Last week I (Rachel) was mainly working on getting the kits packed up and ready to ship out to people to start the study. While the kits and what’s inside appear to be fairly simple, packaging all the bits and pieces, making sure everything is labelled and in the right order has been taking a bit of time and a lot of space! At the moment I have a stack of flat pack boxes on the landing, stacks of paper and cotton strips on my work desk and a box full of envelopes and sample bags all neatly labelled with usernames, ready to go.
What’s in the kit and what is each thing for?
First of all the kit is designed around core citizen science principles outlined by the European Citizen Science Association. It is designed to help people report on their soil in a systematic and (hopefully) enjoyable way.
Sample bags and envelopes: There are two sample bags to add a handful of soil. Each of them have your username that helps us identify who the sample has come from when reporting on your soil and borage throughout the study. You can then send your soil samples using the stamped addressed envelopes to Felicity and her team at the Royal Agricultural University. They can test the biological and microbial health of the soil and look for any pollutants such as metals, which are fairly common in urban soils. We’re asking people to send their soil samples before they plant their borage and then at the end of the study so we can see if there have been any changes over the study period and in response to growing the borage. We can then share the results with you, other scientists and policy makers.
Cotton strip: Testing soil samples in labs is a great way of understanding soil health in a scientific way. There are other ways people can test the microbial health of their soils using everyday materials. The cotton calico strip we’ve included is one way you can do this. Planting the strip in soil for several weeks and then digging it up and seeing how much the strip has biodegraded shows how well things like bacteria and microbes are working to break the soil down. We can then compare different strips to evaluate which soils could be considered biologically more healthy.
Bodger: We’ve called this a bodger, but technically it’s a large lolly stick! You can use this to do a few things. Mark out in the soil where you will plant your cotton strip and push the soil back to make the hole. You can also use it to mark out and create a shallow ditch to plant your borage seeds. Finally once you have planted your cotton strip use the bodger to stick in the ground so you can find your cotton strip when you’re ready to dig it up.
Card: The white paper card is for when you have dug up the cotton strip at the end of the study. Place the cotton strip (or what’s left of it) and lay it flat on the card so you can see a bit more clearly how much the strip has biodegraded. We’d like you to photograph the cotton strip on the card and send it to us so we can see how it’s worked. We can then compare different biodegradability with the results of the soil sample and across the different sites and share this with you.
Borage seeds: We’ve given you an envelope of borage seeds to plant in your container, window box, garden or allotment. It’s good to grow the borage next to the cotton strip so the borage is grown in the same area. Don’t sow your seeds too close to the cotton strip though, otherwise you will have to dig up the borage to get to your cotton. We’ve chosen borage since it is a good indicator of soil health and grows fairly quickly. It’s also a great pollinator and is a pretty flowering plant. You can also eat the leaves which are also reported to be good for your mental health. What’s not to like!
Soil monitor: This a domestic soil monitor that can be used to measure light, moisture and PH levels. It doesn’t live outdoors but can be used to check different areas of your garden, yard or allotment.
Guide: We’ve made a little guide for you to help report on where you are growing your borage and how your soil is getting on.
Here are the first kits to go out this week. Looking forward to sending out more soon.
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