Developing Research-Based Information

Wait! What? There is no research-based information on the value of Walls-of-Water around tomato plants? How can that be? They use them in the Demonstration Garden all the time. They even compared them against other tomatoes without the walls-of-water. What does it take to be “research-based” anyway?

The answer to “what does it take?” starts out simple, but there is a lot of complexity behind it. The simple answer is that the “fact” in question must be supported by an article published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Let’s dig a little deeper to see the more complex side.

How seriously your article is taken is influenced to some extent by the journal in which it is published. You could think of journals on a rating scale, with the best being equivalent to Nordstrom’s, and the bottom of the heap being equivalent to Target, and many others in between. You’d like to get your article published in the best journal you can. The significance of your hypothesis, the quality of your work, and the reputation of your authors will be determining factors.

To be published in a scientific journal, the article must have as its principal author a recognized, credentialed researcher in the field. Think PhD working at a respected university, or a student who is mentored by an established researcher in the field. They must work in a department related to the subject of the paper - underwater basket weaving won’t do (unless that’s what is being researched!) Before such an author would submit such an article, they should be confident the research has been well-designed, well-executed, and well-documented, or their own reputation may suffer! Much of the work may have been done by graduate students, but the lead author is putting their name on the work, and will want to be sure it is accurate. The author will spend considerable time to verify these items and guide the work, and will wish to be paid for this time. Their families like to eat.

Research is done to test hypotheses (those things we hope to call “facts”), and results must be documented in a standardized way that will be understandable by the peer reviewers and collegues. Those doing the data gathering will have to be trained in the proper methods of documentation.

The actual tests performed must accurately follow the designed protocol (a series of procedures). If they vary in any significant way from the protocols, it will invalidate the research. The protocols must account for any variables that may impact the results (temperature, water, soil chemistry, seed stock, seasonal variability, etc.)

The test conditions must cover a wide enough range of conditions to make “the fact” useful. It would not be very impressive to quote an article that could only speak to one variety of tomato, in one type of soil, with one method of watering, in one climate niche. This will almost certainly require compromise. One variety x one soil x one watering method x one climate = 1 test. 2x2x2x2 = 16 tests, and it goes up fast from there!

A reasonable protocol for our hypothetical research project would cover a range of tomato varieties, with all tomatoes of a given variety grown from the same batch of seeds, and covering a range of locations, fertilization schemes and soil conditions. It would probably require the tests be performed over multiple years.

Somebody needs to manage all this. Hire and train workers, and make sure they follow the protocols exactly. They must make sure any transitions from one worker to another is seamless. There is a good chance that the manager and the workers will want to be paid as well.

Before any of the actual testing begins, past research related to the proposed “fact” must be thoroughly reviewed.  The test design must account for previously asserted counter-facts. Failure at this point to spot an existing, relevant article that contradicts your hypothesis can turn the entire research project into a waste of time (and money). Find people skilled at searching, and pay them well.

Back at the very beginning, you must state your hypothesis. The hypothesis (the asserted “fact”) must be clearly worded using standard definitions acceptable to the related research community.

Finally, with the article written, it must be "peer reviewed". The journal considering the article for publication will assign one editor and at least two respected researchers, all with expertise in the field. Ideally the editor and reviewers will have published papers in the same area, and be aware of related research. Besides verifying that the protocols valid and justified, the data was collected accurately, and that the conclusions follow logically from the results, the editor and reviewers will also evaluate whether the results are significant given the existing research in the area. Getting your article past this review team often takes some negotiation. One reviewer may feel your “fact” is stated too broadly for the data you have accumulated. This might lead to restating your “fact” or doing further research to acquire the necessary data. Another reviewer might ask you to provide additional justification for your methods.

If all goes well, the article is published. This tells the reader that a group of informed scientists (the author(s), the editor, and the reviewers are confident that the information in the paper gives an accurate description of a phenomenon in the nature world. That, of course, may not hold true indefinitely. Other researchers will review the work, some may attempt to duplicate the research, and new researcher may shed new light on the "fact". For a while, however, you can state that your “fact” is indeed research-based.

Perhaps it is clear that developing “research-based facts” is complex and expensive. Perhaps the very first question should be, “Do you have a sizable pile of dollars to spare?”, or alternatively, “Who cares enough to put up the money to verify this “fact”?

Beautiful Borders!

