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Library grow tower offers educational opportunities

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Plants in a new grow tower at the Tillsonburg branch of the Oxford County Library have fully matured and are ready for harvesting.

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“Everything here is in perfect condition to be harvested – and it will regrow for a while,” said Merley Wheaton, community librarian in Tillsonburg (Oxford County Library).

Located near the ‘curbside book pickup area’ inside the library, it’s a bright, open, mobile tower that shows off whatever greenery has been planted. It may look ornamental but it is very practical.

“The grow lights themselves, which have a specific UV spectrum for plants, are a really helpful feature particularly with winter. They come with the kit. This one is nice because it has wheels.”

A couple of weeks ahead of Tillsonburg, the Ingersoll library branch successfully experimented growing lettuce,

“They’ve had a couple of harvests already,” Wheaton noted.

In Tillsonburg they grew Swiss chard, chives, kale, basil and mint – about 25 plants in total.

“This stage was our experiment to see how it works. It’s a pilot and we’re looking forward to introducing it into programming later on. It will provide a really good connection with a seed library and we will have seeds available, probably starting in March.

“The idea would be that a small group of people, probably families, will be engaged with all of the stages of planting, growing, harvesting. Everyone gets to learn what things look like and what to do with them and learn through the whole growing process.

“It would be fun to pair it with cookbooks to show people what you can do with that. Some great tie-ins and connections – it can spark a lot of curiosity, interest and some fun learning.”

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The grow tower was brought into open library space last week and people picking up their books have been curious.

“It’s a really great opportunity to learn. People have been very curious since we did bring it out.

“I think there are some really great opportunities to talk about how we build food sustainability into our life in a community. This also gives us a chance to talk about what does food sustainability look like?”

Wheaton said they should be able to offer three to four cycles over a winter season, but they can also be offered periodically throughout the year – with a thorough disassembly and cleaning between cycles.

“Part of our learning process now is learning how long plants produce, how long before plants ‘run out.’”

Oxford County Library had applied for a grant, which was approved in the summer, to purchase the hydroponic grow tower.

The first step in planting at the Tillsonburg library began in mid-November. Three weeks later, seeds that started in a tray were moved into the grow tower.

Kale in its early stages in the Tillsonburg library grow tower. (Submitted)
Kale in its early stages in the Tillsonburg library grow tower. (Submitted)

“It’s pretty cool,” Wheaton smiled.

“The water is pumped up, then it runs down… The roots have reached down from the top (up to a metre or more) and we’ll need to trim them sometime soon because they can plug the pump.”

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