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WSU’s On Solid Ground- Pumpkin Trees, Fungi Queen, Poplars

Posted by l.meyer | October 23, 2013

PNW Bioenergy Farms Tour

Over 120 public agency, policy, research, and extension stakeholders got an inside look this summer at how poplars may lead the Pacific Northwest toward energy self-sufficiency. The toured demonstration sites, part of the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels research project, are designed to test and showcase all aspects of growing hybrid poplar as a renewable resource for transportation fuels in the Northwest.

Increasing Efficiency

Field tour participants beneath poplars after two seasons of growth at the Oregon site. Photo by Shibu Kar, WSU.

Field tour participants beneath poplars after two seasons of growth at the Oregon site. Photo by Shibu Kar, WSU.

Attendees at each of the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho sites learned that poplars lend themselves to the production of biofuel because they grow fast, have a high sugar content, and leave a smaller carbon footprint than corn ethanol or fossil fuels. The feedstock can be harvested as needed and is “stored on the stump” until a nearby biorefinery is ready to convert the woody biomass into fuel. By locating plantations within a short distance to regional biorefineries, little energy is required to transport the feedstock.

“Everybody is intrigued by the idea, people I’ve talked to love that you can grow a tree that will add 10 to 12 feet in a year and has the potential to contribute to energy self-sufficiency,” said Chris Schnepf, a tour participant from University of Idaho Extension. “What gives me the most hope is if there is a technology to generate liquid fuel that is affordable to produce, that the cost of growing and transporting it will be covered by the price,” he said.

Research partners from GreenWood Resources, Inc., an Oregon-based company that manages and develops tree farms for hardwood feedstocks for the biofuel supply chain, explained the renewable production cycle. Using a system of coppicing – cutting the trees at the base and allowing them to re-sprout – and a two- to three-year harvest cycle means the trees won’t need to be replanted for up to 23 years.

Visitors were impressed to see that after only two growing seasons, trees at the Jefferson, Ore. site were already 15-20 feet tall. The trees would be harvested using a forage harvester that cuts and chips them in a single pass before the chips are sent to a biorefinery.

Multifaceted research

Research at the sites is designed to understand the growth and efficiency of different poplar clones under various conditions in the Northwest. Data collected from the demonstration sites will allow researchers to determine how much volume per acre can be generated and help estimate production costs per green ton or per acre. Other types of data collection at the demonstration sites include soil quality parameters, wildlife monitoring, and pest and disease monitoring. Endophyte trials – inoculating trees with beneficial bacteria or fungi that can help deliver nutrients, stimulate root growth, and increase drought tolerance – are also underway.

Walking the fields, participants were introduced to multiple varieties of hybrid poplar and viewed research trials on interplanting poplar with alder, an alternative hardwood feedstock, designed to determine the effects of nitrogen fixing on poplars.

Policy makers show interest

Attendees ran the gamut from state legislators, city officials, extension educators and conservation districts to landowners, nonprofits and government agencies including representatives from departments of commerce, agriculture, and ecology from the three states. Impressed by the diversity of attendees at the Jefferson site, Bill Goldner, USDA National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the agency funding the $40 million Advanced Hardwood Biofuels project, described the tour as “one of the best run showcase opportunities I have seen among CAP [Coordinated Agricultural Project] tours. The organizers did a nice job of involving the state and other stakeholders.”

The tours took place at the 95-acre Pilchuck demonstration site near Stanwood, Wash. in August, and at the 85-acre site near Jefferson, Ore. in early September. Despite pouring rain, over 40 people turned out to see the 65-acre site in Hayden, Idaho. On November 4, a fourth tour will be held at the 50-acre demonstration site near Clarksburg, Calif.

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-Sylvia Kantor

Growing Up: Fruitful Fantasies

An arch blossoms with pumpkin flowers. Photo by Richelle Taylor.

An arch blossoms with pumpkin flowers. Photo by Richelle Taylor.

Pumpkins don’t grow in trees. Except at Rob and Richelle Taylor’s place. That’s right; laced among the limbs of fir and deciduous trees, carefully planted pumpkin vines delighted their grandchildren a few years back. They had other reasons, too. They love gardening and needed more space. There was no place to go but up.

