Master Builders

Master Builders

While most growers got into the greenhouse business because they love to grow plants, others really take pride in building greenhouses and have dedicated employees and crews.

One prime example is George Lucas of Lucas Greenhouse in Monroeville, N.J. While he and his wife founded the business with just 9,000 square feet of greenhouse about 30 years ago, today Lucas Greenhouse spans 630,000 square feet and ranks at No. 100 on our Top 100 Growers. The company has undergone three major buildouts with Nexus Greenhouse Systems since 2002 and just constructed 170,000 square feet of Dual Atrium greenhouses with a glass roof and polycarbonate sides and gables using its own crews. This summer, Lucas will be adding another 130,000 square feet.

Where is all this growth coming from? Young plants. Forty percent of production is propagation and prefinished plants, and the rest is finished plants sold to independent garden centers within a 150-mile radius. Lucas Greenhouse is a rooting station for Fischer/Syngenta Flowers and also does contract growing for Pleasant View Gardens and Gro ‘N’ Sell. The company also produces its own liners for mums and poinsettias.

“I love to build greenhouses,” Lucas says. “I am a builder more than a grower. The projects we have now are more challenging, a lot more high tech and glass versus plastic. It’s challenging but fun.”

But as his operation has grown, he can’t be as hands-on with every aspect as he used to be. “We’re big enough now that I’m stuck in a stinkin’ chair in the office all the time,” Lucas laughs. “I need people who think like me so that I know the job will be done the way I would do it. The key is having good people. We are very fortunate to have talented people who can build.” 

Right Hand Men

The two employees Lucas relies on the most during the construction phase are Dave Miller, who manages all the site work, subcontractors and crews, and Scott Burger, who handles all the electrical, environmental controls and inside mechanical work. “They build the greenhouse and I make it run,” Burger says.

Miller worked for Lucas from 1985-1991 and returned in 2002 after running his own landscape company and other ventures. In addition to doing all the site preparation with heavy-duty equipment like backhoes and excavators, he manages the entire greenhouse construction from start to finish and a crew of up to 40 Lucas Greenhouse employees devoted to the job.

“This past year’s project started on Sept. 27 and we put plants in the house on Feb. 4,” Lucas says. “Jeff (Warschauer) from Nexus and Levi set the posts with our help. The underground storage tanks for flood water return, the flood floors, most of the pipe work for the heating system and most of the electric was done by outside contractors, but the entire structure was built by our own people. This included the site work needed to build the greenhouse on.”

Building projects are timed in between growing cycles and many of the 40 workers are directed from the greenhouse to construction. Most are from Mexico and many of the crew leaders have been with Lucas for 10 years.

“Having our own crews is an advantage,” Miller says. “We’re able to push the guys more and get the most efficiency. We’re able to build something ourselves, take pride and take a closer look. Whatever we build, we have to live with the next 20 years.”

There are cost savings, too, Lucas says. “Every time you have an outside contractor, the guys are here for eight weeks. Our guys are already housing and feeding themselves. For us, there’s not much down side, and we’re able to keep a good work force busy year round.”

A typical greenhouse construction crew is about eight people, Nexus’ Warschauer says. With a crew of 40, Lucas builds in record time. “It normally takes five to six months for a crew of eight. For him it takes less than four months with 30 to 40 people,” Warschauer says. “They prepare the grounds and pay for the rental equipment. We tell them what they will need–scissor lifts and augers, machines to hoist up trusses. Our crew digs the holes.” 

Choreographing Construction

All the parts are ordered and delivered before construction begins. The most crucial factors are weather and supplies of materials coming in. “Once we ran out of gutters and had to move the crew to another area,” Lucas explains. “If we run out of materials, it’s my fault, if I don’t give suppliers enough time for the parts or they are behind. Either can make a mess out of the plan. I still need to pay the crew.”

Miller builds in crews of two, pairing up workers to do 10 to 15 jobs at the same time. “One pair sets posts, one does trusses versus everyone doing the same task at one time,” Miller says. “This keeps everyone pushing together. It doesn’t take long to get ahead, but if the materials are wrong or the measurements are wrong, that will bring things to a halt.”

