Project Updates Stories of Soil

Soil Chromatography in Chiang Mai

Besides the fun of trying something new, and photo ops, we found a very clear indication of how fun soil chromatography can be:

Magic the black cat sniffing soil, Dec 2018.

Although we only had 5 good chromatograms out of the set of soil samples we tested, this process revealed several things:

  • fun
  • accessibility
  • colours!
  • ease of participation at different steps of the process
  • darkroom construction does take some work
  • soil qualities beyond the quantitative, chemical analysis
Our 5 samples at the end of the 2 days of work.

In this short article, we’ll take you through the steps (which we’ve documented in full here) so you can do your own soil chromatogram activity!

We give thanks to Europe-based HUMUSapiens, for their open wiki and inspiration across the world.

First of all, why make chromatograms with soil?

Soil chromatography was developed and introduced by Lilo Kolisko (visit the webpage! Highly recommended for a view to a woman scientist’s life and thinking in the early 20th Century), a woman scientist – who studied with the biodynamic thinker, Rudolf Steiner, in Germany.

Since then, it’s been played with as a mixture of artscience: by hackers, experimenting with non-traditional science, and by scientists and foresters: check out this resource from the University of Western Australia.

The chromatogram’s main strengths are what it doesn’t do: capture and quantify soil’s chemical properties into a number. What it does do, is transfer its properties onto a medium (filter paper) that allows the human eye to witness direct patterns emerging from the flow of chemical and other properties within the soil’s living system. In this, biodynamics considers qualities within each living organism. There are other words for this in other indigenous wisdoms (of which biodynamics is … really not). (In Singapore, we may hear of chi, prana, or semangat–different ways of looking at energy, within systems of holistic health and embodied vitality. The performance artist nor has a beautiful piece titled “Semangat in practice”, in Making Kin, published 2022 by Ethos Books.)

Left: A4, soil not dried, no plant matter. Right: A3: dried, no plant matter.

Chromatograms allow a human eye not accustomed to working with soil’s ecology, to see how soil is living and complex, to be understood qualitatively and viscerally and not only quantitatively or morphologically, as a vibrant, living matter.

Although we did want to understand how soils in two locations appeared, part of the process (which we didn’t do perfectly!) was also to see how this transformation of qualities occurs.

In the lab, chemical analysis these days is measured to a chemical standard; from there, a list of quantities of which chemical compound is generated.

When well done, chromatograms reveal not only proportions, but also vitality: jagged edges and sharp notches. Ours are just beginners in training. HUMUSapiens in Europe has much more on soil with their soil camps.

Left: B1: not dried, without plant matter; Right: B3: dried soil without plant matter.

Although these resources exist, it was hard finding a simple workflow for non-hacker culture participants. So we made one ourselves (after our series of mini-success (chromatogram blooms!) and mini-missteps (questionable labelling, and AgNO3 blots on Huiying’s hands).

Made by the soil team, Dec 2018

Select soil samples

First, find the spots you’d like. You can select any spots! Or consider comparing spots based on shade/non-shade, where you guess some soil may be doing better because you’ve added some compost, etc.

Collecting samples can be done by different hands.

Prepare soil solution

  • Mix soil with 5 times the amount of base solution. Some guides recommend 0.1% sodium nitrate solution. We used baking soda which is more easily available, adding in molar excess (until no more baking soda dissolves.)
  • Leave soil solution to sit for at least 12 hours (Zuazagoitia & Villarroel, 2015)
Guides said you had to dry the soil first… but we wanted to see what undried soil would show up as. So we compared 2 sites, with 2 conditions: dried and non-dried. The additional bottles are just additional controls – we didn’t go on to develop chromatograms for them (we must have run out of either filter paper or time).

