How does your garden grow? At GFA, we’re taking gardening to a new level — seven levels, to be exact, on each of the new aeroponic Tower Gardens in the Lower School. With a priority placed on sustainability, the structures are designed to conserve more soil and water than traditional gardening practices and allow for gardening year-round.
On the exterior are small pockets — only about 2 inches wide — that hold a couple tablespoons of a rockwool growing medium, into which seeds are planted. Fed from a 20-gallon reservoir at the base of the tower, the plants receive all the water and nutrients they need through a timed pump watering system that takes place in the interior of the tower, feeding the shared root structures on each level.
The final touches are the four LED light strips that hang from the top of the tower like tentacles surrounding the plants. The lights can be turned on manually, set to a timer, or removed entirely. That last part is especially helpful because the entire tower is mounted on wheels and can be rolled outside when the weather gets nicer.
According to Tower Garden’s website, “compared to soil gardening [the Tower Garden] has been shown to increase yields by as much as 30% and triple the speed of plant growth, while using only 10% of the water and space.”
Urban areas around the world have implemented similar towers and “living walls” as a means to be able to grow fresh produce in places with little or no space for gardens. Schools have begun to use them for the same reasons, but also to be able to show plant growth in action and bring concepts like sustainability and farm-to-table systems into the classroom.
Lower School science teacher and Sustainability Coordinator Jackie Tran said it also aligns with the school’s commitment to sustainable practices.
“It’s soilless, so you’re conserving soil, and you have a contained unit with high yield. Plus, the education is right in your classroom, which is great,” she said.
The towers at GFA are located in the PreK and kindergarten classrooms this spring, as the students investigate plant life and learn about the mechanics of the tower. PreK is growing basil, and kindergarteners are growing lettuces. Tran explained that mono-cropping (growing just one type of crop) is a safe way to get started as she and the students learn about balancing the water’s nutrients and pH levels. Later on they will try growing a few different plants on each tower.
Other grades are helping out, too: the fourth-grade Garden Committee, for example, is in charge of adding water and nutrients, checking and adjusting pH levels, and helping to harvest.
“There are a lot of great applications for this outside the garden,” Tran said. “I would love to see it being used with the Horizons program in the summer.”
Horizons at GFA is a weekend and summer program on campus that “helps underserved students from Bridgeport develop strong academic, social and emotional skills, habits of mind and the resilience to succeed in school and pursue a meaningful, choice-filled life.”
The wheels attached to the towers also mean that they can be moved to other parts of the school, and Tran hopes that the other grades will get a chance to use the towers to make new connections in their own classrooms.