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Fifth graders grow hydroponic garden

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Ask Ozark South Elementary fifth graders what the keys to plant growth are and their answers might surprise you — “nutrients,” “water,” “light.”

One thing they don’t mention is soil. That’s because if plants have the necessary mineral nutrients in their water supply, they don't need to be buried in soil in order to grow.

Fifth graders are learning about hydroponics and getting hands-on experience by growing their own beans in a hydroponic garden. They're also learning not to overdo it when it comes to gardening.

“I learned that you only need a little bit of nutrients and if you put in too much nutrients, your plant will die,” fifth-grader Arianna Sudheimer said.

Student Jana Vale said before the class started the garden, she had no idea what the word “hydroponic” meant — a question she can easily answer now.

“Hydroponics is where you grow plants using water and air and energy,” Vale said.

Teacher Carla Pate said the fifth-grade teachers present this lesson every year, and it has become a favorite activity among students.

“We start with simple red beans in a bowl of water. We watch them sprout and form roots and leaves,” Pate said. “We talk about what plants need to grow — nutrients, which do not necessarily have to come from soil.”

Students watch a few short videos about hydroponics and learn about essential supplies, such as nutrient solution, an air pump, stones, plastic tubes and light. Once the plants start growing, students keep track of progress in their science journals. They are not only learning valuable lessons from the hands-on project, but are gaining inspiration to try more experiments.

“Students have asked if we could grow flowers in the spring, hydroponically,” Pate said. “Several of my students have talked about things that they have grown in their garden. I even had a student bring in cucamelons that they grew in their garden.”

A cucamelon, also called the sandita or the "little watermelon," is an edible fruit about the size of a large grape that tastes like a cucumber with a hint of sourness. It is usually eaten raw or pickled.

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