The new Campanella Campanula series from PanAmerican Seed fits very easily into the latest home trend of placing living color in the spaces we spend the most time — indoors! Campanella has large, bell-shaped blooms that fill pots better with more flowers. The bells are charming and easy to care for, making it great for a plant novice. Campanella is also vigorous, meaning it is suitable for larger pots for bigger impact. Here are a few growing guidelines to produce a quality crop of this on-trend flower.
George Lucas started his family business with a modest goal. When he founded Lucas Greenhouses in 1979 with his wife, Louise, he dreamed of building an acre of greenhouse growing space. At the time, George had been married to Louise for just two years and was still working at another greenhouse as he and his new bride worked to get Lucas Greenhouses off the ground.
“Those first four or five years were really tough,” George says. “But we did it.”“Every year, we’d grow a little,” he says. George Lucas started his family business with a modest goal. When he founded Lucas Greenhouses in 1979 with his wife, Louise, he dreamed of building an acre of greenhouse growing space. At the time, George had been married to Louise for just two years and was still working at another greenhouse as he and his new bride worked to get Lucas Greenhouses off the ground.
And “Those first four or five years were really tough,” George says. “But we did it.”
George and Louise grew Lucas Greenhouses, in Monroeville, New Jersey, to 1 acre in 1985 and 2.5 acres by 1990. Today, they have expanded the operation to more than 1.7 million square feet of glass greenhouse space — in addition to 35 acres of field production — through an ambitious expansion plan George started in 2002. The Lucas family sells its bedding plants, young plants and various finished plants to independent garden centers, other growers and a few grocery chains along the East Coast and as far west as the Mississippi River.
“Every year, we’d grow a little,” he says. “And we kept adding on and adding on.”
What has driven George and his business forward since the beginning is his love of building and planning. According to Louise, George can often be found sitting on the roof of a greenhouse, somewhere on the property, thinking about the future, reflecting on the work he’s already done and the work that his son, Nate, will take on when he steps to the helm of the family business someday. And while George says he won’t ever stop working, he knows that eventually he will hand over what he and Louise built to Nate — even if he’s still observing from atop a greenhouse.
“I like watching something get done and having fulfillment of knowing we built this thing,” he says.
Building a foundation
George and Louise met in high school through 4-H. They both grew up around agriculture, by fathers who taught them to work on a farm at a young age. They were raised by their families to understand that life requires hard work and perseverance to succeed. Those attributes still matter today, but were essential in getting the business off the ground.
Their days were long. During the first year, George worked at nearby Vast Greenhouses — where he took his first job at 14 years old — while Louise worked at their operation. He went out on sales visits to potential customers in the area when he could, selling himself and his vision as much as he was selling the plants. At night, they worked together to build greenhouse benches and get the two small gutter-connected greenhouses ready for plants. By 10:30 p.m., it was time for dinner, then a few hours of sleep, before starting over again the next day.
The initial funding for the greenhouse came from savings Louise had amassed canning tomatoes on her dad’s farm — a total of $13,000. They used the money to purchase the first piece of land Lucas Greenhouses sits on today and make the initial deposit on a greenhouse structure.
Money was tight at this point in their journey, too, as most of the $13,000 was used to start the business. The only car they owned was the same flatbed truck George used for deliveries. They sustained themselves on foods Louise canned for them and, on one occasion, they slaughtered a pig that Louise’s uncle had given them as a gift. Another time, George stopped to help a woman who had hit a deer with her car; George put the deer in the back of his truck, took it home and he and Louise made use of the meat.
“It was just him and I,” Louise says. “It was hard. But we knew unless we sacrificed and put in the work, it wasn’t going to make it. The first four or five years were especially hard because you don’t get to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s this tiny, little flickering candle in the distance and, as you keep walking to it, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any closer.”
“But we never envisioned being this size,” Louise says. “Glass greenhouses were absolutely out of the question. We thought, ‘That’s a fairytale, we’ll never have that.’”
