Experimenting with Hydroponic Gardening to Grow Strawberries

STEM STEAM Science Hydroponics

If you’re new to our blog, welcome! We generally talk education topics like STEM, STEAM, science, hands-on learning and maker spaces. But in our spare time, we tinker! And now that Jerry of Brain Brigade has officially retired from teaching…he has MORE spare time! We have been involved in many hydroponic and aquaponics projects in the classroom and maker space, but we have been diving in to various hydroponic methods of growing plants at home.

Last summer I visited Iowa and I noticed a really clever hydroponic tower that was growing lettuce. It was made of PVC pipe that wound around a central tower. I thought that the idea was great. It was compact and allowed for maximum use of growing space for sunlight and circulation of nutrient solution. This winter I began to wonder if something like this could be used to grow strawberries hydroponically. After a bit of research, I decided that I would try to make a tower similar to the one that I has seen.

STEM STEAM Science Hydroponics

This is a photo I took in Iowa of lettuce growing on a hydroponic tower.

As I looked at 4 inch PVC pipe I soon realized that it was very heavy and expensive. I decided to use a lighter plastic pipe that I found at Home Depot. It used the same 90 degree elbows that the heavier pipe used. I first constructed the frame that I would mount it on using 1 ½ inch PVC, elbows and a cross piece at the top to connect all of the frame. I mounted this frame on a wooden base and drilled holes to secure it with bolts. Next, I determined that the PVC pipe surrounding the frame would have to be cut at 25 inches. I bored 3 inch holes in the pipe using a circle drill and mounted the pieces to the frame using plastic straps and bolts. I also purchased a 10 gallon tub for my nutrient solution that sits inside the bottom middle of the frame.STEM STEAM Science Hydroponics

I ordered 50 strawberry plants from Jung’s called Tristar that is ideal for hanging baskets and produces a crop in summer and in fall. I also ordered strawberry nutrient from Amazon. My only concern, is that the pipe connections at the elbows will leak because I have not cemented them with PVC cement. I will use my pump from my hydroponic system in my basement to pump the nutrient solution to the plants. I won’t be using the pump during the summer, so it’s a nice way to utilize my materials all year long! Now. We just need it to get warm around these northern parts!

Maybe you’re thinking, “this is cool…” but aren’t quite ready to take on The Tower quite yet. You could give windowsill hydroponics a try to get your feet wet! It’s an excellent classroom project too.

Taking Creativity Risks in the Classroom {and at home}

HydroponicsLED

Wow! I took a risk and upgraded my basement hydroponics yesterday with an LED plant light. It was $280 for a light that covers a 2×4 foot area. Today I will add a Mylar reflecting foil to the sides so it maximizes the light hitting the plants. It was quite a shock because the light is mostly blue and red-very difficult on the eyes. In fact, after working around the light for 5 minutes everything seemed to have a green.

My basement is now illuminated with an eerie purplish glow. It kind of reminds me of the story “A Wrinkle in Time” when It was trying to hypnotize Meg and Charles Wallace with a throbbing light. I wonder what my neighbors are thinking.

Some of the things I do are really “out of the box” and it is difficult for some of my neighbors because we live in a condo. Residents in a condo are not exactly amenable to strange ideas, like when I grew hydroponic broccoli on my back porch last summer. Change and new ideas are hard to adjust to for some people. But to me that is the excitement of living. To try new things, to experiment, to continuously learn. Isn’t that what we want in our classrooms? Doesn’t curiosity drive learning?

We also need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We have to view failure not as the end, but a brief pause in learning. Somehow our children get the idea that failure is bad, maybe it’s that we put too much emphasis on grades.

We need to grow curiosity, take risks, encourage children to try new things, to experiment. I believe if you, as a classroom teacher, cultivate these traits, your children will begin to emulate you.

I will keep you updated on my hydroponic garden and I will turn off the LED light before I work on my plants!