Fall is fast approaching, and for many of us who enjoy vegetable gardening, we’ll all soon be harvesting from our local grocer rather than our own personal gardens. At Pennsylvania College of Technology, however, year-round fresh produce will soon be available, thanks to the efforts of the School of Natural Resources Management, School of Hospitality, the Horticulture and Diner’s Club student organizations, Penn College Dining Services, and Le Jeune Chef Restaurant. They have collectively teamed up to create a hydroculture garden in a greenhouse located at the Schneebeli Earth Science Center. Hydro what?
Hydroculture means growing plants without soil. A volunteer team of Penn College students, staff, and faculty have constructed two primary hydroculture systems. The first, a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system, is a method of growing lettuce family plants in long troughs where root systems can absorb nutrient-enriched water. Water circulates in a continuous loop over the roots until the plant matures in about 6 weeks. The second system, Dutch Bucket, is used to grow vining plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant. Like the NFT system, enriched water circulates around root systems, producing for example, tomato plants that can stretch over 40 feet in length and produce over 40 pounds of fruit per plant annually.
The two systems combined will have the capability to produce over 10,000 heads of lettuce, and 2 ½ tons of tomatoes annually. Weekly harvests are scheduled to begin in early October, and all produce will flow back into the campus community. Crissy McGinness, director of Dining Services, is excited… “…The possibility of introducing fresh, locally grown produce into our convenience stores, dining units, and menus is exciting and rewarding. We have all worked very hard to make this dream a reality on campus…”
The hydroculture garden brings new academic technologies to the College. Dennis Skinner, assistant professor of Horticulture, explains further, “while hydroculture systems have been around for quite some time, recent innovations in technology and manufacturing, as well as awareness of environmental and food supply issues, have spurred a renaissance in the industry. The addition of the hydroculture system ensures that Penn College horticulture students will have one more useful and marketable skill upon graduation.”