Friday, November 11, 2016

Unity College Dartmouth Greenhouse Week 2

Week 2, 10/31/16-11/3/16:

I feel as though I have gotten a stable daily schedule after the first week of working.  I usually start out with a preparatory task like sweeping the floors from leaves and dead plant matter or cleaning floor drains of the different rooms.  Typically this will last until ~11:00 or 12:00 when I take a quick lunch break.  After lunch I usually have a variety of more involved tasks like fertilizing the plants or working on pest management.

Since the Greenhouse has a high diversity of plants, we have to use multiple types of fertilizers to deal with each specific plant type and environment.  Most of the fertilizer that we use are diluted with water so as to deliver the fertilizer directly into the plants system, although we do have some pellet form that we use to supplement some of the plants.  I usually use gloves and boots when I am handling fertilizer as I suspect prolonged exposure to some of the chemical should be avoided.

Orchids, especially the ones living on moss require specific fertilizer that they and their substrate can tolerate.  We use a special fish and seaweed fertilizer that is diluted with RO (reversed osmosis) water to fertilize the wall orchids in the cold orchid room, since the typical orchid fertilizer would hurt the moss. To apply it we use a hand-held pump sprayer.

The orchid wall in the Cold Orchid Room (all of the orchids on this wall are epiphytes and are attached to a substrate which is in turn attached to the moss)

We used a different fertilizer called "Epiphyte's Delight" for the bromeliads (epiphytes and soil-bound) and carnivorous plants in the Tropical and Sick Orchid rooms (nursery for carnivorous plants).  It was initially in Granular form but was diluted using the RO water and a different hand pump sprayer.

Myself using the fertilizer for the bromeliad in the Tropical Room.  Taken by my co-worker Terry.

We do have other diluted fertilizers for more general plants.  One of them is applied use a mechanical dispenser called a Dosatron. It is very large and we have to physically hook it up to the water system. It will mechanically measure out the correct ratio of fertilizer to water without monitoring it regularly.  It is too strong to be used for the orchids or the epiphytes.

As Integrated pest management is a part of my internship I often am on pest removal detail.  The most common of these tasks is removing mealybugs and scale insects from the plants with Q-tips and alcohol.  Often I have to do this to plants that are overgrown or crowded together.  We do have species that prey on the mealybugs, the Cryptolaemus montrouzieri ('Crypts' for short) larvae.  They often have similar coloring and shape but are much larger.

Cryptolaemus montrouzieri larva (center) and mealybugs on the same branch (below)

On Wednesday morning I was able to work hands on with some of the control species they use to prevent infestations; specifically beneficial nematodes (Steinernema feltiae).  They come in a dried suspended state and require water to move.  To make sure of their viability we always check under a microscope (the straight nematodes are dead). To make sure the nematodes are thoroughly dispersed I had to stir solution every 10 minutes.  They need to be apply to the soil. They are predators that eat the larvae of thrips and fungus gnats.  We used a ketchup dispenser to apply them.

The packets that the nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) came in.

Often we have to help the researchers of the plant laboratory to inoculate them with the predatory nematodes as the laboratories tend to water the plants too much making them a target for thrips and fungus gnats.  The plants they were using was a mustard relative as test subject because it has an extremely fast life cycle (~6 weeks) meaning they can have multiple generations in a short amount of time.  Each sections of plants were store in what they called Biochambers (kind of like high-tech sterile refrigerators except without the cold).

On Thursday I got put in charge of the Xeric Room or 'Cacti room'.  I was super excited about this. It is a bigger responsibility than it sounds on paper.  I will do my best to live up to it.

New World species' bench of the Xeric Room

The room itself is split down the middle with Old World species  on the left (mainly Africa) and the New World species on the right (mainly South and Central America).  They have a wide variety of succulents and xerophytes (plants adapted for dry environments). A lot of them are cacti and aloe.  An example of a xerophyte that is not a succulent was the Welwitschia. It is a very sensitive and bizarre plant, looking like cross between a pine cone and seaweed that has been dried bone hard.

Mammallaria hahniana "Old Lady Cactus" (that is the real common name; no joke!)

Until next time!

1 comment:

Aimee Phillippi said...

Great photos, Owen! I'd love to see one of Welwitschia too. I was just talking about that plant in biology last week.