best commercial greenhouses?

noramcd(northern NJ/6b)April 3, 2006

Hi All,

I have yet another of the "I want to start a green business" questions for you. Despite the preponderance of advice to the contrary, we are moving to a 7 acre place and wanting to start a nursery. I'm looking for recommendations for a greenhouse that can be heated efficiently, which in my zone (6) probably means double-walled poly. I have a couple catalogs, but would really appreciate advice from the folks here who are already operating greenhouses. Company names? What to look for? Pitfalls? Companies with best reputation, reliability, follow through? Stuff I'm not thinking of? Also, we will be in a rural area where the only available fuel source will be oil or probably propane. Recommendations for fuel sources and/or heater models? What is a good size to start with? We had originally been thinking of growing orchids, but I think it would be better to try to get something out the door this coming spring. We were thinking of hanging baskets or combination planters. If we can generate some income, then we can think of a second house with a longer term crop... I suppose the third option is to put up a cold frame and overwinter perennials planted from plugs this summer. Or should we punt for a year and have my partner work for a grower next season? I think it's too late for this year.

TIA for any advice y'all care to share. I've been lurking for a while now, and I'm still apparently crazy enough to try this. Can you tell I'm having a humongous case of the willies about it? I'll be commuting to my day job, and my partner will be on site. This arrangement will hold until I can afford to quit, which will likely be never... Stupidly, I'm the plant person, but my job pays more than his, and he works from home anyway.


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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

>Despite the preponderance of advice to the contraryI talked to a small local grower yesterday who also produces field crops as well who isn't running his greenhouse this year because propane is too expensive. Likewise I've heard floriculture operations are closing because they think they soon won't be able to make a profit, due to cost of fuel making their products cost more than the market is willing to pay. Before making a big outlay I would definitely make sure there is a good prospect of being able to sell my product for a decent return.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 2:54PM
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noramcd(northern NJ/6b)

Thanks bboy. Yes, it seems that the industry has gotten even tougher in the year or so that we have been batting this around and planning. I've met with some local retail garden center/landscaper types, and they don't have heated houses. They do have a poly structure that they use to bring on bare root shrubs and plugs, but no heat.

And for those of you who are wondering: yes, I read Tony Avent's book. My partner has been in his own business for years, and is also pretty good with the mechanicals, and I have a decent knowledge of plants. My partner is convinced we can do it -- which is a good thing, because I'm not feeling the optimism right now. I've always known this was risky, but I'm really beginning to question my sanity. When big, established places are closing, the rank amateur has to wonder...

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 6:12PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Well, if he's good with mechanicals then maybe you won't need to hire any workers. Robots don't have to be paid.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2006 at 11:31PM
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noramcd(northern NJ/6b)

OK... Was the snark really necessary? I asked a straight question, expressed my appreciation for your reply, and probably a bit too much of my current angst. Not sure why that got this response.

If anyone else has anything constructive to add, like a favorite greenhouse/coldframe manufacturer, feel free to chime in.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 10:54AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

No affront intended.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 1:34AM
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noramcd(northern NJ/6b)

Noted. Sorry to be so touchy...

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 10:10AM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

I can't give you any advice on which greenhouses are best. I chose to build my own from wood and covered it in triple wall poly. Total cost ws about $13k. I have another $1500 to spend on heaters, fans and electrics. So really in the end it will be $15k for a 52x18 greenhouse. I could have gone cheaper and used a metal frame covered with double poly film, but I wanted a more substantial structure that didn't have plastic fluttering in the wind. I want the nursery to have a certain look and feel.

The "is there a market" question is a tough one. You can anlayze things to death and never come up with a solid answer. I think in the end you have to learn how to produce as high a quality for a as little cost as you can with the knowledge you have and go for it. The worst that can happen is you will lose some money and learn something.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 4:05PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Had dinner with a couple friends. One owns a nursery. Said the growth in plant market has finally fallen off, after many years. I was also told by somebody else--a retail nursery worker--awhile back that gardening is no longer America's Number One Hobby, its place having been taken by Eating in Restaurants(!). Same party was making a display of Asian pottery while we spoke, which they said was hot because people were buying condos and gardening in planters instead of buying a house with a yard.

Still plenty of new houses visible here, but I do notice they often nearly fill the lot. Another local factor at work is that Seattle has now mandated that new houses have off-street parking; combine this (driveway filling up half of front yard) with the house nearly filling the lot to begin with and it means there is not a heckuva lot--so to speak--of gardening space left. Not surprisingly, new plant selections coming on the market are often dwarf or even miniature.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 1:34AM
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Gardener's are alive. 3 poly is extreme. No way ever! Hey why are rich people in Oregon growing nursery stock in 5 acre plots or more. What is wrong with WA growers?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 1:55AM
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perennialprincess(z4 MN)

Nora: do you want to sell wholesale or retail? will you take plants to the local Farmers Market? what is your outlet?

although greenhouses across the country are in a pinch because of fuel, there is still a market for plants! you need to find your niche, and find a profitable niche. Perhaps it is specialty annuals, trough gardens, unusual high end container combinations, etc - perhaps something that appeals to the high end garden center.

