Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


On tour of Waseca's greenhouses

I interviewed three greenhouse owners for stories in this week’s edition of the Pioneer. I learned a lot–and I deeply enjoyed the chance to visit warm, sunny spaces filled with plants and flowers.
I also got a refresher course about not making assumptions.
When I set out to arrange interviews with folks who “start” plants for people to buy, I figured I would be writing a single story which provided fundamental information about the greenhouse business, and then maybe a paragraph or two which highlighted something specific about each operation.
But as I spoke in turn with Michael Johnson of RCR Farm, Ed Bethke of Ed’s Greenhouse and Rick Morris of Waseca Greenhouse, it quickly became clear their operations were so different that each deserved its own story.
The personalities of the three interviewees were very different. I would classify Michael and Ed as “excited” for the start of the growing season; with more than 50 years’ experience in the business, Rick might be described as pleasantly prepared. His claim to fame will forever be as my only interview conducted while the interviewee trimmed hundreds of roses. I appreciated his patient smiles as I asked questions which showed my ignorance. One of my favorite answers, both from Rick and from Ed, was “Here, let me show you.” After all that meant another walk among the plants and flowers.
I was practically amazed when watching Kristin Maxon, who works at Waseca Greenhouse, transplant seedlings.
Those tiny plants look so fragile, surely they should be handled tenderly…
Well, based on what she said about loving her work, I’m sure Kristin’s heart may have been tender, but her technique certainly didn’t seem to be. She tucked the slender end of a stick under the plant, lifted it up with its roots hanging in the air, and slid it unceremoniously into another spot. She made it look very easy.
I couldn’t help commenting what a good laugh she would have had if she had asked me to do the transplant. What she accomplished in a few seconds would have taken me much longer. Still, the evidence she knows what she is doing was green and growing all around us. There was likely not a single plant in that (to me) giant greenhouse she hadn’t touched.
As for RCR Farm, I visited one of their sites last fall when I wrote a story about some NRHEG Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) students visiting to learn about the “farm to table” fresh food initiative being followed in that school system.
The marvel there was the amazing variety of plants which were thriving in such a relatively small space. As one who loves tomatoes, I particularly enjoyed the eight-foot tall trellises covered in green and dotted with the colorful fruits. 
With tall plants on two sides of many rows, it was a matter of walking along between them and reaching among the leaves for the juicy treasures. I was deeply impressed by the efficiency, and by the down-to-earth description provided by Matt Oelke, one of the owners. He was happy to talk not only about the successes, but also the “almosts” of their work. He showed the group some plants which had clearly not yet met their potential, and told of steps they were taking to see whether the crop could be viable at all. But there was no disappointment in his tone, only a good-humored “this should be interesting” sort of tone.
The visit at Ed’s Greenhouse was an adventure in color and variety. What a delight it was to walk along the tables admiring the flowers and remembering the taste of fresh-picked peas. To me, anyway, it seemed like Ed could barely contain his excitement. Observing that of course it was too early to plant them out, he indicated the various plants and told of the ways his customers tended to use them.
Turns out, if you get Ed talking about plants, he can go on for a while. The man clearly loves what he does.
If you have the time to read all three of my greenhouse stories, I hope you’ll have no trouble imagining what fun I had visiting with each of these folks. Here’s hoping those of us without greenhouses can soon see the tops of our tender little seedlings coming out of the ground.


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