We decided on this project based on our interest in the topic and relation to real world situations. We were particularly interested in the topic of chemical vs. natural. This led us to study certain questions pertaining to organic and chemical growing methods. Our list of accomplishments by the end of this study will include having further knowledge of general agriculture and proof that organic agriculture is the way to go (assuming our hypothesis is correct). We think that finding the advantages or disadvantages of either growing method on our own will provide fresh, new, and simple yet educational insights on the topic. And further yet, knowledge gained could be put to use in the future in the way of growing our own food.
2. RELAVANCE OF OUR RESEARCH QUESTION
We were able to locate another project done by a group in ‘98 that is very similar to our project. Their project entailed studying the affects of different types of water on the growth of bean plants. They tested pond, tap, and filtered water. They found in their results that there was no distinct difference in the affects it had on the growth of the plants. We feel our experiment is stronger in that we introduce a wider variety of variables and are using them in a way that better displays our project on a much broader spectrum of agriculture and plant growing as it relates to the world we live in.
There are also numerous research farms that are doing somewhat the same thing as us, but on a much larger scale, using different crops and better developed methods of growing. One such example can be found in Kutztown, PA. It is called the Rodale institute and it is a 330-acre research farm. Rodale is working to provide evidence that organic farming is the ideal method.
Last year a record drought hit Pennsylvania, but actually ended up beneficial to the Rodale institutes’ studies. The farm’s dry organic plots yielded 24 to 30 bushels of soy beans an acre after that summer, which is not much compared to their normal average of 40 bushels per acre. However when compared to surrounding farms that had been injecting their soil with synthetic fertilizers for years, Rodale did extremely well. The other farms only averaged a lowly 16 bushels per acre.(Feder)
Our experiment can easily be put on a larger scale and used in the real world. It can be related to one of the biggest industries in the world that affects every American: farming. We all have and will continue to be supplied with food by America’s farmers. Have you ever given it any thought as to how they grow their plants or what they use to stimulate their growth? It is a topic important to us on a personal level as well as an environmental level. The commercial farming industry has been around for decades and has been using pesticides since the 30’s.(cropro.org) Many farmers use ridiculous amounts of chemicals on their plants. This includes herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Farmers use these chemicals to boost the production of their crops. While farmers using these chemicals do produce huge amounts of crops that do benefit our economy, they are harming both the environment and us by putting chemicals into the earth and the food we eat. According to a report done by the Environmental Protection Agency, each year an estimated 911 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on agricultural crops in the U.S.(ota.com) Also, since the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for home use, we have been putting these chemicals into the land around us and even our own lawns. The solution to this mass pollution is organic farming. Organic farming is a completely natural system that uses no chemicals or unnatural substances. Organic farmers use no chemical fertilizers or pesticides on their plants. For fertilizers, compost or manure is used. Instead of herbicides, weeds are cut by hand. Instead of weakening the soil in which they farm by using excess chemicals, the soil is enriched by the natural fertilizer. This leads to long-term production for a farm. This system has been around since the 40’s, but hasn’t been put into much large-scale use until recent decades. Its use had expanded greatly in the past decade, but still only amounts to less than 5% of our nations farming industry.(ota.com)
Many state and national organizations have been formed to further the development of organic farming. The recent growth in this industry has also led to an organic certification industry, which helped to pass laws such as the Organic Foods Production Act. This and other laws establish standards for foods to be sold as “organic” products. So what is the holdup? Why isn’t organic farming growing at a faster rate if it’s so beneficial to us? Well, there are a few factors hindering the expansion of organic farming. For example, risk and cost of managerial shifts, limited awareness of organic systems amongst farmers, and investments made in current farming methods.
So which method really is ideal? Sure, commercial farming has been working for years and our country is prospering. There is even an excess of crops every year. But are you willing to sacrifice quality control and safety for mass production? Would you like to bite into an apple that you know contains no chemicals and was grown completely naturally or an apple that has been sprayed numerous times with chemicals, and now contains those chemicals within it? On an even larger scale, we could look at the effects on our entire planet. Every year our planet is becomes more and more polluted. Why should we be injecting our planet with even more harmful chemicals? What once used to be natural soil is now infested and weakened by chemicals. Trees are weakened, even killed by the spread of these chemicals. Organic farming has the complete opposite affect on plants. Instead of damaging soil, it nurtures and conserves it for even further use.
