Category Archives: Plant Science

Internship at the Smithsonian (continued…)

Posted by: Katrina Burritt, EHS student

I just finished up my last week at the Smithsonian on Friday July 27, 2012. I really enjoyed
this internship. The staff was very nice and I got to connect to most of the people in the
Greenhouse unit because there wasn’t that many of us. I have learned so much about
maintaining a living collection, specifically with orchids, although I also worked with bonsai,
tropical and bromeliads. Work included testing the orchids for virus, watering (so much
watering), greenhouse maintenance, plant upkeep, flower arranging and database work. I
would highly recommend an internship within Smithsonian Gardens for anyone. Another bonus
to an internship at Smithsonian Gardens is all the field trips and events the interns are allowed
to participate in. I got to go the American History Museum, Natural History Museum, the Freer
and Sackler Gallery, and Dumbarton Oaks before they were open to the public.


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Internship at the Smithsonian

Posted By: Katrina Burritt, EHS Student

My internship at the Smithsonian is a position at the orchid greenhouse. So far I have learned lots about orchids including how to water, fertilize, what type of growing conditions the different species require, virus testing, virus eradication. My supervisor plans to work with me on transplanting, and dividing several different orchid species and hybrids, both indoor and terrestrial species. I plan to start a green roof project during my time at the Smithsonian. The green roof will be installed onto several bluebird houses that are going to be built on the property in Suitland surrounding the greenhouse grounds. I am going to be learning how to catalog and verify nomenclature of the orchid species and hybrids also.


Internship at Ganna Walska Lotusland, Santa Barbara

Posted by: Aly Crofford

This summer I had the amazing opportunity of doing an internship at the famous and beautiful Ganna Walska Lotusland, and it was such a great learning experience! This internship really was ideal; paid, housing provided, in beautiful Santa Barbara, and did I mention the garden is INCREDIBLE?! The housing that Lotusland provides is on the grounds and is basically just a room with its own bathroom, which is all connected to what they call the “green cottage,” where all the gardeners meet in the mornings. My room was pretty spacious and comfortable, but hearing coyotes and critters all night definitely took some getting used to. This 10-week program has been a great stepping-stone from the textbook-filled academic lifestyle to the hands-on world of public gardens.

I got to spend my time at Lotusland working directly with the Plant Health Care Coordinator, Corey Welles, who has worked at Lotusland for 22 years. Corey introduced this garden to the world of composting and sustainable management about 20 years ago. On the first day of my internship I was shown all around the garden and the backfields. Corey also told me that he would be going on vacation for 4 weeks and that I would be “in charge” of a couple of his duties. I spent my first week with Corey learning how to brew compost tea, set rodent traps (gophers, voles, and rats), take and send soil samples, and keep up the compost piles. Corey is all about gopher trapping; it is literally the thing he prides himself most on, so he spent a lot of time teaching me his techniques. Other than these duties, I would spend the rest of Corey’s vacation time working in each of the 12 different gardens.

Upon coming to Lotusland, I did not know much about compost tea and its uses and benefits. The compost for the tea all comes from Lotusland’s own compost piles in the backfields of the garden. They try to always maintain about 5 or 6 large piles of compost, which are turned a couple times a month, watered, and checked for temperature. Almost all green waste from the garden is put into the compost piles, along with food byproducts and tons of wood chippings to provide good aeration. The piles are rich with fungi, arthropods, and other microorganisms. The finished compost is sifted by hand and used throughout the garden for tea, renovation projects, and any new plantings. Once Corey left for vacation, I was left with the duty of brewing compost tea 3 days a week and cleaning the system once a week. I was also in charge of the fertilizer schedule and making sure that each gardener was doing the applications correctly.

Other than that and doing some soil sampling and gopher trapping, I was doing maintenance in each themed garden. It wasn’t easy work, but I enjoyed learning about the different needs of each type of garden. For example, the gardener in the Japanese garden taught me “Japanese-style” pruning, and the water gardener had me in a heavy duty Eddie Bauer wet suit walking around the large ponds and fertilizing the lotuses and water lilies. My favorite garden to work in was the bromeliad garden. The gardener of the bromeliads, Mike Furner, has worked at Lotusland for 34 years and he really knows his stuff. He assigned me a landscaping project of installing a terrestrial bromeliad section of the garden. I also really liked working in the butterfly garden because all of the plants were so beautiful and they have the most gorgeous cannas I have ever seen. My least favorite garden to work in was the cycads because I kept getting myself poked by the spiny leaves and there was absolutely no shade and it was HOT. The cactus garden also didn’t have any shade, but I love cacti so it was bearable.

