Our Grow Dome Adventure

Animas Valley Elementary's school garden, out by Trimble, was hit particularly hard by the 416 fire this summer. Cleaning up the garden was relatively easy, and we had a ton of help from Animas Valley's own Green Team. But just how would we restore the grow dome to its original state?

Animas Valley Elementary's school garden, out by Trimble, was hit particularly hard by the 416 fire this summer. The school's groundskeeper, Will, showed me exactly where the fire tore up the nearby mountainside, and he described the baseball-sized embers which floated down constantly from the sky. No wonder, then, that the Animas Valley garden and grow dome were overgrown when we visited for a Junior Master Gardener lesson earlier this Fall. 

Cleaning up the garden was relatively easy, and we had a ton of help from Animas Valley's own Green Team. But just how would we restore the grow dome to its original state? We had no experience with grow domes before visiting this one so we had no idea where to start, or how each part of the grow dome was interdependent on other parts.

Why was there a fish tank in there? Was it an aquaponic system? Where did the water come from? How did it ventilate and stay warm in the winter? What kinds of plants even like to grow in a dome? 

Luckily, the grow dome at Animas Valley was manufactured by Growing Spaces, a company just over the county line in Pagosa Springs! We decided to take a field trip to see how they cultivate their showcase grow domes and ask them SO MANY QUESTIONS about how to get our own dome back up and growing again.

Different sizes of grow domes out at Growing Spaces in Pagosa Springs

 

We met a man, Kyle, who could only be described as the grow dome sage. After a nearly two-hour tour and a million questions, we left wiser, more confident, and, after lunch at Kip's, much fuller.

Some of Growing Spaces' sweet aquatic plants

 

We learned that the fish tank in the grow dome is not in fact an aquaponic system (though it could be rigged that way), but thermal mass for the dome. Basically, the water regulates the humidity and temperature of the grow dome. We also learned that growing a tree or trellising vines up the middle provides some much needed shade to cool the dome in the summer. 

Chillin' in one of Growing Spaces' showcase domes

 

Armed with a wealth of new knowledge, we set out to take the first step in our grow dome journey: CLEANUP. Again, we had some super support from a team of my Americorps friends from the Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP), which is based out in Mancos. With their help, we were able to clean the fish tank, pump, and filter, clear out all the overgrown plants (including a lot of thistle and seeds dropped from the plants!), clean off the plastic triangular panels of the dome, clear out the beds outside the dome, and even glean a bunch of cherry tomatoes and pattypan squash which were hidden underneath all the debris!

BEFORE and AFTER!!!

I even got to don a wetsuit to clean out the fish tank!!

 

We couldn't have done it without the help from my MSTFP friends, and the tour from our friend Kyle over at Growing Spaces in Pagosa. I also want to shout out Will, the groundskeeper at Animas Valley, for lending us his own tools for us to work with, and being super kind and helpful throughout the day. Also, big thanks to Greg Felsen at CSU 4H for helping us out and bringing us Zia, who donated our lunch. 

This was just the first step toward what I hope will be a fully functioning grow dome and outdoor classroom come Spring. I was struck by how calming the fully-cultivated domes were at Growing Spaces, and I hope we can turn Animas Valley's into such a space, where kids can go to learn just by being in a super cool, self-sustaining environment!! Can't wait to continue our grow dome adventure!