Even as the days were colder last fall and winter, the tomato garden in Adrian Gaytan’s classroom at Zia Middle School in Las Cruces continued to thrive, a feat that would have been impossible more than a year ago but is now a reality – thanks to an initiative launched by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service in Doña Ana County.
The initiative involves placing hydroponic plant systems in classrooms, which brings gardens indoors and eliminates the need for soil — the biggest challenge in school gardens. Hydroponic plant systems use water-based, nutrient-rich solutions to cultivate plants without the use of soil, resulting in better quality plants and higher yields, among other benefits.
In Gaytan’s classroom, the hydroponic plant system, at less than six feet in length, takes up minimal space and has been outfitted with overhead lights and an automatic timer, which enable it to operate on its own, a feature that allows for year-round gardening (even when students are out of school for extended periods of time).
Jeff Anderson, an agent for NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service in Doña Ana County who specializes in agronomy and horticulture, believes hydroponic plant systems may be the answer in helping schools boost the number of gardens in classrooms.