Saturday, February 13

Building a Root View Box

Ever want to know just what is happening beneath the soil surface? What your seeds are actually doing in there?

A root-view box is simply a planter with a window to the dirt, so you can observe what is happening below the soil surface. By planting the seeds against an angled window, the roots will grow against it. However, roots avoid light, so the window needs a covering.

Like other projects that will be encountering water, this is built mostly of cedar, with some scraps of other wood as trim pieces (holding in the window). It was built to fit the planter drip trays I found at the local hardware store, so anyone building one will want to come up with their own dimensions.

1x6 lumber
trim pieces (in this case 1/2" square stock and some triangles cut from scraps lying around)
1/8" clear polycarbonate for the window
plastic drip tray from a windowbox planter
1" galvanized hinges
2" latch (could use a hook & eye or many other things to secure the window, but these were on the clearance rack for a quarter each)
wood screws
wood glue
screw gun

Mount the window at an angle, so the roots have to encounter it while growing down (geotropism, if I recall primary school biology correctly)
Drill some drainage holes in the bottom.
Add a trim piece that covers the edge of the window across the top, this will block incoming light, since the roots will avoid any light.

If you are wanting to use acrylic to save money on the window, I understand that Lowe's will cut it to size for you - do this - acrylic is not easy to cut without shattering. If you must cut it yourself, use a metal straight-edge and a blade to score it, then repeat the same cut deeper and deeper until you can snap it over a straight corner. Polycarbonate (sold under the brand name Lexan) is a bit stronger and less likely to shatter. Polycarb. can be cut easily on a band saw, or with a fine-tooth jigsaw or circle saw.

Plant the root-view box as you would any other container. This is a mixture of potting soil with a slow-release fertilizer and worm castings, the same mix I'm using for starting seeds this year. I filled a 1.25 gallon ice cream bucket halfway with potting mix and added 5 or 6 cups of water, letting it sit for a few hours to soak in. Then, dump it into the planter box, plant the seeds, and add labels.

Seeds that would be good to try include carrots, beets, radishes, bunching onions, parsnips, and chard (it has multi-colored roots). Science project topics can include obstacle avoidance by the roots (put stones or sticks into the box), different light filters for the roots, different soil mixes (sandy, loam, clay).

I hope to add photos every few days as we watch the seeds germinate and grow. We should see something from the radishes within a few days.

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