P.E.I. libraries demonstrate the fun of growing hydroponic gardens

Visitors to some P.E.I. public libraries can now see hydroponic gardens growing food.

'It's really neat to think about stuff growing in the library'

Library technician Krystal Dionne gets seeds growing hydroponically at the Montague Rotary Library. (Submitted by P.E.I. Public Library Service)

Visitors to some P.E.I. public libraries can now see hydroponic gardens growing food.

"The library has been exploring lots of different projects around food insecurity over the last number of years," said Roseanne Gauthier, youth services librarian with the P.E.I. Public Library Service. Those programs included a breakfast program pilot, nutritional literacy program and some childrens gardening.

Hydroponic gardens grow plants from seed, using water instead of soil. The garden is set up in a plastic bin, like a storage bin you'd use in your garage, Gauthier explains. The bin is filled with water, with a small motor keeping oxygen circulating, like in a fish tank. The lid is designed somewhat like an egg carton, with sunken containers filled with a spongy material instead of soil, which is kept damp by the water in the bin below. Seeds are placed on top of the material, and a grow light is placed over the bin. 

"This kind of was an extension of something related to food and to gardening we could kind of continue doing in the winter," Gauthier said.

The gardens have already been planted at libraries in Charlottetown and Montague, and one more is coming for Summerside. Because they are portable, the gardens will move around to all 26 libraries on P.E.I. for at least one growing cycle.

Lettuce show you how

The library service had hoped to launch the programs this past March, in part because March is agriculture literacy month. But the COVID-19 lockdown cancelled that. Science literacy week happened recently with a theme of biodiversity, so the libraries decided to hook the gardens to that. 

The first crop planted is lettuce, to be followed by a long list of other leafy plants including beans and strawberries. 

The food from the first growing cycle will be donated to local food banks.

"I am really excited," said Gauthier. "I just think it's really neat to think about stuff growing in the library, that someone's going to be able to eat. And I love the idea that when families or when people are in the library, that they're going to be able to see stuff growing." 

The plan had been to also get youth involved in computer coding programs to create temperature and light sensors and other equipment for the gardens, with which they could monitor them. That component of the project has been delayed because of COVID-19. 

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With files from Angela Walker