Counting the earthworms

Reflections on North Kelvin Meadow, Tuesday 12th April by Kate Foster

It was raining heavily and chilly too, but Soil City’s research trip to North Kelvin Meadow left me smiling warmly. It was magic! Conversations went backwards to memories people (like me) had about how this was once a football pitch, and forward to the plans for more gardens and activities.

Meanwhile three grey worms took centre stage to be identified, in turn. Digging up a patch of ground for the worm count showed how much soil has formed over the old pitch surface. However enthusiastically kids poured mustard into the lower layers, deep-digging worms refused to be flushed out. Perhaps they weren’t there? As we exchanged experiences, we were also confronted by how much we did not know. What were those birds nesting? Crows? surely not ravens? Had anyone seen a wren? Are those ash or birch seedlings? Is there any known way of distracting kids from screens? Actually several kids were there, up for worm catching and earth-smelling. We all enjoyed watching Alex make a giant worm – to test the soil texture she said.

The next day, I landed the job of testing North Kelvin Meadow soil samples for ‘basic’ information – acidity, Potassium, Nitrogen, Phosphorus. A wee kit with different potions, measures, and pipettes.

After reading the instructions twice, and setting aside questions of why I was doing this, I filled the test tubes (1:4 volume of soil and water) and used yellow labels to make it feel more official. After a little while, you get to add liquid and powders. Then comes the best bit – comparing the mix in the test-tube with the colour chart. Greens, purples and reds mysteriously appeared. Suspiciously, all my readings were the same: alkaline, with moderate levels of nutrients. This will probably be the only day I get to be a lab chemist.

So what do I like so very much about Soil City? I think the bikes push art, and artists, into places where ideas about culture are tested. This isn’t a journey that should end when GI wraps up, and it can’t be understood simply within an individual’s autobiography or fine art practice. Different critical registers are needed to think about what the Soil City mobile unit is doing. The project’s success won’t be told simply by how many people visited the Lab. For a start, we need to count the earthworms too.

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