Fulton, Indiana - Caston High School Students Build Aquaponics Lab

Fulton, Indiana - Caston High School Students Build Aquaponics Lab

Fulton, Indiana - Caston High School Students Build Aquaponics Lab

Noah Rushinsky, 18, and Colton Welker, 19 demonstrate their senior project on aquaponics at Caston High School. The project involves raising plants and fish in a closed system where the water is fertilized by the fish and the nutrient-rich water is used to grow the plants. Fran Ruchalski | Pharos-Tribune

FULTON — Two Caston High School seniors have spent much of their final semester in school creating and cultivating a sustainable ecosystem to grow fish and food year-round.

Colton Welker, 19, and Noah Rushinsky, 18, assembled an aquaponics lab in the school's agriculture room earlier this year for their senior projects. Caston's FFA program received a $6,100 grant for the lab in 2017 from the Cass County Community Foundation. The Cass County 4-H Association also sponsored the grant.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture — the raising of fish — and hydroponics — cultivating plants in water. As the fish inside a water tank are fed, their waste creates nutrient-rich water that gets pumped through a filter and into the plant beds, supplying the crops with food. The plants, in turn, clean the water that gets sent back to the fish tank.

“It’s just a cycle that keeps repeating itself," Colton said, adding that the plants will grow faster with the constant nutrients from the temperature-controlled water during any season.

The lab is also equipped with lights above the plant beds that are attached to a wood frame.

Colton and Noah bought banana pepper and patio tomato plants and also bibb lettuce seeds from D&R Fruit Market in Logansport for the lab, and obtained 70-plus Tilapia fish from farmers in Plymouth. Half of the plants grow on lava rocks and the other are secured in Styrofoam.

Caston's agriculture teacher Nick Korniak said the lab lets students learn about sustainable agriculture. Scientists, he said, have predicted as the world's population continues to increase, land will become scarce for crop growth. Aquaponics is a viable alternative, he said.

“We need to look at ways to produce food that maybe doesn’t require the land area or the amount of rainfall that you would normally need," Korniak said.

The school purchased the pieces for the lab in February, Korniak said, and the students started building it in March. The water tank's heater broke a few weeks later, he said which set them back on the project. They were able to plant the crops about two weeks ago.

During those several weeks of setting up the lab, Colton said they learned much about how to configure the plumbing and filtration system so the water can flow to each section.

“It was an experience," Colton said. "We had some fun times and some frustrating times.”

Noah said when he and Colton graduate in a few weeks, they'll have to pass the baton to other students in the FFA program to tend to the plants and feed the fish each day. The school's agriculture program has more than 100 students, Korniak said, and 52 are FFA members.

“It’s really good for all of the core subjects because you have math, engineering, science, all of those things combined into one," Noah added.

Korniak said he wants to invite the high school's biology students to help care for and learn about the lab in the coming years. He also hopes the produce harvested from the lab could get served in the school's cafeteria and that they can hatch their own fish to repopulate the tank.

“As long as you can control the environment, you can grow," he said.

Reach Ben Middelkamp at ben.middelkamp@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5117.

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