JACKSON (AP) -- When most farmers are ordering seed, Mark and Peggy Edlin are planting theirs.
The couple begin planting vegetable and flower seeds in their on-farm greenhouses in December. The planting will continue through April, when Edlin's Produce and Greenhouse opens to the public selling a variety of bedding plants and hanging planters.
Although most of the greenhouse sales are complete by mid-June, the next phase begins -- the harvest and sale of vegetables and cut flowers at their Jackson-area farm and at the Lakes Area Farmers Market in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Amid planting the eight acres of produce and flowers, Mark also works with his father, William, in a joint farming arrangement to plant 1,400 acres in corn, soybeans and hay. It's a busy schedule to get the garden and cropland planted, but it all works out, he said.
Feeder cattle are included in their farming enterprise. Most of the cattle's manure is used on cropland but the garden has also benefited from animal waste. Part of the garden is located on former pasture and contains enough nutrients so no other fertilizer has been added.
Their nursery and produce business isn't certified organic but they strive to use biological methods for pest and weed management and fertilizer, they said.
Mechanical and hand labor gets the job done. At one point, they planted 900 potatoes by hand, dropping the potatoes in a furrow created by the cultivator. The cultivator eliminated some of the hand labor, but they still had to cover the rows by hand. But last year they purchased a potato planter, which cut down on some of the potato planting chores. They still haven't found a way to cut the seed potatoes other than by hand.
Edlin's Produce and Greenhouse was started nine years ago by Peggy. It was the best of both worlds -- allowing her to use her horticulture talents and the knowledge gained from her South Dakota State University horticulture degree, plus the chance to work at home.
"We have two kids and it was a way for me to stay at home with them," she said. "Now that they are getting older, they can help."
Kyle, the oldest at 6, is in kindergarten. Four-year-old Megan helps Mom and Dad put dirt in pots and bedding trays.
It's truly a family business. There are no hired hands to help with planting and vegetable harvests and sales. That's what the couple likes, but if the business continues to grow as it has every year since it started, the two may have to decide to stay at their present size or add on.
"We started with a small greenhouse and have been expanding each year," Mark said. "Our intentions were to start our own plants, which we would plant ourselves and sell the produce at the farmers market. Then the neighbors stopped to ask for a few plants and it kept growing since that."
The couple built new greenhouses as demand for their bedding plants grew. Last year they built a double greenhouse complete with sales area.
It's not an operation for the faint-hearted. Last year they planted about 800 tomato plants; 500 pepper plants; 1,300 pounds of potatoes; and two to three acres of sweet corn, pumpkins and squash. Cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, onions, peas, green beans and beets round out their offerings.
Mark, who is not a beet fan, is surprised by that vegetable's popularity. It's a big seller and one that customers say is hard to get in stores.
They plant what customers like and add a few new varieties, obtaining seed from catalogs and trial shows. But it's hard to get customers to try the new varieties.
Take the Yukon Gold potato.
"The first year we had them, you had to beg people to try them and now they ask you if you have it," Mark said.
They've made a name for themselves in the area. A friend is painting a business sign for their yard for their Minnesota customers. Their Iowa customers are only eight miles away at the Spirit Lake market.
It's been a good business for the young farmers, who have found the recipe for direct marketing vegetables, maintaining their farming operation and family time, and developing a business that can include their children one day.
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