soil experiments?

David W. Kramer kramer.8 at OSU.EDU
Thu Aug 22 08:34:47 EST 1996

Kathy Schmid asked:

>Does anyone have any ideas for a token lab about soils, fertilizers and
>such?  I'm looking for immediate gratification sorts of experiments or
>observations, not long-term mineral deficiency studies. (The target
>audience is undergraduates with an interest in gardening.)
>Kathy Schmid
>schmid at

You should seriously consider using Rapic Cycling Brassicas (Wisconsin Fast
Plants) for a soil/fertilizer experiment.  Not only will your students
learn some interesting facts about plant mineral nutrition but they will
also see the complete development of a plant from seed to seed in just 30
days!  If your students are like many of mine, it may be the first time
they have actually observed the full cycle of plant development.

RCB's are commonly called Fast Plants and seeds and "equipment" as well as
a manual of culture techniques and experiments can be ordered from Carolina
Biological Supply.  One of the experiments in the manual is on mineral
nutrition.  Fast Plants are planted with increasing amounts of fertilizer
and students observe the effects on number of pods per plant, days to first
open flower, and plant height.  You could vary the experiment, as David
Hershey has suggested, by using various brands of commercially available
"plant food".  You can use this as a good opportunity to make the
distinction between "food" (an energy source) and "mineral nutrients"
(minerals required for growth, metabolism, etc.).  While plants, of course,
make their own food, they must obtain minerals from an outside source,
usually the soil.  You could also test the effects of various soil types
such as sand, loam, and clay; perhaps even consider making and testing
compost as a combined soil/mineral nutrient.

Use of Fast Plants will be very interesting to your students if they are
mainly focused on applications of plant science, e.g. gardening.  We use
Fast Plants in our introductory plant biology course for non-majors and its
the first time many of the students have watched a plant grow.  We do a
genetics experiment with the students as the "pollinators".  They get very
excited when they see that their plant is "pregnant!"

A good source of information about Wisconsin Fast Plants is their web page
They also maintain an electronic discussion group called "WFPNET".  To
subscribe, send the command below in the body of an email message to
                                        macjordomo at


Be sure you use all capital letters for this command.  Once accepted to the
discussion group, you will receive a welcome message with a detailed
description of WFPNET.

Good luck!

Dr. David W. Kramer
Department of Plant Biology
Ohio State University at Mansfield
1680 University Drive
Mansfield, OH  44906
(419) 755-4344  FAX:  (419) 755-4367
e-mail:  kramer.8 at

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