Sharing a sustainably sunny lifestyle
While seeking another occupational change, Connell thought back to his early years in which he'd always built “things.” Courtesy photo
Sustainability led James Connell into a fundamental lifestyle passion that became a career.
The Fort Collins, Colo., resident came west from his Michigan birthplace and Florioda childhood to pursue a Natural Resources degree from Colorado State University. He did some contracting, worked in machining, and in industrial engineering, yet something more was calling to him. But what?
While seeking another occupational change, Connell thought back to his early years in which he’d always built “things.”
“I was into art and engineering as a kid,” the now 48-year-old recalls. No one really inspired or taught him how to build.
“I just pulled out a hammer and handsaw and went to town,” he said with a chuckle.
At about age 19, Connell enjoyed what he described as one of the best, most fun jobs in his whole life: working at a Florida State Park where he constructed wooden skateboard ramps. Memories of that brief but beautiful stint served as further impetus to find and pursue the appropriate building-related trade.
A GROWTH EXPERIENCE
For several years, Connell had been growing produce in a self-designed greenhouse he built for himself and his family. He eventually erected similar inside growing structures for friends. Hmm.
Because he was irreversibly hooked on sustainability practices, like greenhouses, to grow his own food and thereby become more self-sufficient, why not share his fervent interest, skills and talents with a paying customer base?
In 2013, he officially turned his avid hobby into a business, Sunspot Greenhouse Company. He immediately set up a website and focused on word-of-mouth to draw interest.
That business plan succeeded and has continued working well. Sunspot has added not only satisfied clients but also employees over the years. Connell reported that he hired five people for 2019 and even had three in our pandemic-challenged 2020.
The company averages eight greenhouse builds annually, almost all custom-designed by Connell. He noted, however, that he will occasionally set up an elsewhere-sourced, pre-fabricated greenhouse by customer request.
VERSATILE AND STURDY
Sunspot’s greenhouses offer lots of options. These include choice or combinations of flooring, including soil, concrete pads, stone or pavers. Planting beds can be self-irrigating and/or raised. Handy workbenches are also available.
Constructed of timber and polycarbonate, the sturdy structures are fully code compliant to Colorado and Wyoming wind/snow requirements, Connell said.
After oiling the framing timbers with linseed and pine tar, he further weatherizes them with beeswax. Finishes including oil paints and stains can also be applied, per customer choice.
The design and installation procedures are quite straightforward. Connell said that he begins each new job with a site visit, after which he works up an online sketch. He and the customer usually go back and forth a few times to refine wish list items; then it’s time to build (but with far more finesse than back in the day when a young boy Connell “just pulled out a hammer and handsaw and went to town.”)
The actual greenhouse build takes place in Sunspot’s shop; then the finished structure is transported to its designated installation location. The set-up procedure requires between one to two weeks for completion, depending on size.
There’s an old saying, usually scolding finicky children at dinner tables, about eyes being bigger than stomachs. Gardeners can be a bit like that, too. (Oooh, goody, goody. Ten more tomato species to grow.)
But once appropriate square footage is decided upon and delivered, it’s the customer’s duty — and delight — to fill that dream greenhouse with yummy veggies and fruits, fragrant flowers, and perhaps some added living space dotted with comfy lounge chairs and versatile tables.
Sunspot Greenhouses builds and installs four-season structures, most commonly 10’x12′, 12’x16′, or 16’x24′. The company’s three-season quonsets (aka hoop houses) range from 14’x24′ to 30’x100′.
His customers are divided about 50/50 between urban and rural folks, said Connell, although the larger quonsets are usually intended for use on agricultural acreages.
He added, “Most farmers also maintain their own (personal) gardens.” So perhaps a large hoop house for commercial purposes and a more modest-sized greenhouse for the farm family?
Connell wholly supports the ag industry, especially in Weld County. And his product allows farmers, like those who sell prolifically at early season farmers’ markets, to start seeds under cover in colder months, far earlier than if planting was done strictly outdoors.
Likewise, gardening in a greenhouse spreads fresh food production over six-12 months rather than just three summertime, climate-dependant ones.
“I love sharing the benefits of greenhouses with people,” Connell said.
He finds just standing in a greenhouse to be uplifting, a satisfying encounter with nature. In our semi-arid climate, the enclosed structures provide the added benefit of humidity. Some people even use them as freestanding, year-round additional living space, treasuring their sunny bright atmosphere and 365-degree views.
Connell is seriously considering relocating Sunspot Greenhouse Company to southeast Denver because the business is fast outgrowing its current physical location. It will continue sharing sustainability, though, wherever it ultimately makes its growing home.
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Of the approximately 2,270 acres that burned in the April 1, 2021, Medora, N.D., fire, rancher Doug Tescher said all but about 100 acres were U.S. Forest Service land that he utilizes for summer grazing.