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Seeds for LaMoure area greenhouse business sown five decades ago

Larry Harmsen oversees the production, sale and shipping of several hundreds of thousands of plants at his LaMoure, N.D., farm Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The 68-year old sold his first plant at the age of 14. Nick Wagner / The Forum1 / 2
Crystal Klein waters plants at Harmsen's Greenhouse in LaMoure, N.D., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Klein has worked for Larry Harmsen for about 25 years. Nick Wagner / The Forum2 / 2

LAMOURE, N.D. – Larry Harmsen planted his first seeds in a 1928 Chevrolet truck box at the age of 13. In 1962 he put up his first greenhouse, a 10-by-14-foot structure.

Little did he know what would sprout up over the next 50-plus years.

Harmsen’s Greenhouse, three miles west of LaMoure, is now home to 35 greenhouses, where a couple of million seedlings mature each spring and are shipped out to 80-plus wholesale customers across North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.

This past year, Harmsen tore down two buildings to construct a new 100-by-100-foot retail complex, complete with an indoor waterfall feature.

In May, a thousand hanging baskets formed a carpet of flowers above visitors’ heads. Now at the end of the season, employees describe the space as “empty,” though plenty of flowers, vegetables and herbs still flourish inside the space. Saturday is the last day for retail sales.

Farther back on the farmstead, the greenhouse buildings – referred to by names like Bonnie and Clyde, Chip and Dale, Shadow and the A-Frames – are truly empty, the plants shipped out in a flurry at the rainy end of April. Four trucks and a semitrailer, which bear Harmsen’s granddaughters’ names, hauled plants 400 miles to the west and 300 miles to the east.

Harmsen says he does over $1 million in wholesale business a year. He doles credit to his son-in-law, Nick Weber, and his 20-plus seasonal employees.

They plant the 22,000 hanging baskets, 12,000 flats and a quarter-million 4-inch pots. Barcode stickers on the pots read “Grown by Harmsen’s Greenhouse, LaMoure, N.D.”

“I think it’s gotten way bigger than we ever expected,” said Weber, who’s worked with Harmsen for the last eight years.

Annuals, annually

The greenhouse business kicks off each year in mid-January when a few employees start filling pots with soil.

A few weeks later the tiny seedlings start to arrive at Harmsen’s, where they’re planted by hand.

They grow inside the propane-heated greenhouses for six or seven weeks, until it’s time to load the trucks and semitrailer.

Retail sales start before Mother’s Day and run about five weeks. Harmsen said retail customers also come from all over, he said.

Over the rest of the summer, Harmsen will put up hay, and rest. He recently sold his 200 head of cattle.

“In January we’ll start again,” he said.

Harmsen got his degree in horticulture from North Dakota State University.

“It was just something that tickled my fancy a long time ago,” he said. “I’m interested in the biology of it, seeing things germinate, just the general why certain things do what they do.”

He hired his first employee in 1966. In 1974, he added a rustic-looking barn for retail sales. It still fronts the new retail complex.

Putting up the new complex was “Larry’s deal,” Weber said. He describes it as a “Rolls Royce of greenhouses.”

“Some people said, you should retire, sit on the steps,” said Harmsen, who turned 68 this week. “I don’t want to sit down.”

Crystal Klein has worked for Harmsen’s about 25 years. Her children all worked there, too. She described Harmsen as impulsive and generous.

“He gets excited about new things and plants. He’s got a good heart,” Klein said. “One thing Larry has always said is ‘If you wouldn’t buy it, you don’t ship it.’”

All the hanging baskets in LaMoure are donated by Harmsen, Klein said, noting he’s been named the community person of the year a couple times. He had to be tricked into attending the ceremony.

Maxine Muske, who lives outside LaMoure, said she bought Harmsen’s first petunia when he was a teenager, and she still gets her flowers from the greenhouse.

“There isn’t much business left in LaMoure. You can’t buy a pair of shoes or clothes or anything like that. It means a lot to the town.”

Business profile

What: Harmsen’s Greenhouse

Ownership: Larry Harmsen

Where: West of LaMoure on Highway 13

Season: Opens in early May. Saturday is last day of retail business for season.

Contact: (701) 883-5813

 

Sherri Richards
Sherri Richards has worked for The Forum since 2002. She is the features and business editor, overseeing Variety, SheSays, Farmers' Forum, the daily Business pages and Saturday Business section.     Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com
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