But, in time, success came. George and Louise’s persistence paid off and the customer base grew as more independent garden centers (IGCs) started buying plants from Lucas Greenhouses — something George attributes to the quality of plants being sold, and word of mouth in the area. As the business grew, he says they expanded their offerings from crops like spring bedding plants, poinsettias and ferns to include spring flower baskets at a time when they were becoming popular at IGCs.
By 1985, he had reached his goal of having an acre of greenhouse space and started to expand beyond it. George is the oldest of five siblings, and his second-youngest brother, Bill, became his right-hand man at the business. He was George’s younger brother, but George and Louise came to view him almost like a son, with Louise often driving Bill places before he was old enough to drive. Bill had lived with George and Louise for a while after George and Bill’s mom died in the early 1980s.
Around the same time, from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, George and Louise started having children: daughters Lacey and Corey, and son, Nate. Life was good. George and Louise had built something together.
“We learned to walk together,” Louise says.
On March 20, 2002, at age 36, Bill — Billy to friends and family — died unexpectedly from sleep apnea.
“When he died, it lit a new fire for me,” George says. At the time, he says Lucas Greenhouses had about 100,000 square feet of greenhouse space. In the years since, he has built the business to more than 1.7 million square feet of glass greenhouses.
“Maybe I was just staying busy so I didn’t have to think about it,” he says. “I think about that all the time and I don’t really have a good answer for it.”
Nate, who was 11 years old at the time and was often hanging around the greenhouse “causing trouble” as 11-year-old boys tend to do, remembers Bill’s death as something that weighed heavily on everyone at Lucas Greenhouses.
“Back then, it was a really small, tight-knit group and everybody had an awesome relationship with everybody,” he says.
Bill died during the spring season when everyone was busy. Louise says being active and busy with work may have helped everyone cope — her and George, especially.
Lucas Greenhouses added some key team members around that time that allowed George to shift his focus away from the day-to-day growing and onto big-picture planning. Joe Moore, the younger brother of grower Tim Moore, who had worked there since high school, joined the staff. Additionally, Scott Lucas, one of George’s nephews, filled Bill’s old role. In their own way, each became George’s new right hand at the business.
Meanwhile, George began planning. He first laid out the existing greenhouses’ building plans, evaluating what he might be able to move and what he needed to replace. He then purchased two other nearby plots of land, without really knowing what to do with them. The acquired land became the current 107 acres, almost all dedicated to production. George says the hope is that they can add more, or at least squeeze in a few different projects — finding a spot for mums is currently atop his wish list. The construction work has also been done in-house by George and a construction crew that once included Bill.
Bill left a physical reminder of his time at the business — the last project he and George completed together was the first glass structure built by Lucas Greenhouses. Just recently, Louise says she found the old tax records for the purchase and attached to the documents was a photo of Bill. When she showed it to George, she says he became sentimental in a way he normally doesn’t allow himself to be.
Louise also says that sometimes George uses his time sitting on top of a greenhouse to reflect, to grieve and to think of his brother Billy.
“Sometimes where he sits is right there and it is that greenhouse he and Billy built,” she says. “Or sometimes he’ll be walking through it and repair something and he’ll go, ‘Oh, this is the last thing Billy built,’ and then he’ll say, ‘He’d be really proud, he’d be amazed to see all this.’ And then he’ll walk on and change the subject because he doesn’t want to get too emotional.”
The future being built in real time
On April 1, 2019, Lucas Greenhouses will celebrate its 40th anniversary. It’s a milestone that isn’t unexpected for the Lucas family, but its significance isn’t lost on them either.
“We never thought we would ever give up — that was out of the picture,” Louise says. “[But] sometimes we get on top of the greenhouse or drive up onto the mounds of dirt that come up as we are building, look out and just say, ‘Wow. How does this happen?’”
