The first stage of an agricultural research garden on the Richmond Hill Middle School campus is nearing completion and was marked by a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday night before the Bryan County Schools Board of Education work session.
The first stage of the garden will consist of 44 framed, raised beds and container gardens, both of which are suitable models for home gardening. Students will conduct research on fertilizers, prevention and treatment of plant disease and infestation, and on which varieties of certain crops (e.g., tomato) are most successful in our hot, humid climate. Data and observations will be shared with community stakeholders to encourage families to grow some of their own produce in small home gardens.
The $15,000 for Stage I of the research garden has been funded entirely through grants raised by the district’s field studies program. The 720-square-foot greenhouse and growing trays were purchased with funds provided by TerraPoint LLC, the development arm of Rayonier. The extensive work to assemble the greenhouse was done by members of the Bryan County Schools district facilities crew, and funds to construct the raised beds were provided by the Richmond Hill Rotary Club, Lowes (Toolbox for Education grant), and the National Environmental Education Foundation.
The Stage I beds are being constructed by Preferred Materials, which is owned by parent company Oldcastle. The crew from Preferred Materials assembled the forty-four boxes which extend the beds 6 in. above the ground, brought in excavating equipment to dig down 12 in. into the gravel base, and filled each box with 18 inches of topsoil. A truck load of large nursery containers was donated by Savannah Quarters Country Club, while vegetable and herb seeds were donated by The Georgia Southern University Sustainability Center, Johnny’s Select Seeds, W. Atlee Burpee & Co., Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., American Meadows Seed Co., Park Seeds and several Richmond Hill residents.
Additional gardening tools were donated by Michael and Dana Letson of Richmond Hill. The research garden also contains a number of native wildflower trial beds that will support the vegetable garden but are also part of a larger pollinator habitat restoration project. Guidance, seeds, and plants for the pollinator project have come from the Georgia Natural Resources Department, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Coastal Wildscapes, Thompson Gardens and Southern Native Plantings.
The field studies program recently received a grant from the Coastal Electric Cooperative Foundation — which advanced content life science teacher Robert Hodgdon applied for — to plant a native highbush blueberry and muscadine grape orchard behind the research garden. Members are also hoping to raise money for a final phase which will consist of up to 10 vertical hydroponics towers that will be built by members of John Melcher’s STEM class.