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posted: 10/1/2017 7:00 AM

Hydroponic gardening brings other skills to classroom

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ANDERSON, Ind. -- Bailey Horning knew all about lettuce and broccoli, but recently, she came home excited about Swiss chard.

That's because it was one of the vegetables and herbs growing in the 6-foot hydroponics garden in Nicole Dean's first-grade class at Tenth Street Elementary School.

"I got it from the Anderson City Market," Bailey said.

Many schools, including Tenth Street, have outdoor gardens, but teachers there have made gardening a year-round inside activity. In fact, Dean said, the 25 students assigned to her classroom can't plant outdoors till the spring, which also delays their enjoyment.

The garden acquaints students with foods they might be unwilling to try at home; provides an introduction to science, technology, engineering and math as well as health and nutrition concepts; and soothes them emotionally, Dean said.

Students get the satisfaction from tending to the plants, which include several types of lettuce, peas and pumpkins, Dean said. Planting and harvesting also isn't weather-dependent, she added.

"We planted on Friday, and they already saw sprouts on Monday," she said. "We've got some tomatoes, and they just got flowers. We have to pollinate them ourselves."

With the help of grants, Dean and her Tenth Street colleagues, Karen Thompson and Brad Nelson, each acquired a 6-foot tall hydroponics machine in May. The pump, which activates for 15 minutes every hour, delivers the water to the plants.

In a personal experiment, in which she planted celery at home and in the hydroponics garden at school, Dean said she found plants grow much faster in the hydroponics machine.

"The celery at home I'm still not eating. The celery here, the kids already ate," she said.

That allows students to experiment and eat regularly.

"Now we can eat all year long, which is really exciting," she said. "It gets them healthy food every now and then."

The hydroponics garden also is giving the students a jump on science and math.

"A lot of graphing and math goes in there. It's pretty much our curriculum the first two weeks of school," Dean said.

Because of the hydroponics garden, Dean's class also has a new tradition, Yummy Friday.

"It's just whatever is growing in the garden that week," she said.

The simple act of allowing students to pick and carry around a leaf of basil for a day relaxes them and reduces behavioral problems, Dean said.

"It just keeps them calm, having something green in their hand, and it smells good," she said.

Jackson Hill, 6, said he'd planted flowers in a milk carton last year at Killbuck Kindergarten Extension, but he'd never seen a hydroponics garden before.

"I like to eat the peppers cause they're so delicious, and I started eating spicy stuff," he said.

Jackson said he also likes the praying mantis, a little unexpected friend the garden attracted.

"We have a pumpkin plant on the garden, and guess what - the praying mantis's exoskeleton was on it," he said.

Thompson, who also teaches first grade, has more than vegetables growing in her hydroponics garden. She wants to use hers to start milkweed plants that can be transferred outside to attract Monarch butterfly caterpillars.

And for Mother's Day, she wants the children to plant flowers they can take home.

Educationally, Thompson said, it helps the students understand food production.

"I think it helps kids understand you don't just go to the grocery store and get stuff," she said.

It also helps her modern students, many of whom are almost always inside and spend their time playing video games, to do something more active, Thompson said.

"It's bringing the outdoors in and gets the kids off the sofa," she said.

And finally, Thompson said, she just likes having the soothing sound of the hydroponics pump.

"That is the most soothing sound. And I think the lights of the tower garden are calming," she said. "I'm glad I was a beneficiary of that."

About hydroponics

Hydroponics allows plants to grow with water only, a plus in the classroom, where it makes gardening less messy, teacher Nicole Dean said.

Though plants generally require nutrients pulled out of the soil, the lack of soil requires hydroponic gardeners to add mineral nutrients to the water.

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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