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Extension Service Master Gardeners build greenhouse for elementary

RIO COMMUNITIES - Master Gardener John Roberts' dream for La Merced Elementary School came true when volunteers recently constructed a greenhouse.

Volunteer Martin Erickson guides the plastic sheet over the apex of the PVC pipe frame while the Valencia County Master Gardeners build a greenhouse at La Merced Elementary School in Rio Communities. The construction was completed during a workshop held by Del Jimenez of New Mexico State University's Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project. (NMSU Agricultural Communications photo by Jane Moorman)

"This is an exciting day," said Roberts, whose wife, Twylla, teaches at La Merced Elementary. "Since I began teaching the students about gardening, I've wanted a greenhouse for the school."

For nearly three years, Roberts has volunteered at the school teaching about horticulture. Each year he has hoped to obtain a greenhouse to expand his program.

The greenhouse became a reality through the coordinated efforts of the New Mexico State University Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project (RAIPAP), the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service and the school's student council and Friendship Club members.

For two years the students have raised money for the building by selling snow cones, popcorn and pickles to their school mates. They raised $748 needed for the PVC pipe, greenhouse plastic and various other materials to build the 17-foot by 32-foot structure.

With the help of Extension agriculture agent Allison Chipman, a community service project was designed for area Master Gardeners and farmers to have an opportunity to learn how to build a greenhouse.

"I told Allison about wanting a greenhouse at the school and she coordinated this event to get it built," Roberts said. "I can't believe it's actually completed."

"This was a great opportunity," said Chipman. "Some of our Master Gardeners and area farmers wanted a workshop on building greenhouses, and the school wanted one built. So we combined the two into a great community service project."

The Master Gardeners and farmers provided the manpower to build the greenhouse with direction from Del Jimenez of RAIPAP.

"I have led workshops like this in several Northern New Mexico communities," Jimenez said of the greenhouse design, which has evolved over the past four years.

"We designed an economical greenhouse with the intent to help farmers and gardeners extend the growing season for their crops," Jimenez said. "In October we have held building workshops at Chimayo Youth Corps and Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz., and we will have a greenhouse conference at the Santa Fe Fairgrounds on Oct. 20-21 and a workshop in Albuquerque on Oct. 26."

As school started last Tuesday, the gardening experts gathered at the northeast corner of the campus and began the steps to build the structure.

Two-inch PVC pipe was cut into lengths of seven-and-a-half- and five-foot sections and joined by 45-degree connectors for the nine rafters. A half-inch PVC pipe irrigation line also was assembled.

By lunch time, the rafters were standing in a row four feet apart waiting for the six-mil greenhouse plastic to be spread over the support.

In one orchestrated move, the volunteers and several students pulled the single 28-foot by 50-foot sheet of plastic up and over the rafters.

Then the workers began securing the plastic into taunt side walls and roof. The east wall of the greenhouse was left loose to allow the side to be rolled up during warm days.

As the students boarded school buses to go home, the volunteers were installing doors on the north and south ends of the building.

And as the sun began to set, the irrigation line that hangs from the apex of the rafters was hooked to a garden hose. With the turn of a valve the water flowed through the pipe and spin sprayers sent misty rainfall throughout the inside of the completed building.

Each step of the way, Jimenez explained to the volunteers how to assemble the structure. For some of the people, it would be a lesson that they will apply at their own home while making a greenhouse.

Mike Lundmark of Los Chavez is excited about the inexpensive design because he plans to build a greenhouse to raise tomatoes.

"I want to build a 100-foot greenhouse and use drip irrigation to grow tomatoes," Lundmark said. "It will allow me to start my plants earlier and it will extend the growing season for vine-ripened tomatoes."

Jimenez said his greenhouse design is a good way for homeowners to decide if they want to be greenhouse gardeners.

"It's not expensive so they can decide if they want to invest in a structure that can be heated for year-round growing," he said. "With good maintenance of the plastic this structure can last five years before new plastic needs to be installed."

For Roberts, the greenhouse is the next step in his gardening program that introduces the students to what they can do with seeds, water and a little tender loving care.