Greenhouse offers multiple learning opportunities
March 11, 2020
Succulents, blooming flowers and the first signs of spring are a year-round experience in the greenhouse at UW-River Falls.
Located behind the Agricultural Science building, the first part of the greenhouse was built in 1974. The other two parts were completed in the early ’90s. The first part of the greenhouse used to be made of glass, but a hailstorm in the early 2000s destroyed the structure and the students’ semester-long projects.
A blessing in disguise, the greenhouse then updated its infrastructure to the glorious state it is in today. The greenhouse manager, Dan Waletzko, has been taking care of the greenhouse complex and the two and a half-acre teaching plot for 26 years. Various activities occur within the greenhouse, depending on the semester, both from students in classes and in clubs and organizations.
This spring semester, the new floriculture class has been practicing different techniques in both agriculture and art. Floriculture students are learning the entirety of the process from seed to transplant. Waletzko said “they melt together horticulture and art.” He continued on to explain that students have to figure out what different plants grow well together along with what colors and textures in the various plants compliment each other.
The floriculture class and organizations such as Horticulture Society and Alpha Zi, an honorary horticulture society, utilize the greenhouse for two different plant sales during spring semester.
The UWRF Forage team, led by Dr. Yoana Newman, spends time in the greenhouse looking at legumes and other materials that are grown in the greenhouse to help them practice for competitions. The UWRF official website reported on the Forage team this past January as they took first place for the second year in a row at the National Forage Bowl Competition, held in Greenville.
Another club that uses the greenhouse is SALSA, the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture. This group utilizes both the greenhouse and the teaching plots not too far from the greenhouse. SALSA students take the initiative to grow their own produce as a fundraiser. “This usually happens during the summer,” Waletzko states, “they go to the farmers market by Dick’s Market in River Falls and sell there, and when they have the concert on the hill (the summer concert series held by UWRF) they commonly try to sell there too!”
Any and all majors are welcome to take advantage of the greenhouse. Although biology students have access to a 1,000 square foot indoor greenhouse-like space on the fifth floor of the Agricultural Science building, even they find themselves exploring through the campus greenhouse. They are commonly hunting for bacteria samples and taking notes of the diversity in the building.
The office of Undergraduate Research Scholarly and Creative Activity (URSCA) also takes advantage of the easily accessible research space. Currently, a UWRF URSCA student is attempting to adjust the typical growing period of a crop. They are using a plant hormone called gibberellins on 60-70 different varieties of a crop and working to see if they can get a different outcome with the plant. Waletzko explained, “The project has worked so far! This is amazing, because it is typically not a crop treated for this, changing its normal cycle, tricking it a little, trying to get things to form just using another hormone is cool.”
The greenhouse at UWRF is constantly trying to take advantage of new modernizations for use during classes. Waletzko mentioned that the idea and common goal is for students to be equipped for the world after they graduate and kept up to date with the latest technologies in horticulture.
UWRF is implementing a new class and system this semester, the use of hydroponics. According to Dictionary.com, hydroponics is “the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.” To start, only a small group of students studied the basics of hydroponics. As Waletzko describes it, “What they are doing is growing hydroponic lettuce, microgreens, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Students have production sheets; they are taking readings of pH every week, essentially monitoring levels to adjust plants in the new systems.” As of right now, the system is being fully installed within the greenhouse and will hopefully be done by the 2020 fall semester.
With so much happening at the greenhouse, Waletzko explained his favorite part of the greenhouse, “I like all of the creativity the students have when they come up with individual projects, seeing them from start to finish, and seeing unexpected things.” He goes on to explain how the greenhouse feels like an extension of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, as it provides a space for students to be exposed to all things horticulture, agronomy, and soils.
An exciting addition to the greenhouse is the infamous corpse plant. A past gift to the greenhouse, the corpse plant is an enormous standing plant that has two leaves that look like trunks of small trees. This gigantic plant, on average, blooms once every seven years. However, when the flower blooms for 24 hours, a wretched smell similar to that of rotting flesh follows.
The flower bloomed about seven years ago on campus, sadly overnight, but a webcam was active for students to look at the gorgeous flower without having to suffer the smell. The plant was supposed to bloom some time recently, but a small leak in the ceiling and a little too much water changed the plans. Instead of blooming, the corpse plant created an additional leaf instead. UWRF students must wait in anticipation to see what happens, maybe two flowers will bloom in years to come!
Although the greenhouse is prioritized for students in classes and organizations, unfamiliar faces visit occasionally to experience the active learning occurring on campus. There have been tours for many different groups from around the River Falls community. “High schools and preschools, anyone from 8 months to 108 years, all are welcome to the River Falls garden club and greenhouse,” says Waletzko.
The greenhouse is always waiting for students to discover and explore what’s inside, however, a quick heads-up is required! The greenhouse is open from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. during the week, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. If students would like more information or to schedule a tour, email Dan Waletzko at firstname.lastname@example.org.