TyT Field Dispatches – participatory field trials setup

Chris Maughan News

Ok, this is our first post, and so much has already happened… so a quick update to get everyone up to speed:

This project is the result of a participatory action research (PAR) workshop held by TyT in April 2018. During this meeting, participants identified the broad desire to explore the experiences and practices that make up TyT and its community in a participatory and action-oriented manner. Following a series of brainstorming and planning meetings we eventually decided to use the framework of a ‘participatory field trial’ (i.e. a field-based experiment planned and implemented by a large group of people) as a way to focus our broader investigation. This first field dispatch tells the story of our first day on the field.

This post is a part of a series related to a Citizen Science called ‘TyT Field Dispatches’. The project is taking place in collaboration with CSA ‘Peasant Bakery’, Torth-y-Tir (TyT) as an investigation into knowledge co-production on CSAs through the mechanism of participatory field trials. For more information see the project website.

November 4th, 2018 – field trial setup day

Over a hearty lunch in the Grub Kitchen we welcomed a few new participants, updated each other on the project so far, offered some important reflections on our experience of the process, and expectations going forward. We then went over the field trial design, made a few adjustments, before venturing out into the field.

We kicked things off by grappling with the challenge of selecting a location that was far enough away from the field edge to avoid ‘edge effects‘, but that we could reliably find again when we come back to the field after the seed drill has passed, and (more importantly) before we forget where it is! We used a telegraph pole as a reliable landmark, and another marker square to that to run a line out some 14 meters into the field. We then used the ‘pythagorean triple’ method to get a square line off from that and then we were on our way…

…well after a few more little adjustments(!) such as deciding to do away with the guard rows (due to lack of field markers), and an abortive attempt to run string between the markers. We then marked each square to indicate the appropriate treatment, so that Rupe knows what to do when he comes to apply them the following weekend.

Here’s what the new plan layout looks like:

In tandem with this we also took 30 soil core samples at random locations from around our plot using a tool called an ‘auger’ (picture below) and mixed them in a bucket. These will be sent off and analysed at the CAWR labs for available potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, pH levels, and organic carbon. We will also store some samples in case we want to test for any other soil composition features later on (e.g. other mineral content).

Finally, we did a hands on investigation of soil quality called the spade test (using the SubVESS method). This involved:

1.     Digging down to 45cm, exposing a 45cm ‘face’ of top soil and sub layers.
2.     Cutting away a slice 10cm thick being careful not to disturb the soil strata
3.     Removing any smeared layers
4.     Conducting a soil analysis and scoring (using adapted scoring matrix)
5.     Then putting soil back!The scoring procedure involved getting tactile with the soil, smelling it, and assessing it for things like strength, porosity, and soil life. We all independently scored each criteria out of 5 (1 begin ‘good’ 5 being ‘poor’) each producing an final score. Our average score was 2.33 – so not brilliant. The score was brought down considerably by distinct lack of soil life and limited porosity. Soil invertebrates are essential for so many things, but especially for moving through soil thereby creating air channels or ‘pores’.

In the end, we ran out of time(!) so unfortunately weren’t able to set up a repeat of the experiment on another field. That said, the field we did use (2712 ‘the meadow’) is likely the most interesting field to run this experiment on as it has a fairly conventional land use history and hasn’t had any manure applied this year. If our treatment is in any way effective we will see these impacts more clearly here.

Added to this, one of the topics we covered was the importance of this experiment being fairly simple to ensure we end up with some results and get comfortable with the basics before trying something more complicated next year. …as ever we’ll be continually reflecting on things like this as we go and have the option of adding in more experimental dimensions as the year goes on.

Reflective diaries

As we discussed on the day, one of the most important parts of this project is the process of continual reflection. A big part of Participatory Action Research (PAR) is taking stock and making sure there is space to bring concerns and queries so we can act on them in future stages. A good way to aid this process is to keep a regular diary reflecting on what happened, and how this made us feel. We will make space each time we meet for people to raise any thing that has come up through this reflective process.

Next steps…?

As I mentioned, the immediate next step will be to apply the treatments. Rupe will be doing this this weekend – he’ll be in touch about how you can get involved. We also need to design the biodiversity component of our project. We chatted at the end of the day and thought this would be a great learning opportunity. A working group has formed around this and will be approaching Sarah at the Bug Farm about the kind of insect and soil invertebrate traps she uses, as well as when and in what quantities they should be placed. This will then be presented back to the rest of the group to finalise the design.

We also talked about setting insect traps with our first plant data collection session – likely sometime in the New Year. This will involve going on to the field to inspect the plants, scoring them for health indicators, and perhaps taking some plant samples.

Watch this space for more updates!