Math and Science Department opens new botanical complex

The R. B. Annis Math and Science Department is preparing to open two new additions: a botanical laboratory funded by the generosity of the R. B. Annis Educational Foundation and a community garden funded through the generosity of the Allen Foundation.

The the two gifts unite to create a botanical laboratory complex, which currently includes a permanent greenhouse-style botanical laboratory, several raised garden beds and a hoop house.

The botanical laboratory was funded by the R.B. Annis Foundation, and will provide a space for students in biology and ecology classes to study topics such as hydroponics, nutrient cycling, water sources and fertilizer. Mary Ellen Newport, chair of the R.B. Annis Math and Science Department, also hopes that interested students will have the opportunity to do extracurricular research at the site. The first specimens for the laboratory were cultivated by Emily Umbarger’s students during the 2017 Inter*mester, and were moved into the structure at the conclusion of the academic year.

The structure, which is almost identical to the local GreenSpire School greenhouse, was a kit purchased and built by Interlochen’s maintenance department. The interior was designed by Umbarger, Newport, and biology instructor Jenna Scheub. The facility includes environmental controls, a rainwater catchment system and more. Umbarger, Newport and Scheub have also designed a system of movable growing benches on tracks to provide a flexible space inside the laboratory. The completed space will also feature a potting table and four solar panels to provide electricity. A second grant from the Annis Foundation will provide geothermal heating equipment for the structure.

The raised beds and the hoop house were provided by the generosity of the Allen Foundation. Both the beds and the hoop house feature automated irrigation systems for easy watering. The beds are currently being used to grow a variety of common herbs and vegetables, which will be served at dining establishments on Interlochen’s campus. Only a few weeks into the growing season, the beds have already produced nearly $100 worth of produce. Umbarger will also cultivate and develop a line of teas, which will be served at Stone Cafeteria in future Academy years.

In addition, Umbarger and her team have installed four picnic tables to be used as an outdoor classroom space. The area also includes an herb spiral and a small permaculture area, where edible, native species will be cultivated. In addition to plants, the greenhouse complex will contain a chicken coop with six egg-laying chickens. The whole area is enclosed in fencing to protect the plants from rabbits and deer.

The new facilities are part of an ongoing, board-approved sustainability initiative. Throughout the fall, the Math and Science Department will host a series of free discussions for members of the public interested in gardening. Beginning in August, the three-part series will be hosted on the third Thursday of each month.

August’s discussion will be an introduction to gardening led by John Dindia, the co-owner of Spirit of Walloon Farms in Boyne City and one of Interlochen’s garden coordinators. The discussion will cover topics including location selection, preparing the soil, fertilization and watering, and must-have gardening tools. During the session, Dindia will focus on the cultivation of six crops in particular: kale, swiss chard, zucchini, tomatoes, peas and beans. Dindia holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Michigan State University and is pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana.

Umbarger will lead September’s discussion, which will be on beekeeping. Umbarger will discuss the importance of bees and the fundamentals of beekeeping, including where to get bees, necessary equipment, feeding bees and harvesting honey.

The third and final session, in October, will be hosted by another of Interlochen’s garden coordinators, Perennial Harvest owner Stuart Campbell. The session focuses on permaculture, or the use of native plants in edible landscaping. The discussion will cover hugelkultur, creative wetlands, herb spirals, resource management, and other methods for ecological practices.

The department hopes to continue to expand the complex as funding allows.