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Garden at Trafalgar Middle damaged by Hurricane Irma

By Staff | Sep 27, 2017

One program at Trafalgar Middle School in Cape Coral has suffered a setback due to Hurricane Irma.

The school’s 2,100-square-foot garden lost hundreds of new seedlings, recently planted plantings and several fruit trees, along with sustained damage, thanks to the wind and rain from the recent storm. The harvests from the garden are used to supplement the cafeteria, as well as are donated to soup kitchens.

Al Piotter, an agriscience teacher and advisor for the Builders Club, explained that about 1,600 seedlings or starter plants died after the school lost power and the air conditioning went out.

“It was a variety of vegetables and herbs,” he said. “We lost all those.”

The students had planted some pre-Irma, including approximately 150 tomato plants.

“We lost all of those,” Piotter said. “The eggplants and pepper plants made it.”

The garden featured a range of different kinds of fruit trees.

“We lost several trees,” he said. “Fourteen papaya, a couple mango, custard apple, pomegranate.”

Avocado, peach and Barbados cherry trees were also devastated by the storm.

“Of course, a lot of bananas, but those are easy to replace,” Piotter said.

The program also teaches students about hydroponic farming. In late July or early August, he had purchased an IBC tote – a 270-gallon sealed tank – to hold the nutrients for the hydroponics.

“It’s got like 10 pinholes in it,” he said, noting that he thinks the damage was caused by flying rocks and debris. “That’s the nutrients for our hydroponics, so I want it to be sealed properly.”

The program is looking into buying a new one.

Piotter estimated that the storm caused a loss of about $6,000 to $7,000.

“The seedlings are the big thing. Most people along (State Road) 82 that grow the stuff are demolished,” he said. “And we lose time because we’re supposed to be putting them in the ground.”

The program also had plans to receive organic compost free as a donation before the storm. The donor sustained extensive damage in Irma, so the school instead had to buy it from a local vendor for $440.

Despite the setback, the program is pushing forward.

“I think Cape Coral, as a whole, was pretty lucky,” Piotter said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

“It is what it is,” he added. “You move on.”

On Tuesday, the students were already planting new bush beans and peas to rebuild the garden. According to Piotter, the students will be working on cucumbers, squash and zucchini today.

“We’re going to be planting some direct seeds and start new seedlings,” he said.

“The kids are awesome,” Piotter added.

After the storm, faculty helped to clean up the debris and garden.

“It looked really bad,” he said.

Four years ago, the garden became a reality after some students approached Principal Michael Galbreath about starting one. Located along Southwest 20th Avenue, it features four separate areas, including two gardens of different sizes, a wheelchair-accessible garden and a flower garden.

The garden has been awarded the Golden Shovel by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and was a part of a garden tour put on by the Lee County Extension Services. Each year, the school hosts its Annual Taste of the Gardens for the community to come out and enjoy.

This year’s goal is to grow 8,000 pounds to donate to the cafeteria and soup kitchens.

“Our goal is still 8,000,” Piotter said, noting that the school was fortunate.

“All the kids are OK, the teachers are OK, so this is minor,” he said.

Trafalgar Middle School is at 2120 Trafalgar Parkway in Cape Coral.