Probing the scientific side of gardening has exciting possibilities for boys or girls with an inquiring turn of mind. When a child's aptitudes he in this direction parents should see that he has an opportunity to learn about the technical processes, research and experimentation that are behind gardening knowledge and progress.
Soil testing, for example, which is neglected by most adult gardeners, is an important job that an older child could take over for his parents. Inexpensive soil-testing kits, widely available, include full instructions. This is a simple procedure for any youngster who can master a chemistry set.
Germination tests would be an engrossing and instructive chore for some youngsters, and a profitable one for the parent, too, since some seeds are worth planting the second and third years, and some are not. Let the embryo scientist tell you.
The traditional "rag doll" test consists of scattering seeds on a wet cotton cloth, folding the edges over and rolling it up.
The roll is tied and placed upright in a saucer of water, where it is kept until germination takes place.
Possibly easier to handle is the blotter method, whereby seeds are scattered on a moist blotter on a plate. Another moist blotter is placed on top, and an inverted plate on top of that. Blotters are kept moist, and at room temperature.
In both cases a definite number of seeds are counted out. Multiples of ten are easiest to compute percentages on, and there should be thirty to fifty seeds to make the test worth while. After three or four days the seeds should be investigated, but the test should be continued for a couple of weeks, since there are always laggards. Then the sprouted seeds are counted, and the percentage of the whole is reckoned.
Hydroponics, the science of water culture, or soilless gardening, is a hobby that has quite a following. While it has some of the aspects of a fad, its soundness was well demonstrated during World War II when it was used to produce vegetables for the armed forces on barren Pacific islands. This is the sort of thing at which a boy interested in chemistry might like to try his hand.
Hydroponic gardening can go on in the house, on the back porch, or out in the garden. It is good clean fun (no dirt), and rather smacks of magic. There are government bulletins on the subject, and numerous books.
Plant breeding calls for painstaking effort, but is not beyond the older child with a capacity for serious experimenting.
Many amateurs have developed new strains by simply observing and isolating natural "breaks" or mutations in their gardens. It is not too unusual to find one plant in a group doing something different; showing a hitherto unknown color, a dwarf form, a larger flower, a different formation.