Plant Science Nursery and Greenhouses

The new Agriculture-Science Building completed in 1966 included a small “greenhouse” on the roof of the structure.  This was the first greenhouse facility available to the College.  It was shared with the Biology Department, which was also housed in the Ag-Sci building and was used for Botany classes.  In addition to its limited size, the roof top facility was hampered by light deficiency in many locations because of its solid roof construction.

At about the same time, a one acre parcel of land just south of the Wall Amphitheater was developed into a plant Science nursery as part of a Campus Beautification Project.  Dr. Melvin Wall, chair of the Campus Beautification Project and Dr. Donald Steinegger of the Horticulture faculty were instrumental in bringing about this project, which was described as being “for the purpose of research and as a teaching aid in Plant Science.”

Mel Wall (center)

Mel Wall (center)

Dr. Steinegger had received a grant to study climatic hardiness of perennial trees, shrubs and plants.  The initial planting consisted of 65 fruit trees, grape vines, small shrubs, evergreens, and grasses.  The nursery immediately became heavily used as an outdoor teaching laboratory in Agronomy and Horticulture.  It also served as a source of plant materials which were harvested during the summer and stored in one of the Ag-Science Building’s walk-in freezers for use in Plant Science labs during the winter months.  The nursery has been expanded a couple of times over the years and has been the site of grape, blackberry, raspberry, herb, and perennial ornamental trials and teaching plots, as well as plantings of traditional agronomic annual and perennial crops.

The CAFES Greenhouse

Planning for a new greenhouse began about 1969.  Plant and Earth Science faculty members wanted to have it located on the southwest since of the Ag-Science Building with a connection to the main building for easy access during the winter months.  This would facilitate transport of plant materials to the labs and classrooms and also provide easy access to the facility by faculty and students.  However, because of previously prepared long range plans to add a Food Science wing to the building, campus planners elected to have a separate, unconnected greenhouse to the east of the Agricultural Engineering shop area, thus overruling the faculty.  I also recall that because of budget limitations, it was projected to be a two-phase.

Construction of the initial phase, which consisted of a headhouse and four glasshouse rooms, began in 1971 and was completed in 1973.  Plant Science faculty members, Lou Greub and Donald Steinegger, along with Plant and Earth Science technician, Mark Kimball, were very much involved in the planning of the new greenhouse.

The budget for the original project was $183,000. Phase II did not begin until 1985 when four additional “glass” o were added to the south end of the initial structure.  However, these houses were covered with a double-walled, nearly transparent acrylic material that had the advantage of a much lower heat loss than glass.  The cost of this addition was $195,723.

In 1988-1990, a $305,500 project remodeled and expanded the headhouse to add a much needed classroom; upgraded the fertilizer/pesticide storage area; replaced the ailing growth chambers; and installed a computer-controlled ventilation, lighting, and automated watering system.  The computer controlled system was one of the first such installations in a university greenhouse in the mid-west.  Systems for fertilizer injection via the watering system and carbon dioxide injection capability into glasshouse rooms also were included.  The completed greenhouse with the increased space and modern facilities has made it possible for horticulture, agronomy, and soils classes to have a year-round laboratory to do their weekly lab work, carry on extended class projects, view demonstrations, and perform actual research-type experiments.

In May, 2001, a severe hailstorm with some of the hailstones the size of grapefruits completely devastated the glasshouses and severely damaged the acrylic-covered part of the greenhouse.  Greenhouse manage Dan Waletzko described the scene as “a mine field of glass” following the storm.  It took most of the summer to clean up the mess.  The only good result from it was that as a result of the persistent urging of the plant science faculty, the older, former glasshouse areas were also recovered with the more heat-saving and moderately hail resistant biwall acrylic.

The purposes of periodically remodeling and upgrading the greenhouse have been to maintain a state of state-of-the-art teaching and demonstration facility while also allowing faculty and students to do research in a controlled greenhouse environment.  Since the late 1990’s the greenhouse facility has become an important feature in the work of horticulturalist, Dr. Brian Smith’s strawberry and fruit breeding work.



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