Jerry's Column

Nature in your own Backyard

Are you looking for accessible nature somewhere nearby? Maybe even in your own backyard? Not a problem. There are as many ways to enjoy nature in a backyard as there are back yards. Let’s explore one possible method in a traditional back yard that ordinarily might not occur to us. We’ll call this a science experiment.

I’ll set the scene by saying that this backyard is 90 percent treated, mowed lawn with a fringe of mixed nursery perennial and annual flowers. Even these plants, the grass in the lawn and the flowers are natural in the sense that they absorb water and carbon dioxide and use sunlight to make their own food. What would happen if the amount of sunlight they receive was less than they ordinarily receive in nature? You’ll need some patience as this experiment will take about a month but some part of the experiment can happen almost every day.

What do you think would happen if a patch of lawn or a part of your flower bed got more shade than the rest? It might grow slower, right? But would it? To do this experiment you will need a piece of an old sheet or t-shirt or some cloth that lets some light through. Pick a part of your lawn (or flower garden that has lots of similar plants) where there is plenty of sun every day. Cover a part of it loosely with the cloth (old sheet, t-shirt, etc.) so that it still gets northern sky light but no direct sunlight. Now, measure the height of the grass (don’t mow that area during the experiment) or the average length of the flowering plant. Repeat the measurements every day or so and write them down. In about a month, you should see significant differences in the lengths of the plants.

Another thing to watch on a regular basis during the experiment is the presence or absence of insects. Some insects find the shade to be a more comfortable place to hang out. If your area is not chemically treated, you might also see some differences in other plants that grow in amongst the grass or flowers between the shady or sunny areas.

Nature is fun to explore. It adjusts to situations (sunny or shady) in lots of different ways and persists in changing to meet the setting. Can you think of other measurements that can be done to test the shady/sunny differences? I’ll look forward to your ideas on the topic. See you then.