Luther and StacyLinderbaum stand behind some of the geraniums they have started in their Windy Pines Greenhouse, located between Spring Grove and Dorchester, Iowa.
Luther and Stacy

Linderbaum stand behind some of the geraniums they have started in their Windy Pines Greenhouse, located between Spring Grove and Dorchester, Iowa.
High on a ridge-top between Spring Grove and Dorchester, Iowa, the Windy Pines Greenhouse is aptly named.

"We have a little bit of everything," proprietor Stacy Linderbaum said last month. "Everybody likes a little something different, and the more variety you have the better off you are."

Stacy and her husband, Luther, began the rural nursery business to supplement their farming operation. They now operate several greenhouses, including one located at Stacy's parents' farm.

Getting plants ready for gardeners takes time. The first greenhouse furnace was fired up on Feb. 26. Within days, already-started plants began to arrive from suppliers, in what are called "rooted liners," Stacy explained.

In early March, a sea of flowers covered one bench, all purchased plants. Stacy waved an arm towards the baby flora.

"All of these have a patent on them," she said, "so you can't take your own cuttings from them."

They'd been placed in individual pots for customers and were growing larger every day in the warm, humid space.

Seeds of annual flowers were planted by Leap Day, and some were already poking through the soil three days later.

"I've got mostly the flowers and the herbs going," Stacy said. "The next set (of plants) we'll start the first part of next week. That will include a few early tomatoes, some peppers and a few more flowers."

One by one, the greenhouses come to life as they're filled with plants. The Linderbaums begin heating them only when more space is needed, since it's an expensive proposition.

Starting the business

"I have a biology and conservation degree," Stacy said. "In college, I did work study in their greenhouse. Afterward, I got a job at a greenhouse in Cedar Rapids.

"When we got married and moved back here, I worked at Gene Bauer's greenhouse out in the country."

Row upon row of palmately divided leaves on the bench signals a garden favorite.

"I have a new double-geranium that just came out," Stacy said with a smile.

The Linderbaums already had about 15 varieties of geranium started in early March, with more on the way from suppliers.

It's their most popular flower species. Ten varieties of petunias were also on the list, along with a "million bells" Calibrachoa that has been described as "a tiny petunia on steroids."

"It's a petunia-type flower that you don't have to deadhead," Stacy said. "They're not as much work and they keep blooming."

Pointing to the rafters, she added, "All the hooks will be filled with baskets. The whole house... It's kind of our Mother's Day thing to have the baskets of flowers.

"Some will be straight run petunias; others will have other flowers such as impatiens," she mentioned. "I make them all myself."

The baskets will include a sunny mix, a shade mix and a variety pack.

When it comes to deciding what to put in the flower baskets, Stacy said ideas may sometimes come to her by accident.

"Well, when you're cutting back the plants and you throw them in the garbage together, sometimes you get some really good ideas on what is pretty together," she chuckled.

Popular vegetables

When it comes to vegetables, Stacy noted that the tomatoes are the stars of her greenhouse.

"We carry around 25 varieties. We'll also have 15 different peppers, three or four different eggplants," she continued. "We'll do a premium crop broccoli and a broccoli mix, which is nice since you get different varieties with different maturity dates and different flavors.

"I do that with cabbage, too. It's something our customers like... I'll also do some lettuce bowls this year.

"We'll do some jiffy pots with pumpkins and squash and cucumbers so you can take them home and just drop them in. They don't like to be transplanted, so by using a jiffy pot you can plant them without disturbing the roots."

New this year

There are several new offerings this year, including vegetables that can be planted in small spaces or containers.

"All the container-type vegetables for people who don't have a big yard, but want to garden are new," Stacy said. "There're peppers that stay short and stocky, bush tomatoes. I even have a new butternut squash that was specifically developed for a container. You're supposed to get five to 10 squash per plant. I'm kind of excited to see how that goes this year."

Another item that more and more gardeners are experimenting with is heirlooms, Stacy said.

"We get several tomatoes from Seed Savers outside of Decorah... I also have another company out of Missouri called Baker's Seeds, they're in the same kind of line, to preserve and protect (heirlooms).

"They have seeds from all over the world," she continued. "I have some different squash and pumpkins from them that are fun to grow."

Heirlooms are not genetically modified. You can plant their seed and grow out a plant identical to the parent.

"I certainly have a wide variety of customers," Stacy said. "Some of them want hybrids that are more disease resistant or don't have the big cracks (in tomatoes). Others want to grow an heirloom for that true tomato flavor."

"We have an heirloom called a Sweet Pea Currant Tomato," Luther said. "It's an indeterminate (bush type). It's unbelievable how small they are, but they have a lot of flavor."

"They do a good job of seeding themselves for next year," Stacy said.

There are also old standard hybrids like Early Girl, newer varieties like Chocolate Cherry Tomato and heirlooms such as German Strawberry, Prudens Purple, Brandywine and Amish Paste.

"We once had some neighbors who would bet on who'd get the first ripe tomato," Luther said with a grin.

"One would come over and ask, (conspiratorially) 'What have you got for me?' They wanted a special early variety, and had heard about one called 'Fourth of July.' The next day the other guy came by and said, 'I need your biggest plant...'"

Early tomato growers take warning, in spite of an extraordinary number of record-breaking warm days in early spring; some frost is still possible until around Mother's Day.

In late March, Stacy said, "You can start some cold weather stuff if you want to, but I'm sure we're going to have cold weather again."

Early lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, broccoli and peas might not mind a nip of light frost, but peppers and tomatoes are another story, she added.

"You could do some pansies, but you can't just jump in and do all of your gardening right now... As much as it feels like summer, it's just not," she warned. "Patience is the best thing here. It's good to wait a little bit before we plant the things that can't take the cold."

Stacy concluded by saying that she and Luther enjoy watching it all grow and helping their customers.

"Taking home a plant to see if it will produce a beautiful flower or fruit is just something that makes people happy," she said. "Customers come in here, and they're always in a good mood. They come looking for something to make their life a little better and more enjoyable . . . It's so much fun."