The Test Bed is a collaboration between the Museum of English Rural Life and Reading Hackspace.

The Test Bed is a growing box used for communicating science to visitors. Environmental conditions are monitored by sensors installed in the soil, with the data communicated to the Things Network via a LoRaWAN connection.

In 2017 sugar beet was grown in the box as part of the Wellcome Trust-funded Nutrition: Health and Rural EnglandThe Three Sisters Project is currently using the Test Bed, with PhD students from the University of Reading are monitoring the ancient method planting beans, squash and corn together.

A growin box made of thick wooden sleepers, filled with soil. There are small sticks poking up out of the soil showing where beet seeds have been sown.
The Test Bed in 2016, with its first crop of beets.

Who can apply?

Each year we look for an enthusiastic individual or team who would like to test out an idea or communicate research that involves planting something in the Test Bed and monitoring conditions of the bed.

Successful projects:

  • involve the planting of a crop other than a root crop
  • have a clear scientific message to communicate
  • have public learning outcomes (i.e. visiting children will understand how sunlight affects plant growth)
  • work with the Internet of Things and the mission of The MERL

More details

Specifications of the bed:

  • Measurements: 2.2 x 1 x 0.5 metres (length x width x depth)
  • Soil is finely sifted and of good quality
  • South and west facing

The MERL responsibilities

  • The MERL maintains the sensors and technology associated with the box
  • Watering and weeding of the bed can be done weekly, and any additional work will have to be done by the project proposer

Your responsibilities

  • Sourcing of plants and planting in the Test Bed
  • Harvesting of plants
  • Any ongoing maintenance of plants not covered by the MERL above
  • Three or more blog posts covering the reasons for the project, an update on its progress and a summary post
A plastic dome on top of a wooden pole, housing a BBC MicroBit. The roof of the building is in the background against a blue sky.
The housing for the BBC Microbit, which monitors conditions in the soil.
Wellcome Trust logo