While the original Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory was a state-of-the-art structure when it opened in 1931, the new Conservatory has features that greenhouse growers from that era could only dream of.
Sensors distributed in the Palm House and Student House monitor temperature, humidity and light levels.
That information is relayed to a sophisticated environmental control system that determines when to adjust lights, vents, shade curtains and fog system. The control system is also used to remotely monitor that greenhouse conditions are within an acceptable range 24/7, and to notify greenhouse managers if any critical conditions threaten plants.
The automatic controls open and close vents to respond to changing temperatures. A natural ‘chimney effect’ draws cool air in through two rows of sidewall vents and exhausts hot air through roof peak vents. This passive cooling strategy does not rely on large exhaust fans, saving energy and reducing noise in the Conservatory. Wire mesh over all vent openings keeps out squirrels, birds and other wildlife while maximizing air flow.
The automatic controls also operate insulating shade curtains along the sidewalls and overhead. These curtains close to provide shade when light levels and/or temperatures rise too high, and help keep heat from radiating out of the Conservatory on cold nights.
An overhead fog system helps increase humidity when the air is too dry, mimicking the native environment of many of the Conservatory’s plants. They can also provide some evaporative cooling when it’s hot.
Small internal fans improve air circulation in the Conservatory, helping to reduce plant diseases.
Supplemental lighting helps sun-loving plants thrive when days are short and can be used to trigger certain day length-sensitive plants to flower. Computer controls automatically turn the lights on and off based on the amount of natural light received.
Radiators along the walls use hot water instead of steam for much better temperature control and energy savings. The concrete floors and walkways are treated with a non-slip, easy-to-clean coating.
The growing medium in the Palm House in-ground planting bed is a customized mix of coconut coir, biochar and Turface (a clay-based soil conditioner) designed to resist compaction and maintain porosity over the long term. The path coming soon through the planting bed will be made of recycled tire chips.
Irrigation water is tempered to prevent cold damage to sensitive tropical plant roots. Deionized water is also available to irrigate plants that require water with very low mineral content, such as Venus Fly Traps.