21 Apr
WVU Soils Team

The West Virginia University Soils Team recently traveled to Quakerstown, Pa., for the 2014 National Collegiate Soils Contest.

Becca Swope, an agricultural and extension education major from Columbiana, Ohio, placed 13th in the field of 76 competitors and was the team’s top individual finisher. Overall, WVU placed 10th as a team – its sixth top 10 finish in the past nine years.

Hosted by Delaware Valley College, the competition featured 19 teams representing colleges and universities from across the country.
The nine-member team includes Swope, Nicholas Beaver, a Dec. 2013 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Sistersville, W.Va.; Elenaor Bell, a soil science major from Snowshoe, W.Va.; Riley Biddle, an agronomy major from Carmichaels, Pa.; Caleb Griffing, an agroecology major from McHenry, Md.; James Lenoard, an agroecology major from Middletown, Md.; Emily Lessman, a soil science major from Sistersville, W.Va.; Adrienne Nottingham, a soil science major from Green Bank, W.Va.; and Emily Wells, an agribusiness management and rural development major from Morgantown.

“As always, I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of all of these students,” said James Thompson, associate professor of soils and land use and the team’s advisor. “These students continue to build upon the past success of the WVU Soils Team. I believe this speaks to the quality of the training that these students receive from the Division of Plant & Soil Sciences. It also reflects the overall strength of the academic programs across the Davis College. Thank you for your support of these students, particularly when they are away from campus for extended periods at critical times during the semester.”

17 Apr

BPC profiles: Mountain State Hydroponics

David | April 17th, 2014
Mountain State Hydroponic

Gaylynn Johnson, a graduate student in horticulture, won the Hospitality & Tourism category in the 2014 West Virginia Business Plan Competition for Mountain State Hydroponics.

Mountain State Hydroponics, a start-up venture located in the Mid-Ohio Valley region of West Virginia, specializes in the year-round production of high quality vegetables, herbs and fruits. This venture will utilize an innovative growing method, hydroponics, where produce is grown without soil, relying instead on mineral nutrients.

We asked Johnson some questions about her experience in the competition and about her next entrepreneurial steps.

How did you decide to participate in the Business Plan Competition?

I’ve always been interested in starting a business, but I didn’t know where to begin with writing a business plan. I spoke with and enrolled in Dr. Fonda Holehouse’s “Rural Enterprise Development” to help me get started. Entry into the competition was a course requirement, whether your idea was accepted or not. Being from Michigan, I had no plans of staying in West Virginia, but the more I started seeing how viable Mountain State Hydroponics was in the state, the more determined I was to get the company started. And discovering West Virginia in my travels has been a positive experience; this state is beautiful, the people are passionate, and have been most supportive of Mountain State Hydroponics. The whole thought of doing what I love and being my own boss is so satisfying to me and I continued to see this competition through. This is my second year of competition in the finals and it shows the determination and devotion I have in this business.

Can you talk a little about the process of how you arrived at your idea? Did you have it in mind before you decided to compete?

My first idea tanked when I found a patent already listed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Then I thought, why not apply my research in aquaponics, which is the production of plant crops with the wastewater and organic matter from aquaculture, to the competition. However, being in horticulture and all-around plant geek, working with plants was enough for me. I’m not the most comfortable around animals and decided against fish production; it’s not to say that it won’t happen in the future, but I felt it is the best decision for me right now.

By all accounts, the competition is a lot of hard work. How were you able to build it into your regular life as a student?

As a graduate student, I have no choice, but to be disciplined and focused on tasks. “Sleep? What’s that?” is quickly becoming a new phrase for me as write my thesis and papers for peer-reviewed publications. Not to say that I don’t get out, but I’m more responsible and know when it’s time to take care of business.

What advice would you give for a student who wanted to pursue the Business Plan Competition, or just try and turn an idea into a business of their own?

