Baldwin’s Bounty

RHS agrisciene programs continuing to grow

By John Underwood / john@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 2/17/17

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — After months of trial and error, the agrisciene program at Robertsdale High School is now flourishing and it is continuing to grow.

“Nobody is really doing this type of …

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Baldwin’s Bounty

RHS agrisciene programs continuing to grow

Posted

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — After months of trial and error, the agrisciene program at Robertsdale High School is now flourishing and it is continuing to grow.

“Nobody is really doing this type of thing from an educational standpoint, so it’s been a learning process,” said RHS agriscience teacher John Manning of RHS’s hydroponics greenhouse program.

After struggling to get off the ground, is now completing its third crop of lettuce and is rotating about six crops with 1,200 to 1,500 individual plants growing in two-week intervals.

“We have some seeds that are in various beginning stages of germination, then we have some that are about two weeks old, some four weeks old and some five to six weeks old,” Manning said, adding that he hopes by the end of the year to double that number to about 3,000 plants.

A few years ago, RHS received a $300,000 federal grant, which was spent on equipment and materials to build two greenhouses on campus and students were invited by local farmers Joel and Allen Sirmon to observe and copy their hydroponics system.

Classes are currently operating two growing systems. A tray system, which takes the plants from the germination stage through to harvest, and a bucket system, which currently includes about 45 plants with hopes of also doubling that number by the end of the year.

Each system circulates water through a series of tubes to keep the plants hydrated and growing.

While the tray system is still primarily lettuce, Manning said the program has added tomatoes, peppers and eggplants to the bucket growing system.

Not all the plants are flourishing, Manning said, but that is all part of learning.

“We’re having the students experiment with various types of fertilizers in varying levels to see what works best for what plants,” Manning said. “We’ve also purposefully introduced disease in some of the systems so that students can learn to deal with those problems when they arise.”

In an interview back in September, Manning said the entire system is broken down and rebuilt each semester so that a new crop of students can learn the cutting-edge techniques.

“We start out in the classroom,” Manning said. “Everything we do is safety first, so we spend a lot of time on safety and proper technique before students are ever allowed to use the equipment.”

Time is also spent developing a plan for what students will be growing and how to grow it, Manning said. Students then begin to work the plan, from germinating seeds in a tray system, to planting in a bucket system, which circulates water through the system, to harvesting plants.

“It’s starting to come together,” Manning said. “Our ultimate goal is still to be able to produce a variety of crops and set up a vegetable stand so that students can also learn the business aspect of it.”

Each semester, Manning said, he has about 170 students, from freshmen to seniors, participate in the program from RHS. In addition, students from Jeff Kelley’s classes from the South Baldwin Center for Technology, which also includes students from Foley, Gulf Shores and Fairhope, in the program.

In addition to the greenhouses, there are two garden plots, a small 40-foot square plot located in front of the school, and a 100-foot, by 40-foot plot located behind the RHS baseball/softball complex.

There is also a pond system on campus which can be used for aquaculture, Manning said.

In addition to greenhouse management, Manning also teaches lawn maintenance and sports field management classes. They assist in maintaining all of the school grounds and ballfields and are in the process of developing a three-acre driving range.

“It’s all about placing these kids in a position to succeed,” Manning said, “that if they are willing to work hard and make that commitment, they can have a good career ahead of them.”