HULL—Business is blooming at Zandstra Family Greenhouse.
The Hull venture opened this spring with a new automated greenhouse and larger growing and retail space where customers can browse flowers, vegetables and other plants.
“Between the pandemic and running out of things last year, we wanted more space and automation to help with growing and to be more customer-friendly,” said Jan Zandstra, who owns the business with her husband, Bart.
Automation has been on Jan’s bucket list for a few years, but she jumped on it when they decided to upgrade their greenhouses last year.
They previously had four long, narrow greenhouses but were running out of space for growing and wanted a better retail space.
“We needed better ventilation, we needed more space and we needed to upgrade,” Jan said.
The new greenhouse is 48-by-60 feet and has a range of automated and mechanized features to aid in temperature control.
Panels in the roof will automatically lift, usually opening a gap of a few inches, when the internal temperature reaches 77 degrees. They close when it gets down to 73. The automation helps maintain ideal growing temperatures.
“That has shown up on the plants, it has been really helpful,” Jan said.
The side walls also are automated and can be rolled up with the flip of a switch.
The other greenhouse on the property still has to be rolled up or cranked up by hand to regulate the temperature, but with automation Jan can leave the greenhouse unattended for hours at a time without worrying plants will overheat.
“It’s been unbelievably nice and the response we get from people coming in is awesome,” Jan said.
Another unique feature of the new greenhouse is the lack of internal support pillars, which are usually needed in greenhouses of its width. Instead, crossbeams in the rafters help keep the greenhouse stable, making for an open layout and more customer-friendly walkways.
“The retailer told us, ‘You’ve got the only one like this that has no pillars.’ That’s something cool we have in northwest Iowa,” Bart said.
The greenhouse was manufactured to custom specifications from the Zandstras to fit the footprint of their space and include the automation technology Jan wanted.
The family-owned greenhouse has been operating out of the Zandstras front yard since 2004 when Jan suggested buying a hobby greenhouse to kick-start plants for their garden every year.
That “hobby greenhouse” turned out to be a 30-by-72-foot commercial greenhouse which the two oldest Zandstra boys, Brent and Justin, put together when they were just 13 and 10.
“They liked tools and we ordered this greenhouse sight unseen,” Jan said. “We didn’t know what we were doing. It came on a semi like a giant Erector Set.”
Since then the family business has continued to expand, but the family touch has never gone away. Four of the five Zandstra children live in the area and come out regularly to help plant and run the greenhouse, often with grandchildren in tow.
“This is a family greenhouse from when the kids were little,” Jan said. “We’re so thankful.”
Brent and Justin are 30 and 28 now, but last fall they helped build the new automated greenhouse.
The parts arrived in August from Canada manufacturer DeCloet. Working on weekends, they put up the main structure of the new greenhouse by October. Wiring and setup of the inside finished over the winter and planting started in February.
The timing of the purchase was fortunate, because shortly after Jan placed the order greenhouse prices shot up by 30 percent because of turbulence in the steel industry.
“I guess it was the Lord’s timing,” Jan said. “If it had cost 30 percent more, I don’t think we would have been able to get it.”
The greenhouse had a grand opening April 16-17.
Customers are showing up earlier than usual to make sure they can get what they want for their gardens before she runs out. Jan said that’s not something she’s concerned about this year, since she increased all her orders to account for more demand.
“There’s just that bit of nervousness because of the pandemic,” she said. “But we’re ready for it and we’re glad to have this new space for our customers.”