Although the new Greenhouse Learning Center’s grand opening was held this past August, staff and students were largely absent from the building until the start of this semester.
Holly Pasmore, greenhouse manager, started working at the facility in early January.
“I’m just trying to hold down the fort at the moment,” Pasmore said.
Pasmore is a firm believer in hands on education for students and said the greenhouse is a “great opportunity.” The greenhouse caters mostly to students in the Ferguson School of Agriculture, but the College of Arts and Sciences also uses it for experiments.
The complex is home to six separate greenhouses, a fully furnished classroom, office space, and the Southwood Landscape and Nursery Prep Area. The classroom and Prep Area have large tables for students to learn potting basics and work on projects. The Prep Area also contains a refrigerator for seed storage and three smaller rooms to house pots, soils and fertilizers.
Each greenhouse is independently climate controlled using an automated micro-grow greenhouse system that continuously monitors conditions like temperature and humidity. Other state of the art features include LED and high pressure sodium grow lights, rolling benches and automatic dark shades. Straight water and a premixed fertilizer solution is available on tap for either hand watering or drip irrigation systems.
There are also several different hydroponic systems throughout the facility.
Hydroponics is a relatively new field within horticulture and has many benefits like potentially increased yields, reduced soil usage and increased water use efficiency due to their closed nature.
In one system, using Dutch buckets, plants are set in a clay medium and watered using a series of drip hoses in one large loop. Excess water and fertilizer drains through the bottom of the bucket and is collected by pipes bellow to be analyzed. A computer can then automatically change the concentration of fertilizer or pH of the solution before the plants are watered again.
New technology was a major consideration in constructing the facility. Horticulture senior Molly Morrison is excited about the development.
“It’s high tech,” Morrison said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to grow in a greenhouse before.”
They mentioned how important the opportunity to conduct experiments is because “that’s how people learn.”
Students are able to plan and carry out their own self-guided research using the greenhouse and its resources.
Beatrix Haggard, an assistant professor in plant and oil sciences, laughed when describing how students are like a deer in the headlights when set loose to make their own experiments.
“I try to let them pick everything,” Haggard said.
It’s not just students who are excited about the facility though. Fransisco Ochoa Corona, a professor of the National Institute for Microbial Forensics & Food, and Bailey Norwood, a professor of Agricultural Economics, can attest to its necessity.
“The new Greenhouse Learning Center is a priceless addition needed to teach plant disease and pest symptoms,” Corona said.
“We can start plants in the greenhouse to be transplanted in the garden at the end of the semester,” Norwood said. “This not only allows my students more time gardening for the food insecure, but provides them with hands on experience starting vegetables indoors”.
As well as learning and teaching opportunities, the greenhouses can house and grow plants for sale. Currently, the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture has one greenhouse full with plants they will sell at their spring sale. Multi colored coleus cover benches spanning the length of the greenhouse casting bright colors on the acrylic walls.
The actual greenhouses or the plants within, however, are not the sole attraction of the facility.
Outdoor raised beds and crop area allows students, and the public, to experience agriculture on a small scale. In addition, Haggard said things will grow differently outside, highlighting how not everything can be grown in a greenhouse under perfect conditions.
Haggard hopes this new space will expose people to agriculture throughout the year with rotating crops. For the time being, they eagerly await spring planting and more funds for outdoor seating and picnic areas. In addition to donating $1 million to help build the facility, Greenleaf Nursery also supplied the greenhouse with new plants to beautify the exterior.
Pasmore is looking forward to the Greenhouse Learning Center continuing to provided students and faculty opportunities for personal and professional exploration that goes beyond the classroom.
“If I can help bridge that gap, that would be fabulous,” Pasmore said.