Linn County Master Gardeners Honored

Clockwise from the top left: Rene Miller, Brenda Winslow, Bobbye Rainey and Nancy Ragghianti. Congratulations!

This award is presented to an OSU Master Gardener™ from each County by the Oregon Master Gardener™ Association (OMGA) working cooperatively with Oregon State University. This annual award recognizes outstanding dedication and service of an OSU Master Gardener at the county level.

Master Gardener of the Year

Brenda Winslow has been a Linn County Master Gardener since 2010. Over these years she has diligently staffed and answered hundreds of plant clinic questions at the Sweet Home Farmer’s Market. Within the very large Linn County, Brenda’s presence on the eastern side of the county has made a huge difference in keeping more Master Gardeners involved. Brenda has used her gardening knowledge to teach classes in Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home. She started and fundraised for the high school and junior high school gardens and taught classes at the Boys and Girls Club. She has helped at the Demo Garden, ran clinic tables at the Harvest Festivals, worked container planting sessions and been a resource for the Sweet Home Beautification team and the Garden club. The BEEvent Pollinator Conference and the Albany Garden Tours fundraiser are other projects she has volunteered at. Brenda has been on the Linn Master Gardener Association Board for 5 years, and is currently 2nd Vice President. She is in charge of keeping membership lists up to date and helped produce our membership directory. Her knowledge and experiences are shared with enthusiasm in a way that encourages others. Thank you, Brenda!

Behind the Scenes Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year Awardees

Behind the Scenes Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year Awardees This award is presented to an OSU Master Gardener™ from each County by the Oregon Master Gardener™ Association (OMGA) working cooperatively with Oregon State University. This annual award recognizes an OSU Master Gardener™ who works quietly and unselfishly behind the scenes to further the OSU Master Gardener Program on a county level. This is not a person who is out in front working on projects, so that everyone knows their contributions. Rather, it is a person whom few may actually know the level of their contributions.

Rene Miller became a Linn County Master Gardener in 2018.  Over the past three years she has become a major team worker on the Pollinator Project.  She has helped with many cocoon harvesting classes and has lead sales of bee supplies.  She harvested and cleaned a lot of mason bee cocoons that are sold by Linn Master Gardeners to help fund the association. Recently Rene helped harvest and process teasel for a mason bee research project.  Besides the Pollinator Project she has also become a major team worker at the Willamette Community Garden.  Work there isn’t just gardening, but also helping non-master gardener community members learn more about best practices for vegetable gardening.  Rene is a volunteer garden educator at Waverly Preschool. She has answered questions at the Albany Farmer’s Market table and has been a volunteer on a Garden Tour.  Rene’s cheerful demeanor and having a collaborative attitude make it fun to work with Rene.  Thank you, Rene!

Nancy Ragghianti has been a Linn County Master Gardener since 2018. Nancy is currently a Member-at-Large on the Linn MG Board. She has worked at the Linn Demo Garden and at other events, but the thing that makes her special is her skills with website design and maintenance. www. LinnMasterGardeners.com was set up about 4 years ago. Nancy has done many updates and changes to make this an informative site for the public as well as for our association members. With COVID there were new challenges. The Linn MGA’s BEEvent Pollinator Conference went virtual. Nancy set up the on-line registration and the evaluation process for the conference. With the virtual conference, she set up a new on-line order and pick up process for mason bee supplies. She also publishes the Linn County MGs “Bee Notes” e-newsletter on the website. “Bee Notes” currently has very close to 800 subscribers. The association members and Linn Extension staff appreciate the ardent work she has done to make the website informative, useful and educational. Thank you, Nancy!

Bobbye Rainey became a Linn County Master Gardener in 2020. Before Bobbye went through Master Gardener training (pre-COVID) she volunteered at the Linn Demo Garden and continues to work there twice a week. She has enthusiastically worked on many projects and does whatever is needed whether it is weeding, planting, harvesting or some odd job. This year Bobbye has joined the Linn MG Board as a Memberat-Large. Twice a week she and another new Master Gardener have staffed the Linn County MG plant clinic help. She diligently answers on-line gardening questions from the public. Committing time 4 days a week, she has had a major impact. Additionally, Bobbye set up and staffed seven parking lot pickup sites in Linn, Benton, Marion and Lane County for people to pick up pre-ordered bee supplies. Part of this delivery process was gathering and bagging supplies, calling those who missed the pick-up and finding alternate delivery options. Bobbye’s friendly demeanor along with her professional collaborative style are an asset to our association. Thank you, Bobbye!

What is BEEvent? A volunteer’s history

Osmia lignaria (blue orchard mason bee): Scott Bauer, USDA, Osmia lignaria, Cropped by OSU Extension, CC0 1.0

By Ranee Webb, Master Gardener Volunteer

One of the primary fundraisers and education outlets for Linn Master Gardeners is the BEEvent Pollinator Conference.  The following is a history of that project and how it has grown and changed.    

Our Mission:  The primary purpose of the Linn County Master Gardeners Association Pollinator Project is to provide information to the general public about the plight of pollinators, both native and non- natives.   We provide knowledge and materials to ordinary citizens to help them make their spaces friendly to pollinators, and so that they can become informed advocates. A secondary, but very important, purpose is to raise funds to support the outreach programs of the Linn County Master Gardeners Association to educate the public in healthy and productive gardening practices. 

