International School of Beijing middle school students participate in NASA and Fairchild Gardens' Growing Beyond Earth citizen project to research plant varieties that might grow in space!

Another citizen science project for our middle school students to participate in that allows them to think and work like scientists with real scientists around the world! To help NASA advance research on the possibility of growing plants in space, students follow a research protocol that has them collecting data on plants grown in a growth chamber designed by Fairchild Gardens similar to the growth chamber on the International Space Station.

Sourcing materials for this research project can be a challenge, but not a barrier to participation in the study. We were able to ship the disassembled growth chamber here. However, the organic materials needed for the project (growth medium, fertilizer, and seeds) are important controlled variables in the study. With restrictions on shipping organic material internationally, we worked to source similar materials here. We were successful in finding the same growth medium and fertilizer, with a little help in translations from the students and Taobao! As for the seeds, NASA and Fairchild Gardens were excited at the prospect of our ability to source different seed varieties common to Asia.

Feel free to connect with me to learn more about participation in citizen science projects such as Growing Beyond Earth and how we work to get our students to be active global citizen scientists!

Tiffany, I’m very curious to hear what you ended up using - would you mind sharing some information about what seeds you were able to use as substitutes?

Here is some of the information I provided to Tiffany back in November.

All of the seeds mentioned are relevant to the Growing Beyond Earth 2022-2023 program year.

If I were you, I’d look for controlled-release fertilizers that have an NPK of ~20 ~10 ~5 and any kind of “dwarf” or “compact” variety of herb that you may be able to purchase at a store where local gardeners shop**I think in your situation, part of the curiosity is that you may be able to get something no one else has! Feel free to send examples/options - I’d be curious to see what you’re able to source locally with regards to seeds.

Regarding seeds., this is what we buy, who we buy it from, and the link so you can find something similar:

We ended up testing fennel, lemon balm, and we sourced the Genovese basil as a control. Our lemon balm never germinated. We even tried growing it in soil outside the growth chamber with no luck. We tried and tried looking for Chinese herbs that fit the criteria. The biggest constraint was how tall they got. Also, most “herbs” here are used for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and they use things like the root or something like star anise where it is a bit of processing to get to the usable part. Fennel was one that is very common in their jiaozi (dumplings) here.

Also, so tricky sourcing stuff here. There aren’t garden stores here. Everything is purchased off Taobao (like an Amazon) and sometimes you get what was in the picture and sometimes it is something totally different. The seeds we purchased could be 20 years old for all I know! So frustrating.

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@tstephens I was helping a school in Japan find a substitute for the Growing Beyond Earth growing media (Greens Grade) which led me to these products used for Bonsai which are all readily available in Japan. If you use the link I provided and change the search term to your country of origin - the Google Shopping page should return some results for relevant retailers that provide a similar product.

You’re looking for something where the majority of particles are around 2-3 mm. When put through a mesh sieve 98% of the particles in Greens Grade were too large to pass through a #50 sieve (larger than .297 mm) but small enough to pass through a #20 sieve (smaller than .841 mm). So look for a substitute with a particle size of 1 mm - if possible.
U.S. Sieve Rating System

Here’s the full specs for Greens Grade: