Meet Anne Jackson
The STA Greenhouse
That said, they utilize the greenhouse to start a wide variety of plants using both seeds and cuttings. These plants are then sold in fundraisers or planted into a similar sized garden next to the greenhouse. This "Giving Garden" is a place for anyone to come and harvest some fresh produce as needed. The cooking classes at the school make use of this bounty as well and yet there's often plenty left over for food banks and the local senior's home.
On the opposite side of the greenhouse, they have space allocated for edible shrubs which they are growing on in the hopes of someday planting them in parks and other areas where recent development destroyed some natural greenery.
This is not the only environmental initiative that STA can boast however. The school sports many other environmentally conscious groups of which their Envirothon team has won the local competition for the past 6 years and has placed as high as fifth in the provincials.
They've gained an impressive array of recognition for their efforts through an Eco Canada Award and a Gold Certification from Eco-Schools. Recently I actually missed the Living Locally Fair, one of the largest events hosted at the school each year. Vendors and exhibitors of local businesses all set up booths and even a full day won't have you seeing everything because their is so much to do and see. Hopefully I'll make it next year!
Benefits of a School Greenhouse
Difficulties Faced By School Greenhouses
The first is security, often times schools deal with vandalization problems. A greenhouse isn't much different, glass can be shattered and poly can be ripped and cut. It wouldn't take much to break into a school greenhouse as the budget doesn't usually allow for the acrylic siding commonly found on commercial greenhouses. That said, a simple camera setup usually does the trick by deterring vandalism and helping to catch those who do it anyway.
Another problem is supervision. Not only must students inside be supervised but equally important is the requirement to check on the conditions within at regular intervals throughout the day. If the greenhouse is allowed to get too warm, too humid or if vents are left open during storms there could be serious losses which would discourage students as well as drain the budget.
Speaking of budgets, there are many costs associated with greenhouses; heating, cooling, lights etc. all have their associated costs but even the materials needed for plant production amount to a fair sum. Anne noted that many schools don't realize how much the soil amounts to and other tools and materials are also quick to suck away any remaining budget. Luckily she has a few tips to help.
Pots - Have community members bring in their extras and any they have sitting around. I've never met anyone who didn't have plenty extra and though their will be a bunch of different sizes, each one will have its use and you learn to make do with what you get.
Seeds - Team up with local gardeners and horticultural societies and see what they can provide. They will be glad to help you get started and sure to support you along the way. Often, a membership will offer the extra benefit of a discount at local garden centers which can help when you need to purchase a thing or two.
Cuttings - Cuttings, like seeds, can be harvested from other plants which makes for lower costs, again, make sure to speak with local gardeners and see if they have any seeds or cuttings laying around. If they're anything like me, they'll have plenty to spare.
Lighting - You will require some lighting in the greenhouse and doing proper research to see what's available before purchasing lights will help you make the best decision regarding electricity use and effectiveness.
Heating - A greenhouse is rarely too cold. Even on cold days, a greenhouse will remain fairly warm. (Remember, I visited on a day where it was quite cold and even without heating, the temperature inside was quite comfortable). Now, STA does cover their benches in black cloth to help attract the heat and they also have water barrels inside which absorb heat in the day and release it at night but even without this extra heat retention the greenhouse would be warm. It's not the cold that you need to worry about so much as it getting too hot, plants will be killed if their isn't proper air flow. Therefore, only heat when necessary, you may be surprised to see how much heating the sun does for you (though a heating source is still needed).
Tools - Tools (which can be quite expensive) are necessary especially if you'd like to go beyond small hand tools. Since this will be another cost that adds up you need to set a budget and purchase things slowly, starting with the essentials and going from there. Anne recommends attending auctions and yard sales for cheap tools and advises against buying new unless its for a special project.
Of course there are other things you can do to lower the impact on the budget, like fundraising. All of those plants that you grow are going to have to go somewhere so why not sell off extras to offset costs or why not have a bake sale. There are all sorts of fundraisers that can be done to help with purchases and general costs. No matter what, schools need to realize that running a greenhouse will cause a net loss...unless you count the benefits to the students that is.
The last important consideration is bugs, a greenhouse is likely to have some critters move in and its important to know how to deal with them. First of all, Anne recommends freezing off the greenhouse through winter to minimize problems and adds that for greenhouses attached to schools, the likelihood of eliminating pest problems is limited.
It's also important to understand that bringing in and overwintering plants for community members or staff will increase the likelihood of pests and so this is ill advised. it is a problem which (even for freestanding greenhouses) will most likely never be fully eradicated but knowing which critters are good,, which are bad and how they will affect the health of your plants is a good place to start.
If your school had, has or doesn't have a greenhouse, I'd love to hear about it and what you think should be done. Comment below if you have any questions, I may not have an answer now, but I can get in touch with Anne and pass it along or...ask her next time I stop by, and hopefully by then the greenhouse will be full of flowers and greenery. Thanks for reading!!
To get updates on posts about my visits to schools and other fun stuff, sign up to my newsletter (learn more here).
I am simply a gardener who loves plants, nature, writing, photography, art and all things rustic, vintage and unique. Leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter! I'd love to hear from you!