Stories of Strangers

Going Green at the UMass Greenhouse

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The Durfee Conservatory consists of five different collection houses.  Each house transports the visitor to a different part of the world with a unique set of greenery and blooms.

AMHERST, Mass.–It is Feb. 5, 2016 and while the snow falls outside, curator Michael Formosi of the University of Massachusetts tends to a jungle of green inside the Durfee Conservatory.  The relic represents a significant period of history to the university, dating back to when the now-modern campus was an agricultural school.  Like the rest of the technology-rich campus, the conservatory relies on environmentally sustainable practices to reduce its carbon footprint.

The conservatory utilizes a combination of three different sprays to combat its insect problem.  Conscious of the need for environmental sustainability and of frequent public traffic, the repellents used are devoid of hazardous chemicals.

“We used a soap-based spray, an oil-based spray, and something called neem oil which is plant-based.  Everything is gentle towards the environment and the people coming through,” Durfee Conservatory curator Michael Formosi said.

“The purpose of the greenhouse is largely historic.  It is mostly for maintaining the history of the campus as well as a quiet place for people to come and read.  We also do tours,” said Formosi.

The 149-year-old Durfee Conservatory is part of the university’s College of Natural Sciences greenhouses.  According to Superintendent of CNS Greenhouses Chris Joyner, another campus greenhouse facility, The Research and Education greenhouse, is used for studies on issues such as bio-fuels, drought tolerance, and cold.  Their concern over valuable plants means some gardening materials may only be used once.

“We share things if we can,” said Joyner, “Used pots and plant material go to Durfee.”

This way, he says, the greenhouses work together to cut down on waste.

When the sun goes down Durfee leeches heat from its glass panels.  Formosi says he’d like to switch from glass panels to poly-carbonate double glazed panels for better insulation, but as of the moment there is no money in the budget for such an overhaul.  For now they rely on steam heat from campus when outdoor temperatures drop.

“These sorts of things were taken into consideration with the newer research greenhouses were built.  But in all the CNS greenhouses across campus including Durfee, we’ve made a huge leap forward in the last four years that I’ve been here,” said Joyner.

According to Formosi, the conservatory building recognizable today was built of wood in 1952 at a cost of nearly $70,000.  The original structure rotted and could no longer serve the needs of the university.  In 2007 the conservatory was under construction again, this time to combat efficiency issues.

“The biggest improvement was a new control panel which unified the heating and venting operations under one system.  Now, when the heat is on the vents stay closed,” the curator said.

“In Winter, because the days are so short… the plants go into hibernation and there is less work to do,” Formosi said.  In the spring and summer months, the greenhouse expands its care of flora to the outdoor gardens and apple trees.  In full bloom, one can only picture what the original 73 acres of Durfee Conservatory holdings must have looked like.

“The greenhouse is in a constant state of renovations and improvement,” Formosi said, “It will only get more efficient over time.”

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