You might call it seed money.

The horticulture club students at Abilene High School plant seeds, plugs and cuttings. They sell the resulting plants, and the proceeds go directly back into growing the program and the two greenhouses, said Zachary Cooper who teaches agriculture and advises the horticulture club and the FFA program at AHS.

All a garden needs

If you were late starting your tomato or vegetable seeds, no worries. The club is selling tomato, cucumber, watermelon, zucchini and cantaloupe plants, ready to put in the ground.

There will be lettuce, basil and cilantro.

Landscapers can buy everything from aloe to zinnias, including begonias, impatiens, purple fountain grass, dracena, geraniums, phlox, asters, marigolds, vinca and blanket flowers, among others.

Customers can purchase them as individual plants or in hanging baskets.

The students will be manning the greenhouse sales after school, from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 1-3 Saturdays and Sundays from Tuesday through April 30.

“Everything you see, the kids did,” Cooper said. “Strictly a horticulture-student-focused operation.”

The students set prices and decided how warm to set the greenhouses.

The horticulture club is made up of the students in the horticulture and greenhouse management classes Cooper teaches. Most are seniors, and the greenhouse management students are in the program for a second year.

Last year’s profits were a little more than $2,000.

Water works

“The goal is to generate money to do more interesting class subjects such as hydroponics and aquaponics,” Cooper said. This is his first year teaching at AHS.

Patti O’Malley, from Cedar House, told Cooper they were replacing the goldfish in their aquaponic system and asked if he want them? Cedar House has an aquaponics system set up as a part of therapy in their own greenhouse, Cooper said. Cedar House also has a plant sale, open on weekends.

O’Malley not only provided the goldfish, she helped set up the AHS aquaponic system.

Aquaponics can be considered organic. Instead of putting fertilizer in the water tank below the growing tank, you put fish, Cooper said. The plants are in the upper tank, in a bed of expanded clay pebbles.

“When the fish pee, they produce ammonia,” he said. “The ammonia is changed into nitrite and then nitrate.

“The nitrate form is when the plants are able to uptake it. If the plants don’t take it up, it stays in the water, which harms the fish. The plants filter out the water and make it safe for the fish to stay in there. As long as the fish get fed, these plants get fed.”

A hose floods the rock bed, then the water drains below, then floods again. When the system is fully functional, the plants will provide food for the fish, which now need to be fed, and the goldfish will be replaced with tilapia and catfish.

“Basically, I can step away from the system and it will continue to grow without me fertilizing or watering anything,” Cooper said.

The plants in the pebble beds are mostly tomatoes, with at least one cucumber, and the tomatoes are blooming and producing fruit.

Aquaponics differs from hydroponics in which the plants are grown in water. The greenhouse also has a hydroponic system, now growing lettuce.

Because fertilizer needs to be added to a hydroponic system, it is not considered organic, Cooper said.

Looking for change

He hopes to use plant sale profits for some other projects, as well.

The greenhouses are functional, Cooper said, but they do need TLC, since parts of them are 30-plus years old.

“My goal is to make a them little bit bigger and keep on growing, because the more the greenhouses grow, the more opportunities for students to learn,” he said.

That would let the students grow more plants and better prepare them for competitions, which would help with career development.

The greenhouse management students went to Belleville April 15 for a landscaping nursery contest and a horticulture contest. Challenges included identifying 125 plants, doing a floral arrangement, setting up a landscape and answering a 50-question test.

It’s also important to FFA, which Cooper also advises.

“If you’re going to grow the plant, you might as well learn how to take care of it, how to ID the plant,” he said. “If you’re learning all that, you might as well learn how to make it a career.”

Contact Jean Bowers at

Contact Tim Horan at

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