The summer intern also gets to work at the main event called “Lotusland Celebrates,” which is their annual fundraising event and pulled in 500 guests this year. I got to work at the registration table and also at the auction. Doing the registration was a little stressful because it was so busy and all of the millionaires were antsy to get into the garden and didn’t want to wait in line. It was really cool to actually see and meet many of the donors that give so much money to make Lotusland what it is today. Working the auction was definitely my favorite part of the day, where I just had to observe and wave a flag if I saw a bidder. There were 6 auction items and none of them went for any less than $10,000. It was fun to watch all of the bidders throwing out thousands of dollars like it’s candy and then laughing about it. This was definitely the fanciest party I think I’ll ever go to.

When Corey got back from Germany, work definitely got more enjoyable and we were doing things that really tested my knowledge, instead of raking and pulling weeds. Corey constantly gets summoned by the staff to come look at damaged or diseased plants and then takes samples into his office to research and look at more closely. This part was the most fun for me, since we got to examine different pathogens and pathology has been my favorite class at Poly so far. My boss was really impressed with my ability to identify pathogens, specifically Armillaria, and my familiarity with preventative measures (thanks Dr. Yoshimura). Corey was also happy to know that I had taken a Biological Control class, since he is really into beneficial insects. About 14 years ago, Corey–with help from professionals–strategically installed insectary plants all around the garden. He mostly used California natives such as salvia, Sambucus, coffeeberry, and coyote bush. These plants harbor and attract beneficial insects into the garden, which then fly in and attack the insect pests of the garden. I also got the chance to work with the curator and we went on a couple field trips to nearby nurseries to pick up plants. Working with the curator was probably my favorite part of the program and really sparked my interest in curation.

All in all, this internship was awesome and I learned more than I can even fathom. Corey taught me to consider the natural ecology of the surrounding environment and showed me how to renovate soils and create habitats for beneficial organisms. This ecologically-friendly approach goes way beyond integrated pest management or organic gardening; it uses holistic techniques that seek to address the roots of problems instead of applying a “band-aid” solution. I feel really lucky to have learned all these sustainable horticulture skills and plan to use these methods in my future career.

I could honestly go on and on about everything that I did at the garden, but I don’t want to bore you guys, so I will stop here. Until next time!

Posted by: Aly Crofford, AEPS student


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Intro: Bug Detective

Intro: Bug Detective

Posted by Dani Ruais

Cal Poly is full of opportunities. I did not think that I would have found an interest in plant protection science while I was here, but I found that I have deep fascination with insects and their interaction with plants. After my introductory entomology class with Dr. Headrick, I decided that I would concentrate on plant protection sciences, and filled out the necessary paperwork for my concentration that same day. During the rest of my student career at Cal Poly, I took all the plant protection science classes that were offered: vertebrate pest management, advanced weed management, insect pest management, plant pathology, biological pest control, etc. Going through the plant protection program was easy enough. The program takes an integrated management approach to controlling pests which basically means that you monitor as much as you can (intro: Bug Detective), and then use the least invasive controls first before progressing to chemical controls, in addition to coming up with plans to use several different control measures in conjunction with one another. The program really makes you think about all of our impacts on natural ecosystems as well as on cropping and ornamental nursery systems.



The plant protection science program is comprehensive and prepares the student to take his or her Pest Control Advisor’s (PCA) license exam once graduated. Once I graduated, I had all the necessary educational requirements fulfilled for me to be able to take the PCA; and I passed the test my first time. The testing was in depth. But fortunately, Cal Poly professors tailor the plant protection science classes to uniquely prepare Cal Poly grads for the PCA test, as well as preparing the student to take his or her Qualified Applicators License (which is the next license I plan on receiving). PCA exam preparation lectures are also held periodically at Cal Poly for some extra help.

After I graduated, the Horticulture Unit was in need of a pesticide technician and I filled the position as I was studying to take my PCA exams. I really loved this experience. Sure it had some downsides that really taught me that maybe I do not want to do this in the future—by “this” I mean wearing a full Tyvek suit and respirator applying pesticides in a hot greenhouse in the middle of summer. I am not cut out for the heavy labor of being a pesticide applicator, but I do love to scout and recommend control measures. It also showed me that my education prepared me for real world experiences. My best friends during my position were my notes from previous classes I’ve taken, as well as the computer sites and databases that our professors have told us about so many times that we have them memorized.

