NSERC Chair for
Women in Science & Engineering

ICAN-WISE 2017 Feature

Taryn Goff

Along with her mentor Dr. Kate Congreves from the University of Saskatchewan, Taryn spent her summer initiating a field plot study on the use and efficiency of nitrogen fertilizer for vegetable crops. Their goal is to develop Saskatchewan’s first recommendations for N fertilizer use to reduce environmental impacts and support more sustainable vegetable production.

Weeks 1-2

Broccoli transplants for our fertility trial coming up in the greenhouse during the week of May 1 st. We hope to transplant them to the field by the week of May 22nd. Over the past two weeks, in addition to monitoring the health and growth of this broccoli, I’ve mostly been doing other preparatory work for the study – measuring out fertilizer treatments, labelling plot markers, staking out the field, etc.

Weeks 3-4

This picture shows part of our veg fertility trial field. The markers indicate different treatment areas, in which varying amounts of Nitrogen fertilizer have been applied. My work over the past two weeks has mainly been in preparation for planting these plots. I’ve collected soil samples, applied the fertilizer and rototilled, and finally, right before a storm rolled in on Thursday afternoon, planted carrots and sweet corn.

The photo hints at another element of my work – planning in such a way as to avoid being interrupted by the weather at crucial moments.

Weeks 5-6

I chose this picture for several reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to convey that research can be fun! Many people imagine scientific research to be limited to white coats and laboratories, and while that will be a major component of our project as well, I’ve been enjoying working outside (with my part-time canine research assistant) in beautiful surroundings, collecting data and executing the field trial.

That leads me to the second idea I wanted to convey with this image. Owing to the interdisciplinary nature of Dr. Congreve’s research, I’ve been able to become familiar with areas of the U of S Horticulture Field Facility that are generally outside of the territory of the “Veg Crew”. I took this picture while collecting soil samples in apple orchards that are part of the university’s fruit breeding program, and it is representative of the way that academic research builds on the previous work of other scientists.

In this case, we are uniquely lucky to have access to records of more than a half century of the horticultural legacy of the area in question, as well as to the land itself to collect physical samples. In turn, we will be able to compare the data gathered on our vegetable trials to that from similar soil that has been used differently, painting a more detailed picture of the impact of horticultural land use practices on the soil nutrient cycles we are investigating.

Weeks 7-8

This is one of the deep freezes I am using to collect the soil samples that will be analyzed this fall to compare soil N dynamics and nutrient supply throughout the growing season. Over the past 2 weeks, I completed collecting June’s samples, and then focused on crop maintenance – weeding, watering, and taking note of pest damage and evidence of nutrient deficiency in our vegetable crops. The observations I am recording now will be considered when evaluating crop performance later in the season.

Weeks 9-10

This photo shows me applying potassium sulfate to the potato crop on which Dr. Congreves is running a fertility trial similar to the multi-crop rotational trial that is the primary research with which I am assisting her this summer. As I continued to collect observations about crop performance, I noted what Dr. Congreves identified as a sulfur deficiency in the potatoes. Because her research is meant to create practical, useable fertilization guidelines for vegetable producers in Saskatchewan, it is important that we treat the crops similarly to the way actual farmers would, at the same time as maintaining the integrity of her study – in this case, this meant applying sulfate fertilizer both ensure plant health and to prevent sulfur deficiency from masking the effects of the N fertilization rates under investigation.

Weeks 11-12

In addition to normal crop maintenance, I spent the last 2 weeks preparing for and executing the harvest of our broccoli crop. We collected data on the number and weight of plants within each treatment, and then prepared samples to be dried and analyzed for nutrient content. We’ll compare that information to soil sample data collected from the field following harvest in order to determine the N uptake and efficiency of each treatment.

Importantly, our harvest allowed us to build and reinforce connections between the U of S research programs and the Saskatoon community. We were able to make a large donation of fresh produce to the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Center, and are currently making plans to connect to other food-based community organizations to share our carrot and sweet corn crops more widely when harvest season for those crops arrives.

Weeks 13-14

This picture features Jamie Taylor, the research technician for our summer field work and another hard-working woman in the natural sciences. Jamie switched tracks from her career in civil engineering to start a small farm, and she brings a wealth of knowledge and practical experience to Dr. Congreve’s projects.

In this picture, she is just about to finish flail mowing the broccoli crop residue to prepare it for tilling in advance of planting the rye cover crop we applied to one half of each N treatment area. The cover crop treatments, not currently widely used in this province, will provide another variable when assessing best N fertilization practices for Saskatchewan.

Weeks 15-16

From early August until now, I’ve been keeping very busy with successive harvests of one crop after another – first broccoli, followed by carrots, and then sweet corn - and subsequently with plot preparation for cover cropping. As well as collecting data on vegetable yields and fresh weights, we have been dehydrating plant samples to compare their nutrient values to those in soil samples collected post-harvest, as discussed in my entry from July 27th.

This picture shows the dehydrated crop residue from 3 carrot plants (which were far easier to process than the corn and broccoli samples were!), which was then ground into powder in preparation for lab analysis this fall. It has been a challenging but rewarding time of year, and we are all excited to gather our final data and begin to process and analyze it after a season of preparation, patience, and hard work.

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