This summer (2014) I have been working for Stephen Herbert at the University’s research farm in South Deerfield and the Agricultural Learning Center in Amherst. We have been working on multiple tasks throughout the summer. I have helped graduate students with their field experiments. One experiment is looking at the effects of adding Biochar and rock dust to soil. Biochar is a type of charcoal that captures carbon and stores it which can help soil fertility when added to the ground. We added the Biochar and rock dust to some plots in different amounts then planted tomato and pepper plants to assess the growth. In addition, I have also been helping Doctor Herbert assess the dual use of land for planting and solar panels. On the South Deerfield farm there are two lines of solar panels at different spacing ranging from two to five feet. We placed pots of tomato, pepper, kale, lettuce and broccoli plants under the panels. The panels cast shadows on the plants but it is still possible to grow plants under them. This is important because the land the solar panels sit on can still be used and doesn’t necessarily hinder a farmer. Previous to this experiment, vetch was grown under the panels and cows were able to graze from it.
At the Agricultural Learning Center in Amherst I am helping Jared Fowler along with Doctor Herbert to build hummingbird, butterfly, and bee pollinator gardens. Jared has chosen specific plants that attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees so they can pollinate and lay their eggs on them. He is also looking at different methods of weed control including solarization plastic, sheet mulching and herbicide. We added multiple blueberry, raspberry, gooseberry and rhubarb plants to the gardens which will take a bit longer to establish. We have plans to add grapes, kiwi fruit and possibly some elderberry. Doctor Herbert has displayed multiple different ways to grow plants. There are plastic kiddie pools that are filled with only stones that plants can successfully grow in with nutrient solution. He has also introduced me to a spongy material we like to call chocolate cake. It is made out of bark and coconut husks along with a bonding agent. I placed seeds for different herbs and veggies right in it and they are growing with only the need for water. I have been learning so much about agriculture that I never even thought of. I am excited to learn more and see how biochemistry fits into agriculture.
As well as working on agricultural research, I have continued to work in Michelle Farkas’ research lab. I am specifically helping to look at nanoparticles in cancer. Last semester I worked with chemical synthesis mostly and now I am learning more of the biological side as well. I have been learning how to split cells for different cell lines. I am excited to continue into the school year.