Scientific stress testing

OSU experiments on drought tolerance of cherry trees


What appeared to be the scene of a sci-fi movie was really the start of long-term tests on how water deprivation affects tree growth and production at the OSU Research and Extension Center.

Ghostly images were recently viewed in an experimental orchard at the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center. But what appeared to be a scene from a science fiction movie was actually a test for “water stress” on Lapins cherry trees. For one week in early August, eight of the trees were encased in transparent plastic chambers that were kept inflated with portable fans.

“We’re trying to understand how much we can cut back on water, and to what degree, without affecting fruit production,” said Dr. Roberto Nuñez-Elisea, assistant professor of horticulture.

Nuñez-Elisea, who heads the local Oregon State University’s sweet cherry program, is now studying the data gathered from the preliminary test. He is working on the project in cooperation with Matthew Whiting, his counterpart from the Irrigated Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Washington state. The scientific team is taking a first-ever look at how much moisture can be removed from the soil without affecting the overall health of the tree. Their goal is to work out a formula that will decrease growth and increase productivity. They are addressing orchardist complaints that the standard Mazzard root stock of the Lapins, while hardy, put its energies into growth, which takes the tree longer to bear fruit.

“This is a large tree with vigorous growth and it is cumbersome to harvest, so we are very interested in producing a tree that can either be picked with a small ladder or no ladder at all,” said Nuñez-Elisea.

In addition, he said finding methods to decrease water usage could make the farming of cherries more efficient, as well as preserving a natural resource.

“It costs so much to plant trees that you need to get a return on your money as soon as possible and water is one tool for achieving that,” said Whiting.

During the one-week trial period, the canopy of four trees that had already been deprived of water several days earlier were compared with four irrigated plantings. Although there was not enough time to measure any significant results, Nuñez-Elisea, who specializes in water management, and Whiting, a leading researcher of cherry physiology, were able to gain a base knowledge of how the study would work.

Whiting said when a tree draws an adequate amount of moisture through the roots, minerals and nutrients are carried to the leaves and then out into the atmosphere through microscopic openings known as stomates. When a drought condition occurs, he said these openings close, and he wants to learn if that process happens quickly or over a gradual amount of time. Nuñez-Elisea manned the electronic ground sensors to track what was happening with the root systems on both the watered and unwatered trees. He is striving to coordinate where the saturation point is and how far soil water content can be moved back.

“What we would like to do is to learn enough about tree behavior that it can ‘tell us’ when it is stressed and needs water,” Whiting said.

Nuñez-Elisea and Whiting plan to ask the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission later this fall for more funding to continue their experimentation next spring.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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