Seeding Success with Horticulture

Horticulture and Special Needs

Horticulture is the art, science, technology, and business of growing plants. It includes simple, repetitive, and time consuming tasks such as seeding and transplanting. It also includes complex knowledge of plant science and business management. Managers of horticulture enterprises often wear many hats to run a successful business. One of the most difficult things managers face is the issue of affordable and competent labor for even the simplest of tasks.

Apopka, Florida, known as the “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World”, faces the same needs and challenges as all growers. They need good labor to remain competitive in the global industry.  The University of Florida even has the Mid Florida Research and Education Center located in Apopka to support the robust horticulture industry!

Students preparing the hydroponic nutrient solution.

Now, let’s move into the City of Orlando, home of Morning Star Catholic School, a school for special needs students. Morning Star has a vibrant garden and commercial kitchen learning space. Students love learning, hands- on, how to grow plants and prepare foods for healthy living. The school teaches a wide range of students with goals of preparing a special few for the workforce! There is a group of kids “in transition” ages 18- 23, where the school focuses on learning real- world experiences.

Teaching with Hydroponics

UF/IFAS Extension works with many community partners, and the business that works with the Morning Star garden, Seed2Source, reached out with an opportunity. Dr. Liz Felter and I leapt at the chance to provide training for these special kids.

These students with special needs could be perfect for seeding and transplanting tasks for the foliage industry in Apopka. Unlike the average Joe who may find these repetitive tasks to be a bit monotonous, these special young adults find a sense of accomplishment in each tray seeded or seedling delicately transplanted.

I have a very simple hydroponic method that I teach to children and adults alike. Dr. Felter and I worked with Morning Star teachers and Seed2Source to provide a field trip and educational program on “Set it and Forget it Hydroponics”.

We observed the students and adapted the lesson to the simple and repetitive tasks that happen in real greenhouses every day. The goal for Morning Star is to get the students in a vehicle, drive to an unfamiliar place, learn, and then perform the skills learned in the new environment. So, the students rode out to Apopka, “the country” in their words, learned a new lesson in a real laboratory, and then started growing plants using hydroponic techniques.

We taught them about photosynthesis, how plants eat light. Then, we practiced planting seeds in grow cubes. Next, we made a nutrient solution to grow strong and healthy plants. Finally, we transplanted seedlings into the gallon jug with the nutrient solution.

These students performed each and every step with meticulous precision. They were also very careful and clean, which was great for us, the teachers! We look forward to seeing what opportunities may emerge after this training. At the very least, lettuce will emerge with vibrancy!

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