As the pesticide technician at the Horticulture unit, my days consisted of monitoring the greenhouses and outdoor nursery and landscaped areas at the unit, identifying various damaging signs and symptoms, making recommendations for control measures for various weed pests, insect and mite pests, and plant pathogens, and applying those control measures that would best resolve our pest problems. I worked closely with the Horticulture Unit technician, Ellen Brack, PCA as well as with Dr. Rob Shortell, PCA and students who were growing their various enterprise projects in the greenhouses.

For instance, I had to take care of the reoccurring whitefly problems that come with growing poinsettias, and I had to monitor and work closely with the students in charge of the poinsettia growing to implement control measures. But one of the first things you want to make sure you know before diagnosing and treating a problem are the historical facts at play:

  • Poinsettias are susceptible to whitefly
  • Every year we grow poinsettias (usually by cuttings) we have whitefly affecting the crop
  • Even when we start with certified clean stock cuttings, we have whitefly affecting the crop
  • Historical weather data; pertinent environmental changes that could affect the reproductive cycles of whitefly
  • Whitefly is present on other crops in the neighboring greenhouses
  • Chemical controls are recorded and dated with corresponding graphs to measure effectiveness of control so we know what kind of effects our different control measures have over time

Knowing the answers to these types of questions prior to the establishment of the crop in the greenhouse allows us to use preventative measures, and physical and mechanical measures first, when they will be most effective and preventing a population to establish. Being proactive and consistent are the most important qualities in a PCA and in an integrated pest management plan. And making sure that when you apply a control measure, that it is the most reasonable one and that it is implemented 100% correctly so that they can be as effective as possible in order to not waste time and money.

By recording every observation (monitoring), gathering historically relevant facts (researching), as well as following up on every control measure to rate its effectiveness (recording) and decide whether to incorporate a control measure into an integrated pest management plan that looks at the whole picture; not just its isolated units.

Positions at Cal Poly are unique because it is Learn by doing. You have all the support you can get to prevent you from making mistakes, but even if you make a mistake and say burn all the plants with the wrong dose of pesticides, you do not get fired or ruin your career. Instead, you catch some flak, learn from your mistakes, and try to amend the situation. The position was equally challenging to control all pests at the unit, as well as to use and expand my knowledge base. I had the flexibility to try out different sprayers, different chemicals, various application methods, gain experience using beneficial insects, etc. I came away with probably a larger variety of knowledge than a lot of pest control advisors who have worked in one or two crops their whole careers. I got to work with such a variety of pests and crops and environmental situations that I feel almost like a jack of all trades- a little knowledge about everything pest related!


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It’s the Little Things Around Campus

Posted By: Dani Ruais

As it is getting close to finals week here at Cal Poly, and as long as the entire student body is studying at Kennedy Library, why not take a walk around campus for a study break? You might be surprised at what you find! Just take a deep breath and look around youself. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, located in the valley of the Irish Hills, Madonna Mountain, the “P”, and Bishop’s Peak. We are minutes from the great outdoors: Leaning Pine Arboretum, Poly Canyon, Horse Canyon, not to mention the several hiking and biking trails on and off campus. Here are just a few of the great treasures that I look forward to spotting around campus on a regular basis. Being on this campus and in this beautiful town is just one of the perks of coming to Cal Poly SLO. Especially enrolling in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, we are not only some of the creators of this beauty on campus, but we are also true stewards of this land and campus.

Sheep on the BRAE irrigation test field

Sheep on the BRAE irrigation test field

Sheep on the Bio Resource Agricultural Resource Test fields

Fletcher, one of the mousers at the Horticulture Unit, getting some much-needed TLC.

Say “Hi” to Fletcher when you are up at the Horticulture unit!

We treat our barn cats and mousers very well here! An extra special thank you to the Cal Poly Cat Program for taking care of our campus kitties!
Check out the Cal Poly Cat Program at:

Hummingbird nest in the greenhouse corridor at the Horticulture Unit

Hummers nest at the Horticulture Unit

Baby swallows in the breezeway at the Horticulture Unit

How do they all fit in that tiny nest?!

Birdhouse at the Horticulture Dorm

The baby horses are out with their moms at the Horse Unit right across the way from the Horticulture Unit at the top of Via Carta on Cal Poly SLO’s campus.

Just enjoying the beautiful sun!

Take a walk up to the Horse Unit and pet a horse or two!


Scrub jay at the Horse Unit

Thomas, the mouser at the Horse Unit

Thomas getting ready for a nap

View from the Horse Unit

Bishop’s Peak in the background; not a bad place to attend class 🙂

They don’t seem to mind the sprinklers.

