Schoolchildren planted “space rocket” seeds – that had travelled for months in orbit with astronaut Tim Peake - as part of a The Cornfield Project, a £135,000 community project between two estates in Coleraine.
The children are helping with an extra-terrestrial botanic experiment to see if seeds that have been in space grow differently than those that have never left Earth.
The seeds were provided as part of a UK-wide experiment by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
The planting itself took place as part of The Cornfield Project, an idea from the Aspire Community Partnership, which is transforming the woodland between the Millburn and Ballysally estates in Coleraine.
The Cornfield Project is the Northern Ireland flagship scheme for Grow Wild, a UK-wide initiative to use wild flowers to help improve communities, run by the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and supported by The Big Lottery Fund.
Although planting wild flowers is a central pillar of the scheme, it actually involves so much more: including education programmes for local people of all ages, and the creation of several community spaces such as communal training gardens for all sorts of “grow your own” plants – such as the “space rocket”.
Last September, 2kg of rocket seeds were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz 44S where they spent several months in microgravity before returning to Earth in March, as part of an educational project launched by the RHS Campaign for School Gardening and the UK Space Agency.
The children – from Harpur’s Hill, Ballysally and Millburn primary schools, all in Coleraine - were given two batches of seeds, in red or blue packets, and will measure the rocket’s growth over seven weeks, and will not be told which is the control group and which has been in space until the results have been collected.
Pupils at North Coast Integrated College were also a huge help, designing and building the rocket-shaped planter that will be used for this sowing and also future educational activities.
The Cornfield Project manager, Catherine Armstrong said: “It was a tremendous day and everyone had a lot of fun taking part in what is also a very important experiment. After a lot of work preparing the area, this also marks the very start of many months of transformation for the area between Millburn and Ballysally.”
Strawberries and several batches of wild flowers were also planted at last Tuesday’s event, which marks the start of sowing season at The Cornfield Project, while the children were also treated to an educational workshop on how best to handle seeds.
Stéphanie Baine, Northern Ireland partnership manager for Grow Wild, said: “The Cornfield Project is a wonderful idea and a brilliant flagship project for Grow Wild here in Northern Ireland. The coming months will see the area transformed with wildflowers as well as a number of brilliant social projects and events – such as this one – taking place. It is going to be brilliant for the two estates and also the wider area generally.”