One thing that has always fascinated me is the growth of plants – how one tiny seed can turn into a huge bush or tree almost completely on its own. This is of course true for humans, animals, and others – but with plants it’s much more accessible than animals, and much more visible than microorganisms. And maybe most importantly – it’s the basis of food production, which I’d say is the most basic need (along with security) of humans. I love working on free software and free information – but when we really look at the big picture, the ultimate achievement would be making food more free.
Anyway, I don’t really have any good plans for revolutionizing food any time soon, but I do want to learn more about it. So here’s a little experiment I tried:
1. Sprout a seed.
2. When the sprout grows a significant root, put it in a small box with water, in a well-lit area.
3. Watch how much it grows.
Basically, hydroponics. Of course we can’t grow food that way, because it lacks a key element of hydroponics – providing nutrients. I’ll start looking into that later, but for now I wanted to see how much the seeds have on their own. First test subjects: Lentils (Lens Culinaris) and Mung Beans (Vigna Radiata):
Above is how they looked after about two weeks, when I decided they don’t seem to be growing anymore, so I ended the experiment.
Two of the lentil plants, compared to a lentil seed (like the one they grew from).
Some of the Mung bean plants, compared to a seed.
Initial conclusions – Wow. They are very big. I think it’s quite remarkable that a tiny seed like that has so much inside it – having received nothing but water and air so work with, I assume everything that grew there was made from material already in the seed, with a lot of water in the middle (of course, it’s also possible that my tap water contains some things I don’t know about – but I doubt if it’s really significant).
To learn more, I also planted some of the sprouts in actual soil. Here’s how they looked after the same amount of time:
Mung bean plants.
Oddly enough – while they grow much more leaves, they actually seem smaller in total. I can think of several possible explanations – maybe having no nutrients disrupts something in the growth mechanisms, making them grow longer stems (maybe stems don’t need nutrients and leaves do). Maybe hydroponics just provide faster growth in general, and if I gave them nutrients I’d also see proper leaf growth. Or maybe I’m just wrong, and they seem smaller to me because more of the stem is underground than I assumed.
Some more observations:
1. The lentil roots have a very simple branching structure – one main root, and many secondary roots coming out of it, and that’s it. The Mung beans have a complex structure, with secondary roots developing secondary roots of their own.
2. In the stems, we see the opposite – The lentils have various branching structures (some with no branching, some with several branches), while the Mung beans are all made of a single stem going up to the leaves.
3. All plants seem to have a constant amount of “growth” – the lentil plants that have branches don’t have a full-length main stem and a branch in addition, but rather the length of all branches together is similar to the length of the stems of the non-branching lentil plants. The Mung bean plants, neither of which have branches, are all roughly the same length.
4. They do an extremely good job in seeking the light source – note how the plants in the original picture are all aimed towards one side of the box – that’s the side where the window was, so they aimed their leaves at the light.
That’s it for now. Hopefully more interesting insights will come in the future.