I was born in the small farming village of Los Angeles. I lived in the city doing office type jobs until I turned 25 and read a book about the soil microbial community; and everything changed. This book, ’Teaming with Microbes’ by Jeff Lowenfels, is responsible for my complete career change. It was written so the first half taught the science behind soil and plant interactions while the second half explained how to use this knowledge in a home garden.
At the time I lived in a 3rd story apartment building with a balcony that, in no time, was overflowing with vegetable plants and bubbling buckets of compost tea. The success of the garden was directly related to my new-found understanding of soil. I moved out of California and went back to school at the age of 30 to follow my new found passion. My first class was Soil 101 at the local community college in Clackamas. Learning about the “why” behind life science fascinated me. I quickly finished a two year degree and transferred to Oregon State University.
Majoring in Crop and Soil Science while working in a soil microbiology lab took up all my time; when I wasn’t on my daily commute of 160 miles or staying up all night with two young daughters who didn’t like to sleep. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I joined the Dragila Lab and began working on my master’s degree in Soil Physics. I loved doing research and worked on a large, multi-department thesis project studying the effectiveness of soil solarization in Pacific Northwest nurseries. Soil Solarization required a tilled row of soil to be tightly wrapped in clear plastic sheeting. The clear plastic would use the greenhouse effect to super heat the soil, killing soil pathogens and weed seeds. During the three year project, I installed over 600 soil sensors for monitoring soil moisture and temperature movement under the plastic treatments, while other departments assessed the mortality to the weeds and pathogens. At the end of my thesis work, I had produced a model for predicting weed seed mortality from solarization.
Upon completion of grad school, I went into extension where my passion for science communication was used in combination with my knowledge of technology in horticulture. I have been working for OSU at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center since 2019. In the Nackley Lab as a Faculty Research Assistant I set up experiments that explore greenhouse and nursery production. Current projects include: flying UAV’s with near red spectrum cameras to look for plant stress from the sky, VWC sensor base irrigation of shade trees and lysimeter controlled irrigation for indoor hemp production. I am also part of OSU’s Intelligent Spray Project where an air-blast sprayer that has been retrofitted with a LiDAR system is evaluated for efficacy and pesticide savings in the nursery industry. My favorite part of doing research is setting up a new experiment in a way that will hopefully show differences in plant growth based on different treatments. The challenge of working with Mother Nature while manipulating the factors of plant growth fascinates me, especially when there are visual growth differences attributable to the experiment’s set up. These days I can be found either fiddling with technology, setting up overly complicated irrigation systems or at a podium giving talks about what information has been gained from the results of my trials. Where ever you do find me, you can be sure I am on a passionate course for understanding the whys behind growing plants.