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Aeroponics: No soil needed
Jan. 2, 2017


DELANO, MN – It may be cold outside, but that’s not keeping fourth-graders at St. Max Kolbe School in Delano from growing a plethora of vegetables.

They’re growing 20 plants – including arugula, bibb lettuce, rainbow chard, basil, red lettuce, and bok choy – in a Tower Garden in the school’s lab.

A Tower Garden is an aeroponic growing system, meaning plants are growing without soil and with limited water.

Catherine Taylor, who is currently lending a Tower Garden to St. Max Kolbe, explained how it works.

“Students plant the seeds in rock wool and cover it in vermiculite,” Taylor said. “They put it in a net pot. You can grow 20 to 28 plants. We have 20 plants in ours. Water pumps through it 15 minutes out of every hour. The lights are on 14 hours and off for 10 hours at night.”

When Taylor approached St. Max Kolbe staff with the idea of using a Tower Garden at the school, Principal Mary Ziebell and fourth-grade teacher Sheila Barth decided it would make sense for Barth’s students to care for the plants.

“The fourth-grade curriculum deals with food, nutrition, and growing sustainability,” Ziebell said. “All the students can observe it, but the fourth-graders are taking care of it.”

Plants growing on the Tower Garden are good examples of green, leafy vegetables at a time when students are learning how many such vegetables they should have in their diet.

In addition to nutrition, “They can learn about photosynthesis, how plants grow, etc.,” Taylor added.

“It’s not overly difficult to use the Tower Garden, and teachers can develop curriculum around it,” Ziebell said. “Mrs. Barth is promoting good nutrition and the sustainability of the Tower Garden.”

Ziebell called it a good extension of the lab program for all students.

“Even the little ones who get to see it are excited,” Ziebell said.

When the fourth-grade students were asked what they have learned from using the Tower Garden, one student said, “Plants don’t absolutely need soil to live.”

“That was a surprise for many of us,” Barth said.

Another student shared how plants are sensitive to the amount of base and acid used in the water.

The students are responsible for checking the water in the system to keep it at 20 gallons of water with the right pH level.

Ziebell said she has enjoyed watching the students care for the plants.

“The fourth-graders are taking ownership of it,” Ziebell said. “They’re not the oldest students in the building, but they are leading this.”

The students are excited to see the progress of their plants.

“it’s interesting to see kids pay attention to how things are growing,” Ziebell said. “I think it’s good for kids to see. There are kids who don’t get to plant gardens. There’s a sense of purpose for kids to be able to follow it through and see the result.”

That type of “back-to-the-basics” learning fits well into the classical curriculum at the school, Ziebell said.

Not only are students learning about science, but they’ll also get to taste the fruit – or vegetables, in this case – of their labors.

“We’re going to have a salad one day, and I’ll bring all the other ingredients,” Ziebell said.

She is intrigued to see how willing the students may be to try something new after seeing it grow.

“I’m betting more kids will eat it than if we just provided salad for them,” Ziebell said.

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