MHHS students get hands dirty in greenhouse; plant sale gets sold out

Photo: MHHS sophomores Gabe Todd, Celine Hall and Abigayle Vida and junior Gunner Chong prepare for the plant sale (already sold out) in the new high school greenhouse.

Students at Mountain Home High School Career Academies are showing off their green thumbs in the newly-built greenhouse on the school’s campus.

The greenhouse was constructed after teachers in the agricultural education department applied for a state start-up grant from the Arkansas Department of Career Education. Brandon Lewis, who teaches plant science and greenhouse management at the high school, says the state provided $80,000 for construction of the greenhouse, and the school district covered additional costs for the project.

Lewis says the project started with the idea to offer a new pathway with agricultural education here.

During the fall of 2018, as construction of the greenhouse was underway, students in Lewis’ plant science class learned what plants need to survive.

Sophomore Abigayle Vida says students learned about different types of soil and what soil needs to contain to help plants grow. Vida says she thought that was interesting, because they have those little vermicula that are in the soil and that helps the plants grow bigger and prettier and whatnot. She says the students even did papers on sections of the plant that they need to know.

Photo: Sophomore Abigayle Vida waters plants.

In January, the students in the plant science and greenhouse management classes began their hands-on learning, as they prepared for the first-annual FFA plant sale.  The sale was to continue through April 20th, but they have sold out of plants.

According to Lewis, the students started with 1,200 plugs from flowering plants they transferred into hanging baskets and cultivated in the greenhouse.

After the three weeks it took to arrange and repot the flowering plants, the students moved on to germinating vegetables, which proved to be more challenging than they originally anticipated.

Lewis says they had some issues with their vegetables. He says right before spring break, they tried to germinate 3,000 vegetable seeds and only 300 of them came up.

Gunner Chong, a junior in plant science, says starting the vegetable project before spring break was not a good idea. Chong says they definitely learned not to try to plant seeds right before they are going to be gone on a break and not able to care for them regularly.

Photo: Junior Gunner Chong hangs a flowering plant in the high school’s new greenhouse.

Besides planting and caring for plants, the students have gotten to know the inner-workings of a greenhouse.

Sophomore Gabe Todd says the greenhouse has a shade cloth that automatically rolls up if it gets too humid.

Photo: Sophomore Gabe Todd checks on the vegetable seedlings that he and his classmates germinated last month.

Lewis noted the shade cloth is part of what helps the greenhouse function best, but it has presented its own set of issues.

He says another challenge has been figuring out the controls. Their petunias aren’t a full sun plant, but lately since the sun has popped out and the humidity has increased, the shade cloth has been staying open more, and some plants are getting too much sun. It’s sort of trial and error at the moment.

The greenhouse is equipped with a built-in irrigation system, but based on placement, some plants get more water than others, so the students still do some hand watering.

Chong says they go around to the hanging baskets to see how heavy they are. If they are light, they check to see if they are dry, and if they are, they water them.

Despite the challenges the students faced, they have successfully cultivated a greenhouse full of hanging plants, including petunias, geraniums, verbena, and impatiens.

Next school year, the students who work in the greenhouse are planning to offer a salad bar once or twice a month to high school students during lunch. Lewis is working with administration to secure federal funds to purchase eight hydroponic systems allowing the students to grow lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers for the salad bar.

Lewis notes next year there will be two sections of plant science, due to increased interest in the program of study. The plant science course is co-taught with MHHS science instructor Tyler Blasdel, and so students who are on the core diploma track can actually count the course as a science credit. as well as a career-focus credit.

Sophomore Celine Hall says she has thoroughly enjoyed her year in plant science, because she has always had a passion for planting.

Photo: Sophomore Celine Hall prepares for the FFA plant sale (sold out).

Hall says she was mainly excited to get her hands in the soil. She says she loves planting plants. She was doing that at home, but she had to move, so when she heard about this class, she was really interested in getting back into a greenhouse.

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