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Interlake greenhouse operators aim for lightest possible environmental footprint

This greenhouse’s pest management strategy uses a sophisticated system of interconnected biological controls

A first impression upon stepping inside this Interlake greenhouse is its owners must have a lot of pairs of hands helping them keep their plants so green and healthy.

But Karen and Allan Sabados don’t have a big payroll at all. Sabados Greenhouse is a family business and the couple employs only their daughter.

The rest of their help is invisible — but there sure is a lot of it. Zillions of beneficial insects of a half a dozen different types, such as tiny ladybugs and rove beetles, are hard at work inside this 16,000-sq.-foot operation south of Lundar, controlling less beneficial pests.

It’s always a matter of adapting for current needs, but this use of biologicals has worked out very well, says the couple.

“These efficient little helpers go wherever they are needed to keep the plants clean and sparkling. They work endlessly to inspect every petal and leaf all day long,” Allan Sabados says.

The couple began their business in the early 1990s and has worked steadily to adopt best management practices to optimize not just their own greenhouse interior, but also the surrounding environment.

“At one time greenhouses were anything but green,” said Allan, noting the intense use of chemical controls to control pests in the leaf cover, high use of plastics and heating from non-renewable fuels. “But there’s better ways to do it, and now it’s changing,” he said.

Sabados Greenhouse has taken a lead in making those changes come about.

“We started with ladybugs back in 2001,” said Karen, adding it has been a process of discovery to figure out how different types of insect predators and parasitizers work together non-competitively. Their beneficial insects program has been constantly evolving.

“There’s a learning curve of which parasitic wasp to use, so they don’t interact and eat each other.”

There’s a lot going on underground too — they use biological methods below the soil line to increase plant vigour and root health too.

Karen Sabados says their vegetable-based plastic plant pots are popular with customers. The pots can be tossed into a compost pile and are fully biodegradable.
photo: Lorraine Stevenson

Concerned over the increasing amounts of plastics found in watersheds and oceans, they now use as many biodegradable containers as they can find, including a specially designed plant pot made in the Netherlands entirely from vegetable-based plastics derived from wheat straw, corn and potatoes.

“You can just throw it into your compost pile,” Karen said, adding it’s usually composted by summer’s end. They recycle the trays and other pots that aren’t biodegradable.

They’ve also been steadily adopting renewable energy sources to heat and operate the greenhouses too, installing solar hot water panels to provide some of the space heating and solar photovoltaic panels for part of its electrical needs. They’ve also replaced most of their oil-burning furnaces with those that burn wood pellets.

They’re working at switching their lighting systems over from incandescent to LED which will lessen their electrical usage by as much as 75 per cent.

They use a fertilizer that’s a byproduct of producing soybean oil and have been very pleased with the results. It’s produced in a sustainable manner without any salt wastes that could leach into the watershed, Allan said. This fertilizer also introduces carbon into the soil to feed their beneficial soil microbes.

Their soil mix is a blend of peat and coir, chosen to replace copolymer gels found in other products that don’t break down easily and can get into watersheds.

They carefully monitor their watering systems too, using an integrated system of drippers and misters to water directly into their soil.

It’s simply a personal commitment to operate with as light an environmental footprint as possible, says the couple.

“The practices we use are just out of concern for our health and the health of people around us and the health of our planet,” adds Allan. “Greenhouses should be green.”

Customers think so too. They’ve become a popular agri-tourism destination, putting up picnic tables and installing gardens around the greenhouses for visitors to enjoy.

Those biodegradable pots, for instance, were something customers were asking for, Karen said.

“They felt we should do this, and once you have this on the shelf customers are very supportive,” she said.

Sabados Greenhouse received the West Interlake Watershed Conservation District’s 2016 award of excellence for exemplifying good environmental stewardship practices that relate to the vision of the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association (MCDA).

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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