Don’t Ignore the Warnings, Start Monitoring Soil in Your Changing Climate
It’s difficult to ignore the impacts of a changing climate yet easy to ignore the warnings. The words ‘climate change‘ do not grab people’s attention in a way they should. We’ve jumped from extraordinary winter snow events, to a forgettable spring, then straight into a summer of drought with land that is yet to recover adequate soil moisture levels in the south of Ireland. Talking to friends and colleagues across the globe, these unusual weather patterns are being replicated and scientists are telling us that we are to expect more of the same.
Where does that leave food growers, land owners and gardeners? Do we invest in expensive irrigation systems or not? Do we cover our land in polytunnels or glasshouses? Should we be changing our planting practices and choosing different varieties of seeds and plants? How can we predict the sowing and harvesting dates of the crops we choose to grow? How do we adapt?
These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing at the next Community Gardens Ireland (CG Ireland) Gathering in East Clare where all are welcome. In the meantime, these weird weather patterns have been making my life a little easier as one of two part-time Ireland champions for the European GROW Observatory project.
Joining eight other GROW Places in Europe, Joanne Butler from OURGanic Gardens and I, have been provided with the opportunity to help people gain a greater understanding about their soil in the Changing Climate Mission. We are doing this by distributing free GROW Observatory soil moisture sensor to people with access to land and supporting them in their endeavors.
A constant talking point, the weather has offered us the opportunity to show real-time soil moisture data, light and ambient soil temperatures, collected fortnightly on our mobile phone apps, from our gardens. We’ve been able to share the news about the exciting Horizon 2020 European Citizen Science project and encourage more people to get involved, place soil moisture sensors in their own soil, and begin sensing their land.
(The GROW Observatory Introduction to Citizen Science: From Data to Action)
Thanks to this exciting European citizen science project, we can learn to understand our soil and its needs, help to provide climate change scientists with real-time data that will help to predict floods and droughts, provide policy makers with factual information based on verified data, and offer numerous entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop innovative ideas that can help growers in the future.
“Soil . . . scoop up a handful of the magic stuff. Look at it closely. What wonders it holds as it lies there in your palm. Tiny sharp grains of sand, little faggots of wood and leaf fiber, infinitely small round pieces of marble, fragments of shell, specks of black carbon, a section of vertebrae from some minute creature. And mingling with it all the dust of countless generations of plants and flowers, trees, animals and – yes – our own, age-long forgotten forebears, gardeners of long ago. Can this incredible composition be the common soil?”
– Stuart Maddox Masters, The Seasons Through
3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer In a Changing Climate
The GROW Observatory has a number of missions that citizens can get involved with from a local to global level. You can read about them in detail on their website.
In summary, here’s three ways that can help you and others make sense of your soil now in the changing climate.
No. 1: GROW Missions.
The GROW Observatory currently have two missions taking place. In the Ireland GROW Place, The Changing Climate mission is taking place in Donegal and the South-East of Ireland.
Joanne and I are encouraging people with access to land in those areas, to deploy soil sensors that will take soil moisture, light and ambient ground temperatures. We will be supporting volunteer citizen scientists with sensors to take soil samples that will help to validate Sentinal 1, a European Space Agency Satellite, giving European scientists and themselves, a better understanding of the soil beneath them.
The Living Soils mission involves data collection without the sensor. It involves experiments to test regenerate growing techniques and can be done from anywhere in the world.
No. 2: Join the Forum.
The GROW Observatory have created a forum that all gardeners and growers can join to share their experiences, connect with others, ask questions and perhaps come up with solutions. With links to an educational and informative blog, as well as offering information on other European wide citizen science projects such as the Edible Plant Database, the forum offers us all an opportunity to connect and help one another.
No. 3 Sign Up for the MOOCS – Massive Online Open Courses
The free MOOCS give everyone an opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills on soil and growing for food, while taking practical steps to preserve the soil for future generations. The GROW observatory courses, affiliated with the University of Dundee in Scotland, are for any scale of food grower – from back garden to commercial. You can sign up now to be alerted when the next course is about to begin.
Soil is home to billions of living microorganisms that help to provide the growing conditions for our food. Taking more than 500 years to make two centimeters of topsoil, it’s essential that we learn as much as we can about it and practice regenerative land practices.
Are you in? Contact me if you’re interested in placing soil moisture sensors in your soil or visit The GROW Observatory and sign up for their newsletter for more information about the various missions. Whatever you do, don’t delay. We need healthy soil to grow great food! We absolutely need to gain a better understanding of it and stop treating it like dirt.