Hello! I work with Josh Gaimaro in Dr. Tully’s AgroEcoLab. Josh’s research focuses on the cover crop management for nutrient cycling. Cover crops are planted between rotations of cash crops. They provides various ecosystem services and improve soil quality. On the first day of my work in the lab, Josh provided me with a brief introduction to his research, in which I learned more about cover crops. It is widely accepted that the cover crops can improve the soil by retaining and later releasing nutrients. They also reduce soil compaction and prevent nitrogen leaching losses. However, different species of cover crops may differ in their function and efficacy, which requires further study . Josh’s research looks into this problem and investigates the services provided by different species and mixtures of cover crops, including rye and radish. One important function of a cover crop is to remove excess nitrogen from the last cash crop and release it to subsequent crops in the spring . Rye and radish have different physical traits, and will differ in their performance of this action. We believe, that their combination might work even better. This is important information for both US agriculture and the global food system because nitrogen loss is a severe problem. Cover crops can help ameliorate this problem by increasing the efficiency of soil nutrient usage and reducing the application of synthetic fertilizer. Thus, Josh is exploring the effectiveness of different combinations of cover crops on nitrogen cycling, and I am helping him with the nitrogen uptake measurements.
My primary work in the lab are grinding soil samples and preparing the crop samples for analysis. To determine the nitrogen uptake, we need to know the amount of nitrogen in the soil as well as in the crops. Last year, Josh collected soil samples several times during the growing season. I weigh the soil after it has been air-dried and I grind the soil into even particles. For both soils and plant materials, I wrap a small amount into a piece of foil, so that we can analyze carbon and nitrogen content. The fun thing about two projects is that the crops come from “ashes” is turned into ashes in the lab; the dust from soil is also crushed into dust. So, I call my research project, “Ashes to ashes dust to dust”.
Dr. Kate Tully
Kate is an Assistant Professor of Agroecology at the University of Maryland.