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HYDROPONICSHydroponics - courtesy of SVSU

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics basically means "working water". It is a cultivation of plants in a nutrient enriched solution, instead of soil. Plants feed on basic nutrient salts that are created when biological decomposition breaks down organic matter. Rarely in soil will the conditions be completely balanced. However, a hydroponic system uses water enriched with the same nutrient salts, but is easier to maintain.

Plants are grown in an inert growing medium, although the plant does not receive anything from the medium. The medium is more beneficial if it is able to retain water and also porous enough to allow gas exchange. Types of growing mediums include: sand, perlite, gravel, etc. The plant obtains the nutrients needed from the nutrient solution.

Micro nutrients, such as boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc, are required for healthy plant growth. Without these nutrients, plants can become wilted, and unhealthy, affecting not just the plant, but the consumer as well.

The Basics and Types of Hydroponics:

The basics of a hydroponic system include a type of growing tray, a reservoir, a time controlled submersible pump, and air pump, and an air stone. The main purpose of the air pump is to add beneficial oxygen into the hydroponics system. Natural or artificial light are also essential to the process. There are six basic types of hydroponic systems: 1. Wick, 2. Water Culture, 3. Ebb and Flow (flood and drain), 4. Drip (recovery/non-recovery), 5. N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique), and 6. Aeroponic.

Wick System

In this system, the nutrient rich solution is drawn into the growing medium from a reservoir by means of a wick. The wick absorbs the solution and draws it up into the tray. This system is very simple to use and operate, but is not ideal for plants that need or use large amounts of water. The wick can only deliver small amounts of solution at a time.

Water Culture

Plants are held in place on a floating platform, usually Styrofoam, with the roots soaking directly in the nutrient solution. Air is supplied by the air stone that bubbles the nutrient solution and supplies oxygen to the roots of the plants. The method is great for growing lettuce, but not for large or long-term plants.

Ebb and Flow

This system floods a growing tray with the nutrient solution by means of a timer controlled pump, programmed to run in multiple intervals throughout the day. Once the tray is flooded and the pump is off, the solution is able to drain back into the reservoir. This cycle continues multiple times a day. Power outages, timer or pump failures make this system vulnerable. Plant roots dry out quickly when the cycles are interrupted. The best solution for this potential harmful problem is to use a growing medium that is able to retain large amounts of moisture.

Drip System

The nutrient solution is pumped up and dripped onto the base of each plant by small drip lines. In a recovery system, the excess solution runs off and is collected in the reservoir for re-use. The problem with the recovery system is that large changes in pH levels and nutrient strengths mean more adjusting and checking. The non-recovery system does not collect run-off. The nutrient solution is allowed to remain in the medium until it is used completely. This system is less maintenance because the reservoir is refilled with new solution making the pH levels easier to control.

N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique)

This system has a constant flow of nutrient solution pumped into the growing tray, usually a tube, flowing over the roots of the plants before draining back into the reservoir. This system usually does not include a growing medium other than air. The plants are supported in the tube by small plastic baskets that allow the roots to dangle down. The danger of this system is if the flow is disrupted, roots will dry out quickly, especially without a growing medium to retain moisture.


The plant roots are air exposed in this system, and misted with the nutrient solution, usually every few minutes. A timer controls this action, but can be potentially hazardous like the N.F.T. system if the mist is interrupted, the roots will dry out rapidly.

Benefits of using Hydroponics:

  • Food can be produced in parts of the world with soil that cannot sustain plant life.
  • Hydroponic systems eliminate the need for pesticides, since most pests live in the soil. Without pesticides, the Earth’s air, water, and soil will be cleaner. Even the food produced by the plants will be cleaner.
  • Water waste is reduced since most systems recycle the nutrient solution.
  • NO WEEDS!!
  • Hydroponics can save space. Plants can be placed closer together since the roots no longer need to grow and reach for nutrients since the nutrients are brought to them.



What is Aquaponics? Aquaponics - courtesy of SVSUAquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). Herbs and vegetables are able to grow and thrive in the same water system as the fish. Fish excrete ammonia in their waste. In high levels, this can be toxic for both fish and plants. Nitrifying bacteria, which lives in soil and water, convert the ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate. Nitrates are essential for healthy plant growth. Nitrifying bacteria will thrive in gravel in the fish tank as well as the grow bed. The plants will absorb and use the nitrate to grow and thrive, and the water that is returned to the fish tank will contain less nitrates and more oxygen, creating a healthier environment for the fish.

What is Needed?

In order to start an aquaponic garden, you will need: a tank for fish, gravel for the fish tank, a water pump and tubing, an air pump, air stone, and tubing, grow bed, growing medium, and fish and plants of course. Also, you may want to install lighting for both the fish and the plants depending on how the garden is housed (i.e. a garden in a greenhouse should not need artificial light).

