college of agricultural sciences

College of Agricultural Sciences

About the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences: The college contributes in many ways to the economic and environmental sustainability of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. The college's faculty are leaders in agriculture and food systems, natural resources management, rural economic development research, environmental toxicology and human health research.

OSU's agricultural art exhibit opens in Corvallis, then Roseburg

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The work of 17 handpicked artists is on display in the 31st year of an Oregon State University exhibit inspired by agriculture and its bounty.

The Art About Agriculture exhibit, sponsored by OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, runs through April 25 at LaSells Stewart Center on campus in Corvallis. The public is invited to meet the artists at a reception in the center's Giustina Gallery April 19 from 6-8 p.m.

The artwork will then be on tour May 10 to June 30 in Roseburg at the Umpqua Valley Arts Association at 1624 W. Harvard Ave. A public reception will take place there on the opening night from 5-7 p.m.

This year's work explores agricultural bounty and community – from consumers to marketers to farmers – in drawings, paintings, photographs, prints, wood and sculptures. Artists drew inspiration from vineyards, farmers markets and their own vegetable gardens. They hail from Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

One of them, Sally Finch of Portland, created an abstract piece depicting rainfall graphs of dryland farming. She used graphite and acrylic ink. Christine Bourdette of Portland produced six-inch bronze figurines riding potatoes. Lynn Miller of Sisters painted "Corn Shatter – Ditch Parrot's Dream" in oil on canvas.

The College of Agricultural Sciences convened a committee of art professionals to nominate artists to participate in the exhibit. Sally Houck, director of the Newport Visual Arts Center, and Irene Zenev, executive director of the Benton County Historical Society and Museum, judged the artwork. With more than $4,500, from patrons’ annual gifts and program endowment earnings, the judges recommended purchasing some of the works for the college's permanent collection, and awarding Mike Van this year's only cash honorarium for his watercolor-and-charcoal piece, "All Will Be Fed."

"Art About Agriculture was created in response to a need to develop a bridge between rural and urban Oregonians," said OSU Professor Gwil Evans. He wrote the original grant proposal that funded the inaugural exhibit in 1983.  

Three decades later, 250 works of art in the exhibit's permanent collection grace the hallways, meeting rooms and offices at OSU, state agencies in Salem and government agencies throughout Oregon year-round, said Shelley Curtis, the directing curator for Art About Agriculture.

Participating artists:

Debra Beers - Portland, Oregon

Christine Bourdette - Portland, Oregon

Harrison Branch - Corvallis, Oregon

Mark Clarke - Eugene, Oregon

Sally Finch - Portland, Oregon

Caryn Friedlander - Bellingham, Washington

Yuji Hiratsuka - Corvallis, Oregon

Tracy Leagjeld - Portland, Oregon

Denise McFadden - Vancouver, Washington

Lynn Miller - Sisters, Oregon

Connie Mueller - Eugene, Oregon

Adam Ottavi - Ester, Alaska

Mike Rangner - Albany, Oregon

Sara Tabbert - Fairbanks, Alaska

Gary Tepfer - Eugene, Oregon

Maurice "Mike" Van - Eugene, Oregon

Jennifer Williams - Ridgefield, Washington


Shelley Curtis, 541-737-5534

OSU turns winemaking waste into food supplements and flowerpots

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered how to turn the pulp from crushed wine grapes into a natural food preservative, biodegradable packaging materials and a nutritional enhancement for baked goods.

The United States wine industry creates a tremendous amount of waste from processing more than 4 million tons of grapes each year, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wineries typically pay for the pulp to be hauled away, but a small percentage is used in low-value products such as fertilizer and cow feed.

"We now know pomace can be a sustainable source of material for a wide range of goods," said researcher Yanyun Zhao, a professor and value-added food products specialist with the OSU Extension Service. "We foresee wineries selling their pomace rather than paying others to dispose of it. One industry's trash can become another industry's treasure."

The pulp, which consists of stems, skins and seeds, is known as pomace and is packed with dietary fiber and phenolics, which have antioxidant effects. OSU researchers have dried and ground it to create edible and non-edible products.

For example, they extracted dietary fiber from pomace and turned it into powders that can be added to foods. Because the phenolics in pomace also control microbial growth and keep fats from deteriorating, OSU researchers also added the powdery fiber to yogurts and salad dressings to extend their shelf life by up to a week without changing taste and texture.