History:  
In 2014, Barbara Fick, then a Linn County Extension agent, was talking to retired entomologist and Master Gardener Volunteer Rich Little about how we could increase the public’s awareness of pollinators. In 2015 the BEEvent Pollinator Conference was established to help home gardeners and small farmers better understand how they could help bees.  That first conference had 54 participants.  In recent years about 200 participants have registered to hear nationally known speakers and local experts talk about pollinator health. The BEEvent is now the largest pollinator conference in the PNW. Between 60-80% of attendees are new each year, so that means we are reaching a lot of people.  Due to the COVID pandemic, the 2021 BEEvent went virtual. That was a new challenge and learning experience for all!  

Keynote speakers over the years have included Rich Hatfield, senior conservation biologist of the Xerces Society, Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, Olivia Messinger Carril from New Mexico, co-author of “Bees in Your Backyard,” and James Cane, research entomologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Logan, Utah. Cane has been studying bees for 30 years and is known for having applied his long-term interest in bees to help measure, understand and mitigate human factors that can shift nesting and foraging opportunities for bee communities.  

Rich Little has given many presentations about native bees throughout Oregon for Master Gardeners and the public.  Each fall Linn Master Gardener instructors meet with small groups to teach how to properly harvest and clean cocoons.  Harvesting the cocoons helps ensure a healthier outcome and you learn more about what is inside the nesting sites. During these classes our participants develop an understanding and learn to follow the “Best Management Practices” for Mason Bees. This helps gardeners and small farmers become more successful in helping our native bees. 

In 2016 we started an e-mail publication called “Bee Notes”.  The purpose of Bee Notes is to share information and reminders to those who have mason bees. We also share articles about pollinators that will help the home gardener be a better steward in helping pollinators.  Currently there about 800 subscribers.  Rich Little, who has a degree in entomology, writes most of the more technical information.  Ranee Webb writes some of the Bee Notes.  Our webmaster, Nancy Ragghianti, does the final touches and publishes the Bee Notes.  Together we make a team. We are amazed at the success of Bee Notes!  

Linn County Master Gardeners were early in starting the use of our own website.  You can now find a lot of information including Bee Notes on the website- www.LinnMasterGardeners.com

Award: 

The Oregon Master Gardener Association awarded Linn County Master Gardeners the Marje Luce Search for Excellence Award in 2020.   

Proud of Our Successes and Yours:  

Our Master Gardener volunteers sell bee supplies and houses as well as mason bee cocoons.  In normal years about 50 master gardeners are involved in our pollinator project.  

We believe our Master Gardener volunteer’s campaign to promote pollinator health is having a positive effect.    

Linn Master Gardeners have worked with the OSU Bee Project, the Benton Soil Water and Conservation District and Shonnard’s Nursery in developing our Pollinator Project and supporting their outreach programs as well.  We have had contacts from people out-of-state asking to find out more about how we do the conference in hopes of putting on conferences similar to ours. Awareness of native bees has increased and we like to think we have helped you and many others learn more.    

All of these projects happen because at least 50 Linn Master Gardeners and a few Benton Master Gardeners got involved!   

Welcome a Rhododendron Into Your Garden This Spring

By Brenda Bye, Master Gardener Volunteer

Unknown Rhododendron Species. Photo by Brenda Bye. 

One of the reasons that I love spring in the Willamette Valley is the masses of colorful rhododendrons. It’s hardly surprising that this flowering shrub is so popular, because it comes in a wide range of sizes and colors. Many species are evergreen which is an additional bonus to add structure to your garden in grey winter months. Spring is a great time to plant rhododendrons and it’s not too late. 

There are about thirty species of rhododendron native to North America. They are found naturally in temperate deciduous forests and enjoy the acidic soil found in these wooded hills and mountains. If you are looking to plant a Northwest native, consider Rhododendron Macrophyllum, the Pacific Rhododendron. Its flowers can range from pale pinks to deep purples. It will grow to be 8 to 10 feet in the garden but can grow much bigger in the wild. 

Another interesting native is Rhododendron Occidentale, the Western Azalea. Its flowers range in color from white to pink, but all have a yellow spot on the upper petals that adds interest and beauty. Their flowers are known to be quite fragrant. Unlike the Pacific Rhododendron, the Western Azalea is deciduous and can have very pretty autumn foliage. 

Regardless of which rhododendron you choose, they require similar growing conditions: 

  • Acidic soil with a pH usually between 4.5 and 6
  • Soil that drains well and is rich in organic matter
  • A consistent level of moisture
  • Dappled shade, although it will tolerate a variety of sun exposures
Smaller rhododendron species, possibly Rhododendron Japonica, the Japanese Azalea. Photos by Brenda Bye. 

Having the right soil conditions is very important before you plant your rhododendron. Many of us in Western Oregon already have acidic soils but if you have questions about getting your soil tested or how to interpret a soil test, I would recommend reaching out to your local OSU Extension Office. You can also reach them online at https://extension.oregonstate.edu/ask-expert.

Rhododendrons can be prone to root rot. That is one reason to mix in a good amount of organic matter into your planting site. Some sources recommend a mix of 50% organic matter. In addition to building healthy soil this organic matter will make sure the roots are getting oxygen and not becoming soggy. Organic matter also helps to feed your plant to keep it healthy. 

