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July 2, 2014

Hydroponic garden grows at Stafford Middle School

PLATTSBURGH — Hot peppers, lettuce, basil, parsley and tomato plants are growing in the science department at Stafford Middle School, thanks to a hydroponic garden.

Seventh-grade science teacher LaShauna Quarles showed off the garden to parents and students on the last day of classes.

The garden sits on top of a mobile wooden shelf that houses a 55-gallon fish tank, filtering water onto the plants above. 

“The plants and the fish do everything for you,” Quarles explained to the group.

Hydroponic gardening is a system of growing plants with nutrients that aren’t derived from soil.

The roots of the plants absorb the waste from the four perch swimming below, cleaning the tank and enabling the plants to grow.

The system requires a balance among the number of fish, the size of the tank and the kinds of plants.

It’s also at the mercy of the nitrogen cycle. 

“If it’s not balanced, it throws your pH off, and your plants suffer,” Quarles said.

“If the pH isn’t right, then the fish aren’t happy because there’s too much waste in the fish tank because there’s not enough plants to filter it out.”

'SEE IT GROWING'

The garden was first assembled in December and took more than two months before it became operational.

The shelf was made by Stafford’s design technology teacher, Matthew Tisdale, and the supplies for the system came from Grow Buddies, a hydroponics store in Plattsburgh.

Not only has the garden been successful, but it has also attracted the students’ attention. 

“In science, the things we can and can’t do are abstract ideas," Quarles said. "Giving them something like this, they can see it growing, they can see it happening, they’re more excited about it."

The department hopes the garden will continue its success, becoming part of the curriculum for seventh-graders and incorporating grades 6 through 8.

Quarles would love to see it expand. 

“Five years from now, I hope the system’s a lot larger than this and we’re supplying the cafeteria with free, organic vegetables.”

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