This summer there have been many first for the GROW Observatory.
Throughout 2017 we are trialling the tools and experiences that will allow us to scale up in 2018, with you, the first cohort of the GROW community. Last week it was the turn of our first webinar – a live, online discussion reflecting on the outcomes of our first online course, From Soil To Sky.
Did you miss it? Watch the webinar here.
I was joined by Naomi van der Velden a plant ecologist at the Permaculture Association, Blair McKenzie is an agricultural scientist at the James Hutton Institute, and Pavlos Georgiadis an ethnobotanist, biodiversity researcher and organic olive grower.
People tuning in were invited to send in questions in advance and to participate in the live chat. It was great to see some familiar people from the online course. We look forward to getting to know people better, to growing the community, and in the future to meeting some of this early cohort of participants face to face.
Here are some of the things we learned.
The things you care about
GROW is inspired by the things that you care about, and the real issues facing growers, gardeners, farmers, and the science community.
For the webinar, we looked at what you said mattered to you, by reviewing and analysing the thousands of comments by participants in the online course. We found the key interests for you are to do with soils and growing, points that can help you in your growing, and also that relate to global environmental challenges. So in the webinar, we looked at the importance of soil, how to understand your soil texture and structure, and soil properties and cultivation.
Making sense of your data and observations
Another thing we wanted to do in the webinar was to look at the data you contributed from observations in growing spaces during the online course.
The goal in GROW is to come together so individual actions and observations in growing spaces can help us as individuals improve our own growing and answer major challenges for science.
GROW is a citizens observatory, and we hope to take citizen science to the next level. Citizen science is not new, if you have taken part in the great bee count, then you have done citizen science.
We looked at the data participants shared on their soil, and on some of the methods they use to cultivate and manage their land, and related these to wider growing and environmental issues.More people on the online course had sandy soil than any other. Naomi showed the different techniques used to determine soil texture, how they compare, and also which people were more confident to use.
Naomi also shared some of the important things we need to consider when doing citizen science. There needs to be a well-designed method, clearly communicated, which everyone follows, so the data is comparable and meaningful. The method and tools need to be accessible to people, and combining different approaches can allow one method to be validated by another.
Your growing issues and challenges
People’s questions and comments on the live chat and social media delved deeper into these themes.
There was a question on how the observations in individual growing spaces can lead to a better growing, and how they can link to and inform wider science challenges. One key goal in GROW is to create an unprecedented survey of soil moisture, to validate the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 1 satellites, and to help improve climate models for predicting floods and droughts. Several people were interested in how they can change the type of soil they have, to suit the crops they way to grow. Blair spoke of the lengths you can go to change the structure of your soil, and there was a discussion of dig and no-dig approaches, and the consequences for weeds and waterlogging. One person had very alkaline soil, another wanted more acidic soil so they could grow blueberries, an increasingly important crop in Scotland.
People in the webinar shared the issues they are facing with local climate, from a short growing season in Scotland to a very hot dry June in France with water restrictions in force.
We learned it’s usually better to fit the crop to the soil than the soil to the crop, and discussed the best soil for different crops. This is a theme we will develop further, with crop recommendations for your soil and local climate to be introduced in GROW during 2018.
Presenting an engaging and relevant experience for you
This was our first experience in the GROW project of producing and presenting a live, online discussion. The talks by the presenters went well, we had some great interaction with people watching in the Q&A session, and it was, we think, smooth and professional for our first webinar. That is not to say our first webinar went without a hitch.
Happily, most of the things that could go wrong went wrong for the technical run through the day before, not on the real thing. Then on the day one of us had to be reminded to turn their microphone back on. (OK, so that was me!) And there was a comedy moment when Ollie, on the GROW team, clicked the wrong weblink and appeared floating in a window in the middle of the event.
None of that took the shine off a fun and successful event. We were delighted with how well it went, with the quality of the presentations, and with the response of people tuning in.
What’s next in GROW…?
The themes from this first live, online discussion are continued in the Your Soil Your Data theme on the GROW forum during the month of July 2017. You can follow the conversation and take part by registering at hub.growobservatory.org.
Over the summer the citizen science activity introduced in the online course will continue, and you will be able to observe key soil properties in your growing space. Observing soil moisture, soil stability and biological activity levels will enable you to compare the effects of different management approaches. Composting and no-dig approaches were selected by you folks as priorities in our recent poll. In the next months, you will be able to learn how to research and make sense of what happens in your own growing space and contribute to answering key wider questions on sustainable growing practices.
We hope to see you during these next steps in the GROW journey.