding of how human health and environmental health are connected through the microbes we share.
In addition to my academic research, I also own and operate a small livestock farm with my two teenagers, Lyric and Cadence, and my partner, Tom. A native Oregonian, I was born and raised on a small farm near Klamath Falls, Oregon, where my family produced (and continues to produce) hay and cattle. Now I choose to continue the agricultural lifestyle that has been my family’s way of life for three generations. Producing food through hard work and stewarding a small piece of land to pass on to my children is very important to me. I believe that having a strong connection to the land is also part of what drives me to study microbes in the context of the outdoors, particularly how we interact intimately with them by getting our hands dirty in the soil.
The Garden(er) Microbiome Project
In partnership with Gail Langellotto, I am launching a new citizen science project called, “Microbes under your fingernails? An exploration of the garden microbiome and potential transferability to human skin.” While soil science is well-developed in terms of nutrients and organic matter needed to keep plants healthy, less is known about the diversity and composition of microbes present in agricultural soils, particularly in small-scale farms and gardens. Astonishingly, despite the likelihood of substantial exposure to soil microbes while gardening, yet we lack even the most basic understanding of how much microbial transfer from soil to skin occurs, what types of microorganisms are transferred, or how long they persist. Through this project, we seek to answer these questions with the help of volunteers—you!
Gardeners who volunteer to participate in this project will be asked to collect soil samples from several different beds in their gardens and from the surface of their hands and/or forearms. There will also be questionnaires that ask for information about garden management practices and daily skin care (use of anti-bacterial soap or lotion, etc.) during the sampling period, which will last 2 days. Volunteers will receive detailed results, including a comprehensive soil health assessment and skin/soil microbiome reports. We will also share our findings with other researchers, farmers/gardeners, and the broader public online and through the Master Gardener network. We anticipate that this citizen science project will not only answer our original research questions, but also shed light on how different management practices can impact garden soil health in different climate zones of Oregon.
If you are interested in participating in this project, I am hosting an informational webinar on Friday, June 5th (2020) at 10am. Registration is required to attend. The webinar will be recorded and posted.
If you are unable to attend, but are still interested in participating, please let us know a bit more about you and your garden by taking this short survey. Please note that for this particular project, we are specifically seeking gardens located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley or High Desert regions.
I asked our group if they would be willing to share how COVID-19 is impacting their science, their studies, and their life. Our collective reflections can be found, below.
Gail Langellotto, Professor and Statewide Master Gardener Coordinator: In early February, I woke up from a dream, sobbing. I had dreamt that my parents were sick in Baltimore, but that domestic air travel had been shut down. I am not an expert in the ecology of infectious disease, but I used to teach infectious disease models to pre-meds. And, there were several things that I saw in reports of this emerging disease that greatly troubled me. Unfortunately, my fears of large scale community spread have come true, and life has changed for us all. Luckily, my parents and sisters continue to be healthy, even though they live in a COVID-19 hotspot.
I teach two face-to-face entomology courses at OSU during the spring term: ENT 311 and ENT/HORT 444/544. I had exactly one week to pivot these classes to fully remote offerings. Instead of real time (and automated) assessment of learning using TopHat, I’m building quizzes and assignments into Canvas, where I am manually grading 210 quizzes and assignments per week. I’ve drastically cut down on course content, in part because I continue to try and focus on essential messaging, but also because I know that many of my students are under immense stress.
Spring term is when I normally move to having a lighter touch with the Master Gardener Program. New Master Gardener students are completing their coursework and exams. Long-time Master Gardeners move their attention to plant sales, garden fairs, and educational outreach. Not this year. Training classes had to move online or to Zoom. Plant sales, garden fairs, and other Master Gardener events were cancelled. Our working group started trading resources and ideas via weekly Zoom meetings. Each new dictate from the Governor or the University requires attention and consideration of how it applies to the Master Gardener Program. It’s been a challenge to stay on top of everything, and a challenge to keep a positive attitude.
In terms of science, there has been good and bad. The ‘bad’ is that, as an Associate Editor of the journal Urban Ecosystems, it has been difficult to find peer reviewers for scientific manuscripts. And, it feels ‘out of touch’ to prod folks to get their reviews in, when they may be sick, or they may be busy home-schooling kids or shopping for senior family members. Also in the ‘bad’, I generally have zero time or energy to work on my own scientific manuscripts. Exhaustion is a constant. The ‘good’ is that I can’t sleep at night. And, during these sleepless nights, I often think about next steps in our research, and plotting out key questions in urban ecology that remain unresolved, but could be addressed in garden systems.
Angelee Calder, senior year June 2020, Agricultural Science undergraduate: Covid has greatly impacted my plans and life! As some of you may remember from my last blog post, I was expecting to spend my final term as a senior at Oregon State University doing an internship in Costa Rica! Twelve days before I was scheduled to leave, we entered a worldwide pandemic and all my plans where flipped and turned upside down! In preparation to leave for Costa Rica, I had put in my 30 day notice in on my apartment and my roommate found somewhere else to live. Last minute, I had to scramble to get my refunds, register for classes, and find somewhere to live. Since then, I have been struggling with homelessness.
Currently, I am living in the emergency housing at OSU provided by the Human Resources and Services Center. While I am extremely thankful to be here, I am only permitted to stay for less than a month. Which means my struggle with homelessness during my final term of school will continue to be an issue well into finals week. I started my first term at OSU homeless and I am finishing my final term homeless! While this is stressful and uncertain, I have managed to continue to kill this term academically. I am proud of myself for prevailing during these hard times to thrive under these heavy pressures and keep my eyes on the prize of my diploma that I have worked 5 long years to earn.
