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Burnet Middle School greenhouse program teaches students, raises eyebrows

Burnet Middle School greenhouse program

Plants galore are available during the Burnet Middle School plant sale from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, at the greenhouse located behind the middle school, 1401 N. Main St. in Burnet. Prices range from $1 to $8, and sales are cash or check only. Photo by Daniel Clifton

According to critiques of the Burnet Middle School greenhouse plant sale, the second of which is from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, the prices are too low, said agriculture science teacher Shelly Townsend. The benefits of the program, however, are priceless.

“They’re always telling me I set them too low, and I need to raise (the prices),” Townsend said with a smile. “Yes, the money we raise during the plant sale goes to fund my program, but I also want people to feel like they can get started in gardening without spending a lot of money.”

For most of the 23 years Townsend has taught at the middle school, the greenhouse program has held a spring plant sale. It’s become a two-day affair with one sale in early March and the second in late March. This year, after probably one of the most successful plant sales on record, Townsend pushed the second date back to Tuesday, April 5, to give students time to replenish their stock.

The sale is at the greenhouse behind the middle school, 1401 N. Main St. in Burnet. It is cash and/or check only.

The annual plant sale represents a community partnership between the school and the Highland Lakes Masters Gardener Association. Lavona Fry has been buying and helping at the middle school greenhouse program since its inception in 2005.

“It’s amazing what (Townsend) has done here with this program, and especially with the kids,” said Fry, who is one of the many Master Gardners who volunteer with the program. “The kids come in, and they don’t stand around waiting for her to tell them what to do. They know what to do, and they do it.”

Townsend said the partnership with the Master Gardners has not only helped her but the students as well. When a class of students is in the greenhouse, it’s hard for one person to keep an eye on each one or give them the assistance they may need.

“The Master Gardeners mean more eyes,” Townsend said. “When they’re in here, they work with the kids, showing them how to do cuttings and transplant plugs (small plants grown from seeds) into larger containers.”

Students grow every one of the thousands of plants, work that begins each fall when Townsend and the Master Gardeners collect plants from their own gardens that would otherwise die in the winter and bring them to the greenhouse. There, the plants are laid out on the tables.

“We show the kids how to cut them up,” Townsend said.

They take clippings from the plants and root them in small pots. Once the clippings form roots, they are transplanted into containers and cared for over the winter in preparation for the spring sale.

Plants are also grown from seeds.

“We plant about 6,000 seeds for (the sale),” Townsend said.

Once the clippings are rooted, the seedlings are sprouted, and the transplants are growing, students monitor the greenhouse and make sure conditions remain proper for continued healthy plant growth.

“There’s always something to do in the greenhouse,” Fry said.

During the sale, students learn the business side of running a greenhouse, helping customers choose and check out.

“This is such a great program,” Fry said. “The kids get a chance to learn so much, and not just growing plants, but customer service and how to work with people and each other. Mrs. Townsend has done such a great job with this. I’m just so proud to be a part helping with it.”

As for the plant price critique, Townsend said it’s one of the few things that raises the eyebrows of the Master Gardeners. Prices for the upcoming sale are $2 for a six-pack of vegetables, $1 for vegetables in 4-inch pots, $2 for bedding plants in 4-inch pots, and $8 for hanging baskets.