Burger is amazed at how much the crew can accomplish in a single day. “They build greenhouses so fast, before I know it, it’s six o’clock at night and I’ve got to put a motor in,” he says. “I try to work with Dave’s guys so they’re not putting stuff in my way.”

Miller says he always has to be thinking five or six days ahead and anticipating what can and can’t be placed where. He also needs to have extra jobs in his pocket to keep people moving all the time.

“The most challenging part is bringing the right people together with the same personality and work ethic,” Miller says. “You can have a great game plan, but if you don’t have good people, you can’t do it. George has put a great responsibility on me to get these projects done and gives me the luxury of handling things the way I want to handle them. We’re alike in that we will work 14 hours a day, but not everyone has the same ambition. So we keep it fun and interesting for the guys and make it enjoyable, so they will want to do it again. We keep a light atmosphere.”

Leave a Reply

5 comments on “Master Builders

  1. Sirs
    I have been constructing Nexus houses for about 20+ years now and the builder i have been working for is pretty much in this for him self and instead of helping his employes he would just fire them and hire new ones, and it shows in his work. Like i said hes in it for himself and thats it. so after 15 years of working with this guy im ready to do something else. If you have any openings could you give me a call and i will send you my resume thank you so much 719-235-7577

  2. Sirs
    I have been constructing Nexus houses for about 20+ years now and the builder i have been working for is pretty much in this for him self and instead of helping his employes he would just fire them and hire new ones, and it shows in his work. Like i said hes in it for himself and thats it. so after 15 years of working with this guy im ready to do something else. If you have any openings could you give me a call and i will send you my resume thank you so much 719-235-7577

  3. love growing things have build my own green houses out of old patio doors and old window from jobs i did i can custom build anything also a master on the aluminum break work with wood and vinyl warm frame four season applications 414 531 5690 ask for ron p.s. also know how to develop mushrooms

More From Greenhouses...
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Begonia 'BabyWing Red' (2015 Louisiana State University Field Trials)

November 27, 2015

2015 Louisiana State University (Hammond, La.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Louisiana State University in Hammond, La.

Read More
Latest Stories
Battlefield Farms in Virginia noticed an improvement in the quality of heuchera propagation plugs after using Philips’ LED production modules

November 23, 2015

LED Lighting May Be The Next Frontier For Plant Nutriti…

Philips Lighting’s senior plant specialist, Dr. Abhay Thosar, shares how the company is working with growers to help create custom plant recipes for streamlined production of better quality crops.

Read More

June 21, 2015

Greenhouse Project Moves Pavlodar (Kazakhstan) Closer T…

Despite regional challenges, greenhouse specialists Dalsem and automation supplier Hoogendoorn have collaborated on a greenhouse complex with the PTK company to bring Pavlodar (Kazakhstan) closer to self-sufficient, local food production.

Read More
Greenhouse Electrical System

May 26, 2015

Don’t Let Your Greenhouse Electrical System Come …

Ensuring your greenhouse has enough electricity to operate all the equipment that is installed takes planning and consideration of an operation's needs. Part one of two articles on greenhouse electrical systems covers choosing an electrician, meeting immediate and future needs and planning for back-up power.

Read More

May 22, 2015

Nexus Greenhouses Is Optimistic For Expansion Into New …

Cheryl Longtin and Mike Porter, who own Nexus Corporation, say they were excited to attend the grand opening of Gotham Greens’ new structure atop the new Whole Foods grocery store in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when it opened in December 2013. The project is just one example of some of the new and expanding markets that Nexus Corporation has expanded into over the past few years. Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus, says the company has enjoyed getting to know and working with the founders of Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, the chief agriculture officer, on their innovative approach to business. “They are very excited and work hard internally – just great people,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s great to see that excitement and vision. The employees there are happy and there’s no turnover; they’re only adding new people […]

Read More

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environme…

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More

March 16, 2015

Cozy Acres Greenhouses: Operating With Zero Emissions

With the help of federal funding, Cozy Acres Greenhouses was able to take a greener approach to its latest expansion, building a zero emissions greenhouse that operates year round.

Read More
interior view EDDG vent_energy efficiency codes

March 16, 2015

Stricter Energy Codes May Impact Your Ability To Expan…

Energy efficiency building codes that greenhouses are required to meet could soon be much more stringent, unless the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association is successful in its bid to gain exceptions on greenhouse owners’ behalf.

