Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

Lowline Lab - Nitty Gritty Soil Health Workshop with LES Ecology Center

A couple weeks ago I went to the Lowline Lab for a session on dirt quality and composting. We learned not only of some great composting initiatives going on around the city, but also lots of great facts around dirt types and components.

Here are some of my notes:

- Residential buildings in Manhattan generate 11,000 tons of trash a day and 30% of it is food related (this isn't even including restaurant food waste).

- All of this trash travels via ships, trains, and highways to go to Virginia or Ohio to get dumped.

- It costs us $400 million for this exportation out of a $1.4 billion budget for waste services

- Not only can decomposed food material in general improve soil quality,  but we can use specific food types for specific purposes/goals. i.e. roses need calcium, so we can add eggshells to the compost and soil.

- Healthy soil with the proper balance of components holds water well enough for the plants to intake and encourages fungus growth which furthers nutrient absorption

Jars of various types and components soil

Jars of various types and components soil

- Fertilizer is composed of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, which are necessary elements for plant growth. However while fertilizers carry the danger of overuse and runoff into water sources, compost slowly releases these elements to the plants without these risks.

- Soil is composed of solid material/particles, organic matter, water, and air.

-There are three types of solid particles in soil: silt, sand, and clay, and in most cases we want a equal balance of the three - this type of soil is called loam.

- Compost can act as an amendment to these solid particles to aid in moisture retention.

- We can use a Soil Composition test to see the balance of particle types in our soil. This can be done by filling a beaker half way with a soil sample, adding water to an inch from the top, then adding 1-2 drops of soap. This will separate the soil into sand, silt, and clay layers.

Soil Composition Test jar

Soil Composition Test jar

- Other soil additives include vermiculite (the small white particles in potting soil), which help to add pore space and oxygen, and coconut husk.

- Vermicasting, "soil" from worms, should be mixed into soil but not used as soil itself as this would provide too much energy for the plant to take in at once.

This event was a great intro to soil science and soil health, and like the barefoot experiment has a few potential "next steps" to explore:

- Try a soil composition test!

- Read Soil and Decomposition Science Manual

- Volunteer at community garden or compost center and get my hands dirty

- Further research and investigate Lowline Lab itself and similar converted greenspaces

Jenna Witzleben