My passion for agriculture and my dedication to school go unwavered. This time has helped me to feel more secure in my chosen field as Agriculture than I ever have before. After seeing the bare shelves at the store and hundreds of thousands of Americans get laid off of their jobs, I realize agriculture is about as “essential” as you can get! My passions and education can not only create stable work for myself but also can help the rest of the world through these difficult times with stable sustainable food production.
Mericos Rhodes, M.A. Student in Environmental Arts and Humanities. As a practitioner of ecological agriculture, this COVID era is one of the most interesting times of my life. Put simply, I have never witnessed such intense interest in what is, to me, the most interesting topic in the world: local ecological farming.
The farm that I help run, Spoon Full Farm, has completely sold out of CSA memberships and many other items. Our waitlist is growing. Here in Corvallis, the farmers markets are well-adjusted and well-attended. I can understand why: a shorter food chain means far fewer opportunities for food to be contaminated. Healthy nutrient-dense food is a cornerstone of resilient health. Small businesses such as local farms need our support now, more than ever.
In an exciting development, a friend and I are busy converting an old grassy field, across from the Corvallis Fairgrounds, into a small-scale community-based farm. We connected with the landowner after he put up a sign at the co-op seeking farmers! So, our restorative farming project has begun! It doesn’t look like much, but we have 7 chickens moving rapidly through the grass between our dug rows of mixed perennials (mostly currant bushes and thyme), fertilizing the ground to support annual vegetable beds. We plan to dig a little pond and use a heavy mulch of leaves and/or wood chips.
How is this relevant to the garden ecology lab? In two ways: First, I am planning my graduate project to be a narrative introduction to ecological farming (stories, characters, motives will be highlighted). This personal experience will be part of the story. Second, this project will put into place many practices suggested by Gail’s Insect Agroecology class (ENT 544), which I am currently taking, including creating diverse perennial habitat for insects, and not spraying pesticides or synthetic nitrogen. It will also be an experiment in “Dry-Farming,” which basically means zero irrigation – perhaps a critical farming technique here in the Northwest, where irrigation water may be in much shorter supply, in the decades to come.
I feel extremely grateful to be able to work outside, with living nature, during these times when so many are stuck in screen world, all day every day.
Aaron Anderson, PhD Candidate: During this uncertain time, I feel lucky to be able to be part of the Garden Ecology Lab and be able to continue my classes and work. As I am in my fourth year as a graduate student here at OSU, I have already collected all of my field data. This means that I am able to hunker down at my desk here at home, without having to worry about the logistics of conducting fieldwork during a pandemic. I’ve been busy taking two courses, and also plugging away on some data entry and statistical work.
Things can be undeniably stressful due to the background worries about COVID-19, but working from home has had some plus sides. The first is the ability to work with a cuddly cat on my lap. I’ve also been able to take breaks out in the yard, where we’ve been working on our garden bed and also seeded the side yard with several native plants from my study. We have Phacelia heterophyla just starting to germinate, and Clarkia amoena and Achillea millefolium are both beginning to bolt. Hopefully, some native bees will be visiting soon!
Signe Danler, Instructor, online Master Gardener training course: As an instructor of an online course, most of my work was already done online via computer before the pandemic hit. I have also worked from home for many years in a variety of jobs, so I already had a full office set up at home, and did much of my OSU work at home already. In this regard, there was not much change – I grabbed a few things from my office at OSU so I would have them at home, and have not been on the campus since the stay-at-home order.
Nevertheless, life suddenly became much more stressful. For the first few weeks, the constant bombardment of new and conflicting information was terribly distracting, making it hard to be productive on any project requiring sustained effort. The cancellation of virtually all events I normally participate in has been saddening and frustrating. With two vulnerable family members at home, we have to exercise great caution in outside contacts. I not only have to do all grocery shopping, but do it in a way that takes much longer than usual, and is tiring and stressful. I’m keeping trips out very infrequent!
All in all, though, I feel we are very fortunate, since we are in a position to ride this situation out with minimal problems. To stay healthy and sane I’ve been taking more walks, which is easy since we live at the edge of town and crowds are non-existent. My large garden is getting more attention than usual, and I’m propagating more of my own plants to reduce nursery visits. As I have adjusted to the new normal, my ability to focus is getting back to normal too, and I am confident we’ll get through it just fine.
Mykl Nelson, Instructor of Urban Agriculture: The first thing I noticed was how much remained the same. I was already fully remote and integrated with eCampus. I was lucky. I watched the flurry of emails, the hectic conference meetings, the string of popular articles. Everyone seemed to scramble as essentially the entire academic world pushed to move fully online and remote. I’m excited to see this push because I hope to see advancement in the teaching of remote teachers. When I first started trying to educate myself about educating others in agricultural topics in a remote classroom, I saw very little supporting material. I hope that changes now.
I’ve seen real changes in the community around me. Store shelves lay bare as a slow realization—the façade of abundance—spreads across stores. I know from my time as a grocery clerk that those shelves aren’t stocked that deep, and the “back stock” is kept as thin as possible. I’m watching my country get squeezed around me; the most vulnerable of my fellow citizens being forced to confront the more dire aspects of this pandemic.
But in this panic, I feel safe. I get to add yet another scenario to the privileged category of my life. From my youth in a military family to my time now as university faculty, I am repeatedly shown the benefits of access to health care. When it comes to basic hygiene and global health, I want everyone to be able to wash their hands just as easily as they could access medicine. It only makes sense to extend such secure foundations to as many people as possible.