Green: This isn’t your usual wrapping-paper-and-candy fundraiser.
Horticulture students at Portage Lakes Career Center have been putting their skills to work since late summer to grow poinsettias, which the students are now selling to raise money for their academic program.
Recently, the two greenhouses on the school’s grounds were awash in the reds, whites and pinks of approximately 800 plants awaiting the annual sale, which started this week. The greenhouses are open to customers during school hours for the first-come, first-served sale.
The project has long been an annual undertaking for the center’s plant, landscape and turf management program. The sale helps pay for field trips, sending students to competitions, equipment, supplies and other expenses that benefit the students, said the program’s instructor, Ryan McMichael.
But it’s not just a money maker. “This is basically a laboratory,” he said.
The project gives students practical experience in various aspects of greenhouse work and builds a work ethic, McMichael explained. They learn the bottom line can suffer if plants aren’t watered properly, if pests go unaddressed, if prices are too high or too low.
This year’s fundraiser started back in February, when students used data from last year’s sale and information about new varieties to determine the types and numbers of poinsettias to order for this year. They also figured the costs associated with growing the plants and used that information to set prices, McMichael said.
Then in late August, tiny plant starts about the size of an index finger arrived from the grower, Barco Sons Inc. near Medina. The students spent three or four days transplanting them into larger pots in preparation for nurturing them to maturity.
“From there it’s the students’ responsibility to maintain them, care for them,” McMichael said. That process involves not just watering and fertilizing the plants, but identifying pests, calculating fertilizer and pesticide ratios and treating plants that show signs of insect or disease damage.
White flies were their biggest nemesis, McMichael said, and they also did battle with fungus gnats and a little bit of root rot. The students try to minimize pesticide use, but “in a greenhouse setup it’s hard to go completely chemical-free,” he said.
Although the seniors handle most of the business aspects of the sale, all nine of the juniors and seniors in the program are involved in raising the plants.
One of the biggest challenges, McMichael said, is controlling light. The school parking lot adjacent to the greenhouses needs to be lighted at night for safety, but that could be the ruin of a light-sensitive poinsettia crop.
So the students spent their first days of the school year hanging black fabric inside the greenhouses to block the parking lot lights and allow the poinsettias to get the 12 hours of darkness they require for their first few months.
“We’re up and down ladders, and we’re moving. … Kids get tired of it pretty quick,” McMichael said with a laugh.
Sometimes pieces of fabric would fall, requiring the students to maneuver around tables filled with hundreds of plants so they could rehang the fabric. Eventually the fabric had to come back down to give the plants the additional light they need to produce flower buds, a process that prompts the bracts to turn from green to their signature colors.
Despite all the work, senior Logan Vincent, 17, found the process rewarding. “You can see the beauty kind of coming out,” said Vincent, who lives in the Manchester area of New Franklin.
Senior Dillon Siers said he was proud of the results of the work he and his fellow students put into the project, including building tables to replace the old benches that used to hold the plants.
“We don’t just buy them and sell them [the plants],” said Siers, 17, of Springfield Township. “We have to take care of them.”
Six varieties of poinsettias are available — red, white, pink and a peachy color called cinnamon, as well as a marbled white and pink poinsettia and a white plant with unusual curled foliage called Winter Rose White. A seventh variety, the speckled poinsettia Jingle Bells, sold out early from advance orders.
McMichael said the students offer only natural-color poinsettias, not the painted poinsettias some retailers sell.
The poinsettia sale isn’t the only experience the students get in commercial growing. They already have flower bulbs chilling in preparation for raising Easter lilies, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths to sell in March.
And later in the school year they’ll raise flats of annuals and hanging flower baskets for sale at spring planting time. They’re currently planning which seeds and cuttings to order for the spring sale, and they’ll start planting after winter break, McMichael said.
He said the plant-growing experience, along with the other knowledge the students gain in the program, is intended to prepare them to work in the greenhouse industry or pursue college degrees in areas such as greenhouse management or plant science.
And in the process, they’re making the world just a little more cheerful.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.