As the summer gardening season comes to an end and quieter autumn days arrive we can often find inspiration for future garden projects surveying other gardens.  Perhaps you have been thinking to add raised beds to your garden? Raised beds are an excellent way to choose a great blend of soil to grow your garden, rather than amending what is on your lot. It’s possible to make a raised bed that is just an area of higher-elevation dirt, but building a container keeps the soil corralled (especially when it rains). And, it looks nice, too!

Raised beds with standard wood borders at Community Demonstration Garden

Raised beds with standard wood borders at Community Demonstration Garden

Many standard raised beds are put together from 2x4s, 4x4s, or 2x8s for a nice wooden structure, but it’s possible to make your own raised beds using inexpensive and/or recycled materials. Check out these three inspirational examples from the Multnomah County Master Gardener Demo Garden, located at 6801 SE 60th between Duke and Flavel.  

Reuse old bricks, set halfway into the soil at a 45 degree angle, to create a nice border!

Recycled brick border at the Community Demonstration Garden

Recycled brick border at the Community Demonstration Garden

The beautiful branch (wattle) border below was made from cuttings from trees that were being trimmed anyway. Some beds like this at the demo garden were even recycled from work the city was doing, and reused by the Master Gardeners. While they were still flexible, the branches were woven in and out of stakes placed around the bed.  A variety of staking material was used: short branches, wood staking, and rebar.

Wattle border at Community Demonstration Garden

Wattle border at Community Demonstration Garden

And of of the most creative beds at the demo garden is with old wine bottles! The different colors of the wine bottles glimmer in the sun and create a beautiful garden bed. Plus, a few of them have become tiny terrariums - little plants pop up and grow on the inside!

Bottle border at Community Demonstration Garden

Bottle border at Community Demonstration Garden

We would love to see what other creative ways you’ve made raised beds in your garden! Share them on the Incredible Edibles Plant Sale Facebook page and we’ll repost our favorites!



Incredible Garden Science

So what is phototropism?  It is an organism’s directional growth toward stimulus such as light.  Most often observed in plants, growth toward light also can occur in fungi.  The cells on the plant that are farthest from the light have a chemical called auxin that reacts when phototropism occurs.

In our home gardens, we can see that flowers, shrubs and trees prefer to face the sun, seeking light for optimal growth.  Sun-loving plants especially, will stretch and contort to reach sunlight – a possible sign of poor plant placement.

Over the plant’s lifetime, placement in relation to light determines its growth pattern, sending branches in unwanted directions.  A wayward branch might be aesthetically displeasing or annoyingly in the way.  Certainly proper plant location minimizes odd growth patterns, but gardens are ever evolving and many long-lived plants, especially trees succumb to wayward growth.  Proper pruning can be one straight-forward resolution.  Interestingly, the Portland Japanese Garden, renown for stunning Japanese Maples (acer palmatum) has alternative shaping and regulation techniques.  Observing the trees’ phototropic properties, trees are regularly rotated in situ, allowing each side to grow towards light.  Although, this year’s Workshop: Maple Pruning is sold out, visit and marvel the art and science of the garden.

Observation is a powerful learning tool as well as the foundation for continuing scientific discovery - there are abundant observation opportunities in a garden.  For budding garden scientists - a fun and easy project from the Texas Junior Master Gardener program.

Plant Maze

One really interesting thing about plants is that they are phototropic. That means they will bend toward light. Try building this plant maze to see how they do it.

Cut a square in one end of the box. Cut a square in each piece of cardboard, at a different place on each piece. Place your plant in one end of the box, and space the cardboard pieces in the box. Put the lid on the box. The plant will grow throught the maze to the hole at the other end of the box. Draw a picture of what your plant maze looks like and how the plant grew.

Everything's Coming Up Roses!

Rose in Ladd's Addition 'West' Rose Garden

Rose in Ladd's Addition 'West' Rose Garden

'Tis the season…
With the Portland Rose Festival well underway Portlanders are staking their spot on parade routes, building milk carton boats, honing their paddling skills for the Dragon Boat races and of course celebrating the flower of our fair city…the rose.

There is many a champion rose grower in this town but for those of us not from champion rose growing stock OSU Extension Service has a few great publications to ensure that you enjoy blossoming success growing roses.

