Green thumbs: Horticulture program offers hands-on skills

CHIMACUM — Nate Christiansen is considering a career in law enforcement. Brad Coulter is deciding between joining the Coast Guard or firefighting. Garry Prose wants to go into the Air Force.

In the meantime, the three seniors are working together, earning seed money to start their lives by using skills they learned in high school.

Christiansen, Coulter and Prose are among the teaching assistants in Tom Furseth’s horticultural program at Chimacum High School, where the test is not what you know, but what you grow.

“Each group of five or six students has their own table,” Furseth said. “They are graded on how well their plants do.”

An advanced horticulture student, Christiansen is the senior in charge of first-period class, having worked with Furseth throughout his high school career.

It’s his favorite class. He has a 3.8 grade-point average, but likes to be in the greenhouse, starting perennials in the fall, mixing fertilizer and potting soil to grow vegetables and annuals seeds in the spring.

During spring break and weekends, Christiansen comes in and waters the plants.

“Everything you see is from seed,” Christiansen said, indicating a green sea of tomatoes, peppers, petunias and marigolds.

This summer, with Coulter and Prose, he’ll be mowing, pruning and caring for 5 acres, a job Furseth got them.

Christiansen said he plans to use the money to take online courses to prepare for applying to the police force.

Teaching horticulture

Furseth, who has a degree in agricultural education from Washington State University, started teaching horticulture at Chimacum High School 10 years ago.

The first trimester, the students focus on the basics — plant identification, parts of the plant, fertilizer, Furseth said.

During the winter trimester, they spend a lot of time on landscaping. He also teaches pruning.

“Some students have started their own landscaping businesses,” he said.

In the spring, the course moves to the greenhouse, where the students start annuals and vegetables from seeds.

“It’s exciting to see something you planted sprout and grow,” Furseth said, as the students in his first period class walked into the greenhouse last week and to check their plants’ progress.

The horticulture course counts as a biology credit for students with learning disabilities, Christiansen said, while it’s an elective for him and his friends.

“It’s been great,” Christiansen said. “If you asked which teacher taught us the most, it would be Mr. Furseth.”

Christiansen also grows potatoes, lettuce and other vegetables in a home garden, and is going to California to help his grandfather get a garden started.

On Friday, he and the other assistants were planting pumpkins in the patch next to the greenhouse.

“We bring the first-graders in to carve pumpkins in the fall,” Christiansen said. “I was the Great Pumpkin for the last two years.”

To cover the cost of materials, electricity, etc. for the horticulture program, the students will hold an plant sale in the Chimacum High School greenhouse starting on Friday, after school, and continuing Saturday.

Plant sales this weekend

Friday sale hours will be from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday’s sale will be from 9 a.m. to noon. Visitors are asked to park near the tennis courts at the school at 91 West Valley Road.

Fuchsia baskets have been big sellers in the past, but this year, an aphid infestation got ahead of the gardeners, and some had to be culled.

“We all learn from our mistakes,” Christiansen said.

The students also will have vegetable starts for sale at the Jefferson County Master Gardeners’ plant sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the WSU Extension parking lot, 201 W. Patison, off Rhody Drive in Port Hadlock.

All plants offered by the Master Gardeners are ones grown in this area, so there is no question about viability or hardiness, said Carol Self, plant sale coordinator.

The sale is a biennial event, with Master Gardeners dividing garden plants and potting up extras to offer to the public at bargain prices, Self said.

Proceeds support educational programs and grants for local projects.

For more information, phone 360-379-5610.


Port Townsend/Jefferson County Reporter-Columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at jjack

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