If I were to write a PSA warning pamphlet on the topic of “How to Tell If Your Child is Into Farming,” I think I’d say, first and foremost, to monitor Science Fair projects carefully.
When I was in third grade, having been dissuaded from my initial plan to breed a blue rose (in a matter of weeks), I instead delved into Mendelian genetics and grew out Impatiens flowers to see if they would stay true to their parent’s color. Fourth grade’s project is unmemorable, but then, in fifth grade, I constructed two identical terrariums, located them at the North and South end of the house, and monitored the variations in their growth.
So really, I’m not sure why my family felt like the whole farming thing came out of left field.
I mention my early forays into the Scientific method to illustrate one of my favorite perks of the job (other than the free food)–the freedom of the farmer to run experiments. Now, before any readers who are real scientists get all huffy, let me freely admit: I tend to play a bit fast and loose with the scientific method. I don’t usually have control group, and I rarely try to replicate my experiments. Heck, I frequently don’t even have a hypothesis–I just want to see what will happen. But I do love to try new things.
Sometimes my passion for experiments drives Andrew a bit crazy. His M.O. on the farm is to make tiny tweaks to well-designed existing systems, and only then after much careful thought. I’m much more likely to impulsively go big, which comes with the occasional success and the not-altogether-infrequent “unsuccess” (cough, cough, giant lima beans in the greenhouse). Still, I can’t resist the allure of the experiment.
And occasionally, everything aligns for a really good one. As usual, I’m growing Brussels sprouts this year. Though they’ve been under attack from cabbage whites (the caterpillar form of those tiny white butterflies you see everywhere this time of year), the plants look generally pretty good, and I realized this week that it was time to tell the plants to put their energy into the eponymous sprouts.
Last year’s experiment (which could less charitably be characterized as paralyzed indecision) was to leave the plants untouched. The sprouts were pretty puny, I have to say. At farms where I’ve worked, you “top” the plants this time of year, removing the growing tip and upper-most leaves. The plant then stops growing up and instead bulks up the sprouts. Graham informed me, however, that in his experience you strip the bottom leaves off the plant to achieve the same end. This sounded to me like the perfect opportunity for an experiment.
So Graham and I worked our way down opposite sides of the rows, he stripping leaves, me topping. While we are yet to see any conclusive evidence as to which produces larger or more uniform sprouts, we can definitively state that topping (with a knife) is much faster, and that it has the happy side product of lots of tender young Brussels sprout tops for eating.
Regardless of the results, I am sure to be pleased. Every day I get to learn something new.