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Soaking up sunshine

Jolene Nystrom waters her new plantings in the greenhouse at Grandpa’s Fun Farm Thursday afternoon south of Worthington. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Jolene Nystrom might well have the best job in the Midwest this winter, or at the very least, the best job in southwest Minnesota.

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As residents hunkered down in their homes or wrapped up in layers to brave yet another bone-chilling day Thursday thanks to a Polar Vortex, Nystrom was peeling off the layers inside her rural Worthington greenhouses.

“Yesterday I worked in a T-shirt,” she said with a laugh. “It’s nice. It puts you in a lot better mood.”

A pair of thermometers dangling over lush green foliage revealed temperatures 80 to 90 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature, which hovered below zero. Plus, there was humidity to make it feel even more cozy.

Nystrom has to brave the frigid cold only briefly, making her way from the family’s home across the yard into the near-fully stocked greenhouses at Grandpa’s Fun Farm.

“You get too warm some days,” she said. “The best temperature is in the afternoon.”

It’s a busy time of year for Nystrom as she promotes seed germination and transplants seedlings into pots, four-packs and hanging baskets that customers will be all too eager to purchase after such a seemingly long winter.

“I’ve had a lot of people stop me in town that say, ‘I’ll sure be glad when I can come out there and buy flowers,’” Nystrom shared. It’s a sentiment she’s heard more this winter than in years past.

Inside her greenhouses this week, Nystrom is busy seeding vegetables. She finished with the hot peppers earlier this week, and has moved on to bell peppers, herbs and tomatoes.

“Most of my flowers have already been seeded,” she said.

Thousands of plants cover the tables, with overflow along the floor of the greenhouse as Nystrom — like everyone else — anticipates the coming of spring.

According to the calendar, that’s just 21 days away — but everyone knows that just because the calendar says it’s spring doesn’t make it so. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, after all, says Minnesotans could be in for a snow shower in the first week of May.

Nystrom began working in the greenhouses in late December, and while the sunny days have boosted up the temperatures inside, the outside air has created a few problems she hasn’t seen in the past.

“This is the first year we’ve ever had (freezing pipes),” she said.

Fortunately the problem hasn’t been widespread, and she can access water for the growing plants from one of her other greenhouses. At this time, five greenhouses are heated.

The heaters are used to maintain 50- to 60-degree temperatures in the greenhouses overnight, but the daytime temperature can reach more than 100 degrees. Sometimes, Nystrom has to turn on the fans to cool the greenhouses down a bit.

With the exception of occasional assistance from her grandkids, Nystrom spends 10- to 11-hour days in the greenhouse all by herself.

“It’s relaxing,” she beamed. Husband Marlyn gets called upon if the pipes are frozen or the heater isn’t working properly, but until the plants get a little bigger, she’s their sole caretaker.

“I start most of my stuff from seed, except for the plugs that are from cuttings, Proven Winners or ones that are propagation prohibited” she said.

Once the weather warms up and people get the gardening bug, Nystrom will be ready with a wide variety of options.

“This year, there’s a lot of new varieties of petunias,” she said. As for colors, “I’ve heard orange and pink are going to be big this year. That’s what one of the trade magazines said.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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