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How Much for a Container of Butterflies?

beth-circle-head Beth Heller

It’s February, and although the snow continues to fall, our minds inevitably begin to wander of their own accord.  “Spring,” our senses whisper.  We sense it’s around the corner – that first day when the sun pushes off those few extra rays of heat that wake dormant leaves and shoots.

While that day may still be a few weeks in the future, a trip to local schools provides a preview.  Indoor growing, from table-top gardens to aquaponics systems, are sprouting up across local school districts.  This month our blog will be taking a tour of what’s already growing in Greater Green Bay school gardens.   

First stop, students at West De Pere Middle School are using Farm to School grant funds to explore soil-free, indoor garden systems that can function in the classroom setting.  Teacher Patti Jo De Villers challenged her students to research different systems and order the garden, a process that required a team of students to meet during recess and navigate the online purchase of a hydroponic garden and seed pods.

The system, which arrived just after Thanksgiving, is off and running.  Throughout December, seeds grew to sprouts, and with watering help from the school principal during break, students returned in January to a bumper crop.  The surprising growth sparked more student interest, with new questions about how to pollinate, harvest salad greens and so on.  The first student volunteer who harvested the salad greens to share with his family ended up with a gallon bag full of lettuce.  Soon, other students requested to harvest salad greens with one making a salad for her lunch.   

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After munching through their lettuce, the class has embarked on a new challenge – growing tomatoes.  As they tackle this more complex crop, the group is puzzling over some of the key challenges that come with indoor gardening.  While tomatoes are self-pollinating, which means they have both male and female parts in each flower, the students cannot rely on a gentle breeze or passing bugs to blow pollen from flower to flower.

According to Ms. De Villers, discussion ensued that included consideration of a proposal to purchase live butterflies to help with the work.  Economic (a container of butterflies costs between $150-$190 on Amazon) and logistic (could butterflies survive in the classroom environment?) made a handheld fan the optimal choice.  

At last report, success was at hand!  

“Now,” says Ms. De Villers,”we are beginning to wonder when the tomatoes will turn red!”

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