2017 Special Needs 3rd Place – NORCOR/Spring Plant Fair, Wasco County, OR

Wasco County Master Gardener’s NORCOR and Spring Fair Project

Wasco County Master Gardener Association headquartered in The Dalles, Oregon created an educational project partnering with the Northern Oregon Region Correctional Juvenile Detention Facility. The NORCOR/Spring Plant Fair Project is a juvenile inmate educational project that incorporates classroom learning with hands on learning experiences. The project serves as the major fundraiser for WCMGA and provides Detention some funds to operate the facility’s greenhouse.

Wasco County Master Gardeners partner with NORCOR to collectively use their large greenhouse. NORCOR provides the greenhouse, water and power along with the staffing required to monitor the detained youth. Their educational staff provides the academic background for their science curriculum. We share the greenhouse space and worked with the students growing a large variety of plants: annuals, herbs, perennials, vegetables, and ornamental grasses.

In the fall when we select plant varieties that should grow well in our region. We prepare the greenhouse including needed electrical and plumbing repairs, and with NORCOR purchase the soils, pots etc. necessary to grow the plants. We review our planting records and determine the order that the seeds will be planted to have them ready to market on a single day.
This is no small task. From January to May we grow over 250 different varieties totaling approximately 6,500 plants. The large variety of plants complicates the greenhouse management since they have varying growing requirements. Each year additional new plants are grown to increase variety and maintain interest.

The students can only participate after they have maintained several days of exemplary behavior as rated by NORCOR Staff. They are escorted to the greenhouse by officers who remain while they are in the greenhouse. Master gardener volunteers assign tasks and develop short lessons for the students when they arrive at the greenhouse.

This activity provides them an opportunity to learn and enjoy nature in an otherwise restricted residence. The officers have indicated that the youth that participate in the greenhouse are better behaved. They learn about seeds, soils, plant identification, transplanting, irrigation techniques, fertilizer schedules, temperature control, while engaging with adults and co-workers, learning the ability to work together while gaining life-long work skills and experience.

When asked the teacher at the detention center stressed three major benefits for the students’

  • A sense of pride and accomplishment especially for the longer-term residents.
  • The opportunity to collaborate and work together on a project with adults. Teenagers working along with adults on a mutually beneficial project is an unusual experience especially in a correctional facility.
  • The opportunity to find and create interest at the secured facility besides the teacher’s academic courses which helps them transition to a ‘bigger world’ on their release.

Master Gardeners presented about 20 certificates of accomplishment for the students that worked in the greenhouse five times during the 2016 season. The participating NORCOR youth are assigned write a thank you letter to the master gardeners that indicates the emotions that they feel while working at the greenhouse. A few are allowed to leave the facility and attend the plant fair; participating by providing information to buyers, making sales, and helping to transport the plants to vehicles.

Our project culminates with a Spring Plant Fair at The Dalles City Park on the day before Mother’s Day each year. The fair is a festive event. We sell all the plants we have grown at the greenhouse, local vendors participate selling their wares, and organizations set up informational booths on their projects. Our community eagerly supports these activities. Over 750 people attended our spring fair in 2017 in a community of approximately 15,000 residents, some arriving thirty minutes early to ensure getting the best plants.

All involved earn a sense of accomplishment working towards a goal, and the ability to work with strangers. The best result is the look on the faces of those involved when we roll out approximately 6,500 plants and load them on the flatbed trucks and into vehicles. The colorful parade of healthy beautiful flowers and plants is very impressive. The youth are stunned when they see the results of their labors; taking pride in their accomplishment, many of these students have had few successes in their lives. At the end of the project the greenhouse once filled with colorful flowers and plants is stark, it’s empty.

We do not have any method of knowing how our program affected the lives of our team members after their release. We have been told from correction officials that our certificates have been used for job references.

We also consider this project challenging and educational to ourselves. The impact for Master Gardeners is that we have greatly increased our knowledge of greenhouse management and developed techniques to ensure the health of our plants. The project is a great practical hands-on teaching tool experience supplementing classroom Master Gardener training. It has been a great way to bring new master gardeners hands on experience and a chance to practice what they have learned in master gardener training.

