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Promary question The the feedstock used in the production of biochar have an affect on its effectiveness as a soil supplement?

View Bryan's 5th Term Research Proposal Here

Generic (old) Biochar Question What affect does the use of biochar as a soil amendment in, Zone 4, loam to silt-loam soils (soil types in the proposed student garden sites on Bennington College campus) have on soil structure, and how does that affect agriculturally significant properties of that soil, such as soil organic carbon (SOC) cation exchange capacity (CEC), nutrient retention, and pH. Do the affects observed in campus soils differ from those observed in tropical climates? Does biochar alter the affects / retention of N, P, and K fertilizers.

Supplementary design question: What is the best way to make your own charcoal?

  • Can you re-frame any of these more in shape of a particular mechanism? Or possible expectation (hypothesis)? Might be helpful to focus on why you think it MIGHT be interesting to look at water and nutrient retention effects?Kwoods 00:49, 29 September 2011 (UTC)
  • Hey Bryan, I was just wondering if you had thought any more about this question since we talked about it, I'm still interested in where you might end up taking this. Gfredericks 13:14, 21 October 2011 (UTC)
  • It would be interesting to try and apply this to the ecological effects of slash and burn farming exhibited by many cattle farmers in South America. Does charcoal simply add retention to the soil? Or does it add something like nitrogen or make the soil pH change?

Other Questions:

Agriculture / nature integration

This may be more of a design question, but I am interested in determining the least ecologically disruptive way to integrate agricultural crops into a landscape?

  • No problem with design questions for me -- but what do you mean by 'ecologically disruptive'?Kwoods 00:49, 29 September 2011 (UTC)
    • Might be good to think about this in terms of soil chemical content/pH balances, that sort of thing; in which case, crop rotation comes to mind as a design schematic. I think you might also have to account for land placement, irrigation practices, possibly erosion(?), just to name a few factors that might be worth considering. Ebraun 03:04, 03 October 2011 (UTC)
  • This would be an important area to study, but the design aspect seems like it might be tricky to me, just in terms of how you are going to determine one such practice as less ecologically disruptive than another. Agriculture is so wide-ranging in terms of techniques, practices, and possible effects on the surrounding environment as a result. Getting a full view of how different crop integration strategies impact different aspects of the environment would be quite difficult to do thoroughly, unless maybe you just focused in one certain possible agricultural ecological disruptions. I agree with Kerry, clarifying "ecologically disruptive" is the first place to start. - Guy
    • To go back to issue of design questions: assessing whether or why a design works is certainly a research question. But here you can't say 'whether' until you say what specific ecosystem property you qwant to look at. So maybe start with question like "does this management practice change this property more or less than that practice" (notice the 'chjange' rather than 'disrupt').

Integrated pest management

What integrated pest management practices can be employed to significantly reduce Crucifer Flea Beetle (Phyllotreata cruciferae) damage on Brassicas? How affective / cost-affective are they?

Found this. Seems interesting, not on brassica, but canola. Are they simlilar? Also, what might be interesting is to look at defense mechanisms. Can they somehow protect themselves? Do brassica have any ways of deferring beetle activity? Can they be distasteful? Or have harshly textured leaves? I really don't know much about 'em! ~Emily

  • Yep, they're all genus Brassica. BUT more to point 'what' questions are not very hypothesis-generative. Need to make it more along lines of 'here are possible practices (maybe those suggested by somebody), and here's a design for testing which are most effective...' SO, START WITH WHAT PEOPLE ARE ALREADY SAYING/DOING? (And probably focus on one part of the questikon -- effectiveness, cost, or... -- not all at onceKwoods 03:16, 11 November 2011 (UTC)

Companion cropping

What are positive and adverse affects of various companion cropping systems and what causes these crops to be companions or antagonists?

  • Second part is the more basic question? If you understand that, does the first part follow more easily?Kwoods 00:49, 29 September 2011 (UTC)
  • This is an interesting progression: your motivating question is, what is the best way to run a companion crop system? But that leads into a (as Kerry said) more basic question: what is the mechanism of a companion crop? Why should it work? If you can get a better understanding of why a companion crop works, then you are in the position to make predictions: based on the mechanism, you might be able to suggest crop combinations that no one had tried before. From there it can go down towards more specifics: maybe people say that crop X and crop Y grow better together. An immediate question is, is it true? But maybe a more productive question would be, why would that be true? Has anyone suggested a mechanism? Can you think of one? Once you have a hypothesized mechanism, you can start thinking of experiments you could do to test whether it really works that way. If your mechanism works out, then, at least in principle, you could make predictions: if Y grows well with X because it lends element A, and you know Z makes even more element A, then Y should grow even better with Z (probably something more interesting than that but you get the idea). -- Andrew
  • In general, if you are trying to solve a practical problem, there are two ways to go. One is to just try a whole bunch of different crops together in different combinations and see what works. This is common in industrial research. The other way is to try to get at an underlying mechanism, as Kerry and I were suggesting above. The underlying mechanism is more scientifically interesting, and potentially more productive if you can get it to work. But sometimes we are so far from understanding the underlying mechanism that the industrial scattershot approach is the only option. And sometimes it is a bit of a mix: for example, in drug discovery, there are some general guesses about what will work for a problem (the compound should be a certain size, it should have a group on the side of a certain shape, it shouldn't be too "greasy"...), but the mechanism is fuzzy enough that there is a lot of guessing and random trying. A constraint on this is that, doing a student senior work project, you probably won't have the resources to try hundreds of different combinations in the hope that something will work out... -- Andrew
    • And further to Andrew's point; getting to a pointed approach may be best done by looking at what people are already suggesting/using, and asking how you'd assess whether it's effective (however you'd define that). Don't start with 'various'; start with a particular example. (There's probably no reason to think that different systems would have similar effects?) Kwoods 03:16, 11 November 2011 (UTC)