Day 10 – Microwave Experiment

Inexplicably, the seeds planted with the microwave boiled water, as opposed to the stove-top boiled water, continue to race ahead in germination and growth.  I was getting worried about the compost soil watered with stove-top boiled water because nothing was germinating.  I thought it would be nearly (statistically) impossible for all three seeds in that single container to fail, compared to the seeds in the other three containers which were all growing in some shape or form.

Well, finally, on Day 10, one seed has sprouted in the compost soil watered with boiled water.  Actually, this seed is the only one that germinated right on schedule, exactly when the seed packet said it would.  (Seed germination was supposed to occur within 8-12 days.)

But look at the difference in growth between the two pots!  In the composted soil, the seeds in the pot watered with microwave boiled water sprouted a full three days ahead of the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water.  I wonder why?  Could the microwave be purifying the water more?  If you know why please let me know.

For the hygrosoil pots, the plants watered with microwave boiled water continue to maintain their early germination and growth compared to the plants watered with stove-top boiled water.

If you would have told me when I started this experiment that the seeds watered with microwave boiled water would clearly and starkly outpace the seeds watered with stove-top boiled water, I would never have believed it.  We only use our microwave for heating leftovers (especially things hard to reheat stove-top like lasagna) and before I always felt a little hesitant to use it.  I now feel a little more comfortable about it, though I have no plans on ever really “cooking” with the microwave.

One comment about the hygrosoil.  Clearly, one can see the spectacular advantage the hygrosoil offers plants and seeds compared to compost soil (which is supposed to be far better than regular soil!).  However, I’m really not in favor of using chemical-based fertilizer or soil mixes because over time they can really damage your garden and adjacent areas due to build-up of some minerals (like salt) and chemicals, and leeching of others.  As is the case with most chemical fertilizers, once you start using them you need to continue using them (thereby creating and maintaining a market for the product) or else plan on 3-5 years to get your soil nurtured back into good health with compost, mulch and other organic matter.

The only reason I used hygrosoil here is that I knew the composition of the soil would be a controlled and sterile medium in which I could vary only a single variable in an experiment (in this case, the single variable was type of water; everything else was held constant).

Comparing hygrosoil to the compost, I was very happy to see that the compost soil sprouted a couple of pea seeds ahead of schedule on Day 7 (in the microwave-boiled water condition only).  This tells me that with good soil I can grow crops just as strong and healthy as chemically-fertilized crops, I just have to be a little more patient.  And who knows what would have happened with fully composted soil?  The compost used in the photo above was composted “enough” for planting, meaning it smelled fresh and good like garden soil should.  However, the organic matter hadn’t completely broken down yet because I wanted to place it at the bottom of an 8 inch trench with garden soil on top, in order to let the last bit of bacterial magic occur under the layer of the top soil (this releases even more nutrients for your plants over time).

In any case, I really am interested in your thoughts as to why the microwave boiled water condition produced far superior results compared to the stove-top boiled water condition – even across two types of soil?!


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17 Responses to Day 10 – Microwave Experiment

  1. Maureen Witte says:

    It’s a mystery to me.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sounds strange. Did you boil too much oxthen from the water? Why boil the water at all?

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      I was just following the guidelines from the original experiment, by the school girl, who apparently boiled the water via microwave or stove-top to purify it. The water is boiled for the same amount of time in my experiment (3 minutes). What is oxthen? thanks.

  3. Michael says:

    While I appreciate any attempt to clarify the bogusness of the famous urban legend about plants and microwaved water (as Snopes has published clearly for many years), and while I sympathize with receiving angry comments from religious friends who insist on applying “microwave-ovens-are-bad” gospel in a fallacious deductive-reasoning way, I must point out that several important scientific mistakes are perpetuated in the current experiment.

    The essence of this type of experiment is to demonstrate that the results are not explainable by random variation or by unseen variables. This experiment does neither. Two pots and six seeds are not enough to rule out random variation. And is three days difference in germination between two segregated populations significant? Likely not. There may be unseen variables that are particular to individual pots of soil (such as proliferation of other species). Furthermore, this study is not double blind (which eliminates a specific category of unseen variables).

    So while I think that your hypothesis–that microwaved water does not adversely affect plant growth–is correct, due to the lack of previous scientific evidence over the six or more years for the original claim since the question became famous, I don’t think your study supports the hypothesis very well. A devil’s advocate scientist could say, “maybe one of the pots got inadvertently contaminated with X,” or “maybe those three plants randomly grew slightly faster.”

