US (NJ): Flower grower adds 4.4 ha retractable roof greenhouse

George Lucas says “it all began with my wife Louise in April of 1979 with a goal to reach 1 acre (0.5ha) of poly greenhouses for production of foliage plants both for retail and wholesale. Today our operation is solely growing flowering plants with 34 acres (14ha) under protection and 30 acres (12ha) in outdoor production, now supported by our children and at times up to 250-300 employees”. George offers that the product mix sees them growing about 60% finished plants selling primarily to independent garden centers in a 500 mile (800km) radius of their New Jersey offices, the remaining 40% of Lucas’ production is now for young plants that they ship across the country.

In June of 2018, Nate Lucas, his father George along with Projects Manager Scott Burger, spoke with Cravo regarding their company, decision making, and approach to growing their business.

Choosing the right greenhouse design
George likens his choices in growing structures to a carpenter’s tool bag where they might have a big hammer, a finishing hammer, and a sledge hammer, etc. He says, different greenhouse structure designs are basically a variety of job specific tools. "When we started those tools were influenced by cost, so we chose inexpensive poly houses. As the company grew we added more tools to the point where that included high light glasshouses with heated flood floors, lighting and other high tech growing systems. When outdoor production reached 40 acres (16ha) we needed a new tool so we chose retractable roof structures to protect from cold & rain and they’ve done a really terrific job for us."

10 acre construction of retractable roof house in 2016
"As a group, we decided in spring of 2016 to build Cravo A-Frames but in the area where we had existing outdoor production so the window to build had to be after the fall crop in mid-October with a finish date of end of February. So as steel arrived, our team went to work with assembling the trusses and they all felt that soup to nuts the entire process went very very well."

Scott says one of the biggest obstacles was weather (2 ft of mud) and not material. "Tech support was great and any issues on installation instructions or drawings were answered almost immediately. The first posts went in November 8th and we finished with plants in the house by March 8th, that is including grading, drainage, electrical, plumbing, flooring, systems, 2 retention basins, everything!" Nate shared that he ran the crews. The first 4 weeks had a total of 20 workers and by the end of the job 55 men had been involved supporting the greenhouse, but that included also all the systems and other farm projects. "Had the mud not been there we could have saved 2 weeks."

1.25acre (.5ha) packing, shipping, retractable roof building in 2017
"In our other areas we used glasshouses for these areas because we could get 2 turns of hanging baskets above and use the space for packing & shipping below. When we added onto the retractable roof production area we wanted to keep the environmental control the same in the packing house, we still grow hanging baskets above but this year because spring was so late in coming we had to use the floor for growing so this year we did 2 turns above and 2 turns on the ground and still managed some room for shipping. This house has worked extremely well for us moving product between the 2 locations."

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