Self-isolation helps clean out greenhouses

Rosa Wipf of Bawlf, Alta., holds one of the last remaining hanging plants in her greenhouse. Wipf said she sold twice as many plants this year as last year and will be completely out by the end of the month, two weeks sooner than last year.  |  Mary MacArthur photo

Operators in Alberta hope the increased interest in gardening will create a greater urban appreciation for agriculture

BAWLF, Alta. — The thought of being confined to home for the summer has turned Albertans into gardeners, racing to greenhouses and snapping up flowers and vegetables to fill the summer hours.

Across Alberta greenhouse owners were taken by surprise at the intense interest.

It’s Rosa Wipf’s seventh year as a greenhouse owner and her best.

“It’s been an awesome, awesome, awesome year.”

As of the Victoria Day weekend, Wipf had sold twice as many plants as last year and will likely be completely out of plants by the end of May, two weeks earlier than normal.

“This year has been extraordinary, just crazy,” said Wipf, owner of Wipf’s Greenhouse in Bawlf.

Many of the visitors to the greenhouse are first-time gardeners asking for help choosing plants, wondering what plants go best in which spot in the garden and asking how to fertilize and water.

Last year Wipf travelled to farmers markets around the region to sell flowers and vegetables. This year everyone made the journey to her greenhouse, just to get out of the house.

“They know they will be home all summer and want something to do.”

Wipf said customers kept a wide berth while picking up plants in the greenhouse to ensure social distancing. She allowed seniors and nurses worried about COVID-19 transmission to come after hours to shop.

Wayne Chichak, owner of Greenland Garden Centre, one of the largest garden centres in Alberta, said anything left in the greenhouse disappeared over the Victoria Day weekend.

“We sold out of everything that is growing in my greenhouse. It’s gone. It’s overwhelming.”

Gone are 60,000 pot fillers, 11,000 geraniums and 2,000 hanging baskets ,and that’s just the flowers. Also gone are the thousands of vegetables.

“It’s all gone. We’re cleaned out.”

The rush to the greenhouse started early, with tomatoes and cucumbers proving to be the most popular vegetable purchases.

Chichak spent the weekend trying to source more flowers and vegetables from his suppliers to give other gardeners something to choose from when they come through the greenhouse.

“I secured a fair amount. I feel better today than on Saturday.”

Margaret Lyseng of Maplewood Acres in Armena, Alta., said customers were waiting at the entrance on opening day.

“It was phenomenal. It was the best opening day ever. People were so eager to get out of the house.”

Lyseng, who specializes in flowers as well as organic herbs and vegetables, said he is sold out of the most popular plants and is talking to suppliers to find more plants to fill the growing gaps on the greenhouse tables.

“I wonder what we’re going to put on the table for the late comers.”

Customers are not buying a few plants when they stop by the greenhouse. Instead, they are stocking up with a trunk full. Instead of buying one or two tomato plants, they’re buying a dozen, and instead of one or two kinds of flowers, they’re snatching up a variety of bedding plants.

Many of Lyseng’s customers are first-time gardeners and are looking for advice on what to buy. Even young children are coming in with their savings and spending money on plants for their fairy gardens.

“Everybody has to have a tomato. They are the number one vegetable to go out. We go through a lot of tomatoes.”

Because of the concern over contact, Lyseng spends a lot of time each day wiping counters, bleaching trays and trying to ensure everything is sanitized.

“I’m in bleach water all the time wiping things down.”

Lyseng believes if there is an upside to the pandemic, it’s a growing appreciation of farmers and the food supply.

“Maybe this will give urban people a better appreciation of those who produce the food and appreciate farmers and the agriculture industry better than they have,” she said.

“I think this has been an eye opener.”

First-time gardeners Troy Pavlek and Rhianna Toop of Edmonton said they were feeling overwhelmed with the variety of flowers, vegetables, seeds, soil and fertilizer for sale and weren’t sure what is required or what will grow in their front and back yard.

As a homeowner, growing a garden was always in Pavlek’s plans and the pandemic hurried along the timeline.

“It’s been long on the to-do list, but time was the limiting factor before. I have an unlimited amount of it now.”

Together they scouted out greenhouses focusing on food they liked to eat.

“We went a little crazy on the vegetables,” said Toop, who said they picked up both bedding plants and seeds.

Keeping an eye on cost, instead of buying a watermelon bedding plant for $4, they opted for a package of 100 seeds for $3 and hope they beat the frost.

“We will have enough watermelon for everyone,” he said.

“We have no idea of what we’re doing, but we’re hoping they survive,” said Toop as she placed watermelon and cantaloupe seeds into small containers.

The couple dismantled a lean-to on a garage and replaced it with a raised bed and painted patio stones to brighten the yard.

“We went for the Pinterest effect of the raised garden. It looks better than a hole in the ground,” he said.

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