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Combat the Winter Blues While Giving Back at the Live and Learn Greenhouse

January, 2019
  • Lady bugs are one of the natural ways the greenhouse volunteers control pests.
    Lady bugs are one of the natural ways the greenhouse volunteers control pests.
  • A gorgeous red pepper is ripe for picking in the greenhouse.
    A gorgeous red pepper is ripe for picking in the greenhouse.
  • Nothing is better than fresh strawberries in winter.
    Nothing is better than fresh strawberries in winter.
  • The PTK Live and Learn Greenhouse
    The PTK Live and Learn Greenhouse is full of plants.
  • A water filtration system is used to remove any chemicals from the water.
    A water filtration system is used to remove any chemicals from the water.
  • Every drop of space is being utilized at the Live and Learn Greenhouse.
    Every drop of space is being utilized at the Live and Learn Greenhouse.

When the days of winter seem endless and you feel that one more day of winter just might be one day too many, the volunteers at the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Live and Learn Greenhouse suggest you stop by and see what’s growing. While the trees, grass, and plants around campus are dormant and under a blanket of icy snow, the PTK Live and Learn Greenhouse is alive with color, warmth and many, many plants that are growing throughout the year. According to PTK student and current Greenhouse Manager Vanessa Hanger, there are lots of plants being grown, with the produce being used to help feed those in need within the QCC community. Everything that is grown is either donated to QCC’s Food Pantry or given to someone in the QCC community.

“Our goal is to grow produce for people in need. Produce is expensive. Everything we grow is donated to the college community. Nothing goes to waste,” Ms. Hanger said.

Heathy Eating Means Healthy Plantings

The greenhouse is a completely organic one. Plants are not treated with pesticides, but use natural ways such as lady bugs, which eat many nuisance pests such as aphids. The lady bugs cause no harm to the plants and help to keep them healthy.  A water filtration system is also used to remove any chemicals from the water, ensuring clean water for the plants. This semester worms are being brought in to help with the growing process. They will be placed in a bin with holes in the bottom and fed with food scrapes.

“The digestive juices that the red wiggler worms excrete while eating will pass through the holes in the bottom of the bin. We will collect and dilute the juice before using it to fertilize the plants,” Ms. Hanger said. “It’s like liquid gold.”  

This semester they are looking into a camera that can take time lapse images showing the growth of the plants. Sensors are also going to be placed in the greenhouse that will not only now monitor the temperature, but also the humidity. In addition, new greenhouse volunteer Kevin Johns is working with QCC alum Thomas Rokicki on greenhouse automation and updating the website.

Currently the greenhouse is chock full of plants that include peppers, herbs, cucumbers, chives, strawberries and limes in different stages of growth. When the weather gets better, Ms. Hanger said the food pantry volunteers will plant outside, utilizing planters. Compatible plants such as different types of lettuce, tomatoes, basil and strawberries will be planted.

All College Volunteer Opportunity

Volunteers in the greenhouse include a variety of students (students who are in PTK, as well as those not in PTK), a QCC alum who is now a student at Worcester State University, in addition to faculty and staff. There are a variety of teams that volunteers can choose to be on such as Data Analytics, Engineering, Harvesting/Pruning, Research/Fertilization and Transplantation.

Current greenhouse volunteers include:

  • Thomas Rokicki: QCC alum
  • Annette Tolle: Staff
  • Archana Mudbidri: Faculty
  • Kevin Johns
  • Alex Sandberg
  • Carli Boudreau
  • Daniel Gangemi
  • Eunice Asare
  • Isabella Rodriguez
  • Jamilex Rivas
  • Kayla Bardell
  • Moesha Nugent
  • Santana Wright
  • James Barter
  • Mariam Mohammed

“Our focus is building the team of volunteers. This is available to the whole college. Previous botany experience is not required. This is all on a volunteer basis. Students are not getting any credit for this; they are doing this because they believe in giving back to the college community ,” Ms. Hanger said. “We’d love to have more faculty and staff members participate. This is a great opportunity for mentoring as well as giving back.”

While there is much going on at the greenhouse, the small space is limiting to what can be grown. Discussions are currently going on about building a new, much larger greenhouse (16' - 9 1/2" x 20' - 10 1/2").  PTK has already raised the funds to purchase the new greenhouse, which would quadruple the amount of produce that can be grown, according to PTK Advisor Bonnie Coleman.

Anyone interested in volunteering can reach out to Greenhouse Manager Vanessa Hanger at vhanger [at] qmail.qcc.edu.