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First growing season a learning experience
for college's new Gardening Club
Oct. 31, 2014
Although the seasons are swiftly turning over, when the snow melts next spring, things on the Knight Campus will be a little brighter than usual thanks to the college’s Gardening and Beekeeping Club. The club, which officially began in 2013, was able to celebrate its first harvests this summer and fall.
“In all, it’s been a great summer of learning how to grow local,” said faculty adviser Lisa Penta, who works as a reference librarian and assistant professor at the Knight Campus.
Penta said that the club began with four members in 2013 after Dan Chapman, who was one of Penta’s students in an online college research course, introduced himself in person one day while on campus. The pair’s conversation turned toward various buildings on campus, including the greenhouse, which was in disrepair. Penta said that Chapman wanted to start the club, and she was eager to sign on as adviser, having grown up in a gardening family.
“It’s been a lot of experimenting so far with composting and crops,” said Penta. “Last year was a learning year. And next spring I plan to take the URI Master Gardening class, so that I can know a bit more, and can identify problems a bit earlier.”
The club worked with Assistant Building and Grounds Officer Michael Archetto to find a location for its garden and, once they found a suitable location by the lower athletic fields, set to work digging out a pumpkin and sunflower patch as well as building and filling four raised beds for herbs, greens, tomatoes and root vegetables. Some crops were a resounding success – such as the radishes and the fresh herbs – while others were a little more trouble for the club.
“We couldn’t figure out why the tomatoes were dying,” said Penta, who was dismayed and more than a little disgusted when she flipped over a tomato leaf and found a fat, red-horned tomato worm.
But being in harmony with nature means accepting and peacefully coexisting with its many denizens, said Penta, and her students, such as club vice president Julia Cusack, were quick to come to that decision as well. When black swallowtail larvae decimated the first dill crop, the students decided they didn’t want to put any pesticides down.
“They said that the larvae had a right to live, too,” she said. “The larvae grew into butterflies, and the dill came back with a vengeance. It was nice to watch.”
Other than reaping the rewards of the seeds they had sown, the greatest pleasure for Penta came from watching how much hard work her students gave to the project, she said. Since most of the growing season happens during the summer, students had to make special arrangements to get back out to campus while classes weren’t in session, including traveling by bus or sometimes on foot.
Because there was no water source close to the fields, Penta said that she and Chapman, along with students Jordan Chase and Randy Caprio, lugged 26-gallon containers into trucks from the maintenance shed down to the field where the pair watered the crops before refilling the containers and trucking them back down to the field in case a student came by to tend the crops during the week. “That was a constant struggle,” she said.
Eventually, the group hopes to expand its reach to beekeeping, perhaps with the help of faculty and staff members who are active in the beekeeping community. A bigger dream, Penta said, is to have a working greenhouse on campus once again.
“It was part of the original college plan to have a greenhouse,” she said, noting that the current greenhouse had a working heating system as recently as 1997. “To have a greenhouse is the ultimate dream, not only from a water barrel standpoint but also from being able to start in early March rather than waiting for the last frost to go,” she said.
The club has nine members but has hopes to keep growing. “I think the whole growing local movement has spurred a lot of interest in gardening, specifically small-scale gardening for personal use. The students are really interested in it, as am I,” Penta said.
For more information or to join, contact Penta by email or phone at 401-825-1141.