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  • Stephen D'Agostino

What Does A Greenhouse Do When It's Not Green?

Happy February. Twenty-eight days that, to me, define winter. True, the days are getting longer, but the lingering cold begins to numb more than just fingers and toes. There is no anticipated “February thaw.” As a kid though, February always seemed special. Starting off with Groundhog’s Day, the making and giving out Valentine’s Day cards in school as well as celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 and Washington’s Birthday on February 22. Now, they’re rolled into President’s Day, in which we celebrate all our leaders, both good and bad. And of course, in February, we got our first time off from school since returning after the Christmas break. That hasn’t changed.

That’s all fine and good, but at this writing, we’re still seven weeks from the vernal equinox, and that seems like a long, long time. I wondered what a business that thrives during the warmer months, a business with green in its name—the Reading Greenhouse—does during the season when there’s not a lot of green.

When I went to talk to Scott Harkins, who owns the store with his sister Sharon, the sign on Route 106 by the driveway, which in a few months will invite people. like a movie marquee, to see “pansies,” “hanging baskets,” or “tomatoes,” now reads two words: “rock salt.” After last week’s icy weather, even those harsh words are exciting.

At this time of the year, the Greenhouse also sells bedding, grain, and bird seed. The last one is important to me because the chickadees, titmice, hairy woodpeckers, blue jays, juncos, nuthatches, and the single female cardinal who live by Jenne Road are working through my three feeders every day, proving that pigs do fly.

Other than that, Scott tells me that he is doing what he can to keep the few plants that he has in stock warm. He heats the greenhouses with wood, but when it gets cold, he adds oil to the heating mix.

The lull in the action ends soon. In a couple of weeks, the first cuttings of English baskets will arrive. These include petunias, verbena, fountain grass, and differently colored and textured foliage plants. Following on the arrival of those tendrils will be other flowers with which Scott will put together hanging baskets. Through February and into March, gradually increasing temperatures, as well as more sunlight, will keep the greenhouse warmer and give these flowers a chance to grow and be ready for their much-anticipated debuts, which will happen around Mother's Day.

The arrival of these flowers starts a drumbeat of deliveries that lasts as winter turns to spring and snow finally bows out. In the first week of March, the geraniums arrive. According to Scott, they take the longest to mature and also require a warm environment to thrive. He gets about 1600 of those plants, mostly red. Later in the month, he’ll get marigolds, begonias, and other bedding flowers. He’ll also start to receive things that are edible, in the form of herbs, but not basil since it grows so fast.

By the beginning of April, things really get busy at the Greenhouse. In the very first week of the month, he’ll receive trays of vegetables, including tomatoes. These trays hold up to 500 tiny plants, each about the same height and most not having developed their true first leaves. Flipping through his notes, Scott confirms he receives seven varieties of tomatoes, totaling about 2500 plants. He also receives about 800 broccoli plants and 1200 pepper plants.

Each one of these tiny plants needs to be transplanted into the plastic six-packs that we garden growers know so well. Then he waits as they grow. And grow and grow. By May, the Greenhouse will be ready to sell its first vegetable plants of the season.

Like the fashion industry, Scott is forced to think a season ahead to be sure he’s ready for customer demand. When his customers experience a Wizard of Oz moment entering the colorful greenhouses, the smile on Scott's face is probably a response to the smile on theirs. For what they see for the first time is no surprise to him, but the culmination of months of work.

I, for one, am looking forward to warming temperatures, buying a couple of dozen pansies to put in the planters by my garage, and the joys of digging in the dirt, aided by our own local resource.

Before I left, I asked Scott and Sharon what their favorite board games were. Scott had to think about it the same way I did when I answered that question myself. Our answers are the same: cribbage. Though you play with cards, you also score on a cribbage board. It's not your typical board game, like Monopoly, the answer Sharon gave, speaking for her daughter, Lydia, who has the reputation of being quite a good player.

No, my question to Scott was not a non-sequitur. The cold months of the year are a good time for the Reading Recreation Commission to sow the ideas for future events in town. The commission is tossing around the idea of having a regular game night, starting with board games in the cooler, earlier-sunset months, and moving to outdoor games in the summer months.

Incidentally, Lisa Kaija likes Settlers of Catan, Lisa Morrison likes Yahtzee, and Joe Braun is a big fan of Life.

What are your favorite board games? Email me and let me know and I’ll share the results in a future column. And stay tuned for upcoming news from the Rec Commission.

Happy Birthday to Sam Blanchard (February 3), and Walter Wilkins (February 4).

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!

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