When Bob and Caroline Nibbe started their strawberries and then their pumpkin patch, they thought it would be a way to augment the college funds for their four boys.

They named their St. Mathias Road business BoysnBerries.

"They'll have very little debt coming out of college because of the pumpkin patch," Bob Nibbe said.

Their youngest is a high school senior with the oldest now 39. The strawberries proved to be fickle. They had hail damage one year and frost another. Frost was a worry even into June for the berries.

Bob Nibbe said they tried it for five or six years but only had two seasons with really good strawberries. Then the year their fields were resplendent with red berries, they didn't have enough customers who came back after the earlier seasons. So they moved to a more reliable crop in their pumpkin patch.

"We found out that strawberries have a shelf life of a couple of days and pumpkins have a shelf life of a couple of months," Nibbe said. "And people really like decorating in the fall, Halloween. It's a fun time and families get into it. We'll get so many trucks and they'll buy one or two and then we'll get a little Honda Civic and they'll fill it up." Bob Nibbe retired two years ago from his job as a design engineer after 33 years with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. With his team, he put together the initial construction plan for the South Sixth construction project now underway in Brainerd.

This winter, Nibbe's time was spent in seeding plants in trays and a lot of watering. Stainless steel racks hold the trays while LED lights are overhead. Everything is wrapped in aluminum foil to keep the lights on the plants. This March when most of the area's residents were pining for a break from winter, the greenhouses provided a way to step into greenery and 100 degree weather. Bob Nibbe said he doesn't have to go far to step into the tropics.

"This is a fun way to stay busy," he said of the greenhouses. "It's something to occupy my time from essentially February through June and then we switch over to our pumpkin patch, which is our big push through fall."

After two long-standing area greenhouses owners decided to retire, the Nibbes purchased their hoop houses and expanded their own business. With the first hoop house addition, they thought they could extend their pumpkin patch business into the fall with indoor shopping for customers even if the weather turned cold or rainy early. A hoop house came from Eagle Landscaping, which operated south of the fairgrounds, and later two more came from Country Roots, which was on Highway 18. With the additional greenhouses, they expanded their operations to include more colorful annuals.

Nibbe said both Wes Urdahl from Eagle Landscaping and Sandy Museus from Country Roots have been outstanding mentors to him. Museus helps out in the greenhouse now to get her dose of growing plants. She said she enjoys seeing what's changed and how the Nibbes are putting flowers together in planters.

With the 20 acre pumpkin patch helping the boys' education funds, the greenhouses will now help supplement the Nibbes' retirement.

From hanging baskets to bedding plants, their houses were a welcome riot of color after a prolonged cold spring.

"Last year, we had plants out in the middle of April," Bob Nibbe said. But this year has been much different story with frost still a concern when they opened for the season on May 1, meaning they were burning a lot more propane to keep the plants warm. A healthy growing temperature is about 60 degrees.

The St. Mathias property has been a turkey and cattle farm and previously had a quilt and yarn shop complete with track lighting and display areas, which the Nibbes converted into a retail space where customers bring their flower purchases. Bob Nibbe said they sold their home on Lake Edward where they lived for 14 years and purchased the St. Mathias home and 160-acre farm. Nibbe said it's been a welcome move into a community with an annual picnic with neighbors. Even as he stood outside the greenhouse to talk, it seemed every passing car slowed and its occupants waved a greeting.

The Nibbes have also incorporated technology with 400 feet of drain tile under the ground so on a sunny day temps at the ceiling is pulled under the floor to help maintain heat in the greenhouse during the night. They received a federal grant to put up a wind turbine, which essentially powers the center pivot irrigator for the pumpkins. A high efficiency wood-burning furnace heats the house, shed, shop and greenhouse.

BoysnBerries also has chickens, guinea hens and rabbits nearby, which serves as an attraction for children. Nibbe said BoysnBerries is offering customers that small greenhouse business experience that is also complementary to others nearby that focus on different produce or attractions. When they have pumpkin patch purchasers, they refer them to The Farm on St. Mathias for its hayrides and corn maze.

In April, people were calling to see what flowers the greenhouse had. They find customers are making a tour of greenhouses with a day excursion to see multiple sites. Nibbe said, "We'd like to be part of that trend."