At this point of the year, most peoples’ brains are on Thanksgiving dinner and break, but at Steelton-Highspire High School, it’s more like a tropical vacation.
The school’s aquaponics program, which uses fish waste to grow plants, has a new accomplishment to boast, and they aren’t monkeying around.
“We use the fish waste and all the beneficial bacteria and nutrients, and use that into potable water — clean water for the plants to absorb,” said Tyler Vaupel, an aquaponic technician with Harrisburg University.
The bananas definitely absorbed up the nutrients — but it wasn’t easy. A few select students spent the summer in the greenhouse attending to the bananas.
“We worked here like five times a week for like six or seven weeks for like three hours every day,” said Musarrat Hossain, a Steel-High junior.
Inside the climate-controlled greenhouse, Vaupel said plants grow three to four times faster and can survive outside their native climate.
“In this environment, almost anything is possible. We have this cocoa tree as well that grew cocoa pods in seven to eight months less than what it normally takes,” Vaupel said.
It took a little under two years for the banana tree to blossom, which is impressive. The students who watched and helped it bloom were also impressed.
“When we first came, they were like, not even popping out of the pods, it was just little white flowers,” Hossain said.
“From seeing the first flower to like, see it bloom, and then from the little tiny bananas to where they are fully harvested now was a great process,” Vaupel said.
What’s really bananas is that all the produce grown in the greenhouse is sold to local businesses and donated to the hungry through the school’s Community Supported Agriculture program.