Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Snowy, cool conditions don't worry gardener

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 04/19/2013 3:12 PM

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PIERZ —Kevin Happke isn't worried about lingering cold weather.

The owner of Rolling Hills Greenhouse, Implement and Museum in Pierz, is busy planting flats of flowers and vegetables in his wood-heated greenhouses.

The flowers arrive at the greenhouse as plugs. Happke grows them and transplants them into flats and pots. Vegetables are planted from seed.

Happke has potted geraniums and started verbena and petunias. He starts broccoli and early tomatoes in flats. Happke will have a diverse selection when gardening weather arrives.

He cautions growers against planting too early.

"You plant by the calendar because you never know what the weather is going to be," he said.

Happke illustrates his point by noting last year's conditions. Many planted gardens early in warm weather, but most plants were damaged or killed when a cold snap hit. No matter what the season is like, Happke continues his campaign to have gardeners plant peppers in June. The plants thrive in warmer weather.

He gathered his gardening knowledge on the family's dairy farm near Pierz. Happke learned about plants mostly on his own and from his mother. In junior high, he helped the parish priest with his garden. He joined FFA in 10th grade and participated in the Pierz FFA Chapter's floraculture team.

Happke started his business selling bedding plants while in high school. After graduation he attended a few quarters of college before returning to the farm before starting the greenhouse in 1986.

Happke is also a consultant for vegetable farmers and works for area vegetable producers.

Through his business, Happke starts vegetables and flowers for others, but he grows his own produce in a small garden and a 14-foot by 24-foot high tunnel. High tunnel production came in handy in 2007 when hail caused plant losses in the area.

"I was the only one who had any tomatoes," he said.

He's proud of the greenhouses. The structures are made of polycarbonate with an energy curtain that reflects heat when it's cold and can be used as a shade curtain. By opening side and roof windows, Happke gains a natural air flow and doesn't need a fan for air movement.

He pays close attention to the time-proven growing methods, Happke said. He continues to use a mineral soil base for his plants. The majority of growers in the state use a soil-less mix.

Happke doesn't use regulators and waters the plants himself. He uses plastic mulch and drip lines.

Happke has sold vegetables and flowers to gardeners for 33 years.