Both George and Louise are in their 60s now — George just celebrated his birthday, which was a day of work, plus some cake and time with family. Their daughters Lacey and Corey, who also work for the family business in accounts receivable, are in their 30s and have lives of their own. Nate is 27, with a wife and two young sons who can often be found goofing off at the greenhouse just like he did. Like his dad, Nate has an interest in building and a passion for the family business. Currently, he sits behind his dad in the office, learning actively through day-to-day work and osmosis.
Growing up, Nate says he wanted to become a Navy SEAL. When that didn’t work out due to a shoulder issue, he earned a business degree from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, and worked in the corporate world before returning to Lucas Greenhouses. When he met his future wife, Svetlana, in college, he told her that there was a good chance he’d run his family business someday.
“We dated a couple of times and one of the first things I told her was like, ‘Hey, I’m just letting you know, I don’t know what you want to do as far as moving around, but I’m pretty much in South Jersey,’” he says. "I was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a family business. I help my dad there. He needs my help. I’m looking to take over the business. We’ll be comfortable.’”
However, George and Louise did not force any of their children to follow in their footsteps.
“My husband had this thing where he didn’t want the kids to feel like they had to take [the business] over,” Louise says. “We wanted them, if and when they decided to and if they wanted to, to join us. We didn’t want it to feel like a burden.”
“If you are not passionate about this business, you will not make it,” George says.
Neither George nor Louise know exactly when they’d like to step back fully and maybe take a vacation where they aren’t thinking about work the whole time. George jokes that the worms will be eating him before he stops working, while Louise says the hard part now is figuring out which pieces of the business to hand over to Nate first and when is the right time to do it. Recently, he worked with George on a greenhouse build and then oversaw one of his own. It isn’t just George and Louise anymore, with Nate, the Moore brothers and trial garden manager Jason Szymanski around full-time; Lucas Greenhouses will have as many as 300 part-time and seasonal employees working depending on the time of the year.
“It’s learning as you go, really paying attention to what the other person’s doing,” Nate says about learning from his dad. “And I make a lot of mistakes. I’m not the best person at doing this, but it’s been a really good learning process, I think.”
The Lucas family is working on figuring out the future of the business. George, Louise and Nate all consider labor a significant challenge, as well as pricing pressure and the long-term viability of selling to IGCs as more of the market starts selling to big box stores.
Finding solutions to those problems, even with his wife and son helping him, may mean a few more trips to the top of a greenhouse for George. From up there, he can look both backward and forward in time.
Fine-tune your spring plans
Features - Cover Story
Make this season successful by hiring the right people, prioritizing sanitation and working more efficiently.
Karen Schneck is a first-year graduate student at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. When she finishes her education, her goal is to become a grower at a commercial operation, ideally producing annuals and perennials — plants she says she loves because they “make other people happy.” To prepare her for her dream job, she has interned at Skagit Gardens in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa. She’s also been awarded various horticulture-related scholarships over the past few years, including the Dr. P. Allen Hammer scholarship from Dümmen Orange and the 2018-19 Shinoda Foundation Scholarship.
Greenhouse Management: What made you want to pursue a career in horticulture?
KS: First, when I was very young, my mom and grandma had a huge flower garden, so I started to get that love of flowers and nature through them. And then as I got older, I got involved with 4-H, where I did the horticulture judging contests, the state judging contests where I got exposed to [Kansas State’s] horticulture, and then I was also involved in the plant science options in 4-H. I did all of the horticulture contests that I could and, through my school, I got some experience in the greenhouse. And with my [grandma’s garden club], I took a tour of a commercial greenhouse; that was my first with a commercial greenhouse. All of those things inspired me to take on horticulture as a career. I knew in high school that being a grower [was] the direction I wanted to go in.
GM: Do you feel there are enough scholarships and internships available for aspiring horticulturists? What could growers do to make an internship experience more worthwhile?
