YEAR 9 aquaponics students at Warragul Regional College have demonstrated their knowledge and skills with a public showcase of their work.
Above: from left: Jed Coster, Maxwell Simmonds,
Mitchell Wolswinkel, Lachlan Mcnamara and Jett Murphy. Photo by author.
First published in the 12 December 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
The students have been learning how to create a vegetable growing system with nutrients provided by fish, and passed on that knowledge to parents and other interested people at an information evening last week.
Students sold fish and tomato plants grown during the year at the event.
During the semester students not only constructed the systems, but also planted various edible plants and worked to control the water pH levels to create a thriving aquaponic garden.
Student Jett Murphy told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen he had “learnt quite a bit” from the aquaponics class.
“I’ve learnt how to board up planks on an ICB tank, and I would have never figured out how the pumps keep all plants and fish alive,” he said.
Keeping everything alive has been a key challenge for the students.
“If you’ve got too much of something the fish can die, and if the fish die the plants can end up dying.”
Wondering how the fish, plants and pumps work together? Jett explains:
“The system is like a cycle. The fish rely on the plants, and the plants rely on the fish, and the rocks the plants grow in have a bacteria which helps keep the water clean.
“The plants are just planted into the rocks and the water is underneath.”
The aquaponics class has broad appeal. Jett is hoping to have a career in psychology “but I chose this to learn new things about life and the eco system, and how things work around here.”
“It’s just a new topic I wanted to learn about,” he said.
The class has also allowed student Mitchell Wolswinkel to plan and build a solar powered aquaponics system for the Yarragon Community Garden, which he is involved with outside of school. The build has just been approved for a $2,000 grant from the Baw Baw Shire Council.
“It’s going to have a few grow beds and a pipe with lettuce growing in it. It probably won’t be as big as [the one at the school], and it probably won’t have as many fish,” he said.
“I’ve learnt all about pH and water, nutrients and the nitrogen cycle, and how fish and plants grow.”
Mitchell said home gardeners should have a go at building an aquaponics system.
“It’s really fun and you learn lots and the food grows a lot faster,” he said.
“The ability to grow plants and fish in a more sustainable way rather than having to dig up stuff all the time and having to use fertiliser a lot [is good].”
Mitchell also said Warragul Regional College teacher Jayendra Birchall had got him interested in aquaponics. The project has been a learning curve for Mr Birchall too – he usually teaches music classes.
“I learnt about it a year ago on online forums, not wanting to water my garden,” he said.
A wide range of students responded well to the agriculture classes and the aquaponics project.
“There’s different types of students, some like the scientific side, others really like the building side, and other students really enjoy the planting side. Some students really enjoy the fishing and gutting side too,” Mr Birchall said.
“I think they’ve responded really well.”
“The most surprising thing for me was the less-motivated kids. Some of them are really good at building, and some of them are really involved. I had one student who gutted 30 fish. He’s highly interested, wanting to go on camps.
“Everything being grown here is being used in the kitchen in school and sold and given away to staff and community members.”
Mr Birchall said the most surprising part of the aquaponics project was the students wanting to build their own systems.
“There are five systems that were built by different groups and they had to do a budget, a parts list, and a portfolio assignment that showed that they understood how it worked so they could keep the fish safely.”
“Some of the students will take their systems home after paying for the parts.”
Mr Birchall will be less involved in the agriculture department next year but the project will continue.
“The senior kids are also really interested and some might take it on as their VCAL project.”
“But I’ll be growing veges here over the summer and eating them!”
Mr Birchall is also involved in the Warragul Community Garden, at which he has overseen other aquaponics projects.
The aquaponics program was aimed at Year 9 students, and this year’s group is hoping next year’s students will pick up where they left off.
“We are hoping that the agriculture class next year will take over and build on what we created,” Jett said.
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