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My high school has a large greenhouse that's sadly been neglected and unused for several years. The students have decided to organize a "garden club" and revive the greenhouse, and I'm the faculty sponsor. I've grown some plants in my own backyard garden, but running a classroom-sized greenhouse is beyond my expertise. Especially since we're starting from scratch! We have four walls, a roof, and some dreams. The club has begun to reach out to nurseries in the area (both local and big-box). Other than that, where can I look for more information or guidance? Are there books, websites, or programs covering this sort of thing that I should be aware of?

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    The biggest factor in greenhouse management, IMO, is whether the greenhouse is heated or not (assuming that you're in a cold-winter climate). Without heat, your options are limited - no tropicals/houseplants and no to few real winter activities (which is a good chunk of the school year). My school had a heated greenhouse, in which we grew houseplants/ tropicals (including a banana tree), cacti in a dedicated bench, and various experiments. A popular one was germinating food plant seeds for the students to take home, concentrating on container-friendly varieties.
    – Jurp
    Nov 23 '21 at 23:02
  • You need to have some idea what you want to do . Grow bedding plants from seed ? Grow cuttings like azalea for landscaping ? Grow trees in pots ? Grow house plants ? Grow plants for permanent residence in the green house? Your local climate will have a big affect on your choice. Likely there are some local ( commercial and attraction) greenhouses you could visit to see some options. Nov 25 '21 at 1:01
  • Depending what you use it for ; a sprinkler system could be a very large part of the operation. I picked this up from two friends who ran large commercial greenhouses. Nov 25 '21 at 1:06
  • The students would say "all of the above," but I don't know how to tell what's feasible. I wasn't kidding about the situation: we have four walls and a roof. No sprinklers, no heater, no equipment other than what we bring or buy ourselves (which will be pretty limited pending some sort of grant or donation). I do know we're zone 8a, though. Nov 27 '21 at 1:05
  • A greenhouse can freeze, or overheat and cook all the plants. Just make sure you have a plan for the coldest and hottest days.
    – Bryce
    Nov 29 '21 at 5:31
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This site from Michigan State University's excellent Extension office contains some information for you, but more importantly, also contains this link to the US Botanic Gardens new manual entitled the “Greenhouse Manual: An Introductory Guide for Educators.” It's a downloadable PDF.

Here is the Table of Contents:

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I also recommend getting more information on Integrated Pest Management than that provided by the manual, because your greenhouse will get pests at some point, and IPM is both an excellent idea at all times and a great way to teach students that the "Oh, I think I my garden has a bug! Let's grab the most toxic spray I can find to kill it!" mindset is horrible for the environment and self-defeating when solving pest problems.

Another resource for identifying pests both plant and animal is the "Ortho Problem Solver" reference, also known as The Big Book of Bugs. Ignore the advice to spray toxic stuff everywhere, though. This book can be very expensive, so look for a used version.

I think the manual I linked to will give you a very good start on your project, especially when you consult some of the many references included in Appendix 4.

I have fond memories of my high school's greenhouse (except maybe for the time I fell into the large Opuntia cactus while escaping from a hose-wielding fellow student), and I wish you the best of luck getting the greenhouse up and running!

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  • What a fantastic PDF and nice advice. Thank you! And concerning pests, we already have an ant problem. We've managed to get pests before getting any plants. Nov 27 '21 at 1:10
  • Glad I could be of help! Well, ants aren't a pest of greenhouse plants, but they do indicate that your greenhouse isn't sealed completely, which means heat loss during the winter. This makes sense because you have an older greenhouse.
    – Jurp
    Nov 27 '21 at 14:01
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Several conclusions from when my university decided to do this.

It's awesome. Keep it open to anyone who wants to help. Even 1 time - no club memberships, no promises - just make it easy. But always have a trusted club member oversee newbie activities. Both for security reasons and - more importantly - about team management issues (what to do is the hardest question).

You need a shed for all the tools. Get a combination lock so everyone from the club knows the combination but no keys are involved.

You need at least one person with actual gardening experience. Find someone somehow.

Labels. Chose on a labeling scheme. Each seeded area must be labeled.

Compost. A compost pile is a great idea.

After the first year read up on which plants should be planted after which other plants. Crop rotation.

Consider what would be valuable to grow. E.g. around our place potatoes were dirt cheap while parsley and dill costed a fortune.

Last but not least: have tons of fun!

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  • Thank you for the tips! I particularly like the labeling and combination lock ideas. Nov 27 '21 at 1:06
  • @GreenhouseNoob the labeling thing is important for 2 reasons. One, insist something has been seeded here - this avoids someone else accidentally destroying a freshly seeded area. Two, weeding - when weeds move in and create utter chaos, to know what plant is supposed to be the only thing not weeded out.
    – Vorac
    Nov 27 '21 at 2:26
  • Another point about labeling - ENGRAVE the school's name on the tools (you can get a handheld engraving pen pretty inexpensively: amazon.com/General-Tools-505-Cordless-Precision/dp/B004YK66NM/…). This will have some deterrence against theft. Tools WILL disappear occasionally, so I'd put "tool replacement" in the budget every year.
    – Jurp
    Nov 27 '21 at 14:00
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    I disagree a bit about the "no club, no memberships" advice given here, but this really is determined by the greenhouse's location. My school was built around an unused inner courtyard, with no access except from a classroom. If yours is in a more public- & student-accessible location, then the "no clubs" advice will work, but only during specific hours. Leaving the house unlocked is a recipe for disaster, so you'll need a student club member to be on-hand during "public" hours (after school, maybe Saturdays, maybe before school). Could be a project for the students (e.g. public speaking)
    – Jurp
    Nov 27 '21 at 14:06
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    To continue - let the students decide how much access to grant others, and when. I would still have a club, but of course it should not be something that restricts all non-club students from accessing the greenhouse (or your club will die when those students graduate). The tradeoff is in how much access should be granted to any random student who wants to drop by. Having it open to the actual public is also a great idea (the public speaking part of the project), but this depends on the size (ours was maybe 15' x 20', so of no real interest outside the school).
    – Jurp
    Nov 27 '21 at 14:12

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