30 March 2015

Course Review: What a Plant Knows

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the book of the same name and have written quite a bit about it. Last year, I completed the course that's been made available by the folks at Coursera and delivered by none other than the author, Daniel Chamovitz.

The course is delivered over 7 weeks via videos, selected readings, and forum discussions. The website states that it take around 3-4 hours a week, but it took me no more than 2 hours a week.

It covers much of the same content as the book, such as how plants know up from down, whether they can hear music, and what sort of memory they have. Each week is completed with a short test of multiple answer questions that you can complete up to 100 times (if I remember correctly).

During one of the weeks, we also get a tour around Professor Chamovitz's laboratory.

I enjoyed reading the research papers presented as reading material throughout the course and learning some new things about the biology of plants. Importantly not all reading assignments are mandatory and a few are optional.

In this call you'll learn about plant biology, the scientific method and biological research, and how to question life in general and what senses we share with plants - and those that define us as humans.

I'd recommend this course, not just because it's free, but because it's interesting and while teaching us, allows us to question the definitions of senses and how far we've actually come in understanding plants and how they live.

The final test is much longer, can only be completed once, and is time restricted. So it's important that you feel confident that you can recall the course materials and the logic of plants before you begin it. However, saying that, I achieved 94.2% - showing that it's not that difficult.

If you'd like to find out more, please visit the course homepage. If you've already completed the course, I'd enjoy reading your comments about your experience.

25 March 2015

5th Blogiversary

Crocuses in our garden
This blog started on 25 March 2010 as a blog to document my camping journeys with my friends. After that first post, things just got busy and I didn't start blogging regularly until the following year. After that I came down with a mystery illness, now diagnosed as ME, so while I've had to leave camping behind, I didn't want to leave nature behind.

Not being able to spend much time in nature, gave me plenty of time to learn about it. So, in this blog I've written lots about the science behind plants and I've used the blog as a way to post photos and identifications of many species of plant, animal, and fungi. I also blog every now and then about Geocaching, outdoor swimming and the night sky.

I've never had a long term plan for this blog and I don't know where it will end up. But, I want to thank everyone that reads what I post, especially the long term readers.

All the best,

Partial Solar Eclipse (complete with cloud cover!), Wiltshire, 2015

16 March 2015

Film Review: Symphony of the Soil

This feature length documentary takes us on a journey through the soil and our relationship with it. We begin by learning that it's rare for a planet to have soil - something I've never considered, but ultimately true.

Not all soil is the same and we're told that of the 12 mentioned in the film, Mollisol and Alfisol are the most productive soils. It's the plants that make the soil productive and the roots that slough off provide food for some of the many members of this massive, but mainly microscopic ecosystem.

The artwork throughout the film make it really enjoyable to watch and is used effectively to visually show concepts explained. The film is a worldwide endeavour with scientists and farmers providing the narrative and real world examples of how feeding the soil can not only provide the same harvest as fertilised land - but much more. One farmer we meet is growing potatoes on his land, but also plants purely for wildlife, with 50% of the land going to each.

Legumes are used expensively to gather nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is then available for use by plants. A history of nitrogen fertiliser use is also covered.

One of the most interesting points of the film was a simple, but well done demonstration that showed the difference in water run-off and water supplying aquifers. The soils used were: conventional soil, organic soil, organic soil with compost, and organic soil with compost and a cover crop. There was lots of run-off from the conventional soil and no water supplying aquifers. With the other 3 soils there was less run-off, to close to none with organic soil with compost and a cover crop and a fair amount of water reaching the underground aquifers.

The film closes with a nice explanation of Adam and Eve. With Adam being the masculine of Adama, which means earth and Eve meaning life. So the writers of the bible knew that life came from the Earth. They lived in the garden of Eden, with Eden meaning delight. I hope we can get back to a place where the earth is a garden of life that we can delight in and be proud of our existence on it.

At 1 hour 44 minutes, this film proceeds at a pace that keeps interest, but allows time for the viewer to grasp the topics and concepts covered. You can rent the film to stream from Vimeo here and watch the trailer below:

I wrote this because I'm trying to learn more about soil as it's International Year of Soils.For more information about it, click here.