Just taking a break from writing plant labels and thought I’d expand on my last post which hinted at the large experiments that we undertake here at Rothamsted. I think our philosophy is ‘why have a few hundred pots when you could have a few thousand’. And a few thousand is what we’ve got…A couple of weeks ago we spent two days filling pots with soil and laying them out on the sandbeds as you can see in the picture and then last week we spent two days sowing each pot with a tiny black-grass seedling. There are close to 3000 pots out there and so far the little plants are looking ok and starting to grow despite the temperature dropping in the past few days.
Every experiment and seedling is precious but these are particularly so because of the large amount of work we spent producing these seeds. They are the result of setting up 300 sets of plant crosses in the past year which involved growing up the plants, putting them into pairs, covering them with a bag made from bread-bag type material and allowing them to cross pollinate each other. Then we threw away one of each pair and kept the other to collect the seed. We actually ended up doing this experiment twice as crossing black-grass plants is tricky as we have found out to our cost. After cleaning the seed, weighing it all and deciding which plant families to work with, we came up with 400 different packets of seed to work with over the coming few months.
We put some seed from all 400 plant families into petri dishes, wetted them up and put them in the incubator for a week before sowing them last Wednesday and Thursday. As you may expect this sort of job takes rather a lot of effort and this is when we recruit extras to become Team Super Efficient. This usually includes David, the post doctoral scientist on our project and often Lieselot and Imogen who are lab coat wearing technicians but enjoy the chance of different scenery (plus we ply them with cake), except I’m sure they regret saying yes when they are greeted with a scene like the one depicted above!!
And so “the labels you’re writing are for the pots outside, right?” I hear you say. Oh no, I’d already sorted them out and got them in the pots before we started sowing. These labels are for an experiment using around 130 of the seed families to test with different herbicides which we are in the process of setting up to sow next week. Tuesday is going to be spent filling small pots with soil and there are 8000 of them………