Science and sunshine

Middle College students create solar-powered garden
May. 15, 2014 @ 01:49 PM

David Brotherton’s students gathered in the parking lot of Caldwell Career Center Middle College under the sweltering sun. Their foreheads glistened with sweat, but they had smiles on their faces. The hot sun is exactly what they want.

Circling their elaborate projects, they eagerly waited for two solar panels to soak up the bright sunshine in order to power a battery connected to a pump to water their nearly finished gardens. Once the battery was charged, the pump started whirring and sucking water into a hose. Then, the water was pushed out into the rest of the hose spread throughout the garden, which sat in either a wooden A frame or a flat wheelbarrow design.

David Brotherton watched with anticipation as his students brought their work to life.

“It’s a good place to be a science teacher,” he said.

Originally, Brotherton wanted his students to work on a regular garden as part of their second senior project. Instead, he came across a Bright Ideas grant from Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., which awards up to $1,500 for school projects. The grant money purchased a kit of solar panels and a battery operated by those panels. With the kit, his third-period students build the flat frame, which moves around like a wheelbarrow with two large handles to tilt the frame down and push it along wheels. Student Tyler Clark said the flat frame can be turned into a greenhouse by constructing curved bars over the top, then tying on a tarp to make the garden look like a covered wagon.

The fourth-period students decided they, too, wanted to make a frame. They not only created an A frame, where the rows of dirt move up into a triangle, but they also constructed their own solar

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panels and hooked it up to a battery. They added a special pipe where the water will drain so they can test it afterwards. Students have also been putting their own money and resources into building the gardens.

Juana Rivero, who helped build the solar panels and connect them to the battery, said it was her first time working on a project like this.

“It was pretty hard to figure out how not to get water in the solar panels,” Rivero said.

The students hope to prove that plants are helpful filters and clean water through their roots. Brotherton said that many of the creeks and rivers in the area are polluted due by farming and industrial discharges. He thinks the students’ gardens will show that the water they take from the creek behind the Middle College will test cleaner after it has moved through the soil of the garden.

Currently, the garden is empty except for dirt. With finals next week, the students are hurrying to put together the finishing touches before planting herbs, such as chives and cilantro, and maybe tomato plants.

The students also think they may be able to sell their solar-powered gardens, Dylan Knight said. “I do see it as a possible way to make money, because I guarantee someone will buy it.”