April 22, 2010

Greenhouse growing is a gas

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Nothing is coming up roses for Tom Venhaus – mostly because there are no rose bushes growing in the Pinkerton Academy greenhouse. However, the Jet Star tomatoes are out of this world, and the impatiens are wasting no time as they progress from seedling to spectacular.
This particular day, Venhaus is spending the first part of his Greenhouse Management class watering the neatly planted rows and pots brimming with plantlife – from Red Soldier perennial astilbe to and Curly Wurly to several varieties of chili peppers and cucumbers.
Watering is crucial at this stage of the game, said teacher Michelle Nadeau. Pinkerton Academy's Horticulture Technology curriculum is one of several offerings within the Career and Technical Education program. Her students learn the art and science of plants.
“And I sneak in some math – like fertilzer ratios,” Nadeau said. “Kids sometimes wonder how they'll ever use something like that in real life, and ferilizer ratios is a direct application.”
The greenhouse heats up fast on sunny spring days and the seedlings are loving in, sucking nutrients and moisture from their little peat pods with great purpose, in an effort to be all they can be.
Jessie Wasner has been given a list of plants. One of the social studies teachers has placed a large order and he is hoping to take his seedlings home before spring vacation. As she gathers up his plants, Wasner discovers that Tiny Tim tomatoes would be hard to discern from Tumbling Toms, without good labeling. Fortunately her fellow students have that covered. Laminated signs are placed with their corresponding crop of seedlings, to keep the plants in order – and to inform the plant-buying public.
Everything will go on sale the week after school vacation at dirt cheap prices – $3 potted perennials and herbs, and vegetables $4 a dozen.
“We're doing mock sales today. They're getting used to the cash registers and practicing talking to people,” said Nadeau. “I say it every year, because it's true: they get a great sense of pride in this whole experience. It's like having their own business.”
Many students go on to UNH's Thompson School of Applied Science, which offers two- and four-year programs. Wasner and Venhaus have other career goals – she is thinking about graphic design, and he is interested in criminal justice.
Still, none of this is wasted on them.
“It's a life skill,” said Nadeau. “And I try to get a wide variety of plants – some of them exotic – so that they have exposure to all kinds of plants. Like these,” she says, stroking the tendrils of a juncus effusus, aka corkscrew rush, aka curly wurly, a decorative grass that prevents erosion.

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