Clear Creek adds new fish tank, plant bed to aquaponics lab

  • Clear Creek
  • 02/03/2017
Clear Creek adds new fish tank, plant bed to aquaponics lab
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The aquaponics lab at Clear Creek Elementary has expanded.

With the help of Project Design Build, the Cartersville school added a 150-gallon fish tank with a 4-by-4 ebb-and-flow plant bed Tuesday that will enable students to separate their fish and grow larger fruits and vegetables.

Having two different systems allows us more flexibility in the types of plants we can grow, fifth-grade science teacher Susan Gilmore said. It allows us to separate different species of fish.

Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture that allows fish and vegetables to be raised together in a closed-loop system that is its own self-contained ecosystem. This is an environmentally friendly, natural food-growing method that has no need to discard any water or filtrate or add chemical fertilizers.

Our current aquaponics system is a raft system designed with a 500-gallon fish tank and a plant bed capable of growing 50 plants, Gilmore said. The plants are floating in a Styrofoam raft, and their roots are constantly in water. The hydroponic section of the system grows lettuce, herbs and other smaller plants best.

But the new addition has a different engineering design, Gilmore said.

It is an ebb-and-flow system, she said. The plant bed is filled with gravel, and when the water being pumped from the fish tank reaches the full level, it drains all the water back into the fish tank. The new plant bed is designed to better grow larger plants such as watermelon, tomatoes, pole beans, etc. The new fish tank allows us to separate the bluegill from our aggressive bass.

Fifth-grader Gauge Lee is already enjoying the lab addition.

I like the new aquaponics ebb-and-flow system because we can separate the bluegill in the new tank, and the bass wont eat them, he said. [Tuesday] we planted watermelon, squash and lettuce in the new plant bed. I think the watermelon will do really well because it doesnt need soil. The soil soaks up water, but the rocks will let more water get to the plants.

The new system was designed, built and installed by Project Design Build, a collaborative effort between the James A. Henry YMCA of Chattanooga and HATponics that recruits teens to teach them skills through building projects.

Guided by employees of HATponics and professors from the University of Tennessee, six girls from the program spent two hours installing the new system in the schools aquaponics lab.

A grant from the Bartow Education Foundation paid for the building materials for the new addition, while a grant from Keep Bartow Beautiful covered the cost of supplies for the system, Gilmore said.

The lab, a schoolwide resource for all grades, is STEM in practice, according to Gilmore.

It involves my students in learning science, technology, engineering and how to practically use math skills, she said.

The aquaponics is an amazing system because the fish help the plants grow, fifth-grader Alysia Montellano said. It is helpful to teach kids about science and engineering.

It also gives the fifth-graders, who work in the lab once a week, the opportunity to manage a self-contained hydroponic system.

They maintain and clean the system, plant new plants [and] check and graph pH levels, temperature and nitrogen levels, Gilmore said. They solve problems through engineering, study and graph plant growth, study outputs and convey results through math and are involved in the technological aspect of growing food.

Fifth-grader Olivia Ford said aquaponics is fun and educational.

We get to pick a job, either fish technician, botanist or engineer, she said.

In the fall, my job was an engineer, Gauge said. I built models of how the system worked. Now my job is botanist, which means I monitor the plants. I make sure the plants are getting the nutrients they need.

My job is to check on the fish and feed the fish, fifth-grader Carson Gray said. I am glad we have a new tank to be able to separate the bluegill from the bass.

Gilmore said the fifth-graders are garden experts and lead classes of younger students in activities with the garden.

I loved helping the kindergartners [Tuesday] in the lab, fifth-grader Annelyse Thompson said. Im a role model and enjoy helping kids learn about our aquaponics system. We should all try to help encourage little kids to learn about plants and animals and how they work together.

We showed them stuff we have learned, and we had fun, said Gauge, noting they helped the younger kids plant beans. The kindergarten students thought it was really cool.

Fifth-grade student Jessie Earley said shes excited about being a lab assistant during the schools Pi Day activities later this month.

I look forward to teaching younger kids what I have learned about the plants and fish, she said.

So far, students have harvested cilantro, green beans, lettuce, mint, parsley and strawberries from the garden, Gilmore said.

My fifth-grade students have eating parties after harvesting the food grown, she said. A few weeks ago, they were challenged to develop recipes that would use our harvested mint.

Hopefully, a crop of tomatoes wont be too far off.

The tomatoes are 5 feet tall and have begun to bloom, Gilmore said. The students are researching how to pollinate them without bees.

I learned when a tomato plant gets cut off or broken, the stem can grow more roots on its side, fifth-grader Cody Teer said.

In the fish tank are native fish blue channel catfish, striped bass, bluegill and crayfish that are healthy and growing, Gilmore said.

The LEGO robotics team designed a habitat to keep our crayfish safe from the bass for their team project, she said. Their presentation was featured in a workshop for educators at the Georgia Aquarium in January.

She also said students added two worm farms to supplement the fishs diet, and Georgia Highlands College students are helping them design and install solar panels for fans in April.

Besides BEF and KBB grants and assistance from HATponics, Project Design Build and GHC, the aquaponics lab is supported by Bartow County nutrition grants, Gilmore Construction, Horace Mann Insurance, CCES PTO, Tractor Supply and Gondoliers Pizza.
  
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