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Franklin couple sees greenhouse go from hobby to business

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Henry’s Greenhouse is about to go through a changing of the seasons.

But owners of the Franklin nursery aren’t thinking about spring to summer or summer to fall. For Ed and Karen Henry, it’s time to move from geraniums, bougainvillea and hostas to sweet corn, green beans and peppers.

With a long family history of agriculture, the Henrys have cultivated a different kind of family farm. They created Henry’s Greenhouse 18 years ago as a hobby and a secondary source of income. What started as a few plants sold by the roadside has become a fresh flower and produce operation spread over 10,000 square feet.

“I basically grew up on the farm. My son still farms some, and agriculture has been our backbone for generations,” Ed Henry said. “This is just another part of it.”

Operating a greenhouse has its own timetable. Planting starts in February, while the landscape around the greenhouse is still cold, snowy and dead. By March, they can transplant the seedlings to larger containers to get ready to sell.

The greenhouse is a family business, with everyone from Karen and Ed Henry’s siblings to nephews and grandchildren putting in the painstaking work of ensuring the plants thrive.

Ed Henry’s sister helps sell the plants during the daytime while they’re at their full-time jobs.

“We don’t have any strangers who help or work here. It’s all family,” Ed Henry said.

Ed Henry’s grandfather owned the farm across the road from their current home. At the time, they were far out in the country, so much so that the road that is now State Road 44 was all but deserted.

“Sometimes you’d see a semi truck coming down the road, and they’d stop and wonder how to get out of here,” Ed Henry said.

But the Henrys had full-time jobs off the farm. Ed Henry sells Case International farm equipment at Jacobi Sales, while Karen Henry is an office administrator for Johnson County Community Corrections.

The greenhouse was more of a hobby.

The first plants they raised were geraniums that came from their garden, and they sold them to people who passed by their home.

When they decided to start the business, it required them to educate themselves on the nuances of bedding plants.

“It’s been a learning experience with the flowers,” Karen Henry said. “I didn’t know a petunia from a pansy when we started. It was a lot of reading and listening and going to classes.”

For the first three years, they sold their plants out of a 144-square-feet plastic hut. But after a malfunction of their gas-powered heater killed off their crop one chilly night, the Henrys decided to build a greenhouse.

That first small structure was just over 1,000 square feet of space. They packed it with vegetable plants and some small hanging baskets.

“We filled it up, and thought, ‘How in the world will we sell all of this?’” Ed Henry said. “Six days later, it was all sold off.”

The greenhouse operation has expanded more than 10 times since then. They have three greenhouses and feature hostas, phlox and salvia. They still sell geraniums, growing more than 2,000 plants each spring.

“We’re known for that. We sell out of them every year,” Karen Henry said.

They also put together more than 500 custom baskets each year, some with petunias, others with bouganvillea, portulaca or spider plants.

This year, a midnight black petunia brought gardening enthusiasts from all over the county.

“We try to get something unique and new that we know will work for us,” Ed Henry said.

For people who want a vegetable garden but don’t trust in their ability to grow from seed, Henry’s Greenhouse also offers a number of starter plants. Everything from broccoli to peppers to summer squash can be transplanted directly to the soil.

This year, they transplanted more than 30,000 tomato plants.

After a few years of focusing mainly on flowers, the Henrys will again sell produce during the summer months.

Green beans and peppers are popular. But it’s always sweet corn that generates the most business this time of year.

“Sweet corn is the main drag,” Ed Henry said. “If you have good sweet corn, everything else goes with it.”

Maintaining the greenhouse requires them to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to water the plants and fertilize before they go to work. When they return in the evening, it’s back out for four to five hours to care for the crop.

“You change clothes, and then it’s straight out there,” Karen Henry said.

But it’s been worth it for the relationships they’ve formed with gardeners from all around.

“To me, the best thing is the repeat customers. You see the same people every year, and people who you didn’t even know come by and say the flowers look great,” Ed Henry said.

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