Smaller rhododendron species, possibly Rhododendron Japonica, the Japanese Azalea. Photos by Brenda Bye. 

Before you place your new rhododendron in the ground make sure to water it well. When you place the root ball in the ground it should be planted at the same level as it was in the pot. Then mulch it with a thick layer of pine bark mulch, which is good for those acid loving plants. Make sure there is a nice ring of space between your trunk and your mulch to prevent fungal diseases. As the mulch breaks down it will also provide more nutrients to your rhododendron. 

Although rhododendrons have specific soil requirements, they are very easy to care for once planted. The mulch and organic soil you used will help the soil have consistent moisture, but they may need additional watering in the heat of summer. They generally don’t need to be trimmed but do benefit from deadheading spent flowers. Rhododendrons appreciate a yearly fertilizer in the fall and a refresh of their mulch. 

Rhododendrons look great as foundation plantings around your home. Their range of colors will fit into any planting scheme and they will bloom for years to come. If you don’t have one yet, consider planting a rhododendron. 

If you are looking for more information about this flowering shrub, check out the resources of the American Rhododendron Society, www.rhododendron.org. And here is a very in depth article from the Pacific Horticultural Society about the Western Azalea https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/western-azalea-beauty-and-fragrance/

From the Demonstration Garden: an Introduction

By Sandy N, Master Gardener Volunteer

Credit: Sigmund

Welcome to my post! I’m Sandy N., and this is my fourth year as a Master Gardener. This is also my third year as a volunteer at the Benton County Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden (known affectionately as “the Demo Garden”), and that’s the topic I will tell you about today.

The Demo Garden is an instructional garden that illustrates best practices for sustainable home gardening in our area. The garden was started in 1995 at the Benton County Fairground in Corvallis and is located on the South side of Fairground, just inside the fence and to the West of the ticket booth entrance. The garden covers more than 115′ x 40′ — plenty of space to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables suitable for our climate and soil while allowing us to showcase a variety of plants and gardening techniques. Here you will find vegetables ranging from asparagus to zucchini (including a few exotic crops, like hops), as well as herbs, fruits, and berries that are all well-suited for growing in our area. We also display a variety of gardening techniques in the Demo Garden — espaliered fruit trees, several types of raised beds, several types of compost bins, a variety of row coverings, dry land gardening, drip irrigation, non-toxic pest control, winter cover crops and more!  

During the summer we work in the garden once a week, tending our crops and weighing our harvest. We often sample our produce to evaluate flavor, texture and usefulness in cooking (e.g. are these tomatoes flavorful enough to make good tomato sauce?), but the majority of our harvest is donated to local food banks and to the Fairground employees who keep our water flowing and our animal pests under control.

hops on the vine
Credit: Markus Spiske

In normal years visitors are welcome to walk through the garden whenever the Fairground is open. During the annual Benton County Fair we staff the Demo Garden with volunteers who can answer questions about gardening, as well as entertain young gardeners with garden-themed games. We also sponsor evening “Walk In the Garden” events, again with Master Gardeners available to answer questions.

person's hand holding freshly dug carrots with dirt on them
Credit: Markus Spiske

But last year when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Fairground to close, the public could no longer visit, and only a small number of Demo Garden volunteers were allowed to work in the garden — while social distancing and wearing masks. Only about half of the garden was planted with crops, and as the pandemic worsened our volunteers decided that all of the produce that was harvested should be donated to food banks in Corvallis and Philomath to help families experiencing food shortages. By the end of the summer, over 750 pounds of fresh produce had been donated locally! 

 Sadly, the Fairground is still closed, so we can’t invite you to visit our garden quite yet. In mid-April Master Gardener volunteers were allowed to return to the garden to prepare the soil for planting, and this year the entire garden will be planted with produce that we will donate to local food banks to help families in need.

Hands holding blueberry fruit
Credit: Markus Spiske

Even though the Fairground is closed, we would like to keep you informed about our activities in the garden, so one of my colleagues will post a short, weekly garden update to this blog, describing what we did in the garden and (once we start harvesting) how many pounds of produce we took to food banks that week. In addition, several of my colleagues and I will write posts that describe some of the techniques we use in the garden.

We are looking forward to the day when we can welcome you back to the Demo Garden, but until then we hope our posts will prove to be interesting and useful to  you– just look for posts with the words “Demonstration Garden” in the title! 

Reduce stress with these easy houseplants

by Celeste Pace, Master Gardener Volunteer

According to Texas A&M Extension, “Studies show that people who spend time cultivating plants have less stress in their lives. Plants soothe human beings and provide a positive way for people to channel their stress into nurturing.Most of us are experiencing increased stress right now, so bring on the plants! Even if you live in a small space with zero garden, these easy house plants can provide the benefits of stress reduction and more, with no green thumb required.

