How does your bucket grow? A science project turns bountiful, saving more than 'a drop in the bucket'

May 26, 2012 3:34:16 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]




[email protected] 


It's late afternoon and Jordan Mize's little garden is bathed in the warmth of a low-lying sun. Light glints brilliant through droplets of water clinging to broad leaves and tiny green tomatoes, just coming into the world. 


With an elfin grin, 9-year-old Jordan emerges from a press of plants taller than her head. She has been checking the progress of her green thumb science project. With luck, it will earn a prize at next year's district science fair and, with certainty, it will fill her family's table this summer with fresh veggies and fruits this first-time gardener is growing in 5-gallon buckets, right outside her back door in north Columbus. 


"Every day is something new," Jordan says, flicking stray water drops from her arms. "I'm excited about the snap beans especially, because they'll be ready to pick in just a couple of days!" 


The rising Joe Cook Elementary Magnet School fourth-grader eagerly checks her container crop early every morning, and again when she returns from Camp Pratt each afternoon. And every third day, she brings out the yardstick and data log, to record the growth of her control subjects -- four 5-gallon buckets holding the identical arrangement of plants, but being grown under different conditions: with water and sun; water and shade; water, plant food and sun; and water, plant food and shade.  


"My process is to measure two (buckets) that are in shade and two that are outside in the sun," Jordan explains. "I write it down to see if they grew from last time. I have one in the shade and one in the sun that I use water only, and the other two get plant food every two weeks" 


So far, the sun-loving buckets are showing off for their shade-bound cousins. 


Throughout the summer, Jordan will measure each bucket's output, weighing, photographing and recording results. 




A granddad's garden 


The inspiration for this bucket garden has roots in a family memory, one recalled by Jordan's dad, Bruce, who teaches at West Point High School. 


"My grandfather in Water Valley used to love to garden, but after he got cancer, he couldn't get out in his garden anymore," shares Bruce, wiping perspiration from his brow in the lingering humidity. "I remembered that after he got sick, he had some plants in a bucket, and he'd sit out on the porch and mess with it all day long." 


After some research (and advice from mom and dad), Jordan decided to put a tomato plant, bell pepper plant and rainbow bell pepper plant in each of her science project buckets on March 31. She added marigolds, to help ward off insects. 


The hardest task was drilling drainage holes in the bottom of every bucket. But once she started, Jordan didn't stop at four. "She and her dad kept adding buckets, planting tomatoes, snap beans, cucumber, broccoli, onion, carrots, watermelon and cantaloupe," Jordan's mom, Denise Mize, interjects. "The garden has really become a father/daughter project." 


"I love to eat everything we planted -- except cucumber and cantaloupe," Jordan confesses, with a comical grimace. "But I really like broccoli!" 




Money in the pocket 


One of Jordan's bucket garden goals is to find out how much money the family can save on groceries once the harvest begins coming in.  


Start-up expense was reasonable. Plants for the science project came from West Point High School's Career and Technical Center, at a cost of 25 cents each. Seed packets used for some of the other plants were 25 cents per packet. 


Five-gallon buckets from a local retailer were about $3, as were the plastic totes, according to Bruce. 


"Really, any container will do," he says, "as long as it's cleaned out really well and has drainage." 


Other costs were Miracle Gro vegetable garden mix soil and Miracle Gro plant food. 


For Jordan, there's no skimping on chores. All buckets have to be faithfully watered daily. She also checks for pests. 


"The army worms want to eat my tomatoes, and the birds keep stealing from me," she says with exasperation. "And I can't stand slugs." 


Invaders aside, Jordan and her parents are counting bucket garden benefits -- no tilling or weeding, compact space, saves money on groceries, "and the dogs can't dig it up," Bruce laughs. "And another benefit is that one of our neighbors is growing corn, and we've already talked about swapping some tomatoes for corn," he adds, extolling the time-honored tradition of bartering. 


Jordan is sharing her experience and what she's learning on a blog, where she posts her progress. (Follow it at 


For other greenhorn green thumbs just starting out, she offers a bit of advice: "You have to have patience, but just have fun and do it -- and water, water, water." 


The 9-year-old doesn't have to think long when asked what the best parts of the bucket garden project have been to date. 


"Doing it together with my daddy," she grins, squinting at the dipping sun. "And gettin' dirty!" 


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.