Get a mentor! I would have never completed a business plan without the help of Fonda. She is so passionate about her students and wants the best for us. I would not have been confident in my business plan, financials especially, or comfortable with presenting without the help of my coaches, Ajay Aluri and Frank DeMarco. These people set me in the right direction and they’re very willing to point out the positives of the business and the negatives. They’ve all said, “No’ or “I don’t like that” at some point during this process. There were times when I thought, maybe this isn’t for me, but I came to understand that they were making the business better.

What are your next steps for your business? How would you like to see it develop?

I want to get started after I finish school this summer and have my first crops available January 2015. As far as development, I want to see Mountain State selling a value-added product or more specialty crops like mushrooms and wasabi. I not only want to be a local business to West Virginians, but a regional business as well. So I want to hit markets in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, maybe even Michigan, but I want to have that high production and quality capability. I’m doing big things here and I’m ready to walk on the path I’ve set forth for myself.

16 Apr

By Brian Gallaher
Writer and Editor, WVU Extension Service

You might have noticed that boxwood plants around your home and garden aren’t looking as healthy as they did last year. The reason could be “winter burn.” West Virginia University experts offer advice to help restore boxwood plants to their previous state and prevent future damage.

“Boxwood plants aren’t native to West Virginia, and they sometimes aren’t as winter hardy as other more common, evergreen plants,” explained Mahfuz Rahman, WVU Extension Service plant pathology specialist.

This winter caused widespread winter burn damage to boxwood plants across the region. Winter burn occurs when plants lose water from their leaves, and roots are deprived of water because the ground is frozen.

“It’s important to take proper measures during the winter months to protect boxwood plants,” Rahman said. “Prune away any damaged parts of the plant in the springtime before new growth starts to help the plant recover from any winter burn from the previous season.”

There are a few ways to determine if boxwood plants have suffered from winter burn. Black or brown discoloration, or bleaching of new growth are typical signs of winter burn damage.

“Wind is a common factor that causes winter burn,” said William MacDonald, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design forest pathology professor.

The southwest facing side of the plant typically has the most noticeable winter burn damage, especially if the plant has no protection from wind-induced withering.

MacDonald explains that winter burn damage could be reversed if you take steps to fix it now.

“April is the perfect time of year to prune boxwood plants because the plants haven’t started to sprout new growth,” he added.

– See more at:

15 Apr

West Virginia University will host a free web-based seminar on climate change and its implications for regional agriculture at 2 p.m. on April 25.

The webinar will be moderated locally by Doolarie Singh-Knights, an assistant extension professor of agricultural and resource economics in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, an agricultural economics specialist with the WVU Extension Service and the local and regional foods scholar at the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development.

The webinar is sponsored by the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, which is directed by Stephan Goetz, a professor of agricultural and regional economics in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“There is growing interest among those in the agricultural community about how the temperature and precipitation changes that are forecasted to occur over the next decades may affect food production in the Northeast region,” said Goetz, who will co-facilitate the webinar. “While yields for some crops may be adversely affected, new opportunities may also emerge for growing other crops that could not have been grown previously.”

This 90-minute webinar will feature scientists whose research focuses on these issues – Art DeGaetano is a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University and is the director of the federally supported Northeast Regional Climate Center. DeGaetano, who describes his research as “applied climatology,” develops research methods and data sets that provide climatological information to decision-makers in a variety of fields.

David Fleisher is an agricultural engineer in the Agricultural Research Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a member of the ARS Crop Systems and Global Change Lab, Fleisher carries out research to improve the growth, yield and quality of crops in the face of climatic changes, through increased understanding of the mechanisms controlling response and adaptation to changes in CO2, light, water, temperature and soil chemistry.

As a center scholar, Singh-Knights organized this webinar to help identify current research, teaching and extension efforts that promote practical and profitable responses to climate change challenges. She also expects the webinars to promote regional collaboration in these areas.

“We organized this webinar series as part of the Northeast Center’s efforts to help build stronger networks among land-grant and related institutions in the Northeast,” said Singh-Knights.

