Canners dip into hydroponics

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Farming and agriculture are long-standing ways of life in Montgomery County.

Continuing that theme at Ladoga Elementary, fourth-grade teacher Nicole Hazlett has decided to show her students a new way to grow and harvest produce.

Hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil, instead uses mineral and nutrient solutions that are delivered to the plants’ root systems through water.

Combining the system with natural light and a form of aquaculture, such as a fish tank, completes a self-contained ecosystem from which students can learn a variety of lessons.

“I thought it would be fun for the kids,” said Hazlett, who has degrees in both agriculture and elementary education. “I love the fact that they get to see the progress, literally. They get to grow it themselves and see it in increments along the way.”

Sitting atop a common fish tank inside the school’s media center is a tray filled with holes. Inside the tray are ordinary paper towels which, as of Thursday, had several rows of 10-day lettuce seed sprouts standing a few inches high.

“I opted to do something on a small scale that the kids could manage,” Hazlett said. “How fast they grow is just one of the perks of hydroponics. There are upfront expenses to hydroponics; you have to get the fish and the tank ... but you don’t have to go get the soil, you don’t have to weed it, and there are absolutely no pesticides. There’s nothing being introduced in there but good nutrients.”

Another way her students can learn from the project, she said, is to give them the full-circle effect.

“We have a gas grill here and I thought it would be really cool — from growing it, hydroponically, to the table — to let the kids have a cookout so they can eat (the lettuce) they produced,” Hazlett said. “So we’re going to buy some hamburger and have a day when they can do that.”

Hazlett used the power of the pen to fund her project, writing a grant application with the help of a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Sara McCutcheon.

“Our PTO is really good,” Hazlett added. “(McCutcheon) helped with the grant and helped gather all of the equipment, and the kids literally put this whole system together.”

The system utilizes natural fertilizer from the fish to provide nutrients to the plants’ root systems, which will eventually grow downward through the holes and into the water. The plants, in turn, clean the water in the tank.

For more information about hydroponics, visit www.hydroponicsocietyofamerica.org.

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