Science Fair Central — Build Your Own Hydroponic Garden!

This post is sponsored by The Home Depot.

Three years ago, we built a raised bed garden for our students to have hands-on and engaging experiences that directly tie into our standards.  In life science, we learn about plant cells, photosynthesis, the life cycle, pollination, ecology, and so many topics that the garden highlights.  As we have grown the given garden over the past couple of years, we have added our chicken coop, an outdoor classroom, and planted our first fall garden last year.  We learned a lot of lessons last year with our first fall garden. The first, was that it is ideal to start many of the seeds indoors in a seed starter before transplanting them into our raised beds.  The second thing is that we wanted to find a way to bring our garden inside. We wanted our students to get to see the garden and our plants grow every day in class, regardless of whether we went out to work in the garden that day–especially during the cold winter months.  

This year, I set a goal to find a way to start growing plants in our classroom and starting our own seeds so we could be a part of the entire process.  A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon Science Fair Central and my dream became reality. Science Fair Central is an amazing resource for teachers, offering an array of STEM projects with hands-on and engaging experiences for students.  With many lessons to choose from, I immediately found the “Farming for the Future” activity. I have wanted to learn about hydroponic gardening for a long time now, but really didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, this activity walks the teacher through all of the steps to get started and guide your students through building their own hydroponic garden.

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I began by reading through the items that I would need to purchase for this activity, all located and available on Home Depot’s website.  I decided to do two hydroponic gardens instead of four because we are limited with space in our classroom. The resources give you a list of options for each item you will need to set this up.  Below are the items I purchased (some vary from the quantity listed in the instructions):

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(1) package of Net pots

(2) Storage totes (10-20 gal)

(2) Air pumps

(2) packages of Air stones

(1) 128 oz. Black Magic Base Nutrient A

(1) 128 oz. Black Magic Base Nutrient B

(1) 8 oz. Black Magic pH Down

(1) 8 oz. Black Magic pH Up

(1) Aquatest TruTest strips

(1) pack plant starter plugs

(1) Seed tray with a heat mat

Seeds (suggested seeds to start with include lettuce varieties such as romaine or spinach, or herbs such as basil)

The great thing about this activity is it is something that you can continue to use each year and the only thing you will need to repurchase are the seeds, and eventually additional seed starter plugs and nutrient bases.  So the initial investment will be well worth it and very inexpensive to maintain in future years. If you need help purchasing the supplies, I would consider starting a DonorsChoose project, applying for a small grant, or reaching out to your science department head for funding.  There are lots of great ways to fund a project and with a very low start up cost, this one would be well worth it.

Once I purchased the materials, I incorporated some discussion questions provided in the activity about hydroponic gardening in class.  We have already been working in our raised bed garden this year and we asked our students to research hydroponic gardening and why it might be used instead of traditional farming.  I was blown away by all of the amazing benefits they cited about hydroponic farming. We discussed so many benefits to this innovative farming method and they provided reasons why certain farmers might choose this instead of traditional farming methods.  They stated this would be a good method in a large city without land, it could be very beneficial for climate zones that are not suited to farming, or for lands that have poor soil quality. They also discussed how it is eco-friendly, uses no soil, uses less water, and grows plants faster, healthier, and at a lower cost.  

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Once we began our discussion, I explained to our students that we would set up a hydroponic garden in our classroom and we could start our fall garden plants in our seed starter in class.  We will transplant our seeds into the raised beds outside in the garden and also in our hydroponic system in class. We began the school year learning about the scientific method, so this will be a great hands on experiment we can conduct in class using the scientific method.  We will examine whether hydroponic gardening grows plants at a faster rate than traditional farming and test the claim they cited in their research.

The students are very excited and intrigued by the hydroponic garden we built in class.  We began to grow our seeds in our seed starter that acts as a mini green house in our classroom.  We decided to grow romaine lettuce for this experiment. As our seeds began to grow, we decided to involve some students to help me create our very own system with the supplies I bought from The Home Depot.  We used two 20 gallon storage totes. We cut holes out of the lid of the totes in order to insert our 2 inch net pots, which will hold our plants. Next, we filled our totes with water. We cut a small hole in the lid to run our tube for our air pump into the water so that it can supply a steady stream of air to our plants.  We attached an air stone to the end of our air pump hose. Next, we used Miracle Gro Perilite as our soil-less growing agent.

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Our next task was to make sure that we had the right water levels that would support growth for our plants.  We used the nutrient bases to supply our water with the boost of nutrients our hydroponic garden would need. The PH strips and PH up and down were used to help determine if we had the correct PH levels to support optimal plant growth.  Once we had determined our water levels were ideal, we transplanted our seedlings into the net pots to begin their hydroponic journey. We also transplanted seedlings into the raised beds in The Giving Garden so that we can compare our results for our experiment.  Over the next six weeks, we will be measuring the plants’ growth, analyzing our results, drawing conclusions, and of course, sharing our results with you!

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I cannot express how incredible Science Fair Central’s resources are.  From material lists, to discussion questions, to step by step guides, they provide teachers with the tools to bring hands-on STEM lessons into the classroom with relative ease and at a very affordable price.  As a teacher, I appreciate the fact that The Home Depot (@thehomedepot) is supplying us with engaging lessons that excite our students and peak their curiosity. Not only are these lessons engaging, but they also get our students thinking about incredibly important topics.  Regardless of what grade level you teach, they have activities, scientific investigations, and resources galore. I encourage you to run on over to their website and check out all of the amazing things you can use in your own classroom!

Science Fair Central (@thehomedepot):

https://www.sciencefaircentral.com/

I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in the promotional program described above (the “Program”). As a part of the Program, I am receiving compensation in the form of products and services, for the purpose of promoting The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

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