This webinar is the third in an occasional series organized by Singh-Knights that focuses on local and regional food systems. Previous webinars in the series are archived online.

To register for the seminar, please visit or contact Singh-Knights at

14 Apr

Organic farm hosts Extension demo

David | April 14th, 2014

By Brian Gallaher
Writer and Editor, WVU Extension Service

Learn how to tame overgrown landscaping and refresh your outdoor foliage or garden with help from West Virginia University Extension Service.

Extension faculty will offer a free landscape pruning demonstration from 10 a.m. to noon on April 26 at WVU’s Organic Research Farm.

“This is a great opportunity to get a basic understanding of how plants respond and adapt to trimming and pruning,” remarked Mira Danilovich, WVU Extension Service associate professor and specialist for consumer horticulture.

“Tree, shrub and foliage pruning are crucial for the plant’s overall good health,” she said. “Attendees will learn how to prune trees and shrubs properly so they remain healthy and beautiful for years to come.”

According to Danilovich, there are many benefits of pruning trees, foliage and shrubs regularly:

  • Removes dead or diseased branches that can be unsightly and lead to decreased health of the plant.
  • Promotes growth of plants in the vicinity. Overgrown foliage invades other parts of your outdoor space, and can starve nearby plants of light and nutrients.
  • Restores the plant’s appearance. Some shrubs that have gone years without being pruned can sometimes be salvaged, which can restore the plant’s beauty and encourage healthy, new growth.
  • Reduces the risk of accidents and injuries. Overgrown foliage can wreak havoc on power lines, and trees that go without pruning can cause property damage.
  • Beautifies your outdoor space and gives your home “curb appeal” which resonates with prospective homebuyers if you plan to sell your home.

The pruning demonstration will be outdoors and attendees should prepare by wearing appropriate clothing for the two-hour demonstration.

The WVU Organic Research Farm is situated on 71 acres of land off Route 705 and Stewartstown Road in Morgantown. An interdisciplinary team from the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and WVU Extension conducts research on field crops, livestock, organic pasture management, vegetable production, weed, insect and disease management, as well as soil quality.

Parking for the event will be available in the lot at the front of the farm.

In case of extreme weather conditions, the event may be rescheduled.

For more information on the event, potential alternate date, or to learn more about WVU Extension Service’s Master Gardener program, visit

9 Apr
marigolds Spring has arrived and the West Virginia University Horticulture Club has a variety of plants available to help your yard bloom.

For the next five weekends the Evansdale Greenhouse will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the following days for the spring plant sale:

  • April 11-13
  • April 18-20
  • April 25-27
  • May 2-4
  • May 9-11

Plants ranging from perennials to annuals, as well as hanging baskets, will be available for purchase. Four-inch pots of annuals will be $2, while four-inch pots of perennials and six packs of annuals will be $3. Quart pots of perennials will be $4 and hanging baskets will be $20.

The sale was made possible by the students in Horticulture (HORT) 445: Greenhouse Management, HORT 441: Garden Center Management, and the WVU Horticulture Club.

“The combined effort has allowed students to get real world, hands-on experience in producing and selling plant materials ranging from annuals to perennials, herbs, and vegetable transplants while raising funds for national and international trips,” said Sven Verlinden, associate professor of horticulture in the Davis College.

Each group of students took on specific roles in growing, marketing and financing this project.

Those enrolled in the greenhouse management course propagated and grew a variety of plants and hanging baskets while students in the garden center management class took inventory, learned about merchandising plants, and will be responsible for marketing the plant material to the WVU community.

Additionally, the plant sale is a fundraiser for the Horticulture Club which provided funds for seeds, cuttings, media and pots.

For more information, contact Verlinden at 304-293-4480.

8 Apr
BPC winners 2014

West Virginia University and, specifically, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, won all three categories in the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, which granted $10,000 first prize awards to three students to help make a business idea come to life.

