The fastest growing bean-like plant?
January 28, 2020 2:52 PM   Subscribe

My kid has a school science event in 2 weeks. They were supposed to conduct an experiment in preparation for the event - observing how the bean plant grows towards the sunlight, going around obstacles. And then present their findings at the event, 2 weeks from now. (*) Is there any plant that would grow enough in 2 weeks for the kid to actually see what's happening with the light, the obstacles and the plant, or should we just watch a few sped-up plant videos on Youtube?

* Let's ignore all the underlying questions like "How come they haven't done the experiment in time for the event?", "Why has this only come up now?", "Whose fault is it?" etc.

PS. If the answer is Youtube, do you have any recommendations?
posted by gakiko to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
Hmm bean-like i don’t know, but that wheatgrass for cats you can get at pet stores starts as seed and only takes a few days to grow - they sell mixes that include other seeds that might be more bean-like? Maybe ask at your local pet or garden store?
posted by aiglet at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I was growing up, 30+ yrs ago, we did this with green mung beans. Soak in water until they sprout, and then they grow really quickly afterwards. But again, that is a memory from 30+ yrs ago so hopefully others chime in here, too.
posted by tinydancer at 3:01 PM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was actually going to suggest sprouting mung beans, too, or another type of sprout since this can easily be done in a week. However. Sprouting is typically done in the dark (for example, inside a kitchen cabinet), not the light, and if the teacher has a very rigid requirement about this being a seed growing upwards from soil in full daylight, this may not be the best option. But it's worth mentioning. You can buy the seeds, as well as the special bean sprouting lids on Amazon*- they usually go on wide mouth mason jars. Link with info/instructions here.

Can you tell us the word for word instructions provided by the teacher, to give us a better idea of the requirements?

*I just saw that you're not in North America, so forgive me as I don't know where you may be able to purchase these in your neck of the woods!
posted by nightrecordings at 3:08 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is a pea bean-like? I grew some pea shoots for microgreens (inspired by this Metafilter post, and according to the instructions from the book in the post), and they're quite tall by 2 weeks, and noticeably bent towards the light. The trick to getting them to grow faster is soaking and then germinating them in a warm, dark spot for a few days before taking them out to get them to turn green. You'd have to look up the details but perhaps it could work!
posted by catcafe at 3:10 PM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hang on, do you actually need to sprout this from seed, or just see some phototrophic action? Two weeks is plenty for that, if you can obtain an established bean-like plant from somewhere/one.
posted by teremala at 3:16 PM on January 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In a warm room (in the dark for 2-3 days, then start light cycling), cucumbers come up fast and have big leaves, it should be extremely observable. Video. I love growing them anyway, but their speed to come up and be plant-y is also fun.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:52 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We are doing this in the kitchen RIGHT NOW. My child's science teacher uses "Wisconsin Fast Grow" plants. I don't know how she got them but we planted them (no special way, just stuck seeds in dirt) and have a grow light and they germinated and sprouted on Day 4.
posted by nkknkk at 4:08 PM on January 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I like the plant start idea if you can find them, and you might be able to get peas or beans going from seed. For either, it'll help to keep them warm (like 80 F) and maybe soak the seeds first. Definitely grow plants and mess around with them, don't just watch videos (for pedagogical reasons).

Things that are not growing in a substrate are going to be hard to observe phototropism in, don't grow sprouts in a jar. Grasses are also not going to show phototropism due to their growth habit (growth from base).

This may also be a good chance for your kid to learn about planning and consequences in a relatively low-stakes environment.
posted by momus_window at 4:08 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Wisconsin Fast Plants!
There's a link to purchase them on that site.
posted by Floydd at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We did a similar activity with Lima beans back in elementary school and a little googling suggest people still do! We germinated them in damp paper towels in plastic sandwich bags and I’m pretty sure planted the little sprouts in tiny paper cups of dirt.
posted by MadamM at 5:08 PM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a degree in botany, honest, but I don't know what to define as "bean-like". In the bean family, or just quick to germinate? I'm working with spinach seeds right now, and they germinate within 3 days and move toward light.
posted by acrasis at 5:48 PM on January 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your kid can totally scrape together a reasonable science fair presentation in 2 weeks. My oldest is a junior in high school so I've been though this 3 times so far. The important thing to remember is what the purpose of the science fair project is -- to follow the scientific method, and to demonstrate the ability to gather and present data.

The teacher already knows plants grow toward the light. They are not waiting for their students provide them with that information. They want to see some data the student has collected. They want to know the student can write about that data and present it in a table or graph. The quality of the data kinda doesn't matter.

Somewhere on a school web site or a crumpled piece of paper in your kid's backpack is a grading rubric describing what the teacher is looking for. Find it. The hour that you spend doing this is well worth it, even though it may not feel like it.

Our school wants to see a hypothesis (plants with a light on one side grow toward the light), a null hypothesis (plants don't grow toward the light) and a quantifiable variable (% of the plant's length that is on the side where the light is). They'd also want a control group of plants where the light is directly overhead instead of on one side, so you could see if the plants with a light on one side grew in a different way from the control group.

Your kid's teacher may want something more observational like a plant diary or something where they describe the plant. This is why it is crucial to find that piece of paper or web site describing the assignment.

In his freshman year, my son had a similar project with sunflower seeds, various kinds of soil, and only left himself a week to complete it! His current science teacher calls those types of experiments Plant Killing Projects. They suck. We were literally sanding down sunflower seeds with a nail file to make them sprout faster. We took them with us on a trip out of town. In order to measure, he had to dig them up and measure millimeters of growth. But you know what? Crappy data can be plugged into an Excel spreadsheet just as well as good data. He actually got an okay grade because he followed the grading rubric.

This is a long way of saying I think the answer is to use whatever kind of plants you guys can get your hands on and work with the data you get. I feel like using youtube videos is like a real scientist fudging their data. It feels like cheating. I'm sure your kid isn't the only one who hasn't started yet, and I'm guessing the teacher would rather see some real data, even if it is kind of lousy data.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:07 PM on January 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and our plant-killing project happened right after this went viral: "How Much Turmoil Does the Science Fair Cause Families?"The answer was A Lot. A lot of turmoil.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:12 PM on January 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nothing from seed will grow too much in two weeks. I'd go pick a hardy vine like honeysuckle from outside and bring it inside. Give it some nutrients and enough light and stand back. Is it bean-like? Pretty much, until it makes pods. In two weeks it would easily grow around something to get at the light.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:31 PM on January 28, 2020

I've used the Wisconsin Fast Plants for teaching a lot. (It's a variety of Brassica rapa bred for a fast life cycle.) They're well named for their speed - they'll grow to flowering age from seed within 2 weeks, and the life cycle is complete within ~5 weeks. That said, they don't get all that big (six inches tall, maybe?), so you don't necessarily see the really clear growth around obstacles and so on that beans will do for you.
posted by pemberkins at 7:12 PM on January 28, 2020

Best answer: Soybeans in a glass lined with paper towels, as detailed here, except we always used drinking glasses so the sprouts could grow straight up. Soak them overnight to get them started faster, you'll be able to see them germinating within a couple of days and have a good view of the root structure as it develops. Maybe your kid can devise a root obstacle course for their experiment? Don't bother transplanting them into soil, they'll grow just fine in water for a week or two. I remember mine having at least a couple sets of true leaves and already getting pretty viney by the time we moved them into pots. Bonus: If you keep the plants alive and trellis them to something, you get edamame at the end :)
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:22 PM on January 28, 2020

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