Attendance at the Spring Plant Fair has increased significantly over the years. The people who attend the fair often tell Master Gardener volunteers that they intentionally buy our plants to support the NORCOR youth and show appreciation for our involvement with the NORCOR project. The community support for the partnership of WCMGA and NORCOR is impressive, proven by watching the plants raised collectively with incarcerate youths and Master Gardeners leave the city park to home and community gardens. The community benefits, the detainees benefit, and so do the Wasco County Master Gardener’s. Our Wasco County Master Gardeners have dedicated a lot of time and effort to make this project successful. It is a win-win-win project and could be modified to be used in other institutions and locations.

2017 Research 1st Place – Grafted Vegetable Garden Trial, Marion County, OR

Grafted Vegetable Research

And Demonstration Gardens

How it all started

In 2011, grafted tomatoes first became available to the home gardener. Ads featuring amazing comparative pictures were published, but no real information was available to gardeners. Master Gardeners Harry Olson and Tobie Habeck recognized a need to test these claims and determine the real worth of grafted vegetables, both for Master Gardeners and the public.

A decision was made to grow five (5) varieties representing the full range of tomato types in a side by side comparison (grafted vs ungrafted) in the Marion County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, Salem, Oregon. The results of this trial would be shared with the public and Master Gardeners by public observation and media coverage.

Our trial provided evidence of profound improvements through grafting, including: greater plant vigor, earlier fruit production, more fruit, bigger fruit, better disease resistance, and fruiting season a full month longer than ungrafted plants.

These results were shared with Master Gardeners and the general public through visits to the trial garden, newspaper features of our trial, and reprints in the local and statewide Master Gardener Newsletters. Findings were also shared through presentations to numerous garden clubs around the state. We were able to demonstrate how home garden production could be significantly improved, and serious garden challenges reduced, by the use of grafted plants.

In 2012 & 2013 we conducted further grafted tomato trials in the Marion County Garden, including a comparative test of early grafted tomato varieties, “First to Ripen”, and demonstrations of the new Indigo Tomato varieties pioneered by Oregon State University (OSU).

In 2014 we conducted public trials of grafted watermelons and cantaloupes that were not yet publicly available, with spectacular results. We were able to produce large and numerous watermelons in the Willamette Valley, an area not known for its ability to grow melons due to the cooler climate.   This trial ended with a live on-site radio interview on “In the Garden with Mike Darcy”, and a well-attended public watermelon tasting at the trial garden. The Salem Statesman Journal Newspaper also reported on our findings.

All trials since 2012 have been well attended public events with extensive media coverage by two major local newspapers (the Oregonian and the Statesman Journal). In addition, the OSU Extension Service and radio garden shows including “In the Garden with Mike Darcy” and “Down in the Dirt with Diana” helped to publicize our project and results

In 2014, our three years of successful public trials caught the attention of the Oregon Garden in Silverton (a nationally known destination garden) and they invited us to establish a grafted vegetable demonstration garden.

Tram Stop #5

The Oregon Garden gave us a prominent raised bed complex immediately next to Tram Stop #5 located at the garden entry to the Silverton Market (edible) Garden. The tram takes Oregon Garden visitors on a tour around the garden every 30 minutes and tram drivers routinely include information about the trial garden in their tour talk.   Our trial includes a large banner declaring it the “Master Gardener Grafted Vegetable Demonstration Garden” For our 2015 Oregon Garden Trial we grew multiple types of grafted vegetables, including: tomatoes of every shape, size and color, peppers, eggplant, watermelon, and basil. We even grew the potato-tomato grafted “Ketchup ‘n Fries. The “Ketchup ‘n Fries” was extremely popular with the public, and was always mentioned by the tram drivers on the Oregon Garden tour. Our focus was on “Big Tomatoes” and tomatoes never before grafted.   These were also well received by visitors.