Is there a commercial flower grower association in Washington state? Or a nursery/landscape association with flower growers who are part of the organization? I'd highly recommend joining, participating in education sessions, etc - anything you can do to find out more about the industry in your state/city and how you can fit in, before you get crazy building houses, etc.

good luck to you!!!! PP

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 11:03AM
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Mike Larkin

Nora - . I have a 16x24 Atlas GH double poly, and was very satified with the good customer Service I received when ordering and building my GH. Atlas has many larger types and sizes avaiable, and would recommend to any one starting out.
For me heating with propane has become very expensive. My GH is mostly a hobby. I have a Modine 75.000 btu lp gass heater that vents to outside and last year it cost me close to $1000 to heat my little GH - maintained at around 45o F . There was lots of talk and controversy on the GH forum about not vented gas heaters. With proper venting some of the smaller nurseries in my area have used with great sucess - It may be worth furture discussion on that forum Building permits are something to look into in your area. My location was a little more residential that yours , but the township was very strict about permits and ensuring that the snow load was adequete.

Wish you best of luck in your venture. Mike

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 12:16PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

FarmTek deluges us with catalogs full of greenhouses, each one proclaiming to be the "best for professionals."

If restaurant dining has replaced gardening as "America's #1 Hobby," maybe we should use greenhouses for growing gourmet produce to sell to the restaurants. Arugula anyone?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 12:46PM
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noramcd(northern NJ/6b)

I'm laughing at your comment Cady. I have at least one book that advises doing exactly that. But I think the large hydroponic outfits would eat my lunch -- if not my arugula.

We will definitely get in touch with the local Ag extension office. NJ seems quite keen to keep the few farmers they have left. The legislative landscape is surprisingly friendly to farming. We already have permission to build two 24x96 structures, if we so desire. Anything more will require a trip to the planning board. We were told it's essentially a rubber stamp though, at least up to the impervious coverage limit, which is a percentage of the 7 acres. We actually backed out of a purchase last year because it was in a restricted area for bulding (Highlands Preservation Area for those who know NJ).

As for the other questions, I'm not sure we've identified our target market yet, but we've been batting around a bunch of ideas, including high end container combinations, which is something I really enjoy doing. But unless we have a heated house, it seems to me that this will be problematic. As noted elsewhere on this forum, most people want their plants so early in the season that it would be impossible to sell anything tender without heat. Which brings me to another question: If you don't have any heat, then how do you get perennials/plants ready for the spring rush? I mean, my local garden center will be selling perennials in a week's time, and mine are barely above the ground. A poly tunnel will speed things up, but by how much? I guess you just sell whatever is in season, when it's in season?...

I hadn't initially thought about farmer's markets, but we can do that, if that's what it takes. I've logged many hours behind a sales table, so it won't be anything new. Makes it hard to be tending your plants though, and there's only two of us. Do those of you who've done this regard it as your permanent way fo doing business, or as a way to build exposure for your establishment?

I get lots of the Farm Tech catalogs, but I'm inferring from Cady's comment that they are not the way to go?

Thanks for the input guys.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 2:34PM
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juniorballoon(Z8a WA)

At the time I purchased my polycarbonate they had a sale and the triple wall was $150 more than the double wall. On of a $4000 purchase it seemed like the smart thing to do.

Who are the rich oregonians growing plants on 5 acres?

Mike, what was the cost of your greenhouse and what is it glazed with? Also what are your min temps in the winter?


    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 2:42PM
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upnortdareh(Zone 4)

I agree about the Atlas houses I have 10 houses and 3 different brands and the Atlas are my favorite.Farm markets and Flea markets are a great way to get out there and make some money instead of waiting for people to come to you . I do 4 a week , It is about 1/3 of my income. And yes you do need some source of heat. You want to be ready to roll when that first glimmer of nice weather hits your area. Works For Me Upnortdareh

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 7:51AM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

There is nothing wrong with the Farm Tek products as far as I know. My observation is only that they have a huge diversity of greenhouses, so you'd likely want to do some homework to determine what kind is going to work best for you and give the best return on your investment.

They have a number of different sizes and shapes in polycarbonate or sheet plastic; metal vs. wood vs. recycled plastic frames; etc. I'd compare the longivity of one material over another, its efficiency in retaining/releasing heat, the amount of light it allows through and other factors.

We've come a long way since the wood/putty glazing and wood/coal burners in terms of choice, but you really do have to weigh the different options against the size and scope of your plans and the funds available for initial outlay.

