How to Keep on Growin’ at the MacFarlane Greenhouse Facility

December 12, 2011
Poinsettia

This morning, I told my friends that I was going to the greenhouses on campus. Simply put, they looked confused. It turns out that not many people I know UNH are familiar with the Macfarlane Greenhouse Facility yet.  So I decided that I would find out as much as I could about this facility, located past the Dairy Bar, and come back to share with everyone who wanted to know more.  I met up with David Goudreault, assistant manager of the UNH research greenhouses, and he led me on a tour of the expansive facility.  

There are seven greenhouses and a total of sixteen compartments at this facility, each with its own purpose.  Each compartment has a different environment: unique humidity, lighting, air circulation, and most importantly, different plants.  The facility uses an environment computer control system, named ‘Argus,’ to monitor and alter almost everything in the greenhouses.  This system controls fans, vents, heat, lighting, irrigation systems – everything imaginable – and saves energy.

Over the past fifteen years, there have been extreme changes here. The facility that once could have been considered run-down and outdated is now modern and possibly one of the best greenhouse facilities owned by a university in the north east.  This is in part due to the current staff of the facility who have petitioned for money to enhance this resource for the entire community.  Currently, there is a sense of accomplishment and pride radiating throughout, stemming from the professional researchers all the way down to the grad students, undergrads and work-study students.  

One source of pride for David Goudreault is the implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), although he likes to refer to it as “integrated crop management” because of the facility’s perspective on the overall health of plants instead of just pests and diseases.  This system incorporates aspects of a healthy growing environment, good growing practices, preventive measures for pests and diseases, biological controls, and at the very last resort, chemical controls.  

A healthy growing environment requires proper air circulation to keep the foliage dry and the soil surfaces drier. A uniform air temperature makes the foliage less susceptible to diseases. Good growing practices include using a clean pot for each plant and clean potting mix. Preventive measures for pests and diseases mean disinfecting work stations and keeping the area free of weeds.

Biological controls are simply other insects brought in to control the detrimental bugs that might cause harm to the plants.  These include predatory mites, parasitic nematodes, and soil-dwelling mites, each targeting different pests.  If all of these things fail to prevent disease and pests, chemicals are sometimes used, but as minimally as possible.

“We’re basically chemical free right now in our poinsettias” claims David Goudreault, also pointing out that this might not be the case in the months to come if issues arise.  This is impressive considering there are over fifteen-hundred poinsettia plants being grown in the greenhouses this year. The process of converting from a chemical-based approach to a biological, preventive approach hasn’t been easy:  David Goudreault remarked that “it has taken us five to six years to get to a place where we’re comfortable with biological control”.

From my experience at the Macfarlane Greenhouse Facility, it seems that UNH is committed in many ways to researching sustainable, ethical, healthy alternatives to the methods currently used world-wide to produce plants and food.  While it is extremely difficult to grow in a greenhouse without any chemical fungicides, the low-levels in this facility are something to strive to replicate in the food industry as well as floral production.

Student Blog: Lauren Weston '15

Lauren Weston

I grew up about three hours southwest of UNH in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was a very liberal community with a focus on politics, sustainability, and the arts above most everything else. I decided to come to Durham because of the friendly atmosphere, beautiful campus, and its resemblance to Northampton.

Although I do not know what path of study I want to pursue, some possibilities include journalism, political science, economics, engineering, and international affairs. In my free time, I am very active, often spending time at the gym, on the basketball courts, or in the pool.

My goal in writing these posts is to help inform UNH students, and anyone else interested, about the facilities on the UNH campus. I hope to provide a resource for education while also testing the waters of journalism and research for myself.

- Lauren Weston ‘15