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Hydroponics, swine barn and more drive hands-on agriculture education

California High School is expanding hands-on opportunities for agriculture students.

After dedicating the Denker Livestock Education Center in May 2022, the high school agriculture department continues to grow additional learning opportunities for students. It added a swine barn last school year, and this year students will experiment with a different way of growing plants along with tackling new projects.

California plant science students will notice new shelves in agriculture instructor Gary Morris’ classroom. The shelves are part of an indoor hydroponic system, which involves growing plants in water with artificial lighting.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), hydroponics is a “technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil.” The technique is often utilized in specialty applications, Morris said. Many vegetables and fruits, such as lettuce and tomatoes, can be grown using hydroponics.

“To be honest, I’ve never had much experience with hydroponics, so that’s something we’re trying this year just to kind of see how much difference there is growing under artificial lights and using a soil-less-type growing method as opposed to growing in the traditional greenhouse our kids are used to,” he said.

The hydroponic system, which consists of shelving for small plastic cups, was purchased last year with a state grant helping the district pay $1,000 for the equipment, Morris said. A water-based nutrient solution, which the USDA said consists of an “aggregate substrate” (or growing media) of vermiculite, coconut coir or perlite, is placed into the cup with a seed. Water flows through channels in the shelves, which also feature controllable lights for the plants.

Morris said he was hoping to have the system running by the spring semester, but technical issues and waiting for replacement parts postponed using it. However, with the hydroponic system now fully functional, he

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