This is on my mind as well, as I'm looking into the feasibility of getting a greenhouse for maintaining my garden-install stock over winter and other peripheral uses.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 8:45PM
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There was a wholesale perennial operation near me until recently. Couple of winters ago they had 24 houses collapse under the weight of the snow. They liquidated in June, mostly due to poor management practices.
For the money the best poly house I know of is called "StormKing" and there used to be a dealer in Red Bank NJ who sold them called XS Smith. You could drive a tank over them and they will not collapse.
I have a friend who has a 22 acre nursery in central MD. The container portion is entirely irrigated by well. He is really sweating during droughts. You must also have quality water, what is pH, what is iron content? In my state we are required to recapture runoff irrigation, how about you? Can tractor-trailer get in, turn around and get out of your place?
These questions may not seem important to you now but they will be.
"We had originally been thinking of growing orchids" I am glad that you canned that idea. Unlike years ago, every big box and grocery store sells orchids. Same thing with poinsettias.
One thing that you have going for you is that NJ is a heavily populated state. Northern NJ is close to market. Best of luck to you,

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 9:19PM
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mdaughn(zone 7)

I formerly worked for a grower that had bunch of StormKing's by XSmith. I would probably purchase that kind myself given the choice. Nice high ceilings for hanging baskets, gothic shape for snow load, any length you want.

If you haven't already, I would call Griffin Greenhouse & Nursery Supplies and ask for a catalog ( I think their catalog (and the catalogs of some other suppliers) are really good resources. They show a variety of greenhouse types and might help you figure out what you need to consider.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 12:36PM
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noramcd(northern NJ/6b)

Thanks so much for the help everyone. I'm in the last throes of moving, so not too much computer time to be had around here... I just came in from digging plants from my garden to take with me, and found several new posts.

When I said I was thinking of orchids, I meant something a bit more esoteric than phaleonopsis, but then you're fighting for the dollars of the few hobbyists who are willing to seek out something unusual. But you can grow a lot of botanicals in one not-too-large warm to intermediate house, and you'd be shocked what a tiny pot of whatever will set you back:-) I love the miniatures -- too cute. Most of the folks in that business sell at orchid shows, and have hours when their greenhouses are open to the public, although some are appointment only. I've always figured the appointment only folks were hobbyists.

But I also love my perennial beds, and I'd be happy enough with a business based on outdoor gardening. Although... I did find myself mumbling about being too old for this as I was breaking my back getting my plants back out of the ground.

Thanks again. I'll be checking back in as time and computer access allows. Thursday is M day.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 6:15PM
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deeproots(8b South Ga)

I live about 8 miles from nice folks, great houses.
I'd strongly advise thier houses. 4 out of my 7 are atlas houses.

which btw, i have two 30x96's up for grabs, my business is moving more towards irrigation work, i havn't used all my greenhouses in years.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2006 at 7:15PM
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upnortdareh(Zone 4)

Drew ----- Where have you been? I thought maybe you got "Rootbound"-------------Upnortdareh

    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 8:03AM
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deeproots(8b South Ga)

hmmm, well between the 7 large irrigation jobs since the first of the year, the online plant sales, the 4 greenhouses I still maintain the 5 and 2 year old kids, the wifes booming soap and candle company, the fact that i've converted my truck to run on vegetable oil (and subsequently have been collecting it), and all the other things... I dunno, reckon I got busy.

I'm looking to liquidate/move my nursery at the time as it is really not terribly profitable compared to my other ventures.... plus the land around me is about to be developed, and I might be moving to a large farm to serve as 'caretaker'.

ummm, other than that, I cleared out a greenhouse and am rebuilding diesel engines and gensets in it, to be resold during the next hurricane crisis (i'm such a capitalist).

dislocated my thumb the other day running a trencher, so thats kept me from typings a bit too...

one of these days I might actually hire someone.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2006 at 8:24PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

More development? Georgia sure is building quick. I hope it doesn't lose sight of the importance of preserving some of its vast forests. Last time I flew over Georgia to Atlanta, there were all these cul-de-sac developments with identical "McMansions" plopped on 'em. They were constructed of plywood, pre-assembled frames and vinyl siding. Bet they sell for $$$ tho'.

I'd say you're more of an entrepreneur than a "capitalist," Drew. You're an inspiration.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 9:18AM
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Mike Larkin

Mike, what was the cost of your greenhouse and what is it glazed with? Also what are your min temps in the winter.

It was around $2500 ++ Many years ago. Double poly on top --twin wall polycarbonate on front and back.
Also this year I tried using a solar pool cover across the top. Not something I would recommend for a double poly house. TOO hard to keep form blowing off!! I have not yet determined it I got a great deal of savings. Mike

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 10:59AM
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deeproots(8b South Ga)

cady, I live in atkinson county ga, 4hours and 50 years away from atlanta.
i left the northeast to avoid sprawl.... no need to go there again :-)

hmm, i think my blister's blister, just got a blister today.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 9:30PM
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space management;rolling benches;container size and subsequent spacing as the crop develops;crop selection;crop turnover time;factoring in costs...

    Bookmark   April 21, 2006 at 10:44AM
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