By Sue Moore
For those in the Vicksburg area who love to garden, Key Blooms, 11034 S. Sprinkle Road, just three miles from downtown, will open for the season on Saturday, April 21.
Key Blooms grows most of their stock in the large hoop houses behind the retail area. They take great care with all of their plants, according to Randy VanGiessen, retail manager.
The greenhouse is fully automated with drip irrigation for the baskets with all the growing information on computer programs that tell them the exact amount of fertilizer a particular plant will need and how much water to give it at any time.
“We can’t grow it all, I tell people,” says VanGiessen, “but we try to carry it all so there is a great variety to sell here in the store. My job is to decide the different varieties, listen to what people want and read up on what is new and different so we have it available.”
Retail is about 20 percent of the total operation, with the major portion of the business devoted to wholesale through brokers. In February, they begin shipping cold weather plants such as pansies and ranunculus to Texas and right now are loading trucks for Missouri and surrounding states.
Key Blooms owners, Andrew and Mary Kieboom, from whom the name Key Blooms was derived, takes charge of the 18,000 to 20,000 beautiful baskets the greenhouse is well known for producing. The trick is to figure out when the plants will be sold by, then back up to the number of weeks it takes to produce the plants, and have them ready during the intense period of time in the various states for planting.
In Michigan, the retail operation is only about 10 weeks long from early May to mid-June.
“I’m always stressed when I hear the weather report in the month of May, as rain, heat, and cold, all affect whether this will be a good year or not,” says VanGiessen.
Kieboom, who had worked at Wenke’s in Comstock, purchased this small retail operation in 1996 from Emmanuel Snook, jumping at the opportunity to grow his own quality bedding plants, perennials, vegetables, and ornamentals. Since then, he has been expanding the operation significantly.
When VanGiessen came on board in 2002, the retail side grew significantly with most customers coming from within a 10 to 15 miles radius. However, they do have customers from as far away as Elkhart, IN and sometimes even Chicago, IL, VanGiessen says.
“We will see customers drive up from the Chicago area, load their cars or trucks to the extreme because the prices they experience at home are at least a third higher,” he says.
The owners have been very generous to the Heritage and Pantry gardens in Vicksburg. They have donated hundreds of flats of flowers and vegetables since the community gardens have been in existence. This goes a long way toward feeding people at South County Community Services, where much of the produce ends up each week, says Danna Downing, the executive director.