Jessica Elliot, an animal and nutritional sciences major, RenaSnacks, Lifestyle & Innovation category; Gaylynn Johnson, a graduate student in horticulture, Mountain State Hydroponics, Hospitality & Tourism category; and Harold Vass, a graduate student in agricultural and resource economics, and Alan Davis, an environmental and natural resource economics major, Weld Safe Technologies, STEM category (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), took home the first place for their respective categories in the competition, which lasted nearly the entire academic year and included a record field of 235 entries, on April 4.

The event culminated in a competition that saw participation from 11 West Virginia colleges and universities. The record number of entries included 123 entries in the Lifestyle & Innovation category; 88 entries in the Hospitality & Tourism category; and 24 entries in the STEM category, a new division in this year’s competition. The event is hosted by the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located in the WVU College of Business and Economics.

“I believe this is the most competitive event to date,” said Steven Cutright, director of the BrickStreet Center. “It has been our goal to make the competition better for the participants every year, and the competitiveness demonstrated this year really showed that. We’re pleased with the progress and participation, and we’re already looking forward to an even better event next year.”

– See more at:

3 Apr
evan hansen The Plant and Soil Sciences Club will host a seminar by Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies at 6 p.m. Monday, April 7, in 1021 South Agricultural Sciences. Hansen will speak on “The Elk River Chemical Leak: Implications for Protecting Drinking Water in West Virginia.”

In his presentation, Hansen will summarize what is known and not known about the Freedom Industries chemical leak into the Elk River near Charleston, W.Va. He will also include a summary of key provisions of Senate Bill 373, which includes a range of new requirements to prevent future spills and protect drinking water across West Virginia.

In his work with Downstream Strategies, Hansen explores resource and environmental problems and solutions in three areas: water, energy, and land. He manages interdisciplinary research teams, performs quantitative and qualitative policy and scientific analyses, provides litigation support and expert testimony, develops computer tools, provides training, and performs field monitoring.

The lecture is free and open to the WVU community. For more information, please contact James Thompson, associate professor of soil science, at 304-293-2921 or

27 Mar
Skousen Heebink In 1986, Jeff Skousen took a job as a land reclamation WVU Extension specialist and soil science professor at West Virginia University after living all of his life out West.

He came for the job, but stayed because of the people with whom he worked side-by-side to renew soil around the 24,000-square-mile state.

Skousen has also looked after many of the youth throughout the state interested in soil sciences. He takes an active role in state 4-H and FFA land judging. Often he meets students in his college classes whom he helped with land judging when they were in high school or 4-H.

He’s being honored this year with WVU’s Gerry and Ethel Heebink Award for Distinguished State Service, an award that nominators say he so richly deserves for his work for industry, education and with the state’s people.

“Once we got here and found such gracious, wonderful people, it very quickly became our home,” Skousen said. “So it was easy for us to turn our hearts and our minds to this being our home. We love the people that we’ve met here.”

– See more at:

24 Mar

The West Virginia University Extension Service is offering an innovative conference focused on what you’d might call a “growth market”:

Gardening – it’s just so citified. Or, it can be, according to West Virginia University Extension Service experts helping to organize the first West Virginia Urban Agriculture Conference, April 11-12 in Institute, W.Va.

The conference will feature workshops geared toward new gardeners, as well as seasoned green thumbs. Topics include small space gardens, edible landscapes and revitalization. There are also workshops on food business operations, sourcing local foods and rainwater harvesting.

“City residents are interested in everything from raising chickens to farmers market vending,” John Porter, agriculture agent for WVU Extension Service’s Kanawha County office, said. “The opportunities in our urban areas have changed. We can provide research-based education and resources to keep up with the trends and stay ahead of the game.”

Full registration costs $40, with one-day attendance available each day. Other options, including a kid-friendly activity and a rain barrel workshop, have an additional fee. A full schedule and online registration is available at

– See more at:

Porter, the organizer of the event, earned his master’s degree in horticulture from the Davis College.