The Episcopal greenhouse by the numbers:
Hydroponics: Gardening for the Future
The greenhouse has come alive with the excitement of Lower School gardeners. From the littlest Knights to next year’s Middle Schoolers, students are planting seeds and preparing for their future. “We’re teaching kids something that they can do their whole life,” says QUEST Center Coordinator Dr. Elizabeth Lewis. She says while not all students currently grow food at home, the practice has real application for the future when students may live in crowded cities or even on another planet.
Episcopal Chef Pat Mahon explains that the crop is grown entirely in water using a nutrient film technique system. Hydroponic gardening is a process of growing plants in water, adding only soluble fertilizer and maintaining a precise pH balance. The plants thrive in this environment and can be harvested year-round.
An Edible Education Starts with a Seed
The greenhouse, which was made possible by the Parents’ Guild several years ago, lets students get their hands dirty – or wet – while being introduced to the gardening process. The process is much more than simply planting a crop. The edible education begins with students learning more about how seeds grow. “Little kids are learning the life cycle,” says Dr. Lewis, who sees tremendous potential for hands-on learning and exploration in the greenhouse.
The learning doesn’t end when the plants hit the water. Teachers bring students back throughout the growing season to measure, chart, graph and even predict the size of their future crop. Dr. Lewis will introduce students to the concept of pollination and the importance of bees as students eventually try their hands at self-pollinating their little sprouts. In addition, the greenhouse teaches students about environmental stewardship. Hydroponic gardening reduces the overall carbon footprint when compared to that of commercially purchased food because the process doesn’t require gas-powered equipment or trucks to deliver it. Maintenance time and work hours are also significantly reduced.
Cultivating Healthy Choices
This is a gift that keeps on giving and growing,” says Chef Pat, who points out that at full production the greenhouse can sustain the lettuce needs of the entire Episcopal student body. He says it just makes sense to use fresh, local produce whenever it’s available and that it’s an added bonus that the greenhouse produce is herbicide and pesticide free. There is also the hope that if students grow healthy food they will be more likely to make healthy choices.
It’s exciting to see everything what is being cultivated one seed at a time!
What are you growing this spring? Tell us about your garden in the comments section below.