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  • Jim Warland

Gardening as Science Education

By Jim Warland:

While most kids use summer vacation to play, this eager young student used part of her summer last year to learn about the science of growing food.


Mr. Jim asked if I wanted to science project where i would learn about using organic fertilizers in a garden.

The first thing i learned was how to put fertilizer on plants, either as a liquid, or as a powder. The fertilizer has minerals that helps it grow.

I also learned how to use a microscope to look closely at roots of plants.

There is a plant (stinging nettle) in the garden that itches very much when touched. People from Nepal use it as medicine for high blood pressure, when prepared as a tea.

White radishes were planted with fertilizer to see how high they would grow. They are more spicy than other radishes.

I planted peppers with and without fertilizers to see which would grow the biggest pepper. The peppers with fertilizers grew the most and tasted the best.

I gave her the choice of when to harvest radishes and peppers. Letting the radishes grow meant that they are larger, but may lose their flavor if they get too big. I showed her how to tell if tomatoes are ripe enough to pick. Pull slightly and the tomato comes right off. This improved her self-confidence.

The science project took place in a community garden. As you might guess, the student's family is from Mexico. They are the only Hispanic family at this garden. Almost everyone else is from Nepal.

Jim Warland has been a community garden and school garden volunteer since 2013.


Testing all of the vitamins and minerals in a piece of fruit is an expensive and time-consuming process. The technology to make this an individualized and simple process exists. The Bionutrient Food Association, (BFA) research team consists of Grower Members, soil scientists and agronomists who will use a sophisticated tool to determine the levels of many different types of nutrients and minerals with a single scan. This device will measure the quality of the food we eat.

The bionutrient meter is actually, in many ways, a shockingly simple device. It has lights (LEDs – light emitting diodes) that emit light at very specific wavelengths (fancy sciency word for colors), which then bounce off objects (like carrots, or carrot pulp, or spinach, or soil), while some of it is absorbed (turned into other forms of energy like heat) by the object, and then a light sensor in the device reads how much light bounces back (for each wavelength, multiple times, very quickly).

Why this matters (light bouncing off) is because this is actually a characteristic of objects that is directly correlated to the chemical compounds the object is made of. So in the case of food, there are known correlations between light reflectance, at specific wavelengths, and the amount of different nutrients found in that food (vitamins, antioxidants, and aromatic compounds [things that smell, and also usually contribute to taste and health-giving attributes of food], to name a few). What makes this extra complicated though, is that these light-bouncing characteristics and compounds “overlap” with each other – so we need to look at lots of data to try to parse out what is causing the response we’re seeing.



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