What Type of Fish?

The type of fish selected for the system depends entirely on the size. Larger systems can accommodate for larger fish such as tilapia, largemouth bass, and perch. Smaller, at home systems will function with koi and goldfish.

What Type of Plants?

For the most part, leafy greens and lettuce seem to thrive in this kind of system. Herbs such as basil are ideal as well. Other plants are also known to grow successfully such as cucumbers, peppers, melons, tomatoes, and even flowers.

Benefits of Aquaponics:

  • Aquaponic systems uses a fraction of water compared to a soil raised vegetable garden because water is re-used and recycled in an aquaponics system.
  • Plants are fertilized organically as opposed to chemically, by the natural fish waste.
  • By eliminating soil, soil born diseases are also eliminated, as well as weeds, and most pests.
  • Aquaponic systems are relatively easy to maintain. Fish need to be fed daily, and water will need to be replenished and refreshed occasionally in the fish tank.




Did you know...?

  • Although the Zoo is open only part of the year, all of the animals stay
    at the Zoo year-round.

  • We've premiered a new improvement and/or exhibit every year since 1997.

  • Your annual membership donation helps us keep up with the costs of running
    the Zoo, which have increased with the fabulous growth we've accomplished.

These benefits are yours with a Zoo Membership!

  • Unlimited admission and train and carousel rides for 12 months from time of purchase*
  • Unlimited admission to over 150 other zoos – remember, some zoos are open year round, and you can get in at a discount or free.
  • Zoo e-newsletter throughout the year – we’ll tell you about upcoming events and theme days.
  • 10% discount on Zoo Store merchandise.
  • Discount on Zoo Camps – summer day camps for kids

*Please note: Special ticketed events (Zoo Boo and Brew at the Zoo) are NOT included in the membership. Call the zoo if you have any questions

Membership Categories:

Individual $40 – admits one adult

Dual $50 – admits two adults living at the same address

Family $75 – admits two adults living at the same address and their own children age 17 and under, infants through 11 months are free

Grandparent(s)/Great Grandparent(s) $75 – admits two adults living at the same address and their own grandchildren/great grandchildren age 17 and under; infants through 11 months are free

Peacock $125 – Family or Grandparents member benefits, plus Add-a-Guest

Penguin $250 – Family or Grandparents member benefits, plus Add-a-Guest

Roo $500 – Family or Grandparents member benefits, plus Add-a-Guest

Phoenix $1,000+ – Family or Grandparents member benefits, plus Add-a-Guest and a Zoo tour conducted by Zoo personnel; just contact us to schedule

Any of the above membership categories are available for purchase online.

Add-a-Guest $20 - Add-a-Guest provides free admission, train and carousel rides for one guest when added to any membership category above. You can bring any non-member guest with you each time you visit! Only one Add-a-Guest per membership. To purchase our Add-a-Guest option, contact the Zoo at 989-759-1408.

Add-a-Caregiver $30 - Add-a-Caregiver allows a named caregiver to take your children to the Zoo any time in the absence of the named members on the card.  The caregiver receives free admission, free rides on the train and carousel, and a 10% discount in the Zoo Store, just like the other members named on the card!  Add-a-Caregiver must present photo I.D. with the membership card to enter the Zoo.  Only one Add-a-Caregiver per membership.
To Add-a-Caregiver to your membership, contact the zoo at 989-759-1408.

Unless indicated, your membership will be available for you to pick up on your next visit.  If you plan on visiting the Zoo within 2-3 weeks, we suggest you renew your membership at the admissions gate instead of renewing online. Renewing at the admission gate immediately provides you with a new temporary member card you can begin using that day.

Click here to purchase a Zoo Membership.

(Please note that this link will take you to a seperate and secure website managed by the Children's Zoo)


Q: Does the membership run a calendar year (January thru December) or from the date of purchase?

A: A membership is good for one full year from the date of purchase.

Q:  May I put my membership on hold?

A:  No, memberships become active immediately upon purchase and cannot be suspended. 

Q: May I use my membership for special ticketed events, like Zoo Boo? 

A:  No, special ticketed events like Zoo Boo, Brew at the Zoo, and Pancakes with Parrots are additional fundraisers for the zoo and memberships, coupons, and free passes are not applicable towards admission.  

Q: How many cards are included with my membership?

A: The Zoo issues two cards with each membership. You need only present one card at Admissions with photo I.D. to enter.

Q: Who can use my membership?

A: The named adults on the card- who live at the same address- may use a membership. If it's a family or grandparent membership, it also covers the number of their own children or grandchildren age 17 and under, as indicated on the membership card.  Adults must present a photo I.D. along with their membership card at the Admission booth.

Q: I have a membership with Add-A-Guest. Can a guest use my membership without me?

