On Thursday, January 23, 2020, Randolph-Macon Academy introduced its new hydroponics lab to the R-MA community. The lab features five different kinds of hydroponic systems, all of which have been built by students taking the “Hydroponics and the Food We Eat” J-Term (January Term) class. Each system has been built with materials purchased at Lowes or on Amazon--such as gutters, plastic containers, hoses, boards and lights--developing systems the students can later recreate for themselves at home.
“We’ve been kind of hands-off,” commented Lynette Lane, the R-MA science teacher who is leading the project. “Sometimes I have to show them very specific steps or techniques, but then they have to figure out how to get it done. It’s been really great. Students have stepped up to do things that have really surprised me.”
The lab includes various systems, such as a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), which will allow the students to harvest lettuce weekly. A deep water culture (DWC) is a non-circulating water system in which the students will grow basil, chard, and other greens. The students will grow microgreens in a bottom watered, coco coir system. The R-MA lab’s Dutch buckets will contain strawberries and peppers. The final system the students will build is a flood and drain one used for seedling propagation.
An earthworm composting process has also been created; this will make use of any leftover organic matter from the lab systems. In early May, earthworm castings will be removed from this system to be used as nutrient-dense fertilizer for spring plantings.
“I think it’s so important for kids to see where food comes from, because most of them just don’t know,” said Ms. Lane. “And a lot of these students come to R-MA from countries where growing food is problematic, because they don’t have land, they don’t have water. They can take this back. It uses 95% less water than conventional methods of agriculture.”
Now that the hydroponics intramural and the Environmental Science and Biology classes will continue to grow the plants throughout the spring semester. The lab will start again in the fall, and run through the school year, providing leafy greens and microgreens for the community. In fact, in late January, Ms. Lane obtained permission to build two more NFT systems so that the Hydroponics Lab can supply the R-MA dining hall with fresh lettuce every week.