Flood and Drain Aquaponics System by Sea to Sky Botanics and the Natural Science Program


Robert Thirsk High School has a unique Natural Science program that runs from Grade 10 to Grade 12 with 3 Agricultural Credits. The focus is to stimulate conversation about our food growing systems, sustainability, circular food economies, food security and hands-on growing opportunities at every turn. The idea is to reconnect students to their natural world through stewardship and project opportunities.


As a rule, many of the projects that are started in the Natural Science program start as ideas that are brought forward by the students and the teachers help guide their vision into reality with discussion and help find grants or budget money to move the ideas forward. This year’s aquaponics project is no exception and came from conversations with past students who wanted to continue to look at systems that would allow sustainable growing and potentially provide a regular source of herbs and fresh greens for both current students and our culinary program downstairs. Several of our past projects have involved a local entrepreneur who designs systems in conjunction with our kids’ ideas and his vision. Students have forwarded the idea of an aquaponics system to Jonathan Luckhurst, owner of Sea to Sky Botanics, which has resulted in the creation of a flood and drain aquaponics system. This system is a natural fit and will further enhance the growing program at Thirsk, which currently includes: 4 classroom grow systems for classroom growing projects, two vertical agriculture towers, two portable multi-tiered grow systems for plant propagation and microgreens, student plant projects as you walk through the door, a rooftop garden with 30 elevated beds, a living wall system in the common space, a grow globe in the Learning Commons, perennial trough beds at the front of the school and the burgeoning Courtyard project including 4 elevated beds, a new perennial garden and the new Greenhouse. Jonathan will be sending pictures as the build continues and will help with the installation at the school in its appointed place. He will also talk to students about the opportunities in the growing design market in the province of Alberta, showing kids the systems and opportunities that his work leads to. The system will be operational for the 2023-2024 growing season in the Natural Science space. The new system will not only be hands-on but will also lead to a variety of conversations surrounding the sustainable practices of growing food and the local food economy – it is a seamless fit to many of the conversations already happening. The flood and drain system will use no soil and hydroton clay pellets and pots or Rockwool cubes for growing media. The system will rely on organic fertilizers as opposed to the synthetic fertilizers used in our current tower gardens (more conversations!!) The grow bed itself will be large enough to support up to 36 leafy greens/herbs at one time.

Reflection & Celebration

Students celebrated quietly, knowing that their ideas have been moved forward, funded, and the build is beginning. They are looking forward to celebrating next September by putting the first crops of leafy greens and herbs into the new flood and drain system. They will share in the online community at Robert Thirsk High School and look forward to sharing some herbs with the culinary program.


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