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Tom and Sue Palomaki, Lucas Greenhouses

Greenhouse Team Earns IPM Award for Helping Other Growers

by Mary Woodsen

Susan and Tom Palomaki knew that greenhouses provide perfect moisture and warmth, not just for plants, but for pests. But in 2005 when they bought Lucas Greenhouses, with over a million plants under one roof, they didn’t want to be tied to the weekly spray routines commonly used to combat greenhouse pests.

The Palomaki’s first priority—finding a better, gentler way to cope with pests. Which led to their first permanent new hire—Debbie Palumbo-Sanders.

Palumbo-Sanders’s background in plant pathology and plant science, coupled with her enthusiasm and curiosity, made her a natural for the job. Plus: she knew the core principles of integrated pest management (IPM) and was eager to learn more. Now the Lucas Greenhouses team has received an Excellence in IPM award for their leadership in promoting IPM to greenhouse growers statewide as well as to their customers.

Among the IPM tactics well-suited to greenhouses is biocontrol. Because greenhouse conditions are ideal for them, too, these predatory insects or pathogens can really wallop pests. But although IPM growers can cut way back on the time and money spent spraying greenhouses, says NYS IPM educator Brian Eshenaur, working with tiny, sometimes microscopic living critters involves a learning curve.

Lucas Greenhouses has become a major player in the mentoring circuit. They help the large wholesale growers who supply them—and even other retailers—get a handle on the sometimes-tricky tactics it takes to succeed at biocontrol.

“We definitely see the ripple effect,” says Tom Palomaki. “Suppliers are sending us cuttings they’ve grown using biocontrols.” Which means many other retailers are getting the same high-quality, low-impact cuttings too.

“That’s what’s so wonderful about these folks,” says Eshenaur. “They go out of their way to help other growers learn how to keep those biocontrols healthy and productive.”

And if you’re a Lucas customer, Eshenaur says, you can’t miss the colorful banners hanging in the center aisle, explaining what IPM is and why it’s so important for plants and people too. “When garden clubs come through for tours we can just see the light bulbs come on,” says Palomaki.

“Some growers are hesitant to explain about biocontrols because then their customers know there are bugs, good and bad, at that greenhouse,” Eshenaur says. “But when I’m out there what I see is healthy, vigorous plants. It’s a case of what you see is what you get, in the very best sense.”

The Lucas team receives their award on July 24, 2012 at Cornell’s Floriculture Field Day.