Confession: I’ve always been a soil lovin’ gal. I never gave much mind to high-yield greenhouses nor year-round production, but recently, I’ve turned positively gaga for greenhouses! I don’t know what’s come over me. Maybe it’s the glass house’s sleek architectural lines that draw me in. Perhaps the appeal lies in the mechanical precision applied to watering and ventilation, or heck, maybe high-tech greenhouse production simply fulfills my passion for efficiency.
Last week Jeff Warschauer from Nexus Corporation – a leader in the greenhouse industry – toured me and my coworkers from Roofmeadow around 23 acres of commercial greenhouse space in Monroeville, NJ. The facility impressed the pants off of us. Lucas Greenhouses, established in 1979, is an award-winning family-owned plant nursery that sells to independently-owned garden centers and landscaping companies throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The company almost exclusively produces annuals, with an occasional herbaceous perennial and vegetable start in the mix.
Zipping from greenhouse to greenhouse on a near-silent golf cart I gasped with amazement as vibrant pansy beds flew by. The blur of color ended as Jeff pulled over to point out cutting-edge greenhouse features. A highly-calibrated computer system throughout the facility monitors and adjusts each greenhouse’s climatic conditions to meet the temperature and humidity needs of each individual greenhouse. Vents atop the peaked greenhouses open and close throughout the day to cool and dehumidify the growing environment while gradually hardening off the plants. During cool months, a sophisticated radiant heat system pumps hot water under the floor of several production houses. Others are heated by radiant “fins” (linear aluminum segments under radiant piping) suspended in the air. I was stunned by the sophistication and breadth of the operation.
What does a commercial, ground-level facility like Lucas Greenhouses have to do with rooftop agriculture? Everything. Jeff explained that many features we examined are directly transferable to rooftop greenhouses. Special considerations such as backup heating systems and selecting polycarbonate glazing rather than glass can make or break an rooftop greenhouse operation. Hydroponic systems that utilize harvested rainwater from the greenhouse roof can also be key for a commercial rooftop farm.
The level of innovation and dedication that Lucas Greenhouses owner George Lucas brings to the table is remarkable. His business remains competitive with the large, national suppliers, as evidenced by the company’s Greenhouse Grower Magazines “Grower of the Year” award in 2009 and 2012.
As we ruminate on our own rooftop farming projects, let’s remember to gain inspiration from a variety of sources – even those on the ground.