The researchers also used pomace to make colorful, edible coatings and films that can be stretched over fruits, vegetables and other food products. They contain antioxidants, seal in moisture and control the growth of some bacteria.

Additionally, the scientists added pomace powders, which are gluten-free, to muffins and brownies. They replaced up to 15 percent of the flour in the recipes with it and thus increased the fiber and antioxidants in the baked goods. The research continues as scientists are also adding pomace to yeast breads.

"Adding fiber-rich ingredients can change a dough's absorption qualities and stiffness," said OSU cereal chemist Andrew Ross. "We're trying to find the right balance of pomace in dough while measuring the bread for its density, volume, color and taste. Commercial bakeries need this information before using pomace flour for large-scale production."

OSU has also made pomace into biodegradable boards, which can further be molded into containers, serving trays and flowerpots. After burial in soil for 30 days, the products degraded by 50 percent to 80 percent.

Researchers found that the methods for making products from pomace vary depending on if the pulp is from red or white grapes. That's because winemaking processes differ for each varietal and they produce pulp with different levels of sugar, nitrogen, phenolics and other compounds. In their experiments, researchers used pomace from grapes that included Pinot Noir, Merlot, Morio Muscat and Muller Thurgau.

Now, OSU is seeking to establish partnerships with companies interested in marketing the products it developed.

The research has been published in various journals, including the Journal of Applied Polymer Science, Food Chemistry, and the Journal of Food Science.


Yanyun Zhao, 541-737-9151

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OSU reseracher Yanyun Zhao

Yanyun Zhao, a food scientist at Oregon State University, holds a muffin made with grape pomace. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

Fiber board made with wine grape pomace

Oregon State University made this biodegradable fiberboard from grape pomace, which consists of the skins, stems and seeds left over from winemaking. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

OSU makes oysters safer to eat with improved purification method

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has improved an old method of making oysters safer to eat so that more bacteria are removed without sacrificing taste and texture.

The improved process nearly clears their digestive tracts of the bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which can cause gastroenteritis, an infection marked by severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Each year in the United States, more than 40,000 cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection are linked to the consumption of seafood, particularly raw oysters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This bacteria is a huge safety concern," said Yi-Cheng Su, an OSU professor of seafood microbiology and safety. “Cooking oysters easily kills it, but many consumers want to eat raw shellfish without worrying about foodborne illness. Oysters are also worth more to the seafood industry when alive.”

To make oysters safer, processors freeze, heat up or pressurize the mollusks. They also place them in tanks of clean seawater at room temperature. In the latter case, which is known as depuration, the shellfish filter clean water through their system and excrete most bacteria from their digestive tracts into the water. The dirty water is then filtered and sterilized with UV light.

But depuration at ambient temperature is not fully effective, researchers say. More than 10 percent of the Vibrio bacteria still remain after two days of depuration.

Pressurization, freezing and heat treatment kill all the Vibrio bacteria but they also kill the shellfish. Additionally, freezing and heat treatment negatively affect their taste, texture, shelf life and value.

Seeking a better alternative, Su and his colleagues tweaked the depuration method. They chilled the water to between 45 and 55 degrees and sterilized it with ultraviolet light. Their method eliminated 99.9 percent of the bacteria after four to five days. The oysters stayed alive during the purification, and their texture and taste were not altered. The new depuration process is also more cost-effective, Su said.

"Temperature-controlled depuration uses less electricity than other methods that rely on freezers, heat, pressurization and even radiation," he said. "Depuration systems are also relatively cheap to build – just a few shellfish holding tanks each equipped with a water pump, a UV sterilizer and a temperature control device."

The oysters still need to be placed in cold storage after the depuration process because warm environments allow any remaining bacteria to multiply quickly, nullifying the depuration process.

OSU researchers are also exploring ways to speed up the low-temperature depuration process by adding antimicrobial agents to the seawater in the tanks.

Oregon producers sold $3 million of farmed oysters in 2011, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service.


Yi-Cheng Su, 503-325-4531

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OSU researchers Yi-Cheng Su

Researcher Yi-Cheng Su pulls an oyster from a depuration tank at Oregon State University's Seafood Laboratory in Astoria. As the oysters filter the water, they excrete harmful bacteria from their digestive tracts and become safe to eat. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

OSU brews up new online, on-site classes for beer makers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – To fill a knowledge gap among both professional and hobbyist beer-makers, Oregon State University has created several online and on-site short courses for brewers who want to refine their technical skills.

