Soil pH and Data Collection – SYU milestones

Since our last newsletter, we’ve had two major educational checkpoints for those participating in our Soil Your Undies Challenge.

For the two checkpoints, we’ve talked about soil pH and also data collection.  These are important milestones in the challenge.

pH stands for the Power of Hydrogen. In simple terms, acids are molecules that contain a lot of hydrogen atoms that can detach to react with other molecules. The opposite of acids are alkalines, also called bases, which are molecules able to take on extra hydrogen. pH is measured on the pH scale from 1 to 14; 1 is strongly acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is strongly alkaline.  All our participants received a pH kit in their undie pack and we asked them to test their soil.

Soil pH affects our soil health in several different ways. In just the same way that you don’t want to get strong acid or alkalines on your skin, neither do soil microbes and plant roots. Highly acidic and highly alkaline environments can be very hostile to microorganisms.

The nutrient availability is also affected by pH. Certain chemical elements are more readily dissolved in environments of a particular pH, and are bound up and inaccessible in other pH ranges. The most nutrients are available in the neutral range, around 7. Some major nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur are less accessible to plants in acidic soils. Iron, manganese, copper, and zinc are considered trace elements which are still essential for plant growth, but these are inaccessible in highly alkaline soils.

You can watch our Discovery soil expert, Imogen, explain more in the video here.

Data collection is one of the most important aspects of scientific research. In an experiment like Soil Your Undies, there are many different factors that can affect how fast our cotton undies break down. If there is almost nothing left of our undies when we dig them up, we know that we have very healthy soil with lots of biological activity. Undies that hardly get broken down at all might not be breaking down for several different reasons. By asking a few extra questions, we can gather information that can help us understand why some undies aren’t breaking down as much as others, and we can learn what we need to do in order to improve the health of those soils. Looking at just one pair of undies doesn’t help us very much though; we need hundreds of undies so that we can make comparisons and find patterns in the data. To be able to use each pair of undies, we need accurate records and careful data collection – this is why carefully recording your data and measurements is so important in scientific research!

Now that the undies are buried, they will be exhumed (or dug up) in mid-October, not long after World Cotton Day.  We can’t wait to see the different levels of decomposition in the undies from all parts of Australia.

The challenge is a collaboration between CottonInfo, UNE SMART Farms and UNE Discovery. If you missed out on participating on our challenge, you can bury your own undies at home.  Check out the CottonInfo website for further information.