Q&A with Anne Stewart, owner of Anne’s Greenhouse

Anne Stewart

When does your greenhouse season start? Does it keep you busy year-round, or do you generally start early each year?
The 2021 season started in November 2020 when the perennial root orders and plug orders had to be put in. I try to take the month of December off.

  • January: Seed and tag orders are done, and I start cutting paper to make the 3,000-plus recycled paper pots we plant our tomatoes in.
  • February: We start making pots and planting seeds.
  • Middle of March: Staff arrive, and it is full steam ahead. We work seven days a week until the end of June.
  • July, August and September are slower as the bedding plant part of the greenhouse is finished, and we concentrate on the U-pick and doing repairs on the greenhouses.
  • October is clean-up, and that is the end of our season.

Why did you choose greenhousing as a business?
I love growing just about anything you can grow. Having a yard full of flowers brings me great joy. My husband suggested a greenhouse so I could afford all the flowers I wanted. The most important thing is being able to sell a product that brings joy and happiness. After a long winter, having a store full of beautiful flowers and heavenly smells – it just doesn’t get any better than that.

You are very knowledgeable about what will grow here. How did you learn? Did you study, or was it trial and error or a bit of both?
I think it goes back to childhood watching my mom plant a garden and experimenting with what fruit trees and perennials would grow here. I do a lot of reading and researching and, of course, experimenting on my own. I try to only carry products in my greenhouse that are classed as zone 1, 2 or 3. If we do carry a plant that is a zone 4 or higher, we sell it as an annual.

When you come across a new variety of a species, how do you determine if it will do well in our area before you offer it for sale?
I order all my perennials from Van Noort Bulb Company. I order things that I know would grow here – plants that are zone 3 or less and species that I see growing in someone else’s garden or yard from this area. Going on garden tours is always an eye-opener to what does well here. If I find something new and haven’t tried myself, I tell people. Then they can decide for themselves.

Has our zone changed over the years? If so, what is it now?
When my parents homesteaded here in the early 50’s, our zone was 2B or less. I remember my mom telling me how in those early years they could not grow beans here. Now we are a pretty solid zone 3. That doesn’t mean every once in a while we don’t have a winter that will kill things that you have had planted for years.

What will be new this year at Anne’s Greenhouse?  
We try and have a few new varieties every year. This year we ordered from a new company called Jolly Farmer. We will have 30-plus new varieties we have never carried before. People have been asking for more house plants, so we will have a bigger variety of these. If you follow my Anne’s Greenhouse Facebook page, I try and post some new varieties – not all as we want some surprises.

You offer a U-Pick section. How popular is that? What do you offer in the way of U-pick?
Our U-Pick part of the greenhouse is something we have been trying to get up and running the past couple of years. Definitely a learn by trial and error. The unique thing about our U-Pick is that all the produce is up on waist-high benches and in greenhouses. No crawling around on your hands and knees. We have strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and pickling cucumbers. Because our supply is limited, we have your name on a list, and when we have ripe produce you get called. As we are some distance from town, we don’t want people driving out here and then not getting to pick. This past summer we built two new 3,000-square-foot greenhouses just for strawberries. The produce up on benches is very popular with anyone that has been here.

Is a U-Pick a lot of work for you?
Each year we improve the system, and this year we are hoping to install automatic waterers. The planting is all done in the spring while we still have staff here. It involves daily watering, picking, etc.

You use old newspapers to grow your seedlings. Have you formulated your own soil mix to plant in? 
We used a mix of rotted manure and peatmoss when we first started out. It was a lot of extra work, and the weed seeds were a real problem. We now buy our soil mix. We use a product called Pro Mix.

Do you grow all your plants from seed?
We buy our perennials in root or bulb form. And we buy as plugs a lot of our annual flowers and hard-to-start items. We do start a lot of things from seed. Most of our veggies are started from seed. This year we will seed about 220 varieties. Out of these 220 varieties we will have 32 different kinds of tomatoes.

I understand you recycle at Anne’s Greenhouse. Can you talk a bit about that?
Most recycle places do not recycle black plastic. Thus, they end up in the landfill. Most people who garden are very conscientious about recycling the many black plastic containers they take their plants home in. This is what started us recycling as much as we could. It is a bit time-consuming sorting and cleaning the many varieties of containers, but it gives me a good feeling when we can reuse them. We also reuse the rolls that toilet paper comes on, and we use old newspapers to make about 3,000 pots for our tomatoes. Our daughter Melissa shreds bags of newspaper and flyers to make mulch. This paper mulch works really well at retaining moisture, keeping weeds down. And it doesn’t attract rodents. Melissa sells her mulch through our greenhouse. A large plastic garbage bag is $10.

Where is your greenhouse, and when do you open and what are your hours?
Our greenhouse is out in Fourth Creek. We are 65 kilometres from Spirit River – just a nice 40-minute drive. Once you turn off Highway 49 and go north on Secondary Highway 725 (or the Moonshine Lake road), you travel to the intersection where the Fourth Creek Community Center is. From this point on there are signs at every corner. We are only seven miles from this point. We always open the Monday before Mother’s Day, and this year it will May 3rd. We are open seven days a week, even on holidays, from 10am to 8pm.

Finally, what are you known to do when you are not working with soil and plants?
I try to have some time for family. I love to visit with family and friends. Until COVID-19 hit, I enjoyed volunteering at our community centre doing whatever project they had. Every year I try and compete in the Emperors Challenge over in Tumbler Ridge – a 20km half marathon up and down Babcock Mountain. That involves some training. The fun part is the marathon, not the training. In the winter I try to do a lot of quilting, and I love to read.