On-site offerings will take place this summer in the brewing hotspots of Portland, Bend and Corvallis, allowing students to network with some of the state's leading brewmasters. OSU professor and fermentation scientist Tom Shellhammer, who designed the curricula after consulting with industry leaders, will be the lead instructor for the classes.

"There are plenty of introductory-level brewing related courses and programs for beginners or home brewers to get into the field, but not many options for advanced classes for professional development," said OSU's Marian Ladenburg of University Outreach and Engagement, which developed the courses. “There's a need for them in the industry.”

To register and to see a video about the classes, go to http://bit.ly/13jyA8Z. The registration deadline is April 1.

The first course will begin May 15 with two days of online instruction on microbiology to be completed by June 10. It will be followed by in-class lessons at OSU's brewery June 17-18 in Corvallis. Students will learn how to properly handle yeast and identify and assess organisms that can spoil wort and beer.

The second class, which will focus on beer analysis, also begins May 15. Students must complete online lessons by June 10. Then they can take on-campus instruction at OSU's brewery June 19-20. Participants will learn to calculate and measure different characteristics of beer, including wort gravity, carbohydrates, calories, dissolved oxygen, clarity and color.

In both courses, class size is limited to 24 students and admission determined by experience level.

Students in either of these classes are eligible to enroll in a one-day tour of Willamette Valley farms that produce ingredients for beer, as well as OSU's hops and barley breeding facilities on June 21. The goal of the tour is to help participants develop a quality assurance program for their breweries.

From June 12-14, OSU will offer a sensory testing course at its Food Innovation Center in Portland. Students will learn to collect and analyze brewing data and develop their skills in evaluating beer flavor, clarity, color and foam. Students will also tour the brewery of Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland.

The sensory testing course will be repeated in Bend from July 31-Aug. 2 at Deschutes Brewery. Class size is limited to 40 students in each location. Registration is open to brewers of any experience level. Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

For those who want to pursue brewing beyond this summer's short courses, OSU offers a bachelor's degree in food science and technology with an option in fermentation science. To view a video about it, go to http://youtu.be/KYoiqRS-lKM.

"The food science program historically has had 40 to 50 people in it, but since 2001, that's been on a steady climb," said Shellhammer, who holds the Nor'Wester Professorship in Fermentation Science. "We have more than 200 students in the program now. Of those, 60 percent are students interested in becoming brewers or with a strong interest in the brewery science program. People want to start breweries and there's a lot of people interested in working in breweries."

About 2,000 craft breweries operate in the United States, according to the Brewers Association. Oregon is home to 134 brewing companies, according to the Oregon Brewer's Guild.


Tom Shellhammer, 541-737-9308

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Fermentation scientist Tom Shellhammer shoulders a beer keg at Oregon State University's brewery. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

New OSU wheat resists stripe rust, bakes well

CORVALLIS, Ore. – With the baking industry in mind, Oregon State University has developed a higher-yielding soft white winter wheat that's also resistant to the disease stripe rust.

The new cultivar is known as Kaseberg and is ideal for rain-fed and irrigated areas. In field trials, the variety thrived in a number of Pacific Northwest regions, including eastern and western Oregon, southern Idaho and south central Washington.

During two years of testing in Oregon, Kaseberg averaged 136 bushels an acre on land with high rainfall or irrigation – compared with 122 bushels for similar Oregon variety Stephens and 106 for the more recent release Tubbs 06. Under low rainfall conditions, Kaseberg averaged 91 bushels per acre versus 85 for Stephens and 81 for Tubbs 06.

The new variety also resists stripe rust, a fungal disease that can cut yields in half, said Bob Zemetra, OSU's wheat breeder.

"Stripe rust resistance was fairly stable from the 1970s to 1990s,” he said. “Now the disease is changing more frequently, so breeders have to be upgrading resistance constantly."

Kaseberg is also mildly resistant to the disease Septoria, but the cultivar shows susceptibility to strawbreaker footrot, soilborne wheat mosaic virus and crown rot.

OSU researchers developed Kaseberg to appeal to millers and bakers. For cookies and crackers, it's superior to Tubbs 06, Stephens and Madsen because it has weaker gluten and finer flour particles when milled.

"New releases need to equal and surpass the performance of previous varieties,” Zemetra said. “The bar is set higher each time. In breeding we deal with three customers: the farmer, the miller and the baker. We aim to fit the needs of all three."

