Research during COVID

By Anna Beebe, University of Washington

There are many ways to describe this past Spring Quarter, “business as usual” was not one of them. If, when, and how would UW reopen? I am lucky I still get to do research during COVID so I can graduate on time, but that original plan took a few detours. 
My previous MS thesis project was to test a biosolid-based compost made with various municipally sourced wood material and anaerobic Class B cake to create a retail-use product from King County’s biosolids LOOP. The COVID lockdown meant we could not add more moisture to our piles so only two of the eight trials were able to reach the necessary 131 °F. I would still use the material in pots to test the growth of petunias from home this summer, but I needed to switch gears for my thesis because the compost project would have to be continued later with properly composted materials.

petunias and swiss chard
Two pot studies, petunias for testing King County biosolids-based compost and swiss chard for continuing the Soil Health Plant Health study.

Thankfully, Sally Brown has been having me help research her three-year Soil Health and Plant Health study to test the effect of organic amendments on yield, tissue nutrients, and soil properties. To continue the SHPH study as my thesis I needed to get the materials from the greenhouse at the University of Washington. I am using the same pots that we used in the greenhouse this winter to test kale. The swiss chard I have planted in the pots next to the petunias was supposed to be part of the third year of a field trial. Instead it is growing next to petunias at my house.  

van stuffed with plants
The family van with sixteen 5-gallon buckets and 48 ½ gallon pots. All seat-belted in to drive out to my parent’s property in Kitsap County, WA.

While researching from home has been isolating, from the graduate community at UW, I have been spending a lot of time with the whole family now that I moved home. I have also had some of the best highlights from my first year happen this quarter. I got to go on my first soil sampling trip, which was to Eastern Washington with Andy Bary. I also learned how to test compost using the Solvita test for maturity and stability. I even got to take a soil class taught by Sally!
My research is chugging along, and it would not be without the patience, flexibility, and help of the whole team Sally Brown at UW, Andy Bary at WSU, NW Biosolids, and Ashley Mihle at King County supporting me from afar and my family here at home.

makeshift trailer lab
Anna mixes amendments and measures wet weight in a trailer converted into an at-home lab.