As a gardener or hobby farmer, you probably don’t think of yourself as a scientist beyond monitoring your soil and watching trends in your fruits and veggies. Let me beg to differ, because I bet that you’re more of scientist than you might think. As you spend time outside in your garden beds, do you notice wild birds and insects in the area? Have you taken note of when flowers start to bloom, or when the first plant pest starts to show up? If so, then you are well on the way to being a citizen scientist.
What is Citizen Science?
Citizen science is a relatively new phenomenon, but a very important tool for helping scientist collect data for their research. Scientist design projects around a research question and then use citizen scientist to gather more data than they could themselves. You might have heard of Monarch Watch, which asks the public to record monarch butterfly sightings. Citizen scientist come from all walks of life. They’re college students, moms and dads, school kids, retirees, backyard gardeners, and more! They assist with a range of projects led by scientists. Some projects are local but many can be done remotely, and there are time commitments levels to fit all kinds of schedules. Read on to find out about five (Monarch Watch was a bonus!) citizen science projects that are great for gardeners.
Nature’s Notebook is put on by the National Phenology Network, and its goal is to document the appearance of plants and animals in their native environments. Scientist use the information to predict ecological disasters like flooding and fires, and to inform resource management practices. The time commitment for Nature’s Notebook is about ten minutes once you get set up. To get started as an observer, all you’ll need to do is set up an account on their sight. Choose your location, and decide which plants or animals you want to watch. That’s it! Observe your creature and log it on the Nature’s Notebook sight.
This Citizen Science Project is great to do with kids! Its goal is to have citizen scientist count all the pollinators they see visiting their flowers. Scientist are using this information to learn more about the habits of pollinator species and how declining bee populations are affecting crops. If you have a garden, you’re probably already attracting bees to your plants. The project asks that you spend at least five minutes counting bees, which you can then record on The Great Sunflower Watch website. You can even purchase a special variety of sunflowers to attract bees!
The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the oldest citizen science projects out there. It was inspired by a hunter’s tradition of going out on Christmas day and bringing back as many trophies as possible. In 1900, the Audubon Society started an alternative Christmas bird census. You’ll need to sign up in November, and will then commit to a day of bird watching in a proscribed area. After you’ve counted all your birds, you can send in the data on their website. Scientist use this information to study the long term health of bird populations.
This is a no brainer for gardeners. You probably already have everything Project Bud Burst needs in your garden journal! This citizen science project asks you to choose a plant or two to observe, and then record when it flowers, fruits, and withers. By providing data on plant life cycles, you’re helping scientists to understand how climate change is affecting them.
Don’t have time to go out and make observations? This last project is one you can do from your computer. It’s not exactly gardening, but the Floating Forest project will have you identifying kelp forests from satellite imagery. This information let scientists monitor the health of this incredible complex ecosystem.
I hope you found a citizen science project you like! Let me know what you find in the comments.