As Clayton “Frog” Cota dug his hands into the ground, powdery dirt covered his fingers.
He broke apart clumps of soil and made the hole wide, but not deep. A sagebrush plant sat near his knees as he worked, waiting for its new home.
Clayton, 14, a freshman at Owyhee Combined School, was planting six sagebrush plants he grew for a two-year science experiment: to find out whether sagebrush grown in natural soil fare better than plants grown in commercial soil. Both were grown in the school’s greenhouse; now they were being transplanted less than a mile from Clayton’s home.
His experiment is part of a two-year Elko County School District science fair project that he will present in March. In 2015, it was recognized by Broadcom MASTERS, a program of Society for Science and the Public. Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) is designed to inspire sixth- to eighth-graders to be the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators.
Clayton lives with his grandmother, who encouraged him to get involved.
“I thought it would be interesting to learn about plants and sagebrush,” he said.
Susan Filkins, a Bureau of Land Management natural resource specialist, helped Clayton plant his sagebrush Oct. 4 on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. She showed him how to measure his sagebrush, take photos and write notes in his field journal.
Clayton has noticed that the sagebrush plants grown in natural soil didn’t sprout as quickly as the ones in commercial soil. But over time, the ones in commercial soil started to grow thin and wilt, while the ones in natural soil grew strong.
“In the natural soil, it’s better,” Clayton said. “They are taller and more sprouted out, more than manufactured soil.”
Clayton became interested in science in sixth grade, but he doesn’t know if he wants to become a scientist. He also takes part in football, basketball, wrestling and track, and right now he’s more interested in diesel mechanics as a career.
Though he’s required to visit his sagebrush only every Tuesday, he checks them every day during his walk to catch the school bus.