In the spirit of earth day, Shaler is going green. Well, even more than usual. If you’ve been down to the greenhouse recently, you might’ve noticed two fairly new and fairly futuristic looking plant pots. These are the new Tower Gardens, a hydroponic-type system, and were set up after the GATE program won a grant from the Pennsylvania Dept. Of Environmental Protection.
The system we have here is a combination system, using both aeroponics(an air system) and hydroponics (a water system) to get the plants the nutrients they need. They start in rock wool before they are transferred to the actual system. From there, the water is forced up through the center of the design and trickles down and flows to the roots of the plants. Because of this, the plants get 100% of the nutrients from the water instead of some of it being absorbed by soil.
“You have to put water in the base an and check the Ph level a couple times a week to make sure it’s in the proper range, kind of like how you would check a pool or aquarium. So we did one test run with peas, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce and that seemed to be doing really well and the system seemed to be functioning the appropriate way,” Mrs. Elder, a GATE teacher, said.
The creator of this hydroponics system was actually the greenhouse coordinator at EPCOT Center in Walt Disney World. He had used this system to grow most of the plants seen on the land ride in the park before deciding to make it feasible for the average everyday consumer to buy and use.
“It’s interesting if you look at the facts on the website for this system. They talk about how you could put these on top of a building like say in New York City and you could have your own rooftop garden without soil and without using a lot of space you could grow a lot of plants.”
According to the website, this system uses less than 10% of the water and land required by traditional, soil-based agriculture. And a recent study by the University of Mississippi found it also generates 30% more produce than soil-based growing methods.
The system is also used in places like the Chicago Airport where restaurants there have access to a whole bunch of fresh produce every day.
The GATE program along with the Ecology club came together behind this hydroponics idea once Elder had read about an Earth Day grant in a magazine.
“Every year the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection puts out a call for educational grants that have to do with the environmental awareness. I saw this in a magazine and then researched it, then wrote the grant, applied for it, and they announced the grants on earth day,” Elder said.
Elder ended up winning the grant but the money took awhile to come in so the actual planting couldn’t get started until later this school year.
“I mean we were hoping it would be a little faster and we could do a fall planting before it got too cold but that did not pan out so we just got it set up when the weather kind of broke in March and then we needed a couple weeks for the seeds to develop in the rock wool and then to transplant them,” she said.
Now what is going to happen with all these veggies being grown, one might ask.
“So right now we have been kind of experimenting to see what works best and how quickly things grow but ultimately were thinking of either giving vegetables away to GATE students or we could plant the flowers in front of the school to benefit the ecology club. We have a lot of ideas were just not sure exactly how it will all play out,” Elder said.