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Managing water, nutrients and salt in irrigated agriculture

The Chameleon Soil Water Sensor measures how hard it is for plants to suck water out of the soil and the data is displayed as coloured lights.

The FullStop Wetting Front Detector tells you how deep water moves down into the soil during and shortly after irrigation.  It also captures a soil water solution sample which can be extracted using a syringe.

Nitrate test strips are used to indicate the amount of nitrate moving in the root zone.  Nitrate (the main form of soluble nitrogen in soils) moves with water and is easily leached from the soil by over-irrigation.

Pocket EC meters (Electrical Conductivity) are used to show whether salt is building up in the root-zone (under irrigation) or being continually flushed out (over-irrigation).

Science is not only carried out by formally trained people in laboratories.  The idea of “The Scientist’s Garden” is that it represents the place where our own learning takes place. This might be hundreds of hectares under centre pivot irrigation in Australia or a 0.1 ha plot in Malawi.

The name “Scientist’s Garden” tries to capture two ideas.  Science is a systematic way of understanding the natural world by observation and experiment.  Science allows us to come up with explanations of how things work, and these explanations can be tested and refined, so our understanding can improve.  Understanding gives us the ability to predict the consequences of our actions and hence make better decisions about managing our water.