Gardening is no longer just a spring and summer activity, as local students have been growing fresh produce and plants this winter with the aid of the Tower Garden.
The Tower Garden, a product of the company Juice Plus, is an aeroponic/hydroponic system, meaning its products are grown without soil. The system works by using a pump to push a nutrient solution through a central hose to the top of the garden. The solution then drips through the tower and feeds the plants' roots.
"It's not only good for the kids to see they're growing their own vegetables and eating better," said Gail Feriancek, a Juice Plus consultant, "but they're also becoming a little more conscious of the environment and what is best for the environment. This is a very environmentally friendly project."
Tower Gardens are able to grow any plants that grow above ground. They require minimum maintenance, including checking water and pH levels.
Various local schools have invested in the gardens as a learning opportunity for students, including Lincoln Elementary, the Early Education Center, Alexandria Area High School, Carlos Elementary School, Garfield Elementary School, Miltona Science Magnet School and St. Mary's Catholic School.
At the Miltona Science Magnet School, classes have experimented with a variety of products, including lettuce, green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants and flowers.
"They love it," said kindergarten teacher Denise Jorud. "We have learned that lettuce is probably our best thing to grow because it grows fast and everybody gets some. With green beans we had some, but it was hard to get enough for everyone to have some."
Though there have been successes, there have also been failures. But Jorud says both provide learning opportunities for students.
"We had a little trouble with cross pollination of stuff," she said. "Our cherry tomatoes would blossom but we never got fruit going, and the eggplants got huge but never produced anything."
So far students have been helping to care for the plants and learning about the growing process. Jorud says there are plans to expand the educational opportunities provided by the Tower Gardens, but that it will take time.
"Where we want to be and where we are are two different places yet," Jorud said. "Our hopes are to have kids graphing, because every week we use more water. It's a perfect graphing opportunity. ... There are lots of applications we see as the staff get more comfortable with it."
For Feriancek, watching the schools learn through the gardens has been a rewarding process.
"It's fun not only to see how the kids are excited about it, but the teachers as well," she said. "It's just been a really cooperative kind of thing."
If interested in learning more about Tower Gardens or purchasing one, visit http://gferiancek.towergarden.com.