The trial garden is protected by a first class deer fence that not only protects from the deer, but serves to emphasize the area of the garden.   A large banner, and laminated placards surround the entire project, explaining what visitors are seeing and describing the grafting process. Visitors and their families are frequently seen gathered around these placards. (See attached pictures.) During our weekly visits to maintain the demonstration garden, we experience significant interaction with garden visitors.   Ty Borland, the Oregon Garden Horticultural Manager, reports that the exhibit is very popular with visitors, and he has received numerous positive emails regarding the Demonstration Garden.

Public interest grew in 2015, and it was again a great public education and promotion project for the Master Gardener Program. The “Garden Time” TV Show visited our trial and did a show on-site, as did Portland radio and TV personality, Mike Darcy.   Kelly Fenley of the Eugene Register Guard paper visited the trial and wrote a lengthy article for his newspaper.

In 2016, we again established a demonstration garden of both large and colorful varieties of tomatoes. We selected many new varieties, some never previously grafted. We held Master Gardener Q&A sessions at the trial site over the summer with the goal of answering visitor questions, telling the Master Gardener story, and distributing information about the Master Gardener program.

One of our new and exciting things to talk about with visitors this year is an innovative method of pruning tomatoes to promote greater growth and production. The “Harry Prune” was developed by team member Harry Olson and verified by several years of confirming trials.

One of the best days of this trial was the Home Schooled Kids Day at the garden. Our project team happened to be working onsite that day, and talked to parents and kids by the hundreds, spending most of our morning work period just interacting with that group. We finally had to terminate “tomato tasting” as our plants were getting bare. It was rewarding and fun, and likely started some young gardening careers. Our trials at the Oregon Garden have been well covered by the media, including the Oregonian, Statesman Journal, radio and television. Oregon State University Extension Service Communications Specialist Kym Pokorny’s first article for OSU Extension Service was about our Trial in the Oregon Garden. That article was distributed statewide and was reprinted numerous times in other publications.

We can only estimate the number of people reached by our project. The Oregon Garden reports nearly 50,000 visitors between May and October (our trial time). The majority of those visitors take at least one Tram Tour which brings them within 15 feet of our demonstration garden. Tram drivers consistently provide information to riders about our trial. Because our trial is located in the center of the Oregon Garden, it is visited by many who wander the garden on their own. Appearances on radio and television and newspaper stories obviously reach large populations, but they can’t be counted. It is our belief that our trials have reached more members of the public than likely any other. They have also well represented the Master Gardener Organization as a leader in public education and demonstration.

Our Chapter’s mission is to educate and serve the community by supporting and enhancing the sustainable gardening work of Oregon State University and Marion County Extension Service. Our grafted trials have done that. We have found a simple, yet easily replicated method to educate an amazing number of people, including children, about the wonders of gardening by capturing their attention with new and novel types of plants. Many visitors have never heard of grafted plants, and are amazed and interested in including grafted plants in their own gardens.

Budget / Partnerships

Since the Oregon Garden graciously hosted our trial, the cost of our trial has been minimal and borne largely by the participating Master Gardeners. Our grafted plants were generously donated by Alice Doyle of Log House Plants in Cottage Grove. It was Log House Plants who originally brought grafted vegetables to the home gardener. Their premier grafted vegetables made this trial possible.

Impacts & “Take Aways”

For Master Gardeners: Our Demonstration project provides a model to encourage Master Gardeners to be alert to emerging technologies or activities that hold an opportunity for Master Gardeners to serve their organization and the public through trials, testing, and public reporting. We also provide a model to greatly improve the number of public served and improve dissemination of information through use of all available media outlets. Our community role as trusted leaders in gardening is enhanced and solidified by these activities.

For the public: Engaging in demonstration projects such as this provides a great service to the public, clarifying and demonstrating the worth and impact of emerging technologies on gardening. While servicing our trial garden during the summer we have direct contact with at least a thousand garden visitors. Most are impressed with what they see and many have never heard of grafted vegetables. Nearly all expressed an interest in trying grafted plants in their garden next year and thanked us for our demonstration garden.

The children we encountered and spoke with in the Oregon Garden most impressed us. Many were truly in awe and responded excitedly to our invitation to step into the garden and try some tomatoes. It is a certainty that many future gardeners were born of this experience.