Rob and Richelle shared the Snohomish County Master Gardener of the Year title in 2010 based on their multidimensional talents. Richelle’s photography shows off Rob’s handiwork in vertical gardening. When he was recognized as a valuable recruit for the Snohomish County Master Gardener Demonstration gardens, Rob immediately signed up.

To merit public viewing, Rob looked around for non-traditional building materials. The first structure he built was a lettuce wall for the Jennings Park Garden where 3,000 pounds of produce was donated to the Marysville Food Bank last year. Every square foot is valuable. The lettuce wall is only four feet high and one foot wide, but the clever configuration allows for 72 heads of lettuce.

A pumpkin grows on up. Photo by Richelle Taylor.

A pumpkin grows on up. Photo by Richelle Taylor.

Rob used lattice to define compartments. Tarps on both surfaces hold soil between the lattice. Perforated pipes for irrigation are placed within the soil, compost, and organic fertilizer. Once fully assembled and filled, X’s are slashed in the tarp from which lettuce plants sprout, seeking their share of sunlight. The setup makes harvesting easy on the back.

That’s just one small section. Rob has the whole northeast corner of Jennings Park filled with the results of his various vertical gardening techniques. Mondays are for food bank harvest. It is typical for last minute goodies to emerge from Rob’s corner. Michelle Duncan and Janice Tallman, who are charged with running the garden, are often happily surprised. One or the other will typically say something like, “Where’d these come from?” The answer is always, “Rob grows them over there somewhere.” He really does pack it in.

Trellises of all types are useful, but are only a beginning. They can go almost anywhere and be made out of many things. Hog-wire, however, has proven to be very strong and versatile: Rob has used 16 feet by 52 inches of it to shape a large tunnel for growing vines and runners. The best plants for this setup are scarlet runner beans or spaghetti squash. When they become lush, they can also serve as a cover for a shade garden. In winter, cover with plastic and use them as a greenhouse.

Other vertical favorites are delicata squash, Japanese and lemon cucumbers, all types of beans and peas, Italian squash, and gourds. You can even use seeds saved from last year’s Halloween pumpkins. Try potatoes, strawberries, and lettuce to fill in foliage near the bottom.

How can heavy squash and pumpkin be supported? You might be surprised. Read more>>

-Kathleen Eaton

Reprinted and excerpted with permission from: “Growing Up, Fruitful Fantasies,” by Kathleen M. L. Eaton, Ph.D. Snohomish County Master Gardener; photos by Richelle Taylor, Seeds for Thought, February 2013, Vol. 14, Issue 1

“Mushroom Queen” Hunts Fungus Among Us

Student Arturo Ferrer Quintero holds Pholiota mushrooms.

Student Arturo Ferrer Quintero holds Pholiota mushrooms.

October marks the peak of wild mushroom picking in the Northwest, and a WSU plant pathologist nicknamed the “mushroom queen” is just the person you’d want in tow. She can keep you from getting lost in the woods and from eating a mushroom that tastes bad–or worse, one that will make you sick.

What’s more, when the hunt is over she’ll leave you fascinated by this ubiquitous yet mysterious group of organisms with a lineage that dates back millions of years.

“Newcomers to the fungi kingdom are often surprised to learn that a mushroom is not a plant. Genetically, it’s more closely related to animals,” said Associate Professor Lori Carris. “It really forces them to think outside the box.”

Sharing the Wealth

Carris is known for barreling up and down forested hills, vaulting over downed trees, and falling to her knees on the damp earth at the sight of a single bump protruding from a patch of moss or scattering of pine needles. If she strikes gold, it’s the expensive, meaty matsutake that the Northwest exports to Japan as the mushroom slowly earns culinary kudos in the United States.

But Carris isn’t interested in cashing in on her find. Instead, she assumes a more noble approach–using the matsutake as a teaching tool for students and amateur mushroom hunters. She imparts to the curious that the delicious fungus cradled in her dirtied hand is as much about science as gastronomy.

“She’s called the mushroom queen because she is so knowledgeable and passionate about mushrooms. Luckily for us, she shares what she knows,” said Timothy Paulitz, an adjunct scientist with the WSU Department of Plant Pathology and U.S. Department of Agriculture who’s also president of the Palouse Mycological Association, a regional group of mushroom fans that Carris leads on forays.

“It’s hard to keep up with her, the way she goes up and down steep hillsides to find them,” said Paulitz. “And her ability to pick them out from the background of needles and duff is also remarkable.” Read more>>

-Linda Weiford