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Area teens conducting scientific trials on tomatoes

Students at four Rowan County high schools are conducting scientific trials on tomatoes to see if industry pruning standards are superior to extra pruning or no pruning at all.

The hands-on agricultural research project is being led by Jeremy Pattison with the Plants for Human Health Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

Through the trials, students learn about agriculture, math, science and even the economy. With agriculture being the state’s biggest industry, it also helps emphasize the importance of our area’s growing local food movement, said Pattison.

Students at East Rowan, Jesse Caron, South Rowan and West Rowan high schools are conducting different tomato trials with variations in fertilizer, pot size and transplant size and pruning. Industry standards are to trim all but one of the “suckers” below the first branch with fruit. Suckers eventually become branches that grow more tomatoes.

The second group of plants will have all suckers trimmed throughout the vine. The control group of plants won’t be trimmed at all. Pruning is thought to help produce a bigger, healthier tomato. This is the type of question students are hoping to answer.

Eventually students will pool their data, analyze it and decide how to use that information for either another experiment, or to try and replicate the results and grow tomatoes again. The idea behind the project is that the theories learned in this experiment will allow teachers and students to develop their own future experiments, said Pattison.

Students at South Rowan High School on Feb. 20 harvested their third batch of tomatoes to collect data on their bounty. They started growing them Nov. 1 in the school’s greenhouse.

Each school is using seeds from Twin Oak Farms, part of Frank Patterson Farms Inc. The varieties – Carolina Gold (a yellow tomato), Crista, Fletcher and Floralina – are suitable to plant in our region, said David Overcash, an agricultural education teacher at South Rowan.

Classes will either sell their tomatoes as a fundraiser for FFA programs, or donate some to local food pantries. The schools have already donated 45 pounds of tomatoes to Main Street Mission in China Grove.

“We are very excited about this very unique project that is exposing our students to science and research in an applied, hands-on way,” said Overcash. “Dr. Pattison has been a key player in driving this project at all four of the schools in the county and we have developed a great partnership with him, N.C. State University, the North Carolina Research Campus and Piedmont Research Station because of it.”

Look for a full story about the students’ effort in the Feb. 27 edition of Cabarrus News.

Johnson: 704-786-2185
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