The new cultivar is named after the Kaseberg family, longtime eastern Oregon wheat growers who have been major contributors to the Oregon wheat industry, held leadership roles in the Agricultural Research Foundation and the Oregon Wheat League, and have allowed OSU to use their land to develop varieties for many years. 

This year, OSU is also releasing another new cultivar known as Ladd. The new soft white winter wheat cultivar is the first produced in the Pacific Northwest resistant to soilborne wheat mosaic virus.

The variety is targeted toward irrigated areas in Oregon and central Washington where the virus has recently been found to thrive. Ladd is also resistant to strawbreaker foot rot and is moderately resistant to stripe rust.

The variety is named for Sheldon Ladd, the head of OSU's Department of Crop and Soil Science from 1985 to 2000.

Creating a new variety of wheat can take more than a decade. Even after that, breeders need an additional three years to generate enough seed for farmers.

Both new varieties are open cultivar releases from Oregon State University and the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station. Registered seed of both varieties and a small amount of certified seed of Kaseberg will be available this fall.

More than 980,000 acres of wheat were harvested in Oregon in 2011, with gross sales exceeding $520 million, according to a report by OSU Extension.


 Bob Zemetra, 541-737-4278

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Kaseberg - new OSU soft white winter wheat

Oregon State University's new wheat called Kaseberg resists stripe rust, a fungal disease that can cut yields in half. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

OSU study: Salmon may use magnetic field as a navigational aid

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The mystery of how salmon navigate across thousands of miles of open ocean to locate their river of origin before journeying upstream to spawn has intrigued biologists for decades, and now a new study may offer a clue to the fishes’ homing strategy.

In the study, scientists examined 56 years of fisheries data documenting the return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River in British Columbia – and the route they chose around Vancouver Island showed a correlation with changes in the intensity of the geomagnetic field.

Results of the study, which was supported by Oregon Sea Grant and the National Science Foundation, were published this week in the journal Current Biology.

“What we think happens is that when salmon leave the river system as juveniles and enter the ocean, they imprint the magnetic field – logging it in as a waypoint,” said Nathan Putman, a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “It serves as a proxy for geographic location when they return as adults. It gets them close to their river system and then other, finer cues may take over.”

Earth has a predictable, consistent geomagnetic field that weakens as you move from the poles toward the equator. The magnetic North Pole has an intensity gradient of roughly 58 microtesla, while the equator is about 24 microtesla.

Salmon originating from Oregon that have spent two to four years in the northern Pacific Ocean off Canada or Alaska would return as adults, the scientists speculate, journeying southward off the coast until they reached a magnetic field intensity similar to that of their youth.

“That should get them to within 50 to 100 kilometers of their own river system and then olfactory cues or some other sense kicks on,” said Putman, who conducts research in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Vancouver Island provides a natural laboratory for the study of salmon, the researchers point out. Salmon returning to the Fraser River must detour around the massive island to reach the mouth of the river, choosing a southern or northern route. In their study, the scientists found that the “drift” of the geomagnetic field correlated with which route the salmon chose.

When the normal intensity level for the Fraser River shifted to the north, the sockeye were more likely to choose a northern route for their return. When the field shifted slightly south, they chose a southern route.

This “field drift” accounted for about 16 percent of the variation in the migration route, Putman said, while variations in sea surface temperatures accounted for 22 percent. The interactive effect between these two variables accounted for an additional 28 percent of the variation in the migration route.

“Salmon are a cold-water fish, and all things being equal, they prefer cold water,” said Putman, who earned his Ph.D.  in biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But the fact that they also demonstrate geomagnetic fidelity in choosing a route shows that this could be a major instrument in their biological toolbox to guide their way home.”

Putman said that his previous studies of the Columbia River have shown that the magnetic intensity shifts less than 30 kilometers in either direction over a period of three years, which is about the length of time many salmon spend in the ocean.

“Salmon have to get it right because they only have one chance to make it back to their home river,” Putman said, “so it makes sense that they may have more than one way to get there. The magnetic field is amazingly consistent, so that is a strategy that can withstand the test of time. But they may also use the sun as a compass, track waves breaking on the beach through infrasound, and use smell.”

Putman and OSU fisheries biologist David Noakes plan to follow through with experiments on varying the magnetic field for salmon in a laboratory setting, using the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in Oregon’s Alsea River basin.

Other authors on the study include Kenneth Lohmann, University of North Carolina; Emily Putman, an independent researcher; Thomas Quinn, University of Washington; A. Peter Klimley, University of California, Davis; and David Noakes, Oregon State University.

