A new cement walkway between Foertmeyer’s quonset (left) and gutter connect (right) greenhouses.
Photo courtesy of Mark Foertmeyer

Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse in Delaware, Ohio is home to about 200,000 sq. ft. of undercover growing space of several different types of structures, including Quonsets, open roof structures and gutter connect greenhouses. Owner Mark Foertmeyer says he enjoys experimenting with different structures and components, and trialing new products in hopes of improving efficiency and crop quality.

“I’m fascinated with innovation,” Foertmeyer says, adding that a variety of greenhouses on the property offers diversity in their growing environments, which allows them to diversify their crop selection.

But these advantages haven’t come without challenges, and Foertmeyer says he’s learned many lessons over the years. Here, he shares some of the advice he’s acquired through his greenhouse building experience.

Foertmeyer’s gutter connect greenhouse with radiant heat, used for finishing cold crops.
Photo courtesy of Mark Foertmeyer

1. Avoid cold-weather construction.

Foertmeyer suggests never to build a greenhouse over the winter, citing a terrible experience he had two or three winters ago. “We broke ground [during] late fall and then it turned into the frozen tundra,” he says. “We had to put this concrete floor in first, and we just could not. We attempted to do it. We did everything I think you could humanly, possibly do to get it done, and it failed … [causing] serious delays.” He also notes that it is difficult for laborers to build greenhouses during cold weather. “I don’t think people work at their top efficiency,” he adds.

2. Don’t purchase used greenhouses.

Once, Foertmeyer purchased a used greenhouse, which he cites as a mistake. “Unless somebody’s absolutely giving it to you, and paying you to take it [off their property], I don’t think it’s a good deal for anybody,” he says. “It turned out that I certainly should have bought something new. It would have been cheaper and everything would have fit together well. Plus, I wouldn’t have had to tear it down.”

3. Experiment with multiple manufacturers.

Foertmeyer & Sons uses greenhouses from more than five manufacturers, and while that may not be the best option for everyone, it can help you not only find a more optimal environment for a particular crop, but also help you find a trusted team to work with in the future. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t know who you are until we run into our first problem,” Foertmeyer says. “I’ve learned that from experience. I’ve certainly had some people come in here and say [they’re] just the best thing that’s ever come along and they’re going to take really good care of you and do a great job.” Then after the first issue comes up, “They either really do take care of it, or they start looking to blame someone else — usually me or some contractor,” Foertmeyer says.

The new open glass roof greenhouse has a heated floor and perimeter.
Photo courtesy of Mark Foertmeyer

4. Think of quality first, not later.

It’s worth the extra upfront costs to invest in a higher-quality greenhouse structure, Foertmeyer says. “It will serve you much better and [be] engineered properly,” he adds. “You don’t want it falling down with a bunch of snow on it — or it [not being able to] take a good gust of wind.” He suggests that picking better structures up front is cheaper than buying one of lesser cost and making repairs later down the road. Also, make sure to build your structure around your crop, and not the other way around. “The big thing is people should consider what they’re going to grow, and build the structure around that,” Foertmeyer says. “We tried to design houses around the crops we grew, and not crops around the houses we own. There was some intentionality around that, and it works.”

Editor Karen E. Varga also contributed to this article.