Do you ever talk to your plants? I do. You know, coaxing the tomatoes to grow bigger and redder, suggesting to the African violet that it's had a rest for over a year and it's time it started to show off its flowers again.
I have no idea whether or not there is any effect, although the African violet stubbornly continues to not flower. It makes me feel better, though, a sort of pseudo sense that I'm participating in their lives.
I haven't really joined the ranks of New Agers and Greenies but the idea of talking to plants is not new. Some people take this seriously: Mythbusters even did an investigation about this! From their results they inferred that plants grown in the presence of soundtracks, as opposed to letting them grow in silence, was effective for good growth.
Scientifically speaking, I can think of many ways in which their investigation could have been more rigorous, but still, sound, ie vibrations in the air, had a positive effect.
Plants in space
Segue to the International Space Station, where scientists are constantly seeking how to grow food in preparation for sending people to Mars.
Zinnia plants were selected to grow in the Space Station because they were sensitive to environmental challenges such as water and light and were seen as a good precursor to trying to grow tomatoes and other crops for food.
After two weeks' of growth, problems were noticed with reactions to humidity and air flow, resulting in the growth of mould. The automated fans and watering systems were being set appropriately, but the plants remained stressed and mould grew.
The breakthrough came when a crew member decided to take over the care of the plants, on the basis that at home in the garden, he wouldn't leave it to automated systems but would judge for himself if the plants needed watering, trimming or whatever. Two of the four distressed plants recovered and started to flower under his care. While the article didn't exactly say what happened to the mould, it was obvious that the personal touch, rather than automation, made the difference.
Many other plants have been grown in space: lettuce, zucchini, wheat, flax, onions, sunflowers, Arabidopsis, to name a few. Each has had American astronauts or Russian cosmonauts taking a personal interest in their growth, with impressive results.
Two things seem to be happening here. One is the personal human touch as opposed to automated systems to ensure the well-being of the plants. The other is the psychological benefit, or morale boost, that caring for plants provides for the humans in space (not to mention the sheer pleasure and pride in eating the produce!).
There is a consistent theme in the Space Station about the desire to tend the "garden" and excitement about success when the plants flourish. Spending time with plants was seen more as a reward than a job to be done simply to keep the Space Station running. It was seen as something different and more stimulating than just collecting and processing data.
Back to the Origin
Perhaps this should not be surprising. Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis relate how God created the world and tasked humans to care for it. In fact Adam was given the responsibility to name all the living things (is this the first record of someone talking to plants?) and amazingly enough God agreed to whatever names Adam chose.
A significant aspect of God's nature is that he embodies relationship (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Throughout history God is actively involved in his creation, guiding and inspiring people and probably tearing his hair out and weeping at the way in which people have been very poor stewards of creation.
Being made in the image of God, it is no wonder that the personal touch would bear fruit more effectively than an automated system and that also there would be a two-way benefit. When we are personally involved in discerning a crop's needs and acting accordingly, there is bound to be a good harvest, whether on earth or in space.
The last word comes from the author of the Gizmodo site, who has a charge for the plants in space: "May you grow strong, little plants, prosper and flourish. Reproduce and be eaten by our astronauts. Pave the way for us to explore the stars."
Aira Chilcott B.Sc (Hons), M. Contemp Sci, Cert IV in Christian Ministry and Theology, Cert IV in Training and Evaluation, Grad Dip Ed., began her working life at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, investigating characteristics of cancer cells. Turning to teaching in the Christian school system provided opportunities to learn theology, more science, mission trips and explore the outdoors through bushwalking and other exploits. Now retired, Aira is a panelist for Young Writers and volunteers at a nature park. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html