Jim Murphy & Sons

Marshfield Greenhouse – “Not just any dirt will do”

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If you want to start an rhubarb, just ask a gardener to recommend the best soil for growing just about anything. Even some of the most learned horticulturalists and soil scientists disagree on what makes plants grow best. If they’re diplomatic, they might say that some ways work better than others. Oldtimers go for the tried and true. Marketers are always looking for a gimmick. Everyone advises a soil test.

But if you ask Doug and Tina Knight at Marshfield Greenhouse, the proof is in the soil. Not just any soil, mind you. They favor rich black loam and will sell you some if you like. Steam cleaned.

Inside Marshfield Greenhouse

Doug and Tina Knight take special pride in their geraniums started the year before. Established in 1962 by the Knight family, the venerable Marshfield Greenhouse is celebrating 50 years of serving the Ozarks.

Doug cooks his loam, heating the raised beds with steam up to 200 degrees to kill weed seeds, fungi, insects and their grubby progeny. And lest you think that’s anything new, Doug’s family is celebrating 50 years of gardening the old fashioned way. Marshfield Greenhouse has been owned and operated by the Knight family since 1962. Tried and true.

Even today, the majority of plants are started from seed or cuttings. Tina grew up on a farm east of Carthage. Doug is a third-generation greenhouse owner. His parents, Dale and Wanda Knight, bought the greenhouse business from members of the Dr. and Mrs. L.T. Melton family. Dr. Melton remains something of a legend among tomato growers for his heirloom variety called the "Millionaire." Back then, Missouri knew a thing or two about growing tomatoes commercially.

Doug’s not giving up the claim to the Millionaire to any up-and-coming seed tycoons either. Melton’s Millionaire was sold at Marshfield Greenhouse as early as the 1940’s by Dr. Melton. You can read all about it, as they say, because it was prominently featured in the newspapers of the day, and more recent clippings hang on the walls of the greenhouse.

What seems important though is that the Knight family continues to grow the Millionaire tomato every spring. In real dirt.

Because of their interest in home vegetable gardening and food preservation, the Knights can share a wealth of home-grown information and advice for beginners or more experienced gardener. Veteran gardeners may not ask as many questions.

“They just know which questions to ask,” says Doug.

You won’t find a lot of extras. No hardscape, tools or knick knacks.

Marshfield Greenhouse has approximately 15,000 square feet of growing space, including a new section of hoop house that Doug built out of necessity when he nearly went through the roof of the existing wood frame hot house, saved only by the plastic sheeting.

Marshfield Greenhouse starts its own geraniums in August for sale the following spring so that cuttings can be taken from stock plants to produce a high quality zonal geranium with abundant roots.

Perennials that can be grown from seed are sown in the fall to allow ample time for root growth. 

Doug Knight

Doug Knight shows off his high-efficiency wood burning stove puts out all the heat necessary to raise the temperature on his soil to 180-200 degrees. The wood pile below is about 12 cords.

Strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus & elephant ears are not sold as a bare root, but potted and grown to ensure a good root system for planting.

Marshfield Greenhouse does not get its plants already grown and ready to sell. The Knights take great pride in growing most of the greenhouses’s plants.

The greenhouse offers a wide variety of homegrown vegetable and garden plants, including 30 varieties of tomatoes and 25 varieties of peppers. Several kinds of cucumbers, squash, melon and other garden plants are rooted and ready to plant – when the time is right. A visitor in early March is likely to hear that it’s too early to plant most flowers and vegetables, despite the balmy spring and advertising to the contrary.

Rose bushes, mums, clematis and bougainvilleas also are a locally grown specialty.

Bulk top soil and decorative mulch are also available for pick up or delivery. As for whether you prefer a soilless mix, a potting mix, compost, carefully aged manure, part peat (and repeat annually), we’ll say that gardeners may think they know all the dirt, but they also know fertilizer when it presents itself. It’s all in the soil test.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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