Visit the Swine Unit!

Pirate calf

At the Dairy

Good luck studying for your finals! Hope this post reminds you to take it SLO!


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Back to Cali

Posted by: Mitchell

Hi All!

Sorry for the delay. It has been a rather hectic schedule since I left Iowa to finish my last quarters at Cal Poly!  As of this point, I am taking my last three required classes at Cal Poly, and then it is back to Colusa I go.  I felt that this blog was as good a time as any to reflect on my last five years in the HCS department.

I came to this university in 2007.  I didn’t know anybody, and realistically, I didn’t even really know myself.  Since that time I have taken more than 52 classes and met lifelong friends.  I have also had the chance to do things that I never thought possible such as travel both the world and the United States. I have been given the chance to not only be a student in a University, but be an individual at a school full of professors and staff who know me and what I need to succeed.

The main purpose of a college degree is to help prepare you for a career, but along with that, it’s to help you find out what your passion is.  For example, I am currently growing hydroponic lettuce for my senior project.  With this project we are hoping to start a breeding project that could help improve the way that we grow lettuce in California.  None of this would have been possible without the help of my advisor, my professors, and my classmates.  The project itself is an accumulation of everything I have learned at Cal Poly, and I really think it exemplifies everything that I love about this school.  Before this project, I had never grown anything using hydroponics, yet here I am, one quarter later growing whole lettuce crops.  Learn by Doing at its finest.
I believe that this blog has given people a good look at our everyday lives and what it might mean to be a student at this school.  If you love agriculture, learning, and growing as a student and as a person, come to Cal Poly, and become a member of our AEPS family.


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Get OUT! :)

Posted by: Kelly

Now is the time! Get out and do something new!

My time at Cal Poly is coming to an end, and I have realized how many things I have always said I will do and have never done. Recently I have been trying to go out and try new things. Here are a few things I suggest doing in the near future to make you a happier person

One: Read a new book. I have never been an avid reader, of anything, except maybe food blogs or magazines (which I tend to skim through). For my senior seminar class we are required to read a book and write a review on it. At first I saw it as a daunting task: why would I want to read a book for a class? It is my last quarter of school and I’m sure I can find a way to make it look like I have read the book. But after looking at the list I decided to read a book by Michael Pollan called “In Defense of Food.” To my surprise, it was one of the best books I have ever read! It gave me a new perspective on food and how others (mainly those not involved in ag) look at food and how it is grown. It has opened my eyes, and now I can understand why people think they way they think. This book has also encouraged me to start reading more books, which I am extremely excited about!


Two: Go visit a different city for a weekend. Last weekend I went up to Davis to visit some friends (and because I had volleyball which is a wonderful excuse). I had never been to Davis to just hang out, and it was quite nice! We walked around campus, got to check out a bunch of greenhouses, the domes, the Arboretum and the Davis Co-op. I felt like I was taking my own personal field trip. We went out to yummy dinners and the nightlife there was really entertaining! Even though it may seem like going out of town is a hassle, or you might not have time to get everything done, do it! Just go explore. You won’t be sorry.


Three: Go to Song Writers at Play. At Kruezburgs on Tuesdays, as well as a few other locations during the week, there is an event called Song Writers at Play. You can go to the coffee shop, grab a beer, some coffee or food and just sit and listen to people play their songs. It is one of the most relaxing things I did this week. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in school, or sports, and our daily lives that we forget to go out and do something fun for ourselves.

Four: Try a new sport in the Rec Center. Have you been to the new Rec Center? It is the Disneyland of all gyms. I nearly died when I walked in for the first time and thought I was going to get lost!! Even if you aren’t a gym rat and you don’t really like exercise, there are a ton of fun things to do in the gym. They have ping-pong, basketball, racquetball, squash and volleyball. The options are endless. Just go and try it out!

Five: (If you are a foodie like me…) Make a list of local restaurants to try. My roommate and I recently have come up with a list of restaurants in town that we would like to eat at someday. Sometimes when we are just sitting at home and have the urge to go get tasty food, we pull out the list and pick somewhere to go. Lots of places around San Luis use local produce and turn it into a divine dining experience.

Six: Throw a dinner party with some close friends. Our time in college is short and we want to see the friendships we make throughout the years last for a long time. Have some friends over for a dinner party. It doesn’t matter if you are a great chef or not, just having people all together, socializing over food makes for a great setting. This week I had my team over and we did a make your own pizza party. Go to a farmers market, pick up some veggies, some pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and call it a day! Easy-peezy party that people will love.




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