Sansevieria trifasciata– Mother in Law’s Tongue 

Sansevieria trifasciata plant has large pointed green leaves with pale green edges.
Photo by: Martin Olsson (mnemo on wikipedia and commons, martin@minimum.se), Snake plant, CC BY-SA 3.0 Sansevieria trifasciata

Sansevierias are one of the easiest houseplants you can get because of their willingness to be put in almost any situation. Sansevierias can handle high light or very low light, just make sure to adjust your watering depending on the light level. They don’t want their roots to stay wet so only water when the soil feels dry to the touch. They can tolerate a wide temperature range, anywhere from 55 to 85 °F, but don’t like to be around the low 50s for prolonged periods. They aren’t heavy feeders so you don’t need to worry about fertilizing them very often. A mild fertilizer can be used in the summer months while it’s putting on new growth. Sansevierias are known to flower when they become stressed but once you figure out whats wrong, it’ll bounce right back. They have non showy blooms that can be pruned at the base of the stalk. Sansevierias are also wonderful air purifiers. Studies have shown that they not only release a noticeable amount of oxygen through respiration, they also purify the air. They absorb four of the most common house air pollutants (formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide.) A great plant to keep around the house or office!

For more about the care of Sansevieriahttp://erie.cce.cornell.edu/resources/sansevieria-trifasciata

To learn more about houseplants purifying air:  http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/houseplants-for-clean-air.php

Spathiphyllum- Peace Lily 

Spathiphyllum lancifolium (Peace lily) has a white teardrop shaped flower with a large yellow stamen in the center.
Photo by: geoff mckay from Palmerston North, New Zealand, Spathiphyllum lancifolium (Peace lily) (49475281073), CC BY 2.0

Spathiphyllum are great ornamental plants with dark to medium green foliage and white blooms. They prefer bright indirect light but will tolerate lower light levels as long as they aren’t overwatered. However, they do like to stay on the moister side so don’t let them dry back completely between waterings, they can be quite dramatic and will let you know with wilted foliage if you’ve waited too long on watering. They also aren’t very heavy feeders and will be fine with only being fertilized once or twice a year. Since Peace Lilies are known for liking more water the majority of problems with them come from overwatering, make sure your plant is in well drained soil and you don’t let it sit in water. Spathiphyllum are tropical plants and like warmer weather, they will tolerate temperatures between 68 and 85 °F. They are poisonous so keep away from children and pets. 

There are two main parts of Peace Lilies flowers; the spathe and spadix. The spadix is the flowering spike that actually contains the florets and pollen, while the spathe is a bract that surrounds the spathe. If flowers are left to mature on the plant the spadix will often shed pollen on the foliage leaving a white dusting that can easily be whipped off. Some people choose to cut the spadix out at the base and leave just the white spathe. Either way, their lovely white blooms are guaranteed to bring brightness to the darker corners of your home! 

For more on Spathiphyllum culture and varieties: 

For more on Spathiphyllum flowering:

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep320

Zamioculcas zamiifolia- ZZ Plant 

Photo by: MokkieZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)CC BY-SA 3.0

ZZ Plants are incredibly easy to care for, they tolerate low light and extended periods of drought. This is a perfect plant to ignore and only care for it when you remember. ZZ Plants will thrive in bright indirect light but like previously mentioned, they will tolerate all different types of light levels. These plants are already known as slow growing so with less light it will really be slow.  Let the plants soil dry completely before watering but water thoroughly until water comes out of the bottom of the pot. Make sure to discard excess water so the plant is not sitting in it. Like Sansevierias, ZZ Plants like a mild fertilizer to be applied during the growing season.  

Since the foliage is so glossy and shiny, if neglected dust shows on this plant fast. However, it is extremely easy to wipe off with a wet rag. ZZ Plants have almost no pests but problems can arise if over watered. ZZ Plants are toxic if ingested by humans and pets. 

For more information: 

https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2009/2-4/Zamioculcas.html

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/zamioculcas-zamiifolia/

Epipremnum aureum- Pothos 

Pothos , Liane du diable

Pothos are amazing additions to your home or even your office as they can survive off of fluorescent lights or indirect light from outside. They don’t require bright light and will still grow in the darker areas of your home but they will also do well in a brighter area. There are several varieties of pothos and different variegation patterns. Keep in mind that with different variegations light requirements will change. Make sure to let soil dry between waterings and make sure they are not sitting in water. Pothos don’t like to be root bound in a pot so if you see roots starting to pop out of the bottom of the pot it might be time to upgrade. Pothos like to be fertilized about every three months but will still put on new growth without it. 

To keep a tidy foliage crown prune back vines for a more uniform growth habit. If you let vines grow naturally over time foliage will start to thin, cut them back to the soil to promote new- fuller growth. Pothos don’t have a lot of pests but mealybugs can be an issue. If you notice mealybugs act fast and control the pests before they spread to other plants. All parts of this plant is poisonous to humans and pets. 

http://erie.cce.cornell.edu/resources/wny-gardening-matters-article-109

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/epipremnum-aureum/

 For a list of different varieties: 

Ficus elastica- Rubber Tree 

RabeeratrixeHK Sheung Wan 18 Po Hing Fong barber shop Ficus elastica Indian rubber tree Aug-2012CC BY-SA 3.0

These intriguing trees are a great way to add a different texture to your house plant collection. They have very large, glossy and almost leather like dark green foliage that will drip a white sap when damaged or removed. The sap can be irritating if it makes contact with skin. Ficus elastica like indirect light but will tolerate lower light levels. However, they will not tolerate cold drafts. They also don’t like to be moved and if they are moved too often it can result in leaf drop. Let the soil dry back between waterings but do not let them go dry for long periods. It is best to underwater this plant than overwater it. They like 55-85 degrees fahrenheit and will not tolerate any lower. Mealybugs, scale and spider mites can all be an issue on rubber trees. Pruning is not time consuming with these trees as it is common for the lower leaves to yellow and drop. However, given enough light they grow quickly and might need to be pruned to fit their original space as they can grow to be 6-10 feet indoors.

