SOUTHINGTON — As backyard flowers begin to grow, the plants in many commercial greenhouses have already blossomed and are ready for the season.
Sebby Milano, head grower at the Winterberry Gardens garden center, 2070 West. St., has over 20,000 pansies fully grown.
The Record-Journal caught up with Milano last week for an interview about her job and the kickoff to the spring growing season.
Q: What do you do here this time of year?
Milano: Well this year we are getting our color programs ready, our commercial applications. So all our pots here are going out to a special commercial property, and just about all of the plants here in this area are sold and are going out for either residential properties or commercial properties that are under contract. As soon as that’s over...we will start clearing these tables and then we’ll start moving our annuals up for retail sale.
Q: When do you start the process?
Milano: We start in January. When everyone is shoveling snow, we’re in (the hot house) in our T-shirts – which is really great and everybody envies us but then in the summer when it’s about 120 degrees in here — well you take the good with the bad.
Q: What are some of your responsibilities as head grower?
Milano: Well I’m responsible for the growth of all of the annuals, perennials, mums, everything that we sell here for retail or commercially. Throughout the season we plant and take care of about 70,000 plants. So it starts early in the year with our pansy production. We have to stay about three months ahead of the public. So when you’re thinking spring I’m already in summer and when you’re thinking summer I’m already in fall.
Q: How do you manage the bees on site for honey production, in addition to the plants?
Milano: We have eight hives and last year we took in just about 600 pounds of honey. We peeked in our hives just yesterday actually and we had to put some food in for the girls, all honey bees are girls. They’re all looking healthy and looking anxious to get out and start visiting flowers. We do sell our honey here. It’s natural, raw, cold filtered, we don’t heat it, we don’t process it.
Q: What kind of skills do you need to work in this type of business?
Milano: A lot of people think we just come in and play with the flowers, and we do in a sense, but growing them is a technique. If you’re growing a bunch of different plants in one greenhouse, a lot of the plants require different needs. Some want to be dry, some want to be grown wet, some want to have sun, some want to have shade, some want a high PH, some want a low PH, so you’re trying to solve all those problems and all those needs with all these different plants.
Q: How will the outside look once the season kicks off?
Milano: They’re actually working on it right now and we’ve been getting trucks in on a regular basis, I think we had two or three this week alone. They’ll be filling up the whole front end with perennials and more of the hearty stuff. The annuals won’t come up yet because it’s a little too cool for them.
Q: How many people do you have working before and during the season?
Milano: In the nursery there are probably about 25 or 30 staff members that work here, but all totaled at the height of the season we’re looking at close to 200 people that work here between all the different divisions of the company.