KS: No, I don’t. [What’s available now] is a good start, but there’s always, always room for improvement. Kids searching for horticulture opportunities in college — they need help in college, and I think, for some people, it’s more challenging. Any support that the industry can give to students is extremely necessary. And there are some fantastic scholarships out there and I’ve been honored to receive several of them. But I think there need to be more made available for more students. I think being open to the needs and customizations of the students [matters] because maybe some students are super interested in propagation or finishing or maybe they want to do some research. It’s about making sure your program is super customizable and open to the interpretation of the students. Adapt to them.
GM: What do you feel like the horticulture industry could do to get more young people interested in the industry?
KS: I think a lot of it has to start in middle school and earlier and throughout those formative years when [children] are searching out what they love and they are passionate about. I think there’s a lot of good being done with the Seed Your Future campaign and with youth organizations like 4-H and FFA. Those kids are so dedicated to what they do — the green industry needs those people. What really needs to happen is greenhouse owners and green industry professionals and garden centers need to focus in locally through those organizations.
Considerations for selecting a greenhouse covering
Departments - Tech Solutions
Today, growers can incorporate energy conservation and shading into their greenhouse covering decision making process.
Deciding on a covering system for a new greenhouse can be difficult due to the many options now available. The choice used to be glass, rigid poly or double co-poly film. Today, growers can incorporate energy conservation and shading into the mix. Energy conservation must be considered in many northern states whereas shading is more important in southern locations. There are three main factors that affect the choice: light, energy conservation and shading. Here are a few suggestions that may help you make a decision.
Winter light is still the limiting factor for plant growth in most areas of the U.S., even in the Southwest, where the average daily light integral (DLI) is only 20 to 25 mol/sq. m/day (endowment.org/dlimaps). In most current greenhouses only 50 to 60 percent of outside sunlight gets through to plant level.
Research continues to find better ways to capture and make use of natural light. Glass and plastic with nonreflective surfaces and better diffusion having up to 95 percent transmittance are becoming available. Using larger panes and smaller composite material structural members can also increase the amount of light reaching the plant level by up to 10 percent.
Although great strides have been made in improving the efficiency of artificial illumination, the increasing cost of electricity is offsetting some of the benefits. Connecticut power suppliers were given the go-ahead to increase electricity costs last year and the new policy went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
Growers in northern climates are usually more concerned with heat loss during the winter. Energy requirements in cold weather are frequently 15 to 30 percent of production costs for many crops. To offset this, energy screen systems can be installed to reduce heat loss by 50 percent or more. New screen materials plus the use of multiple screens can also offset the loss of heat compared to having a single layer glazing.
Research has shown that using a translucent screen left closed both day and night on cold, cloudy days can both provide good light levels and save energy. The greater hours of use can more than offset the use of a screen having a higher U-value, but greater shading.
In warmer climates, high summer temperature is of greater concern than energy savings. Typical material shading choices are in the 40 to 60 percent range, but materials with a shade factor as high as 86 percent are available. By using multiple screens, the benefits of both shade and energy can be achieved.
Put all this together to choose a covering system:
For the glazing, select a lightweight material such as a corrugated polycarbonate or modified acrylic with a 90 percent light transmission. This allows a lighter greenhouse frame than if glass was chosen. A lighter frame means more light to the plants.
Add a shade screen that diffuses the light and provides the level of shading that the intended crop requires.
Install a transparent energy screen with 40 to 50 percent energy savings, translucent strips and a closed structure that can be left extended during the day without much reduction in light.
If daylight exclusion is required, install a blackout screen material instead of the energy saving material. Most blackout screens have a greater energy saving rating. Select a material with one reflective aluminum surface. Face it up if to reflect summer heat; face it down to reflect winter heat or supplemental artificial lighting.
The above provides a good covering system that will give at least a 10-year economic life. With the rapid development of new materials and production concepts, such as photoselective glazings and photovoltaic electric power generation panels, any structure with a longer life may be obsolete in a few years.
John is an agricultural engineer, an emeritus extension professor at the University of Connecticut and a regular contributor to Greenhouse Management. He is an author, consultant and certified technical service provider doing greenhouse energy audits for USDA grant programs in New England. email@example.com