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RHS students thriving in greenhouse

By Staff | Mar 28, 2014

Tim Chapman/PCT Rugby High School junior Madison Schmaltz sits near the horticulture class hydroponics project in the school’s greenhouse. Students can see their vegetables’ roots thrive in the water.

In a very small space at Rugby High School, winter is no more.

Stroll through the school’s greenhouse and you’ll likely break a sweat. Lynne Ostrem and Terry Jelsing oversee a group of RHS students in T-shirts and maybe even a few pairs of shorts.

The students are hard at work in their horticulture class, experimenting with vegetables grown through hydroponics – a method of growing plants in water mixed with mineral nutrient solutions. Despite the lack of soil, vibrant shades of leafy green are abundant in the tiny hothouse.

“The nutrients you put in the water goes right into the plant instead of with soil where the plant has to work for it,” RHS junior Devin Volk said.

Volk and classmate Morgan Clements are taking on the most ambitious project of the class with an Atlantic pumpkin. These pumpkins can grow up to 300 pounds. Other pairs of students are also busy with vegetables, which were planted about a month ago. Tomatoes, California wonder peppers, cucumbers, buttercup squash, Swiss chard, basil and cilantro are among the plants being grown out of storage containers.

At the National Future Farmers of America convention last fall, Ostrem saw colleges around the country were setting up hydroponics operations. The idea was planted and the RHS greenhouse was soon being used to its full capacity for the first time.

“I called around and nobody’s done this in the state,” Ostrem said. “This was a whole new opportunity for the students and they had to build from the ground up.”?Jesling said the class is serving as a vehicle for life skills because the students have been a part of the entire process, including writing a grant for $500 from the state’s FFA Foundation Board.

The grant money helped with the purchasing of the mineral solutions, storage containers for the water and roots, trellises and the substrates. Students could choose from limestone to ground coconut for their mediums, which allow the roots to find their way down to the water.

“We’ve learned a lot about plants and nutrients and what they need to grow in the environment here,” RHS junior Jessica Nordlie said. “I was really surprised by how well they grew in water and chemicals because whenever I think of plants I think dirt and water.”

The class has one glass tank, which allows the students to see the roots expanding below the medium and plants.

“It’s cheating winter a little bit,” Jelsing said. “One of the nice things about this winter is seeing the green growing. Anybody can put these (systems) in their house.”?The students have charts to follow to know how much nutrient solution plants need at different stages and how much light should be used.

“I wasn’t really interested at first,” Clements said. “When I thought of horticulture, I thought of soil, but this is really interesting and has me thinking about horticulture.”

Said Volk: “I joined because my dad is a farmer and I wanted to learn how to grow plants. I’ve very much enjoyed being in this class.”

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