New greenhouse will help educate gardeners
  
March 31, 2005
MARY GREESON
Victoria County
Master Gardener

The Victoria County Master Gardener Association has a new baby - and it's a big one! It's a 28-foot x 30-foot greenhouse. It has been a dream of many of the master gardeners - and it became a reality this winter. This greenhouse will be different from commercial greenhouses in that it will be used for education of the Victoria County master gardeners and the public.

The greenhouse committee is learning propagation techniques, along with fertilization and pesticide application. The plants propagated in the greenhouse will be evaluated based not only on the top green growth, but also the root structure. These experiences will be shared with the rest of the master gardeners periodically during the year. Some plants will be transplanted into the Victoria Educational Gardens, and some will be grown for the twice-yearly sales. The master gardeners will study and inform the public about growing plants in a greenhouse environment rather than in the ground. They will also study how to deal with typical greenhouse problems, such as damping off, other fungi, ventilation, watering systems, changing temperatures and fertilization. At the end of the year, product effectiveness and cost efficiency will be evaluated.

School groups have enjoyed touring the education gardens, and this year the greenhouse can be added to the tour. Children who are home-schooled can find interesting educational opportunities and experience horticulture first-hand.

The new greenhouse is an Atlas brand Snow Arch series greenhouse with galvanized structural and framing components to resist corrosion. The greenhouse roof and lower side knee walls are covered with double thickness 6-millimeter (0.006-inch) thick polyethylene film, which is UV stabilized. This should last three to four years. For the roof, an air blower will provide inflation between the poly layers, which in turn will provide some weather insulation. The roof is also covered with 55 percent shade cloth for temperature and plant protection.

The ends of the greenhouse are covered with DynaGlass SE polycarbonate panels, which are more rigid and should be permanent. Each end has a 4-foot by 7-foot sliding door. Greenhouse ventilation is an important factor in particular for South Texas weather. A roof ridge vent was installed along with 6-foot roll-up side curtains that raise or lower depending upon the temperature inside the greenhouse. There are also two fans suspended from the ceiling to aid in ventilation.

The new greenhouse has a French drain around the perimeter of the greenhouse to siphon excess water from the greenhouse. A variable mister system has been installed with the options to regulate which days of the week, cycle duration and time of day the system runs. This should aid in temperature control during the hot summer months as well as keeping the seeds, seedlings and cuttings moist year-round. A gas heater is presently being installed to aid with the winter chill. Lastly, eight galvanized metal 4-foot by 10-foot portable benches are positioned in the greenhouse to hold the plants.

This greenhouse was built completely by master gardeners and totally funded through the generosity of Crossroads Foundation, the Trull Foundation, Citizens Medical Center for electrical and heating expertise, and the generous contributions of Drs. Gaalla, Chandna and Parikh for flooring materials. All of these groups and individuals came to the rescue when the greenhouse project needed helping hands.

Interested gardeners can view the greenhouse while they are touring the education gardens. Just as in every other area of the gardens, there will be additional information located inside the mailbox just outside the greenhouse entry. There will be a more detailed description of the greenhouse itself located in the mailbox. In the coming months, any trials in progress will be outlined and made available for viewing.

Since the master gardener association is a non-profit educational organization, fund-raising is required to support its projects. Two major fund-raisers are the spring and fall plant sales that are held in conjunction with other master gardener projects and activities, namely the Annual Garden Tour in the spring and the Fall Gardening Symposium. The greenhouse supports these sales by providing healthy plants to sell at these events.

So, put Saturday, April 30 on your calendar for the Master Gardener Plant Sale to be held in conjunction with the Annual Garden Tour and additional Highlighted Plant Sale. As in the past, many of the plants are Master Gardener grown and cared for from home gardens or the educational gardens. This year, there will be still others that have been nurtured in the greenhouse environment. Several thousand plants are anticipated at this year's sale. And don't forget that there will be various plants from each of the gardens on tour marked as highlighted plants for their suitability to design and care in this area. Many of these plants will also be available at reduced prices at the plant sale near the education gardens at Victoria Regional Airport. Come early as the "early birds" will challenge you at the door.

In the meantime, interested in building your own greenhouse? Come see this one. Not that it is perfect for every garden or every gardener's intent, but it will surely provide ideas for proper design and management. Interested in just growing plants, especially in a greenhouse environment? Then, contact the Victoria County Extension office at 361-575-4581 to join the 2005 Master Gardener Training Class to be taught this August until mid-December. Become a Master Gardener ... and dig right in! The greenhouse is the pride of the master gardeners at the education gardens - and will provide a horticultural educational learning facility for the community.

Lastly, it is truly gratifying to see what can be grown from such a tiny cutting or portion of a plant. Come out to the educational gardens for a tour and see what's growin' - whether it be for experimental purposes, for plants in the educational gardens, or for the sale at the upcoming plant sale in conjunction with the Annual Garden Tour on April 30. Tour tickets will be available throughout the community starting next week. Admission to the plant sale, of course, remains free. See you in the gardens and at the sale.