If the growth is sparse and leggy they can be staked up for support so stems do not lean. The leaves can be wiped off with a damp cloth, just be careful to not crack the leaves. Ficus elastica is very easy to propagate. If you take a stem cutting and let it sit in water, roots should start appearing after a week or two. 

To learn more: 

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ficus-elastica/

Dracaena (Dra-C-na)

Photo of Dracaena ‘Warneckii’ by: KENPEI, Dracaena deremensis2CC BY-SA 3.0

Dracaenas come in many different sizes, shapes and colors but overall have mostly the same needs. They like to dry back slightly between waterings so only water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. They love bright indirect light but will tolerate medium to low light levels. They like day time temperatures to be between 60-70°F and around 10 degrees cooler at night. They like a little more humidity than most houses have so they benefit from their foliage being misted occasionally. Some Dracaenas can grow to be up to ten feet tall, if you have this variety and it is outgrowing its space you can cut the stalk at the desired height and it will sprout new leaves lower down. Scale and spider mites are the most common pests along with root rot. 

Dracaena marginata (Dragon Tree) is incredibly susceptible to spider mites but is an intriguing variety. It has strappy long foliage with narrow purple margins and is sometimes trained to have a bend in the stem. It tolerates low light and has the same water requirements. 

‘Warneckii’ is often referred to as “the best variegated plant for low light.” It is shorter than other varieties growing to be only around 2-4 feet. It has a white stripes running down its foliage and is a great desk plant. 

For more on care and other varieties: 

For information on toxic plants visit: 

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants

https://www.poison.org/articles/plant

Starting from scratch and constantly learning

Master gardener trainee Allison Socha joined the Master Gardener Program of Linn & Benton County in 2020. Allison and her classmates adapted to the many challenges of 2020 by finding new ways to connect with gardeners and build community online.

Photo courtesy of Allison Socha

Tell us about your hometown.

I grew up in the Bay Area in Union City, CA. As a child in the 80’s and 90’s Union City was known as the Gladiolus capital of the world. However, like many places in the Bay Area, vast swatches of farmland were soon replaced with houses, houses, and more houses. As I became an adult, I realized that life in the crowded suburbs was not for me, and was especially not somewhere I wanted to raise my children. About two years ago, my husband and I got the idea to “move to the woods” and in June 2019 we were able to make that dream come true when we bought our house in Philomath. My hope is that this house in the woods will provide the perfect green backdrop for my 4-year-old daughter’s imaginative play for years to come. 

What’s a favorite garden memory? 

When my daughter was about a year old we started our first vegetable garden in our Bay Area home. We lived in a very hot part of the Bay Area that tomatoes loved. That first summer our cherry tomato plants exploded with fruit in the middle of the summer. I gave my daughter one of the sungolds with no expectation that she would like it, being that she was only a year old. To my surprise she absolutely adored it. She begged for more and more, and almost every tomato on the plant ended up in her stomach. She still loves tomatoes to this day, we can’t keep them in our house long. I will always grow tomatoes just to watch her enjoy them so much. Over the years, her love of veggies has grown, and she will scarf down peas and zucchini too. But nothing compares to her first love of tomatoes. 

Tell us about your current garden.

We moved to our two acre lot in Philomath just over a year ago. Most of our land is Douglas Firs on a steep hillside, but we have one flat spot perfect for a vegetable garden, although it doesn’t get quite as much sun as I would hope for. In January of this year we were able to get the spot cleared and built some raised beds surrounded by a 7 foot deer fence (because country deer jump higher than city deer). After the pandemic hit, I was so happy to have a space to grow our own little “victory garden”. I definitely still have a lot to learn about gardening in this Pacific Northwest. But I am happy with what we were able to produce this year. We had success with peas, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and broccoli. 

Orange California poppies in a beautifully overgrown garden.
Eschscholzia californica, or California poppy. Photo by Madeleine Maguire on Unsplash

Describe a plant that reminds you of home.

Growing up in the Bay Area we spent many days hiking in the hills. My parents both love

California native plants and taught me to identify them as we meandered the trails. Of course, one of my favorite seasons was in Spring when the California Poppies would turn the hills a brilliant orange. When I was a little older, my parents ripped out their front lawn and filled in the space with native plants. It wasn’t long before the poppies took over, and every late March and early April their garden would explode with poppies. I saw a singular California Poppy come up in my garden here in Philomath this Summer, and it immediately transported me back to my parents’ garden, hiking the hills, and home.  

Why did you become a Master Gardener volunteer?

I decided to become a Master Gardener because I was new to Oregon and the Corvallis area and I wanted to expand my personal community while also learning about gardening techniques in the Pacific Northwest. When my family and I moved to Oregon we didn’t have any connections in this area, so we were basically starting from scratch. I thought that the Master Gardener program would be the best way for me to dive deeper into one of my interests while at the same time meeting new people who had similar interests as me. As I learned more about the program, I also realized how fulfilling it would be to already build a foundation of giving back to the community so soon after moving to a new place. I hope to be an example to my daughter in the importance of volunteering. 

