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Steve Welsh is the manager of Incredible AquaGarden, a working indoor garden and learning centre set up in 2013 at Todmorden High School. You can read about Incredible Aquagarden here. Hydromag sat down with Steve to explore the challenge of setting up and running such a facility and leading the march towards reintroducing horticulture into the national curriculum in the UK.

What problems did you come up against in design and how did you resolve them?

Light is our main issue. We can control heat, nutrients, pH etc and we’re experimenting with artificial light for germination and growing on.

 

Were you able to buy all of your equipment or is some of it homemade?

We had the help and support of Auto-Pot who sold us the equipment at cost and of Hydrostore at Luddenden Foot near Halifax who assembled the equipment.

 

How balanced is the system in terms of energy put in and out and in financial terms, do you see yourselves making a relative profit or is it purely for educational use?

We use air source heat pumps to keep the temperature constant at 20C, but of course in hot weather the temperature rises above that and we need to open the windows. We will make a profit from the sale of micro salads and micro herbs, lettuces and cucumbers. We’re still trialing different vegetables to see how they grow. Todmorden High School, who we are in partnership with, is using some of the vegetables for their dinners.

We’ve experienced an intensity of flavour that is absent from supermarket produce.

What sort of man hours are required to maintain the system? Is it seasonal or do you plan to run all year round?

We will run it all year round. I would calculate it requires seven man hours per week for plant care, maintenance and germination.

 

How well have you been received in terms of public interest and what you’re growing? Is there a difference in quality compared to other produce?

We’ve been well received, especially with the height of the tomato plants and cucumbers which are reaching between eight and 10 feet in height. On quality, it’s difficult to tell just yet, but we’ve experienced an intensity of flavour that is absent from supermarket produce.

 

Is this a model that you can see working elsewhere and are there any plans to try to replicate it?

Definitely. The school kids get a great deal out of their visits and will be increasingly involved in the germination, growing on, care and harvesting of all the produce.

It is therefore vital to ensure that horticulture is part of the national curriculum.

Do you think that horticulture and alternative growing methods should be part of the national curriculum?

Absolutely. The world into which school kids are growing will be a different world to that which we’ve experienced. Food and energy will become more politicised and home grown, local produce will become more important. It is therefore vital to ensure that horticulture is part of the national curriculum, not only because of the need to educate young people about local produce, but also to train up a new generation of horticulturalists.

 

How likely and on what sort of timescale do you see that happening?

It’s happening now at Todmorden High School, but it needs to be rolled out. It needs to happen over the coming two decades to make a difference.

 

This article was originally published in Issue 011 of HYDROMAG (September – October 2014).

 

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