This summer Carlo Moreno, assistant professor of environmental studies at The College of Wooster, is teaming up with Jim and Amy Duxbury, owners of Lavender Trails, a lavender farm in Orrville. Moreno, whose work in ecology often involves participatory action research developed collectively with members of the local community, is working with the Duxburys to support their work on the farm.
With an interest in warming up the soil during the early season (March-May), as well reducing the incidence of spittlebugs, which are a cosmetic nuisance for customers, Moreno and Duxbury developed a research project to test different colored mulches. The study, led by Moreno, is a joint effort between Lavender Trails and the Environmental Studies Program at Wooster that aims to understand which colors of plastic mulch are better at not only heating up the soil, but also reducing the presence of spittlebugs on lavender plants. Spittlebugs are small (less than a quarter inch) insects that feed on plant fluids. In high enough numbers they can stunt plant growth and reduce the cosmetic appeal of plants with the foamy “spittle” they coat themselves in while feeding.
In June, Moreno, along with Wooster students, Cydney Hall and Lucas Stengl, as well as the help of Jim, Amy, and Parker (Jim and Amy’s son), installed the mulches. Hall, Stengl, and Moreno will travel to Lavender Trails multiple times over the summer to measure plant growth, soil temperatures, and spittlebug population abundance. Five different colors of plastic mulch are being tested including red, blue, brown, metallic, and embossed. Data on soil temperatures, spittlebug abundance, and lavender leaf area index will also be collected periodically throughout the summer. Moreno explained that “The biggest reward from this collaboration is the opportunity to involve students in experiential learning through research, to help build relationships between them and members of the local community, and to have students feel like they are engaged in work that creates impact.”