What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and/or your garden?

People might be surprised to learn that I had very limited gardening experience and knowledge before I joined the Master Gardener program. You don’t actually need to have a lot of knowledge to start out with, just an interest and drive to learn more and give back to your community. I have learned so much this last year through my classes and hands-on activities but I know I have so much more to learn. Some of the most inspirational Master Gardeners I have met so far make it clear that they too are constantly learning and don’t have all the answers. One thing that surprised me the most about this program was that it is more important to know how to find the answers to gardening questions than to know the answers off the top of your head. 

Learn more about citizen science in the garden and how garden researchers work in this post.

Get The Valley Gardener Newsletter to stay connected with our upcoming learning opportunities for gardeners.

Empowering gardeners in uncertain times

By Emily Herb, Master Gardener Volunteer

In March 2020 the Benton County Master Gardeners were facing the same shut down challenges as everyone else in the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic stretched itself toward Oregon and the waves of closures, cancelations, and eventually quarantine were announced day after day. In the Benton County Master Gardeners I am a member of the Community Gardening Education Team. Spring and Summer are our main programmatic seasons and we had many events, including several sessions of a hands-on basic gardening class called Seed to Supper in the Garden, that folded along with everything else. Honestly, as much as I care about gardening, these classes were not my main concern at the time. I had to let them go, along with so many other things, and see what this era would bring.

I was out in my vegetable garden one of those March days, doing my best to center myself when I heard my phone “bling” with a new email. With the frantic pace of change and announcements from all sectors of my life, I knew I needed to take a look, even as I was trying some escapism out in the dirt. This new email was from a member of the Community Gardening Education Team asking members to please consider joining a Zoom meeting that day to brainstorm the idea of moving our Seed to Supper classes online. I must admit that I had been ignoring this email chain because I was already overwhelmed with my paid work being moved to online and the thought of any more screen time made me queasy. Also, I am a strong advocate for hands-on learning, so the idea of teaching gardening online didn’t appeal to me. My mind was closed and thus I closed the email, without replying, and got back to my gardening. But, as I worked my mind started working. I started seeing that there could be a way to be “hands on” online. I thought, “we could make movies! Everyone in their backyard could make movies as they went about putting their gardens in and we could share that online!”. I took my phone back out of my pocket and shared my idea with the group and committed myself to the afternoon meeting. 

The Community Gardening Education Team (CGET) team is made up of a bunch of wonderful women who have a desire to educate the community about growing their own food. There is a strong social justice bend to this group and I thoroughly appreciate them. During that  afternoon meeting we had a powerful conversation about how we could be useful and relevant to the vegetable gardeners of Benton County, especially during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. Elizabeth Records, the Educational Program Assistant for Master Gardeners for Linn and Benton Counties, shared with the Team the staggering number of people who had signed up for the online gardening class that the extension service had made available for free, as a response to the pandemic. People seemed to have a newfound enthusiasm for growing their own food as they were stuck at home during uncertain times. We talked about how we could reach these people, how we could get seeds and plants into the hands of people who needed them, and about how we could educate people and help them make gardens with what they had on hand in the homes that they were confined to. 

Two exciting ideas came out of this meeting. One was to move forward with offering Seed to Supper online through Zoom and a subgroup from CGET moved forward with modifying the curriculum of that class to meet the challenges of the online environment, but also with the thought that they could add warmth through personal pictures, gardening stories, and maybe even some backyard movies! Another idea was to host Virtual Veggie Q&As to try to meet the needs of the new gardeners at home through answering their questions live and in real time during a Zoom call in session. I was among the group that decided to launch that effort. I am so glad that despite how shut down I was feeling in the garden that morning that I opened myself enough to join this meeting and be carried away with the creativity and meaningful work of CGET.    

A couple of weeks later I found myself with Elizabeth and two other Master Gardeners, Sue and Jennifer, on Zoom getting ready for our first Veggie Q&A. I’m afraid as we were all still novices to Zoom we had a number of technical difficulties, but regardless of that, we made it work! We had a good number of participants and the four of us found our rhythm answering questions, posting resources, and sharing the new online space with our participants and each other. Since that first Q&A we have had a total of 6 Virtual Veggie Q&As and all of them have been well attended and enjoyed by facilitators and participants alike. The spontaneous nature of the call in format makes it a very lively and authentic exchange with people getting answers to questions they have right then about problems they are having in their vegetable gardens or advice they are seeking about plans they have for the future. We are not always able to answer all the questions, but in a way that adds to the authenticity and vulnerability of the experience! And we can always promise them to research their issue later and email them an answer. Recently we have pulled in other Master Gardeners to answer questions and I hear that our idea has even spread to other counties! We are getting better with our technology as well, and Elizabeth now has us streaming Live on Facebook as well as making podcasts of our sessions after we are done. We didn’t have any idea that our small attempt to reach people and be relevant during the pandemic would get so big.

