Students invest in horticulture

Chrisman High School greenhouse in production

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CHRISMAN – A greenhouse is in operation on the Chrisman High School campus after an absence of several years.

“We had a greenhouse before we built the junior high,” said agriculture teacher Eric Dixon.

That structure, which he described as small and home built, was demolished to make way for the new wing that opened in 2000.

“It was here when I started teaching here in 1995,” Dixon said about the former structure

A serious effort to get another greenhouse for the ag program started two years ago with FFA students approaching the board of education about the need and seeking support for a fundraising effort.

“For the most part, it is student built,” said Dixon. “Ninety percent of it was built last year. The kids shot the grade with a transit, leveled the dirt, poured the concrete, framed it and put up the sidewalls.”

In addition, a former student, who had worked for a greenhouse company, returned and donated time to help supervise the construction. A contractor was hired to do the electrical work. 

Commonly, a school greenhouse is tied to the horticulture program but Dixon needs a more flexible approach. He said the Chrisman curriculum includes a horticulture class, but as a part-time teacher he finds it more practical to teach the classes with the most enrollments rather than do rotating classes on an annual basis.

His ag science students and a landscaping class are in charge of the greenhouse this year. A selection of bedding plants and hanging baskets were created by the students and the greenhouse is currently open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. school days for sales, plus it is open this weekend and next weekend during the May 6 Chrisman Spring Fling.

“We’ll be staying here for the Spring Fling,” said Dixon. “The library is selling plants downtown, and we don’t want to hurt them.”

The agriculture students had some input for the first year production at the greenhouse, but Dixon did most of the selection.

“I’m a pretty avid gardener, and I have gardener friends who have problems getting some plants,” said Dixon, adding those gardeners provided free seeds to the program to get flats of starter plants under way.

Dixon sees the greenhouse as a way of increasing student interest for the horticulture class. Any revenue created by the sale of plants goes back into expanded use of the greenhouse for educational experiences.

“I would like to start things like hydroponic lettuce in the fall,” said Dixon, adding the greenhouse will be not be a year-round project because students are not available in the summer.

A greenhouse also needs idle time to kill pests and intrusive plants. A break during the cold of winter is important for that as is stopping operation in the summer.

“Summer is not a time to have a greenhouse,” said Dixon. “There aren’t any plants that can survive that kind of environment.”

The greenhouse had all vents and doors open April 25 as the sun poured into the small structure and Dixon noted it is already getting into a time of the year when it is too hot for a greenhouse. 

Dixon described the first year of greenhouse use as a learning curve for all and more experience will determine the most effective ways for connecting the facility to classroom lessons.

“The potential depends on the students and what interests them,” said Dixon.