Backyard Horticulture Research

Don't be intimidated by the aura of science. Horticulture research is well within the capabilities of amateurs.

| March/April 1989

It seems that few people share our belief that backyard gardeners should be encouraged to do amateur horticulture research. After all, there is a pervasive mythology about the difficulties of conducting scientific investigation: It is supposed to be expensive, time-consuming, dangerous, boring, and esoteric — in short, best left to specialists.

Of course, some scientific work is hardly appropriate for amateurs (particle physics, for example), but many garden experiments are inexpensive, safe, and anything but boring. The results of such experiments can lead to substantial savings of time and money, as well as tastier produce and more attractive landscapes. And for a variety of reasons (including funding limitations), these experiments aren't likely to be done by professional researchers — so if they are carried out at all, it will be by amateurs.

Homegrown horticultural research also offers one enormous advantage over reliance on professionals: The results apply directly to you. The soil type is your soil type, the cultivars used are ones you're interested in, the weather conditions are yours, and so forth. And one of the most delightful aspects is that (when experiments are designed and performed in a reasonable way) there are no "wrong" results, only results that might differ from previous expectations — thus enabling you to correct those expectations in accordance with the actual ways of the world.

The North American Fruit Explorers is perhaps the best current example of an association of amateur horticultural researchers. Their quarterly, Pomona, is filled with reports of members' experiments, along with suggestions for additional studies. And Improve Your Gardening with Backyard Research by Lois Levitan (Rodale Press, 1980) is the reference for beginners on how to design, set up, and perform horticultural experiments. It's currently out of print but might be available through your local public library.

There are many areas that could benefit from amateur research; natural pest management, mulch, fertilization, and intercropping are just a few. In all, the home gardener seeking the truth can help all of us learn and grow. So this year, when you're planning your plot, why not plan one or two home-grown experiments as well?

Research Briefs

Soak it to me! Indian botanists claim that soaking tomato seeds in distilled, room-temperature water for about six hours, then air-drying them before planting increased subsequent fruit yields by 44%! The technique might work for some other vegetables, too.

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