Thursday, June 22, 2023 | 2 a.m.
A thriving hydroponics gardening class has taken root at the Summerlin Library, and instructors plan to grow a second, bigger one in the fall.
The class recently learned how to transplant herbs, arugula and wildflowers from the seed pods where they sprouted to new containers. Hydroponics uses a combination of LED grow lights, fertilizer and water to grow plants without soil.
“No yanking, no aggression; save that for therapy,” Austin Kuenzli, a library circulation assistant, said while demonstrating how to pull a seedling out of its plastic pod.
Kuenzli, who grew up on a produce farm in Idaho, said gardening is “kind of a labor of love.” He instructed the class to be careful with the newly transplanted plants.
“You want to make sure that you are protecting them from as much direct sunlight for the first couple of weeks as you can,” he said. “Especially in the climate here, you want to make sure they’re not in a place where they’re going to get blown over by the wind.”
The Las Vegas-Clark County Library District now has 15 branches with hydroponics systems. It got the equipment, fertilizer and seeds through local nonprofit Green Our Planet, which works with schools to train teachers on indoor and traditional gardening.
The libraries will soon start offering demonstrations on how to use the indoor gardening equipment. The Summerlin Library has taken it a step further, offering a six-week gardening course.
Carla Land, the assistant branch manager, said the students are mostly Summerlin Library regulars and mainly seniors.
The library has 20 growing units, but Kuenzli said he kept the first class to about eight students so he could work out bugs and write lesson plans and materials for other instructors to use.
Land said the library plans to allow students who have completed a hydroponics course to rent the growing units the same way patrons can check out electronic tablets and hotspots. They are awaiting approval from the library administration.
“Everything has different borrowing rules,” Land said. “They’re working on it.”
Kuenzli said the library has never implemented something quite like this before.
Libraries with hydroponics units are: Centennial Hills, Clark County, East Las Vegas, Indian Springs, Laughlin, Mesquite, Moapa Town, Moapa Valley, Mount Charleston, Rainbow, Spring Valley, Summerlin, West Charleston, Whitney and Windmill.
The Library District is not the first to launch a community hydroponics project in Las Vegas. In December, the city put two self-contained hydroponics units at James Gay III Park at Owens Avenue and B Street.
MGM Resorts International funded the project with a $500,000 donation.
The city bought the units from Freight Farms, which builds shipping container gardens about 40 feet long and 8 feet wide.
The containers, which cost $149,000, use about 5 gallons of water a day and produce 2 to 6 tons of food a year.
The city’s Youth Development and Social Initiatives Department manages the project with help from local company Agricology Solutions, department director Tammy Malich said.
Everything from the temperature of the containers to the humidity and watering schedule is managed remotely through Wi-Fi and cameras.
“We’ve learned a lot along the way,” she said. “You can lose a whole crop to an error, but you rebound quickly because you’re growing 365 (days.) You can grow more quickly and harvest more often.”
The bok choy, arugula, collard greens, basil, Nevada lettuce and mint grown in the containers is distributed to senior and community centers, she said.
If the project is as successful as expected, it might be expanded, Malich said. “This would be very easy to set up over in East Las Vegas as well,” she said.