Special Report | Experimental Gardening

By jmeeuwis 6th October 2021

1. Build a bug catching device

Make a device known as a pooter for catching bugs in your garden. Thread a straw through the lid of a clear pot and cover that end with a fine breathable fabric, wrapping an elastic band around it to hold it in place. Thread a second straw through the bottom, securing it in place with Blu Tack to make sure it is airtight. Put the outer end of the straw covered with fabric in your mouth and point the other straw at a small bug you want to collect; suck in sharply to pull the bug into your pot. Admire your bug through the pot walls, then let them go once you’ve finished.

2. Grow sweet popcorn

Sow popcorn kernels in soil in two separate trays. Place one on a windowsill and another in a dark space, such as an airing cupboard, and water them sparingly for a couple of days. When the kernels sprout, harvest the leaves for a tasting. The healthy-looking green leaves from the windowsill will have a bitter taste compared with the sweetness of the yellow leaves harvested from the dark space. These ones have sugar stores which have been unable to convert into starch stores due to a lack of light needed for photosynthesis. The sweet leaves can be added to salads and desserts.

3. Organise a pot plant water weigh-in

To establish how much rain soil and plants can hold, check the volume of a potted plant – which will be printed on the bottom – fill a measuring jug with the same amount of water and let the pot sit in it for ten or so minutes. Lift the pot up and let it drain over the jug by sitting it on two sticks. Measure the amount of water collected in the jug to work out how much has been held by the soil in the pot.

4. Create a slug and snail obstacle course

Put to the test a range of materials thought to deter slugs and snails. Surround gastropod favourites – such as lettuce or hosta – with wool from an old woollen jumper or mitten, mashed garlic and onion, aluminium foil and some copper wire strands a finger width apart. Which material, if any, provides most protection
for the plant? Count the holes in the leaves to compare the damage.

5. See how much fizz is in your soil

Different plants require different types of soil to grow well – rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias all like an acidic spot. Get to grips with what will thrive in your garden by testing the soil pH. Collect soil from different corners of your garden and place it in separate plastic containers. Add half a cup of water, followed by half a cup of white vinegar. If the mixture fizzes you have alkaline soil that is reacting to the acid in the vinegar. Repeat and add baking soda to test for acid soil. The more fizzing, the higher or lower on the pH scale the soil!

For more information about RHS Hilltop, the science experiments it will host and how to get involved, visit www.rhs.org.uk/hilltop


This Special Report first appeared in First News, Issue 799, 08/10/21


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