Another little side story related to all of this is how Veggie Q&A opened the door to reaching out to a community in Oregon that previously had little contact with Master Gardeners. In my professional life I am a Sign Language interpreter and when we started hosting the Veggie Q&As I posted the advertisements for them on my Facebook page. One of my Deaf friends reached out to me to see if there would be a possibility of offering a similar opportunity in Sign Language. My friend and I worked with the Master Gardeners, who were very excited about this opportunity, to set this up and since then have had two Veggie Q&As in American Sign Language that have been open to all of those who use that language. Similarly, we currently have a person who will be joining our next English Veggie Q&A to see if it would be possible to offer a Spanish session. New ideas lead to more new ideas!

I believe many stories will be written about all the new things we learned how to do professionally, personally, and within our community groups during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is one of those stories. I don’t think telling these stories is a way to put a positive spin on the whole thing, but rather a reporting of our experiences during a time when we had to give up on doing things in person and physically together and figure out a different way of being. Not figuring it out meant giving up on meaning and purpose. I hope that next Spring we will be back to offering Seed to Supper actually in the garden, but I bet that we keep offering it online as well! I also imagine that we will keep up with our Virtual Veggie Q&As and use them as a way to reach more and more people. Opening up to the limitations of Spring and Summer 2020 brought forth our creativity as a path toward meaning and purpose. I am proud of how Benton County Master Gardeners and the Community Gardening Education Team moved into that space and brought gardening to more people during uncertain times. 

To listen to our podcast of Veggie Gardening Q&As, CLICK HERE.

Before Reaching for Pesticides, Get to Know Beneficials – The Good Guys!

By Judi Di Bord, Master Gardener Volunteer

Did you know there is an alternative to controlling pests in your garden by using a pesticide?  Attracting beneficial insects, like lady beetles, green lacewings, praying mantis and dragonflies can help control insects that feed on your plants.  Beneficials don’t just help control pests. Some beneficials are also important pollinators! 

Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) on an Common Yarrow's umbel (Achillea millefolium)
Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) on an Common Yarrow’s umbel (Achillea millefolium). By Hélène Rival on Wikimedia Commons.

How can you attract beneficials to your garden?  One way is to purchase them at a local garden center and release them into your garden.  You can also attract them to your garden by growing plants to provide an enticing habitat for them.  If you are able to dedicate some space to growing these habitat plants, the rest of your garden can reap the rewards.

Following are some recommendations from the Penn State Extension Service:

  • Carrot Family (Apiaceae)  Plants in the carrot family are especially attractive to small parasitic wasps and flies. Interplant them in your vegetable garden and flower beds. Plants in this family include: caraway (Carum carvi); coriander/cilantro (Coriandrum sativum); dill (Anethum graveolens); fennel (Foeniculum vulgare); Bishop’s flower (Ammi majus); Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota); and toothpick ammi (Ammi visnaga).
  • Aster Family (Asteraceae)  Attractive to larger predators such as lady beetles and soldier beetles. Incorporate into the vegetable garden and flower beds. Plants in this family include: blanketflower (Gaillardia spp.); coneflower (Echinacea spp.); coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.); cosmos (Cosmos spp.); golden marguerite (Anthemis tinctoria); goldenrod (Solidago spp.); signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia); sunflower (Helianthus spp.); tansy (Tanacetum vulgare); and yarrow (Achillea spp.).
  • Legumes (Fabaceae)  Generally grown as cover crops and attractive to many beneficials. Plants in this family include: alfalfa (Medicago sativa); fava bean (Vicia fava); hairy vetch (Vicia villosa); and sweet clover (Melilotus spp.).
  • Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)  Attractive to beneficials that are parasites and predators of the insect pests of the mustard family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, mustard greens). Be sure to plant these away from the garden rather than in the garden since these plants attract pests as well as beneficials. Some are common weeds, such as yellow rocket and wild mustard. Plants in this family include: basket-of-gold alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis); mustards (Brassica spp.); sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima); yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris); and wild mustard (Brassica kaber).
  • Verbena Family (Verbenaceae)  Attractive to a variety of beneficial insects. Many plants in this family are favorite garden flowers. They include: lantana (Lantana camera); Buenos Aires verbena (Verbena bonariensis); hybrid verbena (Verbena x hybrida); and lilac vervain (Verbena rigida).

Beneficial insects also need a source of water. Shallow containers such as ceramic pot saucers with pebbles for the beneficials to rest on are best.

Suggested OSU Extension publications:

PNW550: Encouraging Beneficials in Your Garden

For kids:

EC1601: The Wildlife Garden: Dragonfly

EC1604: The Wildlife Garden: Lady Beetle

EC1605: The Wildlife Garden: Praying Mantis

Suggested websites:

National Pesticide Information Center, Beneficial Insects.

Penn State Extension, Attracting Beneficial Insects

Water quality and conservation in the garden

By Sean Fleming, Master Gardener Volunteer

Sean Fleming owns White Rabbit R&D LLC, a data science consulting firm specializing in artificial intelligence applications (www.facebook.com/westcoastdatascience).

He is also a courtesy professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University.

His book, Where the River Flows: Scientific Reflections on Earth’s Waterways, gives an accessible introduction to the science of hydrology for a general, non-scientist audience and was just re-released in paperback by Princeton University Press.

He has given talks on water and rivers at the Smithsonian and at Science Pub events in Corvallis and Bend. Sean is a Benton County Master Gardener trainee, scheduled to graduate in the fall of 2019.

What are water quality and water conservation, and why do they matter?