Closing Thoughts:

In this trial, we, as Master Gardeners, saw an opportunity to test new garden technology and report our findings to the public and to other Master Gardeners. We went on to conduct five (5) years of public demonstrations of our findings and related technology in a manner that affirms and solidifies the role of Master Gardeners as leaders in hands on testing and providing gardening information and guidance directly to the public. Our trial has also been a model for the use of news media, in the promotion of our work.

Participating Master Gardeners:

Harry Olson             Tobie Habeck              Eric Suing
Marion County Master Gardeners

A picture is worth a 1000 words

This is the picture that started our journey

Left: Brandywine Tomato ungrafted(left) and grafted roots. The grafted root (on right) 10 ft out is still pencil size. Note the plant size difference and that the ungrafted is long dead while grafted is alive and well (October 17th).

Below: Our consistent findings after five years of trials





2017 Research 2nd Place – Milkweed Field Trials for Monarch Butterfly Habitat, Clark City, NV

Milkweed Field Trials for Monarch Butterfly Habitat

The Southwest Monarch Butterfly population is in decline. Southern Nevada is part of the Monarch Fall migration from late August to early November. Reproductive Monarchs arrive early as part of the premigration and Milkweeds are their required host plant. The project seeks to identify and cultivate Milkweed species which will survive, flower and attract pollinators in the Mojave Desert. The trials are conducted by the Master Gardeners of Southern Nevada, Monarch Habitat Research Team.

The focus is on gathering sufficient data to determine which Milkweeds are best suited for inclusion in residential landscapes. Another goal is to increase availability of rare native Milkweed seeds through cultivation in the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Botanical Gardens at 8050 Paradise Road, Las Vegas, NV 89123.

Our target audience is Clark County residents who want to include Milkweeds in their landscape to support the Monarch Butterfly. We are also helping public and non-profit projects by propagating and donating rare native desert-adapted Milkweed seeds. By Fall of 2017, we should be able to share 7 rare species: Asclepias angustifolia, Asclepias erosa, Asclepias fascicularis, Asclepias linaria, Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias subulata and Asclepias texana.

Asclepias angustifolia                                                    Asclepias linaria

Asclepias subulata                                                           Asclepias erosa

Horticultural Challenges

The Mojave Desert is a harsh growing environment:

  • 4” average rainfall and 80” evapotranspiration
  • Strong dry winds
  • Winter temperatures that can dip into the teens
  • Summer temperatures in the 120s
  • Native soil is alkaline, salty and poor with very low amounts of organic matter.

Six species of Milkweed (Asclepias asperula, A. erosa, A. nyctaginifolia, A. speciosa, A. subulata, A. subverticillata) are native to Clark County. They are not abundant in the wild and are not grown in landscapes. Their seeds are quite rare and difficult to obtain, especially by the general public.

Ease of germination and transplantation varies widely among the Asclepias species.

The best time to germinate seeds appears to be in January for early March planting and in July for early September planting.

Desert-adapted plants can grow deep tap roots very quickly and are sensitive to transplanting. Seedlings do well when germinated indoors and planted ASAP with the second set of adult leaves without disturbing the young tap root.

Milkweed Requirements

Each Milkweed in the trials is evaluated:

  • Can it survive here?
  • Does it need full sun, partial sun or shade?
  • Is it dormant or evergreen?
  • Is it clumping or does it have rhizomes? How aggressive?
  • Is it available to feed Monarch Butterfly caterpillars from late August to late October?
  • Are Monarch Butterflies attracted to this Milkweed?
  • Is it decorative in a residential garden?
  • Can the seed or plant be found?

To help answer these questions, Master Gardeners of Southern Nevada are conducting field trials of 30 different Milkweeds and seven cultivars in the Botanical Gardens of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

As of Spring 2017, we have determined that the Milkweeds best suited for use in a residential garden in Southern Nevada are Asclepias subulata (Rush Milkweed), Asclepias erosa (Desert Milkweed), Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed), Asclepias angustifolia (Arizona Milkweed), Asclepias linaria (Pineneedle Milkweed), Asclepias texana (Texas Milkweed), Asclepias subverticillata (Horsetail Milkweed) and Asclepias curassavica (Tropical Milkweed).