Read More

March 13, 2015

GGS Helps North Creek Nurseries Take Efficiency To A Ne…

North Creek Nurseries recently built a new GGS gutter connected poly greenhouse range with the intent of saving energy and implementing Lean Flow Practices. The aim was to help North Creek improve the quality of products and meet increased customer demand, while at the same time saving money on labor.

Read More
Retail Greenhouse

March 12, 2015

The Right Greenhouse For Any Grower

Selecting the right structure for your operation can be difficult. With so many options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The good news is that greenhouse manufacturers are experienced in the art of matching customers with the ideal product. Here’s their advice for how to pick your next structure.

Read More
Fall Creek Farm and Nursery Expansion

March 12, 2015

Conley’s Helps Fall Creek Farm And Nursery Increase Blu…

In order to meet its customer’s increasing demands for domestic blueberry production in the United States, Fall Creek Farm and Nursery needed much more indoor growing space. The company selected Conley’s for a recent expansion of Conley’s Gable Series 7500 in a two-phase project. The first 14-greenhouse range sold by distributor Horticulture Services, measures 170,000 square feet in size and finished construction in 2013.

Read More
Emerald Coast Grower's Atlas Greenhouse

March 12, 2015

Emerald Coast Growers Steps-Up Production Efficiency An…

Emerald Coast Growers, a supplier of perennial starter plants and ornamental grass liners, is not averse to expansion projects. In 2010, it celebrated its 20th anniversary with an expansion of its perennial production space. More recently, the company has been in a nearly continuous phase of construction and improvement projects.

Read More
ArmstrongGrowers Hanging Basket Area

March 12, 2015

Armstrong Growers And Pike Farms Grow With Sustainable …

Rebuilding and retrofitting greenhouses has been key to Armstrong Growers’ expansion on the West Coast, and Pike Farms will follow the same business model on the East Coast. The four-acre wholesale operation that is currently Pike Farms produces only about 5 percent at the most of Pike Nurseries’ retail garden center needs; however, that’s going to change in the next couple of years.

Read More
Metrolina Greenhouses Loading-Dock

March 12, 2015

Metrolina Greenhouses Expands With High- And Low-Tech …

Heralded as one of the most automated greenhouse operations in the U.S., Metrolina Greenhouses continues to build in Huntersville, N.C., and York, S.C. Art Van Wingerden, chief operating officer and co-owner of Metrolina Greenhouses, estimates that as his big box customers continue to grow at a 3 to 5 percent rate, so will Metrolina Greenhouses’ growing facilities to keep up with demand.

Read More

March 10, 2015

Greenhouses Are More Efficient For Marijuana Production

At least 30 percent more efficient and productive than warehouse growing, greenhouses are the way of the future for commercial cannabis production, experts say. Cannabis growers and advisors are starting to move production out of the warehouse and into the greenhouse, to benefit from the efficiencies that the sun’s natural light and environmental controls provide.

Read More
Pleasant View Gardens New Expansion

March 10, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Transitions Old-School Hoop Hous…

A new production expansion optimizes labor efficiency and adds growing space, while optimizing energy use.

Read More
Rough Brothers aeroponic greenhouse project

February 24, 2015

Rough Brothers Takes A Hands-On Approach To Several Pro…

Two projects Rough Brothers worked on for Altman plants in Giddings, Texas, and Scissortail Farms in Tulsa County, Okla., show that pre-planning on the grower's part opens the way for a smooth-running expansion project.

Read More
Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing's Rainbow Super Structure

February 23, 2015

Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing Says Every Customer’s G…

Well-suited greenhouses that function efficiently for customers arise from involving them in the design process from start to finish. Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing put this philosophy on a greenhouse design for a wholesale grower looking to expand his annuals operation. The grower's needs were simple, yet daunting: design a greenhouse that delivers the perfect growing environment, but keep maintenance and operating costs low.

Read More
National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association

January 27, 2015

Stricter Energy Codes May Impact Your Ability To Expand

Are you aware stricter energy codes may be on the horizon that will certainly impact your business in a big way? Here's a Q & A from the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association that helps explain the dangers of the coming energy codes and what we as an industry can do to prevent them.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]