Media Contact: 

Nathan Putman, 205-218-5276

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Vancouver Island

OSU creates small-kerneled hazelnut for confection market

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has developed a new high-yielding, blight-resistant hazelnut for the baking and chocolate industries.  

Known as Wepster, or OSU 894.030, it was bred to be shelled, blanched and sold as kernels as an alternative to the OSU-bred varieties called Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea and Yamhill, said OSU's hazelnut breeder, Shawn Mehlenbacher. He announced the release today in Portland at the annual meeting of the Nut Growers Society of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

OSU plans to license Wepster to nurseries that agree to pay a royalty of 50 cents per tree. Mehlenbacher expects nurseries to start selling a limited quantity of trees to growers this spring and a larger amount next winter. 

Wepster produces small, round kernels, making it ideal for the chocolate industry, which prefers kernels with a diameter of 11-13 millimeters, Mehlenbacher said.

The result of a cross made in 1997, the variety is named after the Wepster family in honor of their contributions to the Oregon hazelnut industry and OSU's hazelnut breeding program. The family also helped create the Oregon Hazelnut Industry Endowed Professorship, which Mehlenbacher holds.

Wepster has several advantages over its peers, Mehlenbacher said. At 15 feet, it's taller than Yamhill, whose shorter stature makes it harder for machinery to get under its canopy and sweep up and collect the nuts, he said. Wepster doesn't require much pruning or training, he added.

The tree also has a high level of resistance to eastern filbert blight, which is present throughout the Willamette Valley where 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop is grown. The fungal disease produces cankers that girdle branches, and it can significantly decrease yields. The tree is also immune to big bud mites, which feed on the flower buds and cause them to swell and die. 

Wepster's yields are consistently high, Mehlenbacher said. It came out on top in one trial comparing nine different cultivars planted in 2006. It produced 57 pounds of nuts (including the shells) per tree over five years versus 43 pounds for Yamhill. In another trial, Wepster yielded 43 pounds, or about the same as OSU's Jefferson, Yamhill and Santiam varieties. Additionally, few moldy kernels were observed in Wepster in contrast to Yamhill and especially Santiam.

In trials, about 95 percent of Wepster's nuts lost their husks at maturity. They fell to the ground about a week before the variety known as Barcelona did, allowing them to be collected before the start of the rainy season.

When weighed in one analysis, about 47 percent of the nut's total weight was from its kernel, about the same as Yamhill and higher than Barcelona's 43 percent. In another trial, however, Wepster came in at 44 percent compared with Yamhill's 46 percent. Mehlenbacher noted that in 2011, when hazelnut trees were heavily loaded with nuts, Yamhill's shells didn't have much kernel in them, making them unmarketable. In contrast, Wepster's kernels sufficiently filled up the shells that year.

Wepster also beats out Yamhill in another area, Mehlenbacher said. During blanching, only half of Yamhill's inner skin, or pellicle, comes off. In contrast, Wepster's moderately fibrous inside layer is easily removed from the kernels with dry heat.

Given that hazelnut trees can't be pollinated by ones that are genetically identical, recommended pollinizers for Webster are OSU's York, Gamma and the university's yet-to-be-released selection known as OSU 880.027.

Oregon orchardists sold $44 million of hazelnuts in 2011, making the nut the state's 24th most important agricultural commodity, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. Also known as a filbert, the hazelnut is Oregon's official nut.

Media Contact: 

Shawn Mehlenbacher, 541-737-5467

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Hazelnuts are harvested at an orchard in Oregon, which produces 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)


Oregon State University's new hazelnut, Wepster, produces small, round kernels, making it ideal for the chocolate industry. Its moderately fibrous inside layer is easily removed from the kernels with dry heat. (Photo by Becky McCluskey.)

OSU study: Cows fed flaxseed produce more nutritious dairy products

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Dairy cows that are fed flaxseed produce more nutritious milk, according to a new study by Oregon State University.

Their milk contained more omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fat, the study found. Diets high in saturated fat can increase cholesterol and cause heart disease, while those rich in omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease, studies have shown.

Traditional cattle feed mixtures of corn, grains, alfalfa hay and grass silage result in dairy products with low concentrations of omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fats, according to Gerd Bobe, the lead scientist on the study, which has been published online in the Journal of Dairy Science.

