Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Science Fair project

I guess I have always been a bit of a nerd. I really enjoyed doing science fair projects. As with my hobbies and collections though, they always had some practical outcome that answered a more pressing question than "why does vinegar and baking soda make the volcano erupt?" I tested everything from how to keep 7-up fizzy to vacuum cleaner suction (does your vacuum cleaner suck? my teacher didn't like the title) to deck sealer to what surface to set meat on to defrost it quickest (a metal pan with lots of surface area that is not in direct contact with the counter, aluminum works especially well, though our All-Clad skillet set on a cold burner does a good job of conducting the cold away and defrosting the meat by the same principle, lesson learned, don't spend '2 easy payments of 19.99' on a Thawmatic just stick the meat on a piece of conductive metal and it will do the same thing). Anyway... this summer's "science fair project" is the Earth Box. Essentially it is a big pot with a water reservoir in the bottom beneath the soil and a lid with holes to plant your plants through and act as mulch. The idea is that you can put extra water in the bottom that will be wicked up by the plant as required. As you can imaging, many people immediately jumped on the bandwagon, then proudly proclaimed that they had the best garden ever! And then obviously there are people like me who don't want to pay $29.95 for one of these miraculous products, and I wonder what exactly is in their nutrient patch that makes it so great. Despite all that, I think the idea is good.
I have had my father-in-law, who is a meat manager of a grocery store, collecting buckets for me. I figure if they are on my roof, only a few people and the birds are going to know that I didn't spend $15 a pot, or care. And besides, I'm all for reduce, reuse, recycle. Why buy new pots when there are perfectly sized plastic buckets being thrown in the garbage each day. If you don't have a source of free buckets, and like mine, the pots aren't highly visible, they do sell plastic 4-5 gallon buckets for cleaning or painting at most home stores for only a few bucks each, considerably less than buying decorative pots! My task will be to modify the buckets in such a way that I am able to build a reservoir into the bottom. A few diy sites have suggested using storage tubs, with their lids being cut down and a pot placed through a hole to create the wick from the reservoir. My buckets don't generally come with lids though, so I will have to find some other suitable material. Once I figure that out it should be smooth sailing. I will place a small pot through a hole into the reservoir, drill a few holes in the sides to act as overflow protection, fill with container mix (soiless mix with good water holding properties, preferably light weight) and plant my baby plants. For the science fair part of the experiment, I will treat different plants in different ways. I may try the new fangled red mulch on some tomatoes (looks like a red plastic table cloth to me. may not be exactly the same, but I'll try it this year) some will get a layer of newspaper just below the surface (a biodegradable mulch) and maybe some will use black plastic stretched over the surface of the container with just a hole for the plant. I will have to water those by hand rather than having the rain do it for me like on the newspaper ones. Or I may try some that have the plastic mulch, but have holes poked in it and have it dip into the bucket so it catches and allows the water to seep in slowly. I am going to have to get one of the black and white copy books so I can take my lab notes in true science fair style!

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