Prepare darkroom

  • Includes Red lights, tweezers, weighing scale, glass bottle for silver nitrate solution (1 per filter paper is best, or 5 if you are doing 10 sets for e.g.), filter paper fitted with wick, box for drying filter paper that ensures no light enters during the day

Prepare filter paper with silver nitrate solution 

NOT the right way to measure out AgNo3 (should be done in a darkroom!)
  • This has to be done in a darkroom, with gloves. Always use gloves while handling silver nitrate solution. As a solution, silver nitrate stains hands permanently. While it eventually comes off as your skin renews itself and sheds, it forms jet black stains as silver oxidises under sunlight. It can be removed with strong toxic chemicals (e.g. some form of cyanide) but we recommend leaving it be until it comes off.
  • Measure out enough silver nitrate to make a 0.5% silver nitrate solution. E.g. 0.5g to 100ml of water.
  • [Optional] Mark out filter paper to be prepared in order of preparation. E.g. FP 1, FP 2, FP 3 or any other coding system that suits you. This is an additional step to track the consistency of the silver nitrate application.
  • Place the filter paper with wick to the solution. Let the silver nitrate seep into paper a radius of 4cm. This takes approx. 20 minutes per filter paper, depending on the quality of the paper. 
  • Let filter paper dry overnight (still in darkroom conditions) or 2 nights during rainy season.

Wick soil solution onto prepared filter paper

  • On prepared, now dry filter paper, add a new wick.
  • Add 1 filter paper per soil solution. Each filter paper takes approx 15-20 minutes.
  • [Observation step] Observe the changes on the paper as the solution is wicked up: does solution begin showing up? How fast does the solution take to be wicked up? Do this if your paper quality is not consistent or to catch light leakage in the darkroom.

So that’s it! We plan to do this again, sometime, in a different site…. when that will be will appear 🙂

Read/download the full step by step instructions here:

Written by Huiying.

Also as a testament to how qualitative and aesthetic understandings of ecology are seen today: you might like this passage from The Moon and Madness, written in 2011. Today we’ve moved a bit further on from the idea that moon cycles are completely separated from our human and ecological cycles of life and death. 🙂

Fieldnotes Project Updates

Fieldworkers notes – July 2021

Fieldworkers Meet 7 August 2021

Siglap South 

Soil is completely black, plants not doing so well. Worms don’t move around, they just gather in the worm bin. 

Are they overfed there? Not really…

Might be an environment issue instead – not enough sun

If we grow fruiting vegetables, they may not do as well compared to asystasia, sweet potato, kang kong, ginger.

The garden also has white ginger flowers – grown for the fragrant smell.

Irene hasn’t been so responsive on the chat, so Megan has been conversing with Doris more

They have a vermicomposting thing going. 


Not active since June, as there was a complaint from a resident which escalated. Madam Zhang who was involved in the garden, was made to step down as Chairman. A resident had complained against practices in the garden which she was directly involved in. Vivian and Hanjing approached Jacqueline from NParks, who went to negotiate with garden manager. 

Original test bed was very clayey. This was dug up, but not done in time, so it became a pond with fishes. It had to be removed; the soil was removed, and Jacqueline brought clay soil to fill up the plot with a hugelkulture method. The RC wanted them to dig this up and cover it with soil, but Jacqueline managed to convince them to use a hugelkulture method. They then had to do a cool off period – no one was allowed to go except for the RC chairman. 

But this is a good thing too – the soil can rest and break down. After Heightened Alert, we could continue. 

Rectangular plot was removed (mulch was removed), and compost was poured into soil.

Gonna stick with garden as garden members are active. 

Madam Zhang had had a big operation, so been telling her to rest. She is also passionate, so she also wanted to do things, but had to tell her to rest, and not overstretch herself (and her post-operation stitches) and others around her.

Some lessons: soil regeneration in SG is unique: Need to take one approach and slowly ease into it. Community gardens do get shut down when residents who don’t understand something well enough make a complaint.

Garden originally wasn’t cemented, then it was, and this created an overflow of water on the vertical side. It was not designed with a garden in mind. It made gardening so much more difficult, and when gardening is difficult, there is more collision in ideas, and sometimes the garden just closes down because of this. 

Cemented gardens 

Bring additional problems, such as algae, which operations managers resort to removing with high-pressure waterjets.

Oi Lian shares that she was very sad to hear about the old rain trees cemented over in Margaret Drive. Tree roots are severely impacted when paved over with cement, even if they reach into the ground. We urge BCA to consider working with the National Parks Board to merge complementary technical and best practice recommendations, so our construction and built environment industry can help to grow a healthy ecosystem of urban trees, plants, soil and water for the next 55 years and more.


when we try to solve a problem with just one view, 

it creates more problems. 

This is why we need:

Contextual, lived experiences to speak to, and be heard by policy and current practices

Changing one garden at a time, one gardener and one resident at a time.

Just continue what we’re doing, there is a reason we are doing this, and we’ll try our very best to reach as far as we can go! 