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Dr. Michael,
      I think this should be viewed as a pilot study only. The evidence is suggestive but definitely not conclusive as you point out! (And actually, no matter how many studies you did that got the same results, someone would always find threats to validity.) I think the biggest threat to validity in my design is the lack of a double blind design. (My soils and pots were identical so I don’t think contamination is a reasonable threat.)
      Having said that, if one of my students came to me with these results for their pilot study, I would definitely encourage them to proceed with a main study with a much larger sample and time frame, correcting for all threats to validity of course!
      But thankfully, I’ve retired from academia and don’t have to worry about peer-reviewed journals or NIH review committees anymore, which allows me to conduct totally unscientific studies and spread anecdotal evidence around the world. (And, as we know, anecdotal evidence is more persuasive that statistical evidence anyways, albeit far less accurate and the bane of “real” scientists everywhere.**)
      Yours Truly,
      Dr. Kim Witte (aka Kimm X Jayne, housewife extraordinaire)

      **Did you know that in the handful of studies conducted by independent researchers that bicycle helmets have virtually no protective value? (Ninety-nine percent of all helmet studies are funded or worse, conducted by the helmet manufacturers themselves, and most of those are simulations where proxies are hit at just the right angle to prove a helmet is protective.) Almost all bike fatalities are due to crashes with vehicles and almost all head injuries are maxillofacial (mouth, jaw, neck) injuries for which bike helmets do nothing. Motorcycle helmets are a different case, as they have the full frontal head protection (including over the jaw, that bike helmets don’t have. Yet, if you tell someone this almost everyone has a personal anecdote about how someone they know fell and their helmet was cracked and they would have been killed otherwise, but the evidence doesn’t support it. So, Thom and I ride our bikes with the wind whipping through our hair (well, at least mine anyways) with impunity. (Now, I’ll probably get lots of bike helmet hate mail.) 🙂

  4. Heather Kulaga says:

    Everybody knows microwaves work faster than stoves!!!

  5. Chris Henning says:

    Not being of any scientific persuasion whatsoever, my only conclusion? One of us needs a hobby. ;o) BTW: what’s your secret tea recipe? Which, of course, will no longer be secret, once it’s revealed.

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      Here’s the secret tea:

      I boil 1 cup in a huge ~2 gallon saucepan and let it sit overnight (if you don’t let it sit overnight it’s not as strong). Then, I strain and refrigerate the liquid. Often it’s too strong so the strained tea acts as a concentrate, which you just cut to taste with ice water. I’ve gone through ~14 lbs since moving here (it’s the new and far more healty diet coke!). xo

  6. Anonymous says:

    Did you boil the water in the microwave in plastic? Some plastics have BPA in them which acts as a hormone when humans are exposed to it. I am wondering if something in the plastic is causing these results?

  7. Hi! I think it’s great that you’re testing this myth about the microwaved water yourself and trying to control for variables in the experiment. I wouldn’t start microwaving all my water on the strength of 3 pea plants, but it’s interesting to see how you’ve improved upon the original experiment you mentioned by using replicates and controls to increase the scientific rigour.
    I’ve reblogged the original post on my blog
    Thanks for the interesting read!

  8. Lalalalala says:

    So which one worked better? The boiled water or the microwaved water? How long did you heat each one? If you don’tmheatmthem for the same period of time, that can affect the experiment.

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      If you can believe it the microwaved water plants sprouted earlier and grew faster. I heated each pot of water until it just boiled (about 2 minutes in the microwave and about 4-5 minutes on the stovetop).

  9. Colleen says:

    Great experiment! 2 questions:
    1. What kind of pot did you use to boil the water on the stove? (aluminium/stainless steel)
    2. Did you use plastic or glass to boil in the microwave?
    Oops, okay 3:
    3. Did you let the pea plants grow on to produce peas, and if so, which was more prolific?

    4. Would you consider doing a multi-generational experiment by replanting the grown peas as seeds, and continuing with the watering regime…?

    • Kimm X Jayne says:

      I used stainless steel for the stovetop, glass for the microwave. I did transplant but didn’t monitor afterwards. I’m back in the U.S. now so can’t replant but that would have been a great idea, to see the multi-generational effects!! (My admittedly unscientific conclusion was that all plastics are to be avoided in when cooking or growing (probably aluminum too?) as I think the water microwaved in a plastic container is what caused the plants in the original experiment to fail to thrive.)

  10. Colleen says:

    (Okay 4 questions!)

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