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.
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.
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.
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.
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.