Our occasional series on “five things you don’t know about…” covers all things gardening and DC area. This month, we highlight Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent, Kirsten Conrad.
Kirsten Conrad – Agriculture, Natural Resources Extension Educator-Horticulture in Arlington County and Alexandria, since 2007
1) Kirsten has gardening in her genes. Her mother’s brother founded a landscape contracting business in Denmark, which her cousins now run. On her father’s side, her grandfather, Arthur F. Conrad, was renowned for his expertise as head of grounds at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where Kirsten grew up. A native redbud tree on the campus that he grafted with white and purple blossoms bears his name – and still blooms. Upon his death in 1996, the university said in a memorial statement: “He was considered a wizard.” What’s that saying about the acorn not falling too far from the tree?
2) Kirsten had a farm. On just half an acre in Southern California for three years in the mid-1980s, Kirsten had a horse, raised goats, pigs and chickens and produced and sold goat cheese. She had lemon, lime and orange and fig trees, avocados and two successful crops of corn.
What did she learn? “Goat milk and avocado are a poor diet for pigs. They got way too fat.”
3) Learning is her thing, and so is teaching. A Master Gardener, Kirsten also a B.S. from Auburn University in ornamental horticulture and landscape design and an M.S. from Indiana University in outdoor recreation management. She owned her own landscape design and maintenance business in Bloomington, Ind., for seven years. She told her residential clients at Floribunda Inc. that she wanted to empower them so they could fire her and do the work themselves.
“They laughed,” she said. “But I love helping people. I make a difference. People say, `Thank you,’ and I love it.”
4) Life in an urban jungle was a worrisome prospect. When she relocated to Northern Virginia from Delaware in September 2007, Kirsten was anxious about moving to an urban area.
“I was thinking concrete jungle,” she said. Happily, she learned there’s a lot more here than marble edifices and highways. “I was blown away by all the parks and green space,” she said, calling the National Arboretum and parks “an embarrassment of riches.”
5) No “Bones” about it, Kirsten is an expert. From time to time, the popular TV show “Bones” consults Kirsten on some of its grizzliest issues. Here’s a question she fielded from the show’s technical researcher: “Our victim’s throat was sliced out in the woods. Our guys are going to find the crime scene four months later. It was a very messy murder with a lot of blood. I’d imagine some of the blood would have been washed away by the elements but could we still expect to find some dried blood on the scene? If not, what could we expect to find that would tell us there had previously been a lot of blood in the area? For example, would blood on the ground affect the way the surrounding plants grew?”
“Oh, my goodness!” Kirsten said, recalling the question. She researched blood pH and concluded that unless a plant were highly susceptible to pH changes – which is unlikely in the woods – it was unlikely even a lot of blood would leave a trace after four months.
Bonus question — Ornamentals or vegetables? “I want them both. I do favor edible landscaping – plants that perform double duty.”
– Compiled by Marsha Mercer, Certified Master Gardener