What can a tea bag tell you about soil?

By Sarah Duddigan (@SDuddigan), speaker at our Oxford 2016 event


Sarah Duddigan poses with tea bags-smGrowing up there were two things I got real enjoyment from at school, one was science lessons, and the other was playing outside and getting muddy. Never did I think that would be able to pursue a career that involves

There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to study in the sciences, but growing up in rural England also developed a real appreciation for the environment around me. So an A-level, followed by a degree in Environmental Science seemed the perfect fit and I really enjoyed it.
It was during my Environmental Science degree that I realised just how important soil is to life on this planet, and how often it is overlooked as an important resource. This encouraged to study further in Soil Science, with an MSc in Soils and Environmental Pollution, and now my PhD research.

Working on a project with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is a fantastic opportunity to bring my research to the public and get gardeners involved in my work. After all, I can’t do a PhD on garden soils, without the help of some gardeners!



Why should I care about soil?

Despite what you may think, soil is not just dirt! Soil is of incredible importance to life on earth, providing our food, and storing water and carbon. Soil microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, have a number of extremely important functions. One of these is the release of nutrients from dead organic material, through a process known as decomposition.


What’s with the Tea Bags?

Tea Bag Citizen Science_29Decomposition (or breaking down into smaller parts) of organic matter, such as dead plant and animal remains, in soils is an important process in any ecosystem.Without it nutrients consumed by plants and animals while they are alive would have no way of returning to the soil after they die.

An easy way to measure decomposition is to add some plant material in a bag to the soil, which can be removed later.  The weight lost from inside the bag is a result of that material being decomposed by microorganisms in the soil.

Some studies make their own bags, but I use tea bags!

The method is simple, and needs very few resources. This is really important as I want to get as many people involved in this study as possible and bring science to UK gardens. Check this link if you want to learn more about this!

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