Raising Plants - Procedures

To build a light box:
See the light box assembly directions on the Wisconsin Fast Plant website for detailed information.

  1. Distribute boxes, single socket electrical cords, circular light bulb and light box building kits to each group.
  2. Have students set their box on the table with one of the small, square ends down. That is now the bottom of the box.
  3. Use the box cutter to cut a one inch diameter hole in the top of the box. The screw end of the circular light bulb should just squeeze into the hole.
  4. Use the box cutter to cut long rectangular slits (4x14 cm) in the sides and of the box, near the top edge. These are vents to prevent your plants from overheating.
  5. Line the inside of the box with aluminum foil. Use glue to glue the foil securely to all sides, and the top and bottom of the box. Make sure you leave the top hole and vent slit open.
  6. Working from the inside of the box, insert the circular light bulb through the top hole.
  7. While 1 person holds the light bulb, a second person should screw the light socket onto the light bulb.
  8. Make an aluminum foil curtain for the front of the box. The curtain should completely cover the opening. Tape the curtain to the top of the box and reinforce the sides if desired with clear tape.
  9. Optional: Cut pieces of window screen material to cover the vent holes from the outside. Use duct tape to secure them in place.

To build a terraqua column:
See the lesson plan of the Terraqua Column activity for a description of how to build terraqua columns with students.

Day 0 - Plant Wisconsin Fast Plant seeds:

See the planting and fertilizing tips on the Wisconsin Fast Plant website for detailed information.

  1. Moisten the vermiculite so that it expands and is damp to the touch.
  2. Saturate the wick in water.
  3. Mix the fertilizer into the water. Use a 1 part liquid fertilizer to 8 part water mixture or follow the directions for the N-P-K fertilizer you plan to use.
  4. Insert the wick through the hole in the cap. Screw the cap onto the opening of the bottle.
  5. Invert the planter onto the reservoir. Make sure that the wick reaches all the way from the bottom of the reservoir to the top of the planter.
  6. Add water to the reservoir.
  7. Add moist vermiculite to the planter. When adding the soil, hold the end of the wick up and fill in the vermiculite around the wick. Make sure that the wick is not stuck against the side of the planter. Bury the top of the wick in the vermiculite.
  8. Drop 8-12 seeds onto the surface of the vermiculite. Seedlings will be thinned later to a maximum of 4 plants per terraqua column.
  9. Lightly cover the seeds with a thin layer of vermiculite.
  10. Lightly water the soil.
  11. Place the system into the light boxes. Place the tops of the terraqua columns 5-10 cm from the lights. Use books to prop them up to the right height.
  12. Have students make initial observations of their terraqua columns, noting the number of seeds planted.

Day 4-5 – Thin seedlings
By now, seedlings should have pushed through the surface of the soil. Thin your seedlings so that there are no more than 4 seedlings per terraqua column or 1 seedling per cell in a quad. Try to leave seedlings that are spaced reasonably far apart.

Days 5-14 – Maintain your plants and make observations
By now, your plants should be growing well. Make sure the water reservoirs are full of nutrient rich water (especially before the weekend). Make sure the lights are 5-10 cm away from the plants (use books to prop them up). Make observations of your plants as they grow. Some traits that are easily measured:

  • Number of days to germinate
  • Ratio of seeds germinated to seeds planted
  • Plant height
  • Number of days to first leaf
  • Number of leaves
  • Number of hairs on leaf margins
  • Leaf color
  • Stem color
  • Number of days to first flower bud
  • Number of flower buds
  • Water usage
  • Number of seed pods
  • Pod length
  • Number of days to seed pod maturity (tips of pods will turn brown)
  • Total number of seeds collected per plant or per pod

Before day 14 – Make bee sticks

  1. Distribute one dried bee and one toothpick to each student.
  2. Set out glue.
  3. Remove the head, legs, and abdomen of the bee, leaving only the round, fuzzy thorax region and the wings if you wish.
  4. Put a drop of glue on the top of the toothpick. You do not need much glue.
  5. Insert the glue covered tip into the thorax. You may wish to put the toothpick into one of the holes left when you removed the head or abdomen.
  6. Set the bee stick aside for the glue to dry.

Day 14-20 – Fertilize flowers
By now, the flowers should have bloomed. Take the bee stick and rub it against the anthers of a blossomed flower. Move to the flowers of a different plant and rub against the pistil. Continue fertilizing until all the flowers in the classroom have been cross-fertilized. See the pollination directions on the Wisconsin Fast Plant website for detailed information.

Day 21-40 – Collect seeds
See the fertilization and seed development directions on the Wisconsin Fast Plant website for detailed information.

  1. 10-20 days after the last fertilization, some of the pistils will have turned into long seed pods. When the tips of the pods turn from green to brown, the plants are ready to be dried. Remove the water from the bottom reservoir.
  2. Let plants dry for 7 days. The pods should be brown and crispy.
  3. Cut the stem of the plant below the bottommost pod and place the whole plant into a labeled paper bag.
  4. Seal the bag with tape or staples then crush the plant inside, breaking up the pods thoroughly to release the seeds.
  5. In a shallow tray, pour out the contents of the bag. Pick out the large pieces of stem, leaves and pods.
  6. The smallest pieces of broken pod can be separated from the seeds by gently blowing across the surface of the tray. The pod pieces will blow away.
  7. Seeds may be stored in a labeled paper envelope. To store seeds for a year or more, place the envelope in a ziplock bag with silica gel (one of those packets often found with dried foods to absorb moisture).