A: Add-a-Guest does not allow a non-member to come without the members named on the card. It does not allow a non-member to bring the member’s children or grandchildren. One of the adults named on the card must be present for a non-member guest to be covered. Add-a-Guest does not add a name to the member card; neither does it replace a member name on the member card. Add-a-Guest does not mean an adult in a different household can have their name listed on the card.

We do not allow more than one Add-a-Guest per membership.

Q: How can I replace a lost/stolen membership card?

A: A replacement card costs $3.  You may order with credit card by phone at (989) 759-1408 or visit the Admission Booth.  You will receive your replacement card via mail within three to four weeks.  You may visit the Zoo in the meantime by presenting your photo I.D. at the membership booth, where you will be issued a day pass.

Q: I am a single parent with one child. Can I purchase a Dual Membership instead of a Family Membership?

A: Dual membership is for two adults in the same household. It is not for an adult and a child. If an adult wants a membership that will cover them and one child, they need to sign up for Family (or Grandparents) for $75 or Individual Add-a-Guest for $60.

Q: If I forget to bring my membership card, can I still visit the Zoo for free?

A: Yes!  Just bring your photo I.D. to the Admissions booth to verify your status.  You will be issued a day pass valid for free admission for all those eligible under your membership category.  This day pass will also entitle you to a 10% discount in the Zoo Store as well as unlimited rides on the Train and Carousel.

Q: Why do I have to show a photo I.D. when I use my membership card to enter the Zoo?

A: To prevent misuse of membership cards, we require that one adult cardholder present photo I.D. upon entering the Zoo.  As a non-profit organization, we rely on membership dues for much of our support.  If memberships were shared by families and neighbors our revenue would be severely reduced.  We also want to protect our members should their cards be lost or stolen.  It is important that we keep the benefits of membership reserved for those who are supporting the Zoo through membership.

Q: Does my membership allow admission to other Zoos and Aquariums?

A: Over 150 other Zoos and Aquariums across the country reciprocate membership with Children's Zoo members. By showing your membership card and photo I.D., you will receive either free or discounted admission, and sometimes, other discounts as well. As reciprocating zoos reserve the right to change reciprocal status at any time, please call the zoo you plan to visit ahead of time to verify reciprocity.

Q: If I decide to join after my visit, can I apply the cost of my admission tickets towards my membership?

A: Yes, but you must purchase your membership on the same day that you paid admission. Please note that only those individuals covered by the level of membership you purchase will have their admissions applied to the cost of the membership.

Q:  Can a Family or Grandparent membership have Add-a-Guest and Add-a-Caregiver?

A:  Yes.  The caregiver will be able to bring the card without the other named adults, but the Add-a-Guest must accompany a named member on the card.

Q:  What is the difference between Add-a-Guest and Add-a-Caregiver?

A:  Add-a-Guest allows the named adults on the membership to bring one extra person, adult or child, each time they visit the Zoo; it does not allow the Add-a-Guest to visit without a named member on the membership.  It can be a different person each time since the guest is not named on the card.

Add-a-Caregiver is a named adult added to your membership who does not have to live in the same household as the other named adults.  Add-a-Caregiver may bring the membership without the other named adults and must show photo I.D. to visit the Zoo. 

Q:  Can a Caregiver bring a guest? 

A:  Yes.  The caregiver can bring one guest with them if the card has the Add-a-Guest option.  If the caregiver brings additional children or another adult and the membership does not have Add-a-Guest, all additional guests not covered on the membership or not covered by Add-a-Guest will need to pay admission and purchase ride tickets.

Q:  What if my caregiver changes during my membership?

A:  Add-a-Caregiver is non-transferrable. 

Zoo Store

Zoo Store

The Zoo Store is full of fun and enriching items for children of all ages. Prices range from under $1.00 to $30.00. We feature an array of items including jewelry, books, clothing, hats, plush of all sizes and shapes, and sweet treats, to name a few.

We also carry convenience items to make your visit more enjoyable including AA and AAA batteries and sun block.

Children's Zoo Members receive 10% off on Zoo Store purchases.

Don’t forget to purchase Special Event Tickets, Bricks, Memberships, and Adopt-an-Animal sponsorships.



Come and satisfy your hunger from an impressive list of hot food, snacks, and refreshments.

  • Train Whistle Café* is located near our train station. Our outdoor seating offers a variety of scenic views including the Forgotten Forest, the River Otters, the Butterfly House and much more!

We offer a variety of eating options, from a list of hot food, snacks and refreshments as well as some great lunch options. We also serve a variety of ice cream products.  There are also picnic areas available in the Zoo, so feel free to bring your own picnic lunch.  No glass containers please. 

*Please call 989-759-1408 to check hours of operation.  Snacks and drinks are always available in the Zoo Store.

Train Whistle Cafe

 Let us host your birthday party, retirement or office party, or family reunion
 Just call the Zoo Office for more information at 989-759-1408.