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  • GrowNYC Education

Farmer Scientist: Irrigation Challenge Experiment

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Have you wondered about how you’re able to play in the sprinklers, take a hot shower, or even water your plants? We did an experiment to investigate how water moves through different fabrics. You can replicate the experiment at home!

You can watch the video below, click through the Google Slides link for a fun and educational presentation that is great for students at home or in class, view photos from our experiment, and then follow the instructions to try the experiment yourself!

Watch the video

Google Slides Presentation

Check out our educational Google Slides Presentation! It includes videos, photos, science concepts, vocabulary and more. Feel free to share with your students at home or in class.


View photos from the Irrigation Challenge experiment.

Get Inspired!

If you do the experiment at home, we'd love for you to share it with us on social media: tag @grownyc and use the hashtag #GrowNYCEducation

Irrigation Challenge: Instructions

Objective: Do a capillary action experiment to investigate how water moves through porous fabrics, modeling the way water moves through roots of plants. Learn about how water moves differently depending on the fabric used and its relation to gravity. We'll create a hypothesis, guessing how long it will take the water to move, which one will move the fastest and which one will move the slowest. Feel free to use a variety of fabrics or materials to explore the movement of water! Then, use what you learned to irrigate your own houseplants!

Material(s) needed:

  • Cups or Jars

  • Water

  • Bandana, Shoelaces, and Twine (or any other fabrics you want to test)

  • Tape

  • Marker

  • Books (or something to help elevate)

*Note: Because this experiment uses water and patience, make sure your experiment is placed in a safe spot so it doesn't fall or tip over. Especially if you have pets!


  1. Collect all your materials

  2. Add water into 3 cups - leaving the other 3 cups empty

  3. Use the books to elevate the cups with water in them

  4. Use the tape to mark the waterline (this will give you accurate data on how much water has moved). Note: you may want to cover the tops of the cups to remove water evaporation as a variable.

  5. Now, connect both cups (the one with water and the other without) with the material

  6. Come up with your hypothesis - what do you think is going to happen?

  7. Let it sit. You can check in at various time intervals and make observations (checking every 2 hours or every 24 hours)

  8. Record your data! How much water moved? Was your hypothesis correct? If so, why was it correct? If not, why was it wrong?


You’ve just conducted capillary action - the process of moving water from one place to another through tiny gaps or tubes in a material!

The water travels differently through various materials based on its porousness. Porous means that water, air, or other materials can pass through it. We also used gravity to help execute our experiment. Taking gravity into account is important when constructing irrigation systems, dams, canals, watersheds, and other waterways.

You can now use your knowledge of capillary action to irrigate your own houseplants! Make sure your houseplant is already well-watered, then prop up your cup of water and chosen fabric. This set-up can help keep your plant watered if you go away for a few days!

Every week in November 2020, we will post other experiments that you can do at home, as part of our Farmer Scientist Series. Stay tuned for our next experiment!

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