Colorful blooms signify fall harvest underway at Jeff’s Greenhouses
BETHEL, Del. — The fall harvest is well underway at Jeff’s Greenhouses. A variety of flowering plants, including ornamental vegetables, are in bloom and ready for customers.
“We grow chrysanthemums, ornamental peppers, flowering kale and cabbage, and other similar plants for the Fall,” said owner Jeff Hastings.
The family-owned business started in 1962 with Rudolph and Marian Hastings at the helm. Their son, Jeff, purchased it in 1971, having just graduated from the University of Delaware. From four greenhouses at that time, Jeff, now 71, has grown the operation to include 19 greenhouses.
Farming activities take place on about 80 acres of land in Bethel and Seaford. Jeff said he has cut back on the size of the acreage in recent years; at one time, there were about 300 acres in crop production.
The fall season is one of the busiest seasons at Jeff’s Greenhouses.
Plans for the fall actually begin even before the start of summer, he said.
“We plan out our schedule months in advance,” he stated. “We start our fall plants beginning in June. Plants are typically grown in containers from cuttings and plugs.”
“We start our chrysanthemums, for example, from cuttings and they grow in pots in the field,” Jeff said. “Most of our plants take about 8 to 10 weeks to grow. We began the initial fall harvest in mid-August. Our fall plants are available usually through the end of October.”
Like many farm enterprises, labor is critical to this ag business.
Much of the work is done within the family — Jeff, his wife, Kim, and their daughter, Gabrielle — but they also have a small number of workers.
For the Hastings family, Jeff noted, there’s very little down time in running the greenhouses. While one crop is being planted, another is being harvested. In the spring, Easter lilies are big sellers. In the summer, customers are seeking out flowering plants like petunias and impatiens to everything in between.
“By mid-November, we’re ready with our poinsettias to sell to customers,” Jeff said.
He and his family do take off the week around Christmas.
Jeff’s Greenhouses sells its products through both wholesale and retail sales. In addition to customers coming directly to Bethel, the business also stocks garden centers and markets in Delaware and Maryland with plants grown in its greenhouses.
During September and October, the business is open seven days a week, with extended hours on Sundays.
In addition to the flowering plants, Jeff’s Greenhouses also sells a number of other products. Gourds, for example, are also sold at the business.
“About 95 percent of our customers that purchase gourds buy them for decoration,” Mr. Hastings stated. “Many use them on tabletops for Halloween and at Thanksgiving.”
Input costs — from supplies to labor — continue to have a greater impact on his operations.
“Pricing is higher this year compared to last year,” Jeff said. “There’s been a steady uptick in our costs for many items — plugs, soil, fertilizer. Plastic pots, though, may be coming down in price.”
Steps have been taken through the years to decrease some of the more labor-intensive aspects of the business.
The operation uses drip irrigation and overhead irrigation systems to nurture the plantings. A potting machine is utilized to fill containers.
“I enjoy what I do,” Jeff said. “You get to see the plants grow. It’s a challenge, but every year is different.”