Tucked away in a far corner of the campus near the corner of Lemon Street and Berkeley Avenue, the Fullerton College Horticulture Department has been putting on community plant sales since 1992, the most recent one last month. The sales began when horticulture professors decided to sell extra plants used in their instruction and are now offered three times a year.
For the past couple of years, I’ve occasionally attended the plant sales with my mom and dad. This May, we visited again. After parking at a far gate a little ways down from the Horticulture Department’s administrative building, my family passed by people hauling small, rusted red wagons full of various plants they had just purchased.
Inside, there was a wide selection of plants, including California native, drought tolerant plants, herbaceous perennials, shade plants, house plants, vines, succulents and spring vegetables among others. Each was divided into its own section, laid out in rows on tables or the gravel-covered ground for visitors to find, admire and buy. All of the plants were cultivated by the students at Fullerton College. My mom actually ended up purchasing day lilies and a few succulents in the bargain bin.
Student interns and volunteers were helping customers by talking to them about the plants they were selling, offering advice for keeping plants healthy and ideas for different types of gardens. In fact, student interns have become a key part of the plant sales. “I’ve kind of been spiritually born here,” said Ed Kim, a former Fullerton College student and intern who now works as a Horticulture Lab Technician with the department. “I was already kind of interested in plants and coming here really cemented that. All the education that I got and the hands-on training was invaluable. We learned a lot of theory, but we really put it into practice and really got to see because theory doesn’t always work out.”
The student intern program, which started in 1999, is available to seven Fullerton College students every year. Each intern is assigned to a different section of plants from which they propagate seeds or cuttings. Ed said, “I was an intern here for the year 2017, so that’s where I got a lot of my skills. I propagated a bunch of plants, seeded plants, divided plants and did propagation from cuttings, also known as cloning. We have a good mix of the stuff that we offer. We grow from seeds and we also grow from cuttings.” Not only do the interns gain valuable experience in assorted aspects of horticulture careers, but they also raise funds for next year’s internship program through each sale.
Ed Kim explained the plant preparation process. They typically dip cuttings into rooting hormone, which they store in a refrigerator with a sign warning, “Not for human consumption.” Next, the cuttings are put in a propagation mix, which drains really quickly so it doesn’t rot out the stems. After that, they’re immediately taken to the mist houses, an area of relatively high humidity where they can recover and start rooting. “We want to slowly acclimate them so they can actually handle full sun and less water,” said Ed. “So after they root, they get transplanted into the soil that they’re going to be in.”
The baby plants are then taken into a protected area where they can root out. The area provides half-day sun. Here, the plants are still well-watered so as they root, they can get stronger before being transplanted. Ed explained, “Some plants take pretty quickly, so from plant to sale, it can be a couple of months. Some take a year. After they’ve grown out in a four inch pot, we transplant them into a gallon and then they go out on the sales floor where they kind of acclimate in full sun, just being fully in the environment.”
Ed Kim showed me around the main sales space. An area with a large shade top over it was the vine section. “We have a very good selection of perennials, bulbs, and shrubs,” he said. “We like to break it down by water usage, so things that use a little more water we put with the perennials. Most of the stuff that we sell are perennials, so we don’t sell too many annuals.”
In the widest section of the gravel-covered ground, I found myself looking at California Natives and drought tolerants sitting out in the direct sunlight. Behind these rows of plants was a covered shade house area. “An interesting note, these shade plants don’t need total shade. I think that’s a common misconception,” said Ed. “So if you give them more partial, like on the north side of your property, that’s probably perfect, but a lot of these plants can take some direct sun as well, just not all day, especially between ten and two o’clock you don’t want to give them sun. So, next to your home or building on the east or the west side should work. They’ll get maybe some morning or afternoon sun, but be protected from that mid-day sun.”
Rather large wooden planters full of different vegetables stood to the side of the shade house close to an area known as the “teaching garden.” In the first planter, Ed pointed out some edible plants like amethyst basil and nasturtium, which kind of tastes like Wasabi or mustard. The second planter had eleven different types of beets growing in it, including white, red, and yellow beets, while the third planter had potatoes, more beets and some radishes. There was also a compost pile pretty close to the planters. Ed said, “So students use this space to actually get their hands dirty and actually learn something by doing.” There were two empty garden beds that had been harvested pretty recently. Students used these gardens for their Principles of Horticulture class. They started from the seed, planted in the garden, tended to their gardens, before harvesting during finals week.
After the plant sale was over, we walked over to the hoop houses, a different type of greenhouse normally used in the winter because they heat up nicely. “We’re growing tomatoes and peppers in the winter and it’s not the ideal time for them to grow, so that’s why these hoop houses are great,” he said. “They provide sunlight, but also warmth so that the plants can grow.” Sliding the hoop house door open, Ed showed me inside the greenhouse where there was a conglomeration of all the plants not sold in the sale. “So after the main sale, we take all the tables out and clean up.” I saw some leftover vegetables, peppers and a mishmash of different plants laid out in rows.
Some of the leftovers along with other scraps are tossed into two large worm bins, which are used to house worms, Ed explained. “Whenever there’s fruit, there’s a whole mess of them,” he said. “Seems like mango’s their favorite. They love just the fruit … and then they eat the whole thing.” With these two large worm bins, the Horticulture Department plans to harvest the castings and selling them at their sales, especially the tomato sale. “It’s perfect because when people plant their veggies, they’re going to do a thin layer of worm castings and plants love it.”
Back in March, the Fullerton College Horticulture Department also had their most recent three-day tomato sale, which offered a wide variety of tomatoes and peppers, drawing in customers from around Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Families can come to both the tomato and the seasonal sales to pick up plants and connect with others who also share their love for gardening. So be sure to keep an eye out for the next one on the calendar, the fall plant sale.
For a behind the scenes look at the Fullerton College Horticulture Department plant sales, check out my video by visiting the Observer website and click the tab labeled “Local.” Underneath that tab, click on “Emerson Little YouTube Channel,” which should take you directly to my page.
Categories: Local News