How do I start an educational greenhouse at school?

The United States Botanic Garden released a new manual for educators on how to start a greenhouse and grow horticultural crops.

A school greenhouse
School greenhouses are an excellent way to increase STEM education and teach youth about plants, food and agricultural career paths. Photo by Jeremy Jubenville, MSU Extension.

The Michigan agriculture industry is the second most diverse in the country, only behind California. The state leads the nation in the production of several crops, including asparagus, black beans, cucumbers, tart cherries, Niagara grapes, chestnuts, pickling cucumbers and squash. Michigan is third in the nation in apple production (1.05 billion pounds), Christmas trees (1.55 million trees) and floriculture (wholesale value of $467 million). Michigan agriculture contributes more than $104.7 billion annually to the states’ economy.

In order to sustain and grow Michigan agriculture, many intermediate school districts (ISD) or individual K-12 private or public schools are interested in building hoop houses or greenhouses in order to teach youth about plants, food and agriculture. Greenhouse education is one way to increase STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and get children interested in agricultural career paths.

Michigan State University Extension partners with many schools to provide 4-H education and enrichment. In addition to serving youth, MSU Extension also provides adult education and consultation for commercial growers of these vital Michigan agricultural crops. These school greenhouses are an area of overlap between our programming and the K-12 educators are often looking for basic resources on how to start a greenhouse and incorporate plant science into their curriculums.

The United States Botanic Garden, the National Association for Appropriate Technology, and City Blossoms recently released the “Greenhouse Manual: An Introductory Guide for Educators.” This guide provides K-12 educators information on how to start a greenhouse, budget template, greenhouse seeding planting schedule, and recommendations for managing plant health in a school environment.

According to Ray Mims with the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C., “Its purpose is to support and expand the planting and use of school gardens and greenhouses, Farm to School activities, and the integration of plant science in the curriculum.”

The manual lays out a basic understanding of greenhouses, how to integrate greenhouses into lessons, and how to use greenhouses in classroom curricula and after-school activities.

The manual can be downloaded for free on the United State Botanic Garden website and includes the following sections:

  • How This Manual Works--An Introduction
  • Part 1: A Strong Foundation--Getting Started
    • Factors to Consider about a Greenhouse
    • Designing for Your Climate
    • Connections to Standards and Evidence of Benefits
    • Spotlight: Grown By Kids, For Kids in Livingston, Montana
  • Part 2: The Best Greenhouse For You--Design & Budget
    • Questions to Ask in Preparation: What, Why, Where, When & How
    • Greenhouse Types
    • Infrastructure Elements: Temperature, Orientation, Ventilation & Light
    • Creating an Interior Layout
    • Hydroponics
    • Budgeting for a School Greenhouse
  • Part 3: Plants, Plants, Plants--Growing in Greenhouse
    • Planning with the School Year & Growing Season
    • Creating a Planting Schedule
    • Greenhouse Planting with Students
    • From Seed to Seedling: Soil, Water & Nutrients
    • Soil Mix Ingredients
    • Steps for Starting Seeds
    • Caring for Seedlings
    • Seedling Nutrition
    • Environmental & Space Factors
  • Problem Solving: Pest & Disease Management
    • Beneficial Insects
    • Pests
    • Tools for Managing Greenhouse Plant Diseases
    • Spotlight: Helping Hands in Washington, D.C.
  • Part 4: Let's Learn Together--Education & Engagement
    • Not Just Science! Creating a Larger Vision
    • Project-Based Learning
    • Time to Harvest: Connecting a School Greenhouse with a Farm-to-School Program
    • Spotlight: Growing Greens in Washington, D.C.
    • Budget Template
    • Greenhouse Seedling Planting Schedule
    • Succession Planting
    • Further Resources

For those looking for more in-depth education on specific topics, educators can enroll in one of our online College of Knowledge courses. MSU Extension offers the non-credit, prerecorded online courses in the College of Knowledge Series twice yearly (summer and winter). The online courses provide basic training to greenhouse growers in Michigan and beyond in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The courses are $129 each, however scholarships are available for those that need financial assistance.

The winter courses are already underway, but they will be open for registration for the summer session on May 1. Summer is often an excellent time for educators to learn about greenhouse production and crop management outside of the hustle of the school year. Those that are interested in the courses can sign up to receive an e-mail reminder when the course opens.

Courses available in the series:


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