Family business uses green thumb

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

AID TOWNSHIP — What started out as a hobby has become a rural Lawrence County staple.

Schweickart’s Greenhouse on Slab Fork has gotten area folks ready for spring planting for more than 20 years.

“I was here with the kids and grandkids for a while,” Hilda Schweickart said. “My son, Fred, took horticulture in school and we built a greenhouse. Then when Bob retired from Armco we decided this was something to do. It started out as a hobby.”

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That hobby now boasts a wide variety of vegetables, flowers and herbs.

“The tomatoes are the big thing,” Hilda said. “We do have flowers but what people come for are the tomatoes.”

No wonder. This country greenhouse needs signs posted along its beams to direct customers to the different sections and different varieties: Bull’s Hearts, Early Girls, Two-faced, Celebrity, even Yellow Beefsteak.

There are cabbage plants, too, and broccoli, cauliflower and peppers, lots of peppers, hot ones, big green ones. If you can grow it in your garden, chances are, the Schweickarts have tried it first.

“Everyone has their own thing, what they come for,” Hilda said. “Some people, you know what they want when they come in the door.”

Everything is done on site: Hilda’s husband, Bob, even custom mixes his own potting soil. The seeds are germinated on beds above a steam tank and then cosseted in the greenhouse until buyers snatch them up.

“These are Lawrence County plants,” Bob said, “We don’t truck them in from someplace else, they’re grown here.”

There are no chemicals or pesticides used in the greenhouse, their daughter, Annabelle Jenkins, pointed out — an important concern for those who prefer the organic plant or those who have allergies

The work is a family affair: while Hilda and Bob head up the effort, their children and grandchildren help as well, taking turns misting plants, selling plants and even hand-making the name sticks that adorn each pod.

The greenhouse is open mid-April to mid-June. To make it convenient for Ironton customers, Corner Produce on Third Street carries a selection of Schweickart’s plants.

While the greenhouse is open usually from 9 a.m.- dark most days, customer service is a Schweickart hallmark that, well, knows no time clock.

“People come at night and blow their horn and we go out and see what they want,” Bob said.

“We may doze but we don’t close,” mused Annabelle.