Water conservation is using water efficiently, so less needs to be drawn from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers.  Water quality is about keeping pollutants out of all those major water sources, as well as smaller water bodies like backyard creeks and ponds. 

If we use water efficiently, your water bill is lower, there’s less need to build additional water supply infrastructure, and more water is left in lakes and rivers for the ecosystems that need it and for people to enjoy recreationally.  And for groundwater, it reduces the likelihood of drawing down your well to the point that you and your neighbors run out of water.  More broadly, lack of abundant clean water deeply affects not only fish, but also birds, mammals, forests, and beneficial insects – and of course people and pets.  We all live downstream, and someone else’s pollution can wind up coming out of your kitchen faucet.

How can gardeners contribute?

Gardeners interact with, and affect, the landscape and the water cycle more than many folks do.  Here are some important general steps you can take:

  • Use water-wise plants and natural landscaping.  Native plants are usually a good bet, because they generally don’t require irrigation.  Many non-native plants work too, if you pick the right ones.  Mulching and composting help by retaining water and decreasing evaporation.  Landscape design is important too – rain gardens are one example that helps water quality.
  • Water efficiently.  Providing gardens with more water than they need is wasteful and expensive, of course, but it also triggers erosion and runoff of sediment and chemicals.  It can even wash fertilizer out of the root zone of your crops.  Use drip irrigation or water plants directly instead of sprinklers where possible, and optimize your sprinkler system so it evenly distributes the right amount of water.  It usually gives you a better garden too!
  • Be judicious with your selection and use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other natural and non-natural chemicals.  Many of these things will wind up in natural water bodies.  Even overuse of organic fertilizers can be a huge water quality problem, contributing to algal blooms in lakes and oceans for example.
  • Be mindful of your non-gardening choices too.  Get rid of pharmaceuticals, paint, and other household chemicals by disposing them at the appropriate recycling and disposal center, for example, and use water-efficient fixtures and appliances.

Does this really make a difference?

Yes!  These may seem like small things, and individually they are – but when you add them up across the whole country and over the years, they really add up.

In fact, water quality and conservation is, overall, an environmental success story.  Some estimates suggest that total national water use has remained at about 1970s levels due to efficiency improvements.  And in many industrial areas, water quality is much better now than it was a few decades ago.  The days of rivers literally catching fire – this actually happened to the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which was polluted with flammable chemicals – are thankfully over. 

That said, there are major challenges looming, especially in the West, where a combination of relatively dry climate and tremendous population growth are severely pressuring our water resources, natural ecosystems, and water supply infrastructure.  Even here in Benton County with our soggy winters, the natural summer drought period requires careful water management, especially as the regional population and economy grow, increasing water demand.  Plus, more people generally means more pollution.  Each of us can do our part to mitigate those impacts going forward.

Credit: USGS

How does the water cycle work?

But how does your garden plot fit into the big scheme of things?  How can your choices contribute to – or contribute to solving – water conservation or quality problems?  The answer lies with the water cycle.

The world’s water is all connected in a big loop.  Water evaporates from crops, forests, lakes, seas, and oceans; it’s transported hundreds or thousands of miles in the atmosphere, through storm systems and the jet stream for example; it falls as rain or snow, contributing in turn to glaciers, groundwater aquifers, lakes, and ultimately rivers; and it then flows back to the ocean. 

Your garden is a step in that journey, and the water passing through kind of “remembers” what it saw there.  As rain falls on your vegetable patch, chemicals you’ve added will dissolve and then be transported as runoff, or downward to aquifers, and either way can wind up in a creek, which flows into a bigger stream, which joins with a big river, and so forth. 

Plus, withdrawals from rivers and reservoirs for water supplies, like watering your vegetable garden, collectively add up to a huge modification of that natural cycle.  The change is often destructive.  For example, dams on the Columbia River for water supplies, flood control, and hydropower generation have destroyed salmon migration patterns and habitat availability.  In extreme cases, like the Colorado River, so much water is taken out for human use that the river no longer makes it to the sea.

Practical information resources for gardeners

Here are some great places to look for information about specific things you can do to improve water quality and conservation in your own garden:

Master Gardener Mythbusting!

Are you curious about the Master Gardener volunteer program but not sure what to expect? Read on for Master Gardener mythbusting!

This story originally appeared in Growing.

herb garden grown in multi colored containers
Master Gardeners cultivate gardens of all shapes and sizes.

Myth: to be a Master Gardener volunteer you need to have a huge, perfect garden.

Fact: Master Gardener volunteers grow everything from balcony tomato plants to formal gardens to urban farmlets to tiny bonsai trees. They grow in community plots, containers on windowsills and home gardens.

Myth: to be an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer you need to know all the answers.

Fact: Master Gardener volunteers learn how to research plant problems and where to seek well-researched solutions. Knowing what to look for and where to look is the key skill.

Myth: to be an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer you need to have endless free time or be retired.

Fact: Working people, including parents and caregivers, are Master Gardener volunteers.  The 2020 in-person course offers increased flexibility. And the Master Gardeners online course offers a highly flexible program that connects you with your local community for volunteer service.

Myth: to be an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer you need to spend a lot of money.

Fact: OSU Extension and our non-profit Master Gardener association partners offer a limited number of partial scholarships. For information please contact Elizabeth Records.

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for 2020 Volunteer Program open October 1st. Learn more and join us.