High school biology classes grasp the science of agriculture
HUGHESVILLE – Learning is fun and why wouldn’t it be, when you learn how to grow your own food, then get to enjoy it weeks later in the same classroom where you grew it! These thoughts were expressed eagerly by the students in Lisa Strouse’s biology class at Hughesville High School. Structured in plant biology and the science of agriculture, Strouse’s science class is popular and also an elective course where students can earn credits.
In the school yard, students Brandon Blackwell and Michael Richart said they take care of the garden they started since the beginning of the school year. “We started a compost pile in August by using pallets,” said Brandon. With the help of Richart, the boys said they layered the compost pile from nitrogen-filled greens, grass clippings and high carbon hay. “No meat, and it had to be done before winter,” replied Richart.
A miniature greenhouse of raised beds with a hooped cover was built by LCTC students which they finished last May. This year the students began planting the garden with cold crops they started from seed such as radishes, kale, and spinach. Lettuce was grown hydroponically inside the classroom and produced a bountiful spring harvest. Randi Kaiser said they enjoyed a salad party on Tuesday, April 4th, and what a variety they produced, as she pointed to the large leaves hanging over the sides of the containers that sat on top of water trays and stones. Her favorite is the ‘red sails’ lettuce. Grow lights strategically manage the lighting.
“Nothing is as satisfying to eat, or as good when you grow it yourself!” exclaimed Kaiser who is looking at agriculture as a possible career.
Not only that, the students are growing worms and fertilizer inside the classroom, known as “vermicomposting.” Emily Worrall, a Junior, said, “These are red wigglers.” They added coffee grounds and newspaper clippings. “They live in organic matter,” said Emily. Their worm castings are an amendment to the soil. “It is like black gold.” Worrall said she took an environmental science class last year and wanted to learn more about hydroponics. “It is the ‘how-to’ of urban agriculture,” she added. Strouse, who is also a certified Master Gardener, said a product called “rock wool” is used for hydroponic growing which consists of clay pellets. The seed is planted down inside, then the seedlings are placed on top. Roots grow into the water which is a nutrient solution. “We also grow micro-greens, swiss chard, and arugula with a spice to it,” said Strouse who also teaches chemistry and environmental science.
Students also learn how to test soil and its PH balance.
All of this came from a grant two years ago, according to Strouse, through the East Lycoming Education Foundation. A club was also started, called Envirothon, of which Strouse is advisor. It is open to students in grades 9 through 12 and teams of 5 compete nationally. They are challenged in six categories: aquatic biology, wildlife, forestry, soils and land use, current issues and an oral component in front of a panel of judges. Outside resources are used such as field trips, conservation officers, and guest speakers.
Strouse said her goal is to have an outdoor classroom with pollintators, rain gardens, more raised beds and a larger walk-in hoop house. “It will be a school garden, not a community garden,” she added. It will be used for classroom purposes and for outdoor environmental wildlife.
Currently the students and Strouse are getting ready for the public plant sale which is held every year in their greenhouse. This year it will be held May 12 and May 13, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
There is a large selection of hanging plants with miniature petunias, impatiens, bocopa, and verbena.
Vegetables and other annuals are being added each week. “We planted 750 whopper tomatoes plus 6 other different varieties,” Strouse said. About 60 students are taking care of the plants.