NParks has to deal with the bureaucratic stuff, but at the core of it, they do see the value of it

Continue to do the fieldwork, and mark your fieldwork hours!

Jobs Project Updates

Recruiting: Curriculum designer/writer

We’re hiring!

The Soil Regeneration Project/Spores team is seeking a passionate curriculum writer and designer (CD) to join our team. 

At the Soil Regeneration Project (, we believe in the centrality of soil in biological as well as social systems and are dedicated to bringing this to light in academic, social and economic spaces. Within educational spaces, we aim to highlight the position of soil in climate change, ecology and sustainability conversations. One of the ways we are working towards shifting the current narrative towards the importance of soil is through our Soil Curriculum, a series of 10 lessons we have designed that consists of engaging activities and self reflective debrief discussions to reorient ourselves in relation to soil. 

We are in the fortunate position of piloting these 10 lessons with partners so that we may collect feedback and work towards refining the curriculum. To enable this, we are looking for a curriculum designer to join our team who will drive and advise us through this process by collating feedback from the pilot runs, rewriting lesson plans and other curricula related documents to present to educational institutions and the Ministry of Education. 


  • An individual who has experience and is familiar with curriculum development in the Ministry of Education;
  • Trained in curriculum design with experience in writing curricula for MoE accredited schools and/or other educational institutions in Singapore;
  • An innovative changemaker keen to be a part of how educational systems can evolve;
  • Passionate about education and ecology;
  • Keen to work in an inclusive and collaborative working environment with a diverse team.


  • Estimated time commitment of 4 hours/week with possible increase to 6 hours per week for a few weeks  following each run of the curriculum pilots (a total of 3 runs) as we process and incorporate the feedback into the curriculum. This will be broken down into a modular 3-session programme. The timeline is as follows:
    • First run: November and December 2021, preparation begins August 2021
    • Second run: January to May 2022
    • Third run: June to December 2022
  • Individual will be remunerated for their services
  • Opportunity to work with a team of individuals dedicated towards creating a shift in educational thinking
  • A current or historical connection to Singapore’s food system, water bodies or soils in the form of professional work or personal relation is considered a plus but not a requisite for applicants 

Much like the soils beneath our feet, we hope to mirror the diverse and inclusive characteristics of soil systems. With this in mind, we seek to cultivate a professional ethos as well as grow our team to compose a plurality of views, experiences and walks of life  

Those interested can email and with a resume detailing your curriculum designing experience as well as a paragraph sharing why you are keen to be a part of this work.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Our curriculum pilot is made possible as awardees of the SG Eco Fund, under the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, Singapore.

Project Updates Stories of Soil

Design and Culture

With Ng Wei Yang

Our design principles are woven into the soil project, and value systems too.

Here we introduce our first completed designs, something we’re very proud of, that embodies what we consider a living culture for the project.

We also take some time to find out about the person behind the designs.

Interconnection, community, and the cycle of knowledge (re)generation are values we work towards. We believe they are needed more than ever today, to rebuild what we have of already-broken agriculture and food systems, and divert the flow of energy and resources from industrial food systems, towards ones that can support microsolidarity networks, decolonial food cultures, and place-based communities that support their farmers.

Working on the illustrations and logo for the project was a unique experience, one that slowly took shape over time, just like the project itself. I took the important values about the project and used that to direct the decisions I made throughout the design process for the illustrations and logo.

Wei Yang, concept artist

Transitions aren’t always easy, but they are also joyful. Work, done well and hard won, with others, teaches us fulfillment and lessons that make us all better people.

These designs were conceptualised and made in collaboration with Ng Wei Yang. Find out more about his work and ongoing projects at

Wei Yang is a concept artist and illustrator based in Singapore. He graduated from the Singapore University of Technology and Design in 2017 and subsequently from FZD School of Design in 2020. His journey in art and design started from a couple of design courses in university, which eventually led him to pursue concept art. Wei Yang’s interest in both real-life and imaginary environments drive him to create environment concept art and illustrations. Outside of work, he enjoys taking pictures and travelling.

Project Updates

Posting underway…

We’re working at it! And in the meantime, you can contact us via

Pumpkins in growth after 5 months of resting soil bed
Pumpkins fruiting after 5 months of a resting soil bed at Wah Son Aerospace Engineering, 2019