By Retta Edling, reporter

In the Culinary Arts Department kitchen, a large, soil-free tub grows herbs and leafy greens used in the cooking classes.

This aeroponic garden at PPCC has been developed over three semesters by students under the guidance of their instructors.

Chef Richard Carpenter, Co-Chair of PPCC’s Culinary Arts Department said, “It has been a very successful pilot project and we are ready to start building our Living Wall in the common area on campus in March.”

He explained that choosing the plants for an aeroponic garden is a technical process and they have worked with it long enough to expand their garden. All plants must have similar nutritional needs and the pH must balance as with traditional companion planting.

Starting each plant from seeds grown in rockwool, the gardeners can switch the plants in the table with fresh ones when the older ones are spent.

The plant roots are fed for fifteen minutes every hour through a hose system with water containing the nutrients needed for optimum growth.

Students adjust the lights by raising and lowering the lighting fixtures and by raising and lowering the power to the lighting tubes.

Daily the students test the water and adjust the nutrients, balancing the pH levels as needed. They check for algae levels and pests. When the plants mature enough pruning is done by the students teaching them how to get the most production out of each plant.

“We got a lot of help and advice from the people at Roots and Rocks Hydroponic and Organic Gardening Center,” said Chef Carpenter.

The greens grown here are chosen to compliment the Culinary Arts Department’s outdoor garden. Both produce food for the culinary student kitchens with some overflow for the school food pantry.

Chef Carpenter says indoor aerophonics allows gardening without pesticides and herbicides making the food cost effective and chemical-free. NASA is helping to improve the technology to grow plants in space. The system is lightweight and uses considerably less water than traditional agricultural methods.

Aeroponic gardening is growing in popularity as customers are asking for fresher, local food in restaurants. Carpenter says that kitchens are using rooftop and basement gardens because the short trip from garden to table preserves nutrients and freshness.

This program prepares the students to be on the cutting edge of this trend when they graduate with their Culinary Arts Certificate.