Caring for Rose

Controlling Diseases and Aphids on Your Roses

Easy ways to fight the ‘big four’ foes of roses

Rose in Ladd's Addition 'West' Rose GArden

Rose in Ladd's Addition 'West' Rose GArden

rose in Ladd's addition 'east' rose garden

rose in Ladd's addition 'east' rose garden

In the spirit of our city's celebration, take time to smell the roses... at one of Portland’s public rose gardens:

International Rose Test Garden
     400 SW Kingston Avenue
The crown jewel rose garden of Portland Parks, founded in 1917.  The rose garden is located in Washington Park in SW Portland, featuring 10,000 plus rose plants showcasing over 500 varieties.

Ladd's Addition Rose Gardens
     Between Hawthorne, Division, 12th and 20th.
Located in the historic Ladd's Addition neighborhood - the oldest planned neighborhood in Portland. The Ladd's Addition rose garden consists of four small diamond-shaped “circles” to the east, west, north, and south of the neighborhood's central circle park.  The diamonds contain bountiful beds of roses totally over 3,000 plants and 60 varieties.

Peninsula Park Rose Garden
     700 N. Rosa Parks Way
Considered Portland's first Rose test garden.  This North Portland jewel contains over 9,000 roses, many newly planted in the past 3 years by Master Gardener volunteers.  The rose garden is maintained by Portland Parks and Recreation along with the support, stewardship, and hard working efforts of Friends of the Peninsula Park Rose Garden (founded in 2013 by three OSU Extension Service Master Gardener trainees) and neighborhood volunteers. 

Pioneer Rose Garden
     SE 26th Avenue between Stark and Morrison streets
Located in the Lone Fir Cemetery in SE Portland this very small yet very special rose garden is significant as it contains some of the oldest known roses in Oregon.  The legend was that pioneer women brought roses on their journey via the Oregon Trail, keeping the rose cuttings moist in their apron pockets as they traveled.  Further research revealed that they had actually taken rose cuttings and stuck the cuttings into potatoes to enable the cuttings to utilize the moisture of the potatoes – reducing the need for constant re-hydration during the 6-month journey. 
Talk about hardy roses and hardy women!




Seeds or Starts?

Every year the same question: should I plant seeds directly or should I grow (or buy) starts and transplant them. Each year I weigh the pluses and minuses, and somehow each year the answer comes out different! Shouldn’t there be one right answer?

I conclude that it is me that is the variable. Some years I’m energetic, others I’m...not. Some years I have time, others I’m swamped. This year is coming out somewhere in the middle. I’m eyeing the Incredible Edible sale for a number of herbs I’ve never planted before. Starts seem to give me a better chance at success in situations like that. Given I’ve been busy and haven’t gotten any tomato or pepper seeds into pots, I’ll look through the amazing options that the sale offers for those as well.

On the other hand, I decided to plant lots of beans and squash this year, and seeds are easy for those. I got a new seeder which should roll nicely along the ground, dropping seed at the right intervals and depth, and even covering them with dirt. I’ve discovered as I get older that any option that keeps me off my hands and knees is welcome!

Whatever your choice, I wish you good gardening this year! (and maybe I’ll see you at the Incredible Edible Sale!)


Growing New Gardeners

This time of year is unique on the Master Gardener schedule. Now is the time we grow new gardeners. The first few months of the year we are typically either idle or in low gear in our gardens. What better time for learning? What better time for teaching?

The Master Gardener training is underway. The program has been redesigned this year, with less “seat time”, and several hands-on workshops added. Also new is a wide range of online learning opportunities for the budding garden educator. There are 160+ trainees in the metro area classes, and over the next month or two, they will be visiting our chapter meetings and joining our volunteer efforts. Perhaps we should give some thought to how we welcome them.

Do you remember? Your first chapter meeting - lots of people busily conversing with others? Maybe one or two people you recognize from your classes, but never talked to? What am I supposed to do, you thought, barge into a conversation with people who know way more than me?  Do you remember your first volunteer assignment? Maybe you helped with one of the vegie sales, again finding friends talking to friends, getting the sense that everyone knows what they’re doing except you.

If you’re still with us, you probably got lucky. One of the Master Gardener “veterans” sought you out, spent time with you, hooked you up with others, helped you see that being a veteran doesn’t mean you know everything. You got lucky, and discovered how much this group needs new people.

