From the Field

Sagebrush Science Makes a Breakthrough with Soil Pasta

When scientists were looking for a better way to restore sagebrush they thought way outside of the box. The solution — a pasta maker.

They insert their special mixture of soil and additives into the pasta machine and make a special “dough” used to create “ravioli” seed pellets. This “dough” serves as a coat armor for tiny sagebrush seeds — providing protection and optimal germination conditions. The pellets have a 70% better chance of survival (than scattered seeds) and can be easily spread across large landscapes.

“When we put them out into the field they emerge quickly,” says Lauren Svejcar, a Research Assistant at Oregon State University (OSU), “and then are prepared and they’re not tiny little seedlings and they can survive through the drought.”

Sagebrush steppe has been reduced by non-native grasses, drought and wildfires. Sagebrush plants are essential habitat, and wildlife (like sage grouse) depend on them for survival.

Scientists at the Nature Conservancy, USDA and OSU continue to improve the soil formula and plan to scale up this technology for use in sagebrush restoration across the American west.

Sagebrush at Beezley Hills Preserve. Photo © Hannah Letinich
Sagebrush at Beezley Hills Preserve. Photo © Hannah Letinich
Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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11 comments

  1. Glad to see the next generation of TNC scientists continuing the work of Masanobu Fukuoka.
    The pasta machine and the modern mixture components are step into the future from the original clay balls Masanobu taught us to use. Keep up the good work.

  2. That’s a wonderful idea on the pasta machine. Congratulations!

  3. This is sort of like a seed ball that has been written about to distribute native plants.

  4. I am so impressed by this germination process method. I would like to obtain some of the seed pellets to seed my land in North Eastern Colorado. Can you let me know how I can purchase them or your recipe for the planting mix.

    1. Hi Ryan, Thank you for your interest! Please contact the Nature Conservancy in Oregon’s volunteer coordinator (orvolunteers@tnc.org) to find out if there are any restoration projects using this technology.

  5. Sage-grouse my favorite Idaho native bird and sagebrush steppe my favorite ecosystem … will never look at pasta the same again 🙂

  6. Loved the solution you found, hope that the project works out in the long term with such climate variability going on in the area!

  7. Lisa,

    I write the Conservation News section of Land Trust Alliance’s Saving Land magazine, which is a collection of short articles about land conservation from across the country. We’d like to include a few paragraphs based on this post, which will link to your story. Just wanted to give you a heads up! You’re welcome to review it before it goes to print. Just email me if you’d like to see it (edits needed by next Wednesday). Also, if it’s possible to get an image to go with the article, that would be great.

    Rose

    1. Hi Rose, Since you’ll be linking to us, please go ahead without sending it to me for review. Since you’re talking about TNC work, if you’d like to use the photo that I have here by Hannah Letinich, contact tncphotos@TNC.ORG to confirm permission and be sure to let them know that you’ll be using it in coverage of a TNC project. Thank you!