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Container gardens focus of STEAM project

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Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Betsy Rall at Scotus Central Catholic School is establishing container gardens in the school’s courtyard.

Rall is the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) teacher. She started at Scotus two years ago when the STEAM program was implemented.

Since STEAM’s conception, Rall has been utilizing the courtyard’s exposure to the outdoors to plant inside the greenhouse and field. The greenhouse contains one container garden which has plants such as kale and cauliflower, as well as a hydroponic system – a method of growing plants without soil- that one now-former student and his father built.

Rall is now expanding upon the initial gardening by utilizing space in the courtyard to establish additional container gardens. Her students often worked before school hours on the project.

To prepare the container gardens, a tarp was laid over the courtyard, and students spray-painted where the gardens would be placed. The containers were then constructed and placed onto the ground. Soil is then placed into the containers and planting could then begin.

Rall has already started planting as it is currently growing season.

So far strawberries, celery, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, purple kale, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, stevia and cauliflower have been planted.

The idea for it came up during a conversation with Scotus President Jeff Ohnoutka, as COVID-19’s impact has been resulting in furloughs and people being laid off at work. This has caused an increased need of food assistance.

“Students will be able to harvest vegetables and prepare a garden bed for winter,” Rall said.

Ohnoutka noted that students who reside within city limits don’t necessarily have an agricultural background.

“For a school in town, we don’t have as many kids involved in agriculture and this gives them a chance to learn about gardening,” Ohnoutka said. “It’s what the kids can get out of it.”

There are multiple possibilities Rall and Ohnoutka are imagining for the garden, such as providing vegetables to the cafeteria or those in need of food assistance.

“We decided it was a pretty good idea,” Rall said.

Additionally, Rall has been considering using the kale as a smoothie project; STEAM students may soon find themselves calculating the costs of making smoothies for other students to purchase and consume. At that time, Rall and her students would decide what to do with any proceeds made; however, Rall noted that it will be earmarked for a good cause.

The stevia was planted with the smoothie idea in mind as the plant can act as a natural sweetener.

Once all the plants are situated in the garden, Rall’s next step will be reconfiguring the courtyard’s sprinkler system so that the plants are automatically watered. Currently, Ohnoutka has been helping out with the project by watering the gardens by hand.

Rall plans on turning the sprinkler into a learning experience for students; she will teach them how a sprinkler system works and map out how the goal will be accomplished. Before she does this, though, Rall said she has to do some research herself.

Rall noted that she has been thoroughly enjoying the project as it gives her a reason to be outside and working in the gardens.

“I’ve been very thankful to have this project,” she said. “It’s nice to have that release.”

Rall teaches STEAM classes starting at the eighth-grade level. The high school classes – STEAM 1, STEAM 2 and STEAM 3 – get more advanced as students progress through the program. The STEAM 3 students are the ones mainly involved with the container gardens.

“The STEAM program is going well – we’re just trying to find our niche.”

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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