It’s payback time. Discover a new person. Help them find their way. Learn what they can do. Hook them up with others who need their talent. Its part of being a Master Gardener Educator. Growing a gardener is a job that needs doing, and like most of the jobs around here, it can be very satisfying!


A Sneak Peak at Our Next Speaker...

We hope you can join us Tuesday, Jan 13 for Photographing Your Garden Through New Eyes.

A freelance editorial photographer, Mark Turner shares his insights into garden photography, and inspires gardeners and garden lovers alike to see their gardens in new ways while learning basic photographic techniques. 

Mark is the photographer of the award-winning Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, and using examples from his extensive garden stock photo library, he will show the effects of different qualities of light, composition tools, perspective, point of view, juxtaposition, and seasonal change. Take a peek!

Mark Turner |

Lorene Edwards Forkner Recommendations

             Photo courtesy of the author

             Photo courtesy of the author

Here is a quick summary of some of the plants and varieties that Lorene Edwards Forkner recommended during her great presentation at the March 2014 meeting entitled Plotting the Garden Year.  

Pole Beans - an obvious love of hers
 Purple and magenta varieties because they are beautiful
 Borlotti beans (cranberry beans) for fresh shelling as opposed to storing
 Scarlet runner beans - she prefers to just eat the flowers

 She suggested one that is recommended in a book by Sarah Raven but couldn't 
remember the name - possibly 'Blauwschokker' as it is purple?

Fava bean flowers, photo by Megan Jamieson

Fava bean flowers, photo by Megan Jamieson

Fava Beans
  Especially the Crimson-flowered variety - check seed sources with a big Italian section

Veggies that you can eat off one plant all year, and then cut back and renew it
 Kale
 Chard
 Beet tops (that have overwintered)

Veggies that produce a continuous harvest where you can pick and the plant will produce more:
 Pole beans
 Cherry tomatoes
 Tromboncino squash

Veggies worth sowing repeatedly to get an extended harvest:
 Salad greens / lettuces
 Tender herbs such as fennel, dill, cilantro

Photo by Megan Jamieson

Photo by Megan Jamieson

Great perennial choices that have a long harvest worth putting in a small garden:
 Berries: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
 Alpine strawberries - the 'Pineapple' variety is paler and not noticed by birds; grows and readily self-seeds in part-shade
 Rhubarb 
 Artichokes
 Grapes

Practice "Nose to Tail" garden eating:
 Nasturtium leaves, flowers, seed pods
 Hardneck garlic scapes (flowering tops)
 Fava bean flowers and tender growing tips

For use as "instant garden architecture" along with being a vigorously growing edible (use caution!), she recommends bamboo. Lorene has a wealth of information in her two books:
 The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest
 Handmade Garden Projects: Step-by-step instructions for creative garden features, containers, lighting and more.

Why are we here?

No, I'm not asking existential questions. I mean, what is this page about? Your diligent website committee has concluded that the Multnomah Master Gardeners need a blog. Actually two blogs! You'll find another one in the Demonstration Garden area, where you'll find reports on the progress of the garden throughout the (long) growing season.

This blog (by the way, "blog" is a contraction of "web log". That's my story and I'm sticking to it!) is intended to cover the much wider world of Master Gardeners, with vignettes that, hopefully, will appeal to visitors as well as members of our chapter.  That is the reason it is reachable from the main (Home) page rather than being part of Chapter News.

Here's the deal, though. We can't go on making up stuff for this thing ourselves. We need to find some writers out there! Ah Ha! I caught you saying, "Yeah, I can write, but I don't know anything about websites!" Nice try! It is so easy to add a blog entry that even you (yeah, you!) can do it!

Here's how: Write an email. Make the subject line be the proposed Title of your blog entry. Make the body be the proposed body of your blog. We'll give you a destination email address. Send it, and it shows up! Easy peasy! You're hired! Start writing! 

Still learning, after all these years

I'm still learning things. The latest addition to my knowledge base, like so many other things I learn, seems to be something I've learned before.  In this case, "always double your estimates."

I was pretty sure we could publish a website by the first of the year that would be better than what we have now. But then I found the "Renew Membership" page, and discovered that folks were used to having PayPal there. Whoops!

Then I discovered that a part of the current website that isn't visible right now is used to pre-order plants from our spring sales, again with PayPal. Whoops!

A password-protected members only area? Issues about privacy? Establish the updating process? All by the first of the year? Silly me!