Many schools have beautiful greenhouses that were built to allow students to study botany and gardening through meaningful hands on experiential learning. However, many of these greenhouses fall by the wayside during the cold winter months simply because we don’t know what to do with them! Teachers and students should consider taking on the challenge of maintaining crops throughout the winter.
Environmental science club members at Purnell School began to restore the greenhouse on campus. Students planted herbs, kale, cabbage, potatoes and garlic that they will harvest throughout the winter. They also planted a few hardy flowers such as pansies, snapdragons and evergreens. They hope the greenhouse will be an invigorating sight to walk past throughout the winter!
The challenges of maintaining a greenhouse through a cold winter are organically controlling fungal diseases and keeping temperatures above freezing. Most schools will not heat their greenhouses during the winter, but it is still possible to maintain crops. Look up techniques for your area and climate and consider if a winter greenhouse project could be right for your school!
Purnell students are currently researching the following winter green house gardening techniques:
1. A fan to circulate warm air down from the top of the greenhouse
2. Dark rocks to hold heat
3. Minimal watering to keep roots dry and free of fungus
4. Large, dark barrels filled with water to take advantage of water’s specific heat capacity
5. Possibly placing a compost bin in the greenhouse
6. Weighing options for insulating the greenhouse
The project is allowing students to think with a homestead mindset and forcing them to think critically about how to creativity solve problems. Club leader, Taylor Williams, notes, “The process is more important than the outcome here. I hope we have beautiful plants throughout the winter, but watching the students work together and apply their knowledge to the challenge is the real yield”.