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LCHS greenhouse gets jump on spring planting

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Students grow plants to market

By Ron Benningfield

Small seedlings bask in soothing warmth inside LaRue County High School’s greenhouse.

“We start seeding the week we get back from Christmas break,” said Misty Bivens, in her eighth year as an agriculture teacher at LCHS. “We plant in germination flats and then transfer to the final containers.”

She has 30 students gaining green thumbs in her Greenhouse Technology class, but many others who aren’t enrolled in that class help out.

“Probably another 50 students will help at one time or another in different ways,” Bivens said. “It’s generally not greenhouse students who help sell plants on Saturdays.”

Sales usually start two weeks before Derby Day, their prices competitive with other area growers. Tomatoes are, by far, the most popular plants purchased.

“We’ve started growing a few herbs because of requests, but most people who come for vegetables want tomato plants; we have lots of people who want wave petunias, too,” she said.

Bivens offered some advice on providing plants with their best chance to live once they’re purchased.

“One mistake people make is buying plants before they are ready for them,” she said. “Most plants won’t require being put in water after purchase, but they will require being watered if they won’t be set out immediately.”

Being ready to plant also means that the gardeners have properly prepared the soil and that they fertilize properly.

“It’s generally best to fertilize when you plant and then to let the plants have a few days to become acclimated to their new home before they are fertilized again,” she said. “Often stress is a major factor in plant loss in the early days.”

Her students sow seeds in soil that is used both for germination and planting.

“It’s actually a tobacco mix that has worked well for us the past several years,” she said.

Because of customer demands, the greenhouse stays traditional in its offerings.  

“We have added ornamental sweet potato vines this year and generally some colors will change from year to year, but we don’t get too wild on our items,” Bivens said.  

Money raised from plant sales goes to fund the next year’s greenhouse supplies. Bivens grades her students not on how well the plants do, but how well her students do.

“It is very easy to find jobs to do in the greenhouse, so there is generally something everyone can be doing,” she said. “They are graded on work in the classroom, work in the greenhouse, and on tests.”

Through the greenhouse experience, many of the students learn the value of working to create something. For them, it’s exciting to see what they created from small seeds.

Over the years, several of her former students have returned to the greenhouse to buy plants.

“Many of these students may not use their knowledge about the greenhouse directly, but they are using it to take care of their own hanging basket or other plants,” she said.