3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
Our basic experimental design involves planting beans in multiple flats. Overall, these flats will be set up to test three different variables. The plants will be broken down into two soil mediums. Half will be planted in the chemically treated soil that the Boyd Hall greenhouse uses for most of its applications. The other half of the beans will be planted in our own mixture of one part composted manure and four parts organic topsoil, with small added quantities of vermiculite and perlite. Within these two groups of soil, we will be testing two other variables. The first of these is the type of water used to feed the plants. The three types of water are using are:
1. Tap water
2. Distilled water
3. Chemically fertilized water
All three types are piped throughout the greenhouse. The second variable is the amount of water that the plants will receive. These amounts of water (per day) are as follows:
1. 1 cup per flat (1/3 ounce per plant)
2. 2 cups per flat (2/3 ounce per plant)
3. 3 cups per flat (1 ounce per plant)
Each of the 18 squares on this chart represents a flat of beans. The plants grown in the greenhouse soil receiving 2 cups of chemically treated water will serve as our control group, because it is the combination that the greenhouse prefers. Because the plants are all in the same environment, and being subjected to measurable amounts of certain stimuli, our experiment will be statistically sound. Data is recorded on the chart shown earlier.
The materials we will use are as follows:
1. 432 beans (provided by greenhouse)
2. 18 black plastic flats, divided into 24 compartments (provided by greenhouse)
3. Water (all three types provided by greenhouse)
4. 80 lbs. Organic Topsoil (obtained at ACE Hardware)
5. 20 lbs. Composted Manure (obtained at ACE Hardware)
6. Greenhouse soil mixture
7. 2 Watering pitchers (provided by greenhouse)
We have set up several measuring techniques to determine which set up yields the best crop. The first is measuring the height of the plant. The height (in cm) is from the soil level to the highest point on the plant. The second measurement is the stem diameter (in mm) taken at the thickest point. We are also monitoring the germination rates of the seeds, by recording the number of plants each flat produces. We are also counting the number of leaves each produces. Later measurements will include number and size of seedpods, but this is a while off.
We will have each student from the class go in one time and fill out a data sheet as their role in our project. We will take measurements every other day.
Sep. 20-28- Research and gather ideas
Sep.29- Post lab proposal
Oct. 5- Plant Beans
Oct. 9- Begin collecting data
Oct. 19- Lab Packet due
Nov. 14- Present to class
Nov. 21- Finish collection of data
Dec. 4- Finish up conclusions
Dec. 7- Final Lab Due
Upon observing our plants at the end of our experiment the results were obviously in favor of the organic plants. Almost all of the organic plants grew taller and had more leaves. Also, the total number of organic plants that grew was greater than that of the chemically grown plants. This can obviously seen by the eye or understood through graphs. We thought it would be best to convey our results through graphs that clearly demonstrate the difference between organic and chemical growth. The types of statistics that were vital in arriving at our conclusion are these descriptive stats: mean and p-value. The mean was a helpful statistic because by taking the averages of the plants in the different data types, we were able to clearly see which plant grew better. The p-value was extremely important to our project because it provided us with evidence to support our hypothesis that an organic growing medium would be more productive. It did this by showing there was a significant difference in the results of the organic and chemical plants. We think the best way for us to display our results is through graphs. Graphs are able to clearly demonstrate our results visually. They are great evidence that were significant differences in the growth of the plants, as you can see in the following graphs.
Discussion and Conclusions:
Our research done this semester is easily relatable to work that others have done in the past. A few years ago another group generated a lab that compared different types of water when growing plants to see what produced the best results. We also used different types of water in our experiment, but we took it further. We added other variables like water amount and soil type. Other professional researchers are studying organic techniques on larger scales to promote organic farming.
There are many issues that can be studied in future projects. Different aspects of our project could be studied more intensively. Our organic soil compound could be studied further by seeking the best recipe for organic soil. In the initial trials of our lab, we had a group that was subjected to less light than the other group. Due to time constraints we were unable to complete these studies in the second trial. This would make for an interesting study at another time. Our initial plans for this experiment involved studying the fruiting stage of plant growth. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and the plants did not reach the fruiting stage. Some studies that could be performed include abundance and size of bean pods. Another interesting study would include surveying a population of students in regard to the taste of the fruit. In this project we have found significant information, yet it is only the tip of the plant growth iceberg. Hopefully similar studies will continue to improve upon our present agricultural system.
Organic Farming, Seeking the Mainstream. Feder, J. Barnaby
New York Times. April 2000. front page, business section
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