Ten pregnant cows at OSU's dairy were fed different amounts of flaxseed – up to seven percent of their daily diet. Researchers attempted to pinpoint the amount of flaxseed that would maximize the amount of omega-3 in milk and dairy products without negatively affecting their production and texture.

"We were looking for a sweet spot,” said Bobe, an expert in human and animal nutrition. “Too much of a good thing can be bad, especially when trying to maintain consistency with dairy products.”

Collaborators in OSU's food science and technology department assisted in turning milk into butter and fresh cheese, which were then tested for texture and nutritional composition.

The study found that feeding cows up to six pounds of extruded flaxseed improved the fat profile without negatively affecting the production and texture of the milk and other dairy products. Extrusion presses raw ground flaxseed into pellets with heat.

At six pounds per day, saturated fatty acids in whole milk fat dropped 18 percent, poly-unsaturated fatty acids increased 82 percent, and omega-3 levels rose 70 percent compared to feeding no flaxseed. Similar improvements were observed in butter and cheese.

Still, saturated fat accounted for more than half of the fatty acids in the dairy products while the increase in polyunsaturated fats compromised no more than nearly nine percent of the total.

Researchers also noted that the refrigerated butter was softer and less adhesive thanks to fewer saturated fatty acids. Also, the cows produced the same amount of milk while eating flaxseed.

Although flaxseed costs more than traditional cattle feeds, Bobe hopes that it still could be an affordable feed supplement for cows because products enriched with omega-3 can sell for a premium at the grocery store.

"Many consumers already show a willingness to pay extra for value-added foods, like omega-3 enriched milk," he said.

One thing is for sure, he said: Dairy farmers will have no trouble convincing cows to eat flaxseed.

"They loved it. They ate it like candy," he said.


Gerd Bobe, 541-737-1898

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Adrian Gombart

OSU researcher Gerd Bobe led a study that fed flaxseed to dairy cows and examined the effects to milk, cheese and butter. Photo by Hannah O'Leary.

Garden smarter, not harder if you have disabilities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Pat Patterson, a Master Gardener trained by the Oregon State University Extension Service, does not let a bad back or an artificial knee keep her from her garden. 

The enthusiastic 74-year-old maintains a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden, a four-acre wildlife area and a Japanese garden at her property between Noti and Cheshire with the help of three friends and her husband.

"I would be at a loss if I couldn't garden," Patterson said. "I would have planted at least sprouts in a pot or African violets on my windowsill, but I really wanted to grow food, and lots of it."

What allowed her the freedom? A concept called "adaptive gardening" involves making small modifications to accommodate a gardener's physical injuries or disabilities. In her case, she has built high raised beds that make access easier. She also uses an extensive trellis system. Favorite tools include an Asian plow-hoe, a garden knife and an aluminum trowel with finger indentations for a better grip.  

"We call it gardening smarter, not harder," said Patterson, who has been sharing her knowledge with the public as a Master Gardener volunteer since 1976.

Patterson chairs the adaptive gardening committee of the Master Gardeners' Association of Lane County. Anywhere from two to 20 committee members give talks and help such institutions as assisted living centers make gardening more accessible to everyone. One occasional committee volunteer is legally deaf and partially sighted.

The OSU Extension Service offers gardening advice for the visually impaired in a publication at http://bit.ly/XGP99l. Here are a few of the tips:

  • Mark changes in the direction of path segments with shrubs or with different textures of the path material.
  • Make flower borders and planted beds no more than three feet across so the gardener can reach the plants while kneeling and working with short-handled tools.
  • Install wind chimes, moving water and scented plants to help the gardener find special parts of the garden.
  • Arrange bedded plants in groups of three to five in straight rows to make them easier to locate.

Another Extension guide offers advice for adapting gardening tools for people with physical challenges at http://bit.ly/113x6lZ.  It recommends the following:

  • Use plastic handle extenders to improve leverage and keep you from having to bend over too. Or use long-handled tools, which are available in many hardware stores.
  • Garden from a chair to add comfort if you have knee problems.
  • Build raised beds or containers whenever possible to minimize bending.

You can see such examples of adaptive gardening techniques like whiskey barrel planters, accessible table-top beds and extra-tall raised beds at various demonstration gardens maintained by Master Gardeners, including those in Benton, Douglas, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion and Washington counties.


Pat Patterson, 541-998-6920

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The OSU Extension Service's demonstration garden in Salem features adaptive gardening techniques that make it more accessible to people with physical disabilities. (Photo by Neil Bell.)