By Addison Martin
Thanks to the work of a University of Iowa Ph.D. student, the greenhouse on top of the University of Iowa Biology Building East is getting a much-needed update.
The greenhouse’s new hydroponic system will allow for larger plants and a larger variety of produce for the UI Gardeners who help run the greenhouse.
UI graduate student Krista Osadchuk has developed a system with friend Chad Treloar that allows plants to be watered and given nutrients without soil by inserting all the necessary nutrients right into the water source.
“We work together to kind of come up with the design. The one up on the greenhouse is one that we kind of built together,” Osadchuk said. “This is the third installment of the design we have right now. Every time we build a system, we think about the things we hated about the last one, so this is the best one we’ve built.”
Jacob Simpson and Sophia Coker Gunnink, co-presidents of the UI Gardeners, will be in charge of using this new system, which they say is an improvement over the previous version. That was in place at the greenhouse until a month ago.
“The past system was pretty simplified; it didn’t have a ton of additions on adding nutrients to water and pumping it through, and it was limited to space,” Coker Gunnink said.
The old system was built last winter by students in the Tippie College of Business for a sustainability project. It only allowed for smaller plants that did not provide much produce for the UI Gardenings.
“The root mass would get too big and it wouldn’t let water pass through and so it just didn’t work out super well in terms of what we wanted,” she said. “The new system is much deeper and you can have things like tomato, watermelon, squash, peppers, all kinds of stuff, because it allows the roots to grow.”
The idea for implementing a new system, which will allow for a more diverse bed of produce, first came about in a conversation between Osadchuk, Treloar, and Ray Tallent, the coordinator of the Biology Building greenhouse.
“The newer system also will allow us to experiment a little more, [Osadchuk is] interested in experimenting with compost tea which is much more natural than using artificial nutrients,” Coker Gunnink said.
The UI Gardeners are hoping to use this new excess of fresh food as a way to continue giving back to the community, Simpson said. They hope to accomplish this by donating more consistently to places like the Johnson County Crisis Center, who most likely see drops in produce donations over the winter months, and by allotting additional food to include in their own free produce cart program, which started last week.
“Last week we had our free produce cart and that was overwhelmingly popular… right now we can only have that produce cart for a couple months because that’s when things grow outside, but with this we can offer more produce throughout the year to students,” Simpson said.
Although the greenhouse is not a new feature on campus, the UI Gardeners hope they can make it more well known, especially to students looking for some quiet reprieve into a bit of nature.