Children at Hammond Elementary School are learning all about water conservation, and honing their mathematics and science skills, too, in a class that uses a hydroponics garden to help bring the lessons home.
The school, at 8008 N. Mobley Road in Odessa, used a Splash! grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to cover the costs of creating the hydroponics garden. The grant also includes several other elements relating to water conservation.
Teachers Tina Miller and Bonnie Cothern said that Urban Roots, of 11780 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, have also helped in the program by demonstrating how to put together the plant towers and letting students help, as well as allowing them to plant vegetables and herbs.
Students in Cothern’s gifted education classes are working with Miller’s fifth-graders to help educate the entire school about hydroponics and water conservation.
They’ll be reporting conservation tips monthly on the school’s morning show, and will be making posters to raise awareness to the rest of the school and members of the community about the importance of water conservation.
Lessons also will include the importance of choosing Florida-friendly garden plants that are adapted to the state’s climate to prevent unnecessary water use.
On a recent day, Cothern and Miller were out in the garden with some of their students.
The children talked about some advantages of hydroponics gardening.
Third-grader Lyla Cullimore explained how the plant tower system works.
“The reservoir is right here,” she said. “When you turn it on, the water goes through a pipe and it goes up, then the water goes down and it makes it so the plants get water.”
The pump runs twice a day, for 15 minutes each time, the teachers said, via email, in a more detailed explanation of hydroponics.
The water drips from the top plant container, through the plant medium, which is composed of shredded coconut shell and perlite. Then, water in that planter drips to the one below, the teachers said.
Fifth-grader Ryan Dumont noted the water “can drip down through the angles of the planters, then, once it drops down, there’s holes in the planters and it drips down into the reservoir, and we can reuse it.”
The drip system, combined with a porous medium, conserves water and provides oxygenation to the root system of the plants. The water in the reservoir lasts 10 days to 14 days, the teachers said. The system is efficient because no water is wasted through runoff and evaporation.
Miller asked students, what does organic mean?
Fifth-grader Ethan Bezaury responded: “Organic means that it’s not manmade.”
Miller then talked about the liquid fertilizer that provides nutrients to the plants.
By growing the plants in pots, arranged on a tower, more plants can be grown in a smaller area, she said.
“How many plants are in that little bit of a space?” Miller asked.
“There’s about 20,” answered third-grader Evan Rottenberger.
That’s correct, Miller said, adding that students have been able to integrate math and science into what they are learning about hydroponics.
Students have been taking measurements of the plants and charting their observations in notebooks.
“When you guys were doing your data recording yesterday, what did you find about the different plants that you had taken your baseline data on?” Miller asked.
Fifth-grader Sophia Wyant responded: “They were growing more and more each time.”
The teacher explained: “We’ve been doing some long-term investigations because one of the claims of hydroponics is that the yield is greater.”
It’s too early to tell if that is true, but fifth-grader Angela Rosario has noticed that a plant she’s been observing has achieved noticeable growth.
The first time they observed the garden was on Oct. 27.
“It was 10 centimeters, my longest leaf. I had seven leaves. The smallest leaf was 3 cm, and the height was 17 cm. After 10 days, my height was 21 cm, I had eight leaves. My smallest was 6; the longest was 11,” Rosario said.
She said hydroponics helps conserve water and reduces problems from weeds.
Cothern’s students began their observations a week after Millers’ students.
She said she gave her students the freedom to choose how they wanted to observe their plant.
“I told them they could take whatever data they wanted to. They could measure the whole plant. They could measure the biggest leaf, the smallest leaf, whatever they decided to do,” she said.
The teachers are pleased that the children are learning about water conservation and are excited about the students sharing what they have learned with the entire school community, as well as with their families at home.
Published November 22, 2017