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How did a high school student use lemons to research gardening-related issues?

I recently attended a high school science fair that featured student’s experiments in biology. I was pleased to find many exhibits of interest to anyone who grows a home kitchen garden. Here are some things I learned:

The Best Miracle Grow Potting Mix

One exhibit described an experiment involving flowering cabbage growing in three types of Miracle Grow potting mix. Of the three, Miracle Grow Organic Choice produced the tallest seedlings, while Miracle Grow Potting Mix and Miracle Grow With Moisture Control produced shorter seedlings.

It was clear that the seedlings had received too little light during the experiment, but the difference in growth was obvious. If you’re shopping Miracle Grow, go with their Organic Choice product.

Soil Treatments

An exhibit showed the results of sprouting peas in soil that had undergone various treatments. Starting with one type of soil, the experimenter had baked some soil, amended some with soot and ash, amended other soil with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and amended still other soil with activated coal.

Peas grew best in the soil with added activated coal and worst in the baked soil. Soil amended with soot and ash or with nitrogen-fixing bacteria supported the peas adequately. But were I mixing soil based on the experiment’s results, I’d add activated coal to my potting mix.

The Best Fertilizer for Young Garden Beans

One exhibit described garden beans having been fed with various mixes of fertilizers. Apparently, there were five sets of seeds or young seedlings. Each set received its own fertilizer mix ranging from no additional fertilizer to a 30-10-10 mix, a 12-55-6 mix, a 10-10-10 mix, and an 11-35-15 mix. The experimenter’s conclusion? Fertilizer hinders the growth of a plant.

Save the Lemon Juice for Cooking

To simulate acid rain, one experimenter mixed lemon juice with the water given to bean plants. Some plants received water with a ph of 2, some received water with a ph of 3-to-4, some received water with a ph of 4-to-5, and some received water with a ph of 6. After 10 days of these treatments, the low-ph plants actually shrank while the plants receiving water of neutral ph grew well. What would I conclude? If I use lemon juice on my vegetables, I’ll wait till I’m cooking them.

From a high school science experiment, it’s not clear which artificial lights are best for beans… but whatever type of bulb you use, it’s hard to provide enough.

Artificial Light

In one experiment, some beans grew under halogen lights, others under black light, others under grow lights, and still others under fluorescent lights. Actually, the beans under black light and grow lights didn’t grow; the ones under halogen lights grew very well. But from reading the researcher’s comments, I wouldn’t make decisions about lighting from these results. The plants and their respective lighting were in rooms all over the house—temperature differences may have been a greater factor than lighting differences. Also, apparently there was no control over watering; some plants might simply have dried out while others received adequate water. It’s helpful that the researchers described their methods and highlighted possible flaws.

An Engaging Hour

I spent an hour reviewing the science experiment displays and would have been happy spending more time. I learned about compost, about the effects of filtering light on plant growth, about soil nutrients, about germination rates, about soil types, and about insects (including honey bees).

My favorite exhibit featured a question in bold characters across the display: How do you make flowers last? The experiment had to do with prolonging the health of cut flowers, but I couldn’t help answering that leading question in my own twisted way: If you want to make flowers last, make everything else first.

 

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