Hydroponics in Schools: Status Update

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Students install lettuce seedling plugs in their NFT system.

In December of 2017, Grow Ohio Valley partnered with Ohio County Schools, West Virginia Community College, Families Leading Change, PLANTS, LLC, Wheeling Jesuit University, and Education Alliance West Virginia on a Step 2 Try This WV grant. The Grow Ohio Valley proposal was awarded in February of 2018, and over the past year a variety of hydroponic systems have been set up at five different school sites.

The participating schools range from elementary to community college level. Below is a description of the school site, description of the type(s) of system(s) installed, and brief summary of hydroponic activities thus far.

Elm Grove Elementary School

  • Bibb lettuce ready for harvest from an NFT systemInstallation site: The hydroponics system is located in the school STEAM classroom and is used by the third and fourth grade 4-H STEAM club.
  • System installed: The school is using the nutrient flow technique (NFT) distributed by CropKing, which is a hobby-size of a commercial style hydroponic system. The system can grow up to 36 plants in a 6 by 6 grid laid out in a box-gutter square of six channels. This type of design is a good height for young students to observe and monitor plant growth activities. The plant lighting consists of two Viparspectra reflector series 600W LED full spectrum grow lights for indoor vegetable and flowering plants. The hours of light are set to 12 hours/day. The pH, temperature, and electrical conductivity are monitored regularly by a Bluelab Guardian monitor system.
  • Activities thus far: The first crop of lettuce was installed in the NFT system on January 9, 2019. Students participating in the 4-H STEM Club transferred seedlings from the germination trays to the NFT system. Four different hands-on activities were presented to the students. Students explained how their hydroponic system works to their parents in one of the after school activities.

Wheeling Middle School (FB)

  • TowerHarvest_Dec2018Installation site: The hydroponics system is located in the special education classrooms at Wheeling Middle School and is used to support STEM education.
  • System installed: This site has a vertical hydroponic, aeroponic, tower garden growing system distributed by Juice Plus. The plant lighting uses spiral LED indoor grow lights surrounded by a vertical hydroponic support cage specifically designed for the tower system. The tower garden kit includes non-GMO seeds, germination supplies, a water pump, timer, and a drain tube. Additional supplies purchased include a tower garden dolly and a Bluelab Guardian monitor system is used to monitor the pH, temperature, and electrical conductivity.Photo of tower hydroponic system with variety of salad greens and vegetables at different stages of growth.
  • Activities thus far: This site successfully grew several types of lettuce, and is now growing a variety of plants, including peas, in their tower system. This group also collaborated with PLANTS, LLC to seek funding from Organics Education to start an Organic Hydroponic system using the ECO-Cycle Aquaponics system

Wheeling Park High School STEM Club (FB)

  • Installation site: The hydroponics systems are located (temporarily) in the high school media center and are managed by the WPHS STEM club and the media center teacher.
  • GreenCityGrowers_2Systems installed: There are two types of system installed in the media lab at WPHS. Two aerogarden “plug and play” systems were purchased to give STEM club students opportunities to conduct controlled experiments with plants. The DIY system is a type of nutrient flow technique (NFT) system, similar to the Elm Grove and Alternative School System, but different in that the PVC design is easily modified and expanded based on production scope and space allowances. The DIY plant lighting consists of two Viparspectra reflector series 600W LED full spectrum grow lights for indoor vegetable and flowering plants. The hours of light are set to 12 hours/day. The pH, temperature, and electrical conductivity are monitored regularly by a Bluelab Guardian monitor system.Photo of DIY NFT hydroponic system
  • Activities thus far: Since the STEM club chose to use a DIY (do-it-yourself) hydroponic system, their first activity was measuring and constructing their PVC structure. (See WTOV9 video of the DIY construction process). The STEM Club traveled with the Hydroponics in Schools team to visit Green City Growers, which has a commercial facility in Cleveland to see how hydroponics can be used for large scale food production.

Ohio County Schools Alternative School

  • Installation site: The hydroponic system is installed in a small room adjacent to the students’ activity room, and is accessible by all students during the school day. SeedlingInstalledInNFTsystem5Feb2019
  • System installed: The school is using the nutrient flow technique (NFT) distributed by CropKing, which is a hobby-size of a commercial style hydroponic system. The system can grow up to 36 plants in a 6 by 6 grid laid out in a box-gutter square of six channels. This type of design is a good height for young students to observe and monitor plant growth activities. The plant lighting consists of two Viparspectra reflector series 600W LED full spectrum grow lights for indoor vegetable and flowering plants. The hours of light are set to 12 hours/day. The pH, temperature, and electrical conductivity are monitored regularly by a Bluelab Guardian monitor system. 
  • Activities thus far: The NFT system set up was completed in mid-January, 2019. The first seedlings were installed in February.

West Virginia Northern Community College (FB)

  • Photo shows two successful crops of micro greens.Installation site: The hydroponic system is placed in the Culinary Arts program, so that it can be readily used as part of student education about how to integrate fresh micro greens into meals.
  • System installed: Full-size seedling light cart (on four heavy-duty 3-in. swivel casters) for growing micro greens and other salad/herb greens. The system includes four racks with grow trays. Each rack has four four-foot long, 40-watt T12 Gro-Lux wide-spectrum grow tubes. The system measures 74in. H by 53in. W by 23in. D.
  • Activities thus far: The Chef Missy and Chef Gene have explored growing a variety of micro green herbs and salad greens. Initially some problems occurred when crops were not sustainable over  weekends because strong ventilation currents were drying out the plant substrate. Recently the chefs began using a “sandwich design” for stacking alternating layers of highly absorbent biodegradable wood fiber pads and potting soil. This layering technique allows more moisture to be added without drowning the seedlings. The first test of this approach was successful. The chefs are now growing nasturtium, lemon basil, mustard greens, sorrel, and garnish peas for their next series of gourmet dinners.

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