Seeds of Success
From the rocky parking lot along State Route 18 in Wellington, the outside of Hook’s Greenhouse blends in with its simple surroundings, but the lush floral fantasy that greets visitors as they venture inside is far from ordinary. Rows of vivid violet, yellow and fuschia impatiens neatly line the aisles, complemented by hundreds of hanging plants that decorate the ceiling. It’s not Eden, but it sure comes close. It took more than a few seeds coupled with loads of dedication by Charlie Hook and his wife, Liz, to make their greenhouse dream a reality.
At age 14, Charlie started growing vegetables in a little tiny greenhouse in his parents’ backyard. “I would sell [produce] down at the road,” remembers Charlie. Five years later he’d built five more greenhouses in the backyard. When he was 20 he met Liz, then 18, when they worked together at Thome Farms Greenhouse in Elyria. The two worked at Thome until 2003, when they left to join Charlie’s parents’ Hook’s Greenhouse, which had been open since 2001. They wed in 2005, and when his parents retired in 2006, Charlie and Liz took over, combining their respective talents in produce and florals to help the greenhouse flourish on its 30 acres.
Four years later, they have seven greenhouses — much-needed space considering Hook’s grows 5,000 hanging baskets, 10,000 perennials and up to 7,000 colorful flats each season, plus 8,000 mums in the fall. Charlie, who holds a degree in greenhouse production management from The Ohio State University, begins planting in early February and opens the greenhouse to the public from mid-April through October. The offerings even extend to a wide selection of vegetables.
“We go all out,” says Liz of their peppers, tomatoes, spinach, sweet corn, cabbage and pumpkins, which are grown on 5 acres of land. Hook’s grows 48 tomato varieties, including all kinds of heirloom and hard-to-finds, such as the Hillbilly, Pineapple and Amish Paste, which is a larger version of a Roma. Thirty-five varieties of peppers are also grown and harvested. Liz says the Valencia, a bright orange, sweet pepper, is her favorite. The couple even harvests a medium hot block pepper from a seed you can’t buy anywhere else, given to them by a “little old lady” who wanted Charlie and Liz to grow it for her. They harvest it each year, save the seed and plant it again the following year.
Besides growing an abundance of herbs, including rosemary, lavender, basil and cilantro, the couple began selling pine and fruit trees last summer. Plus, they raise three kinds of goats — meat, pygmy and milk — on their own farm
“The idea is to get into cheese making,” says Liz, who affectionately refers to their home as Little Hook Farm. Though five other workers help grow and sell their crop, Charlie and Liz are the only two who work full time, sometimes putting in 20-hour days of hard physical labor. In the winter, it’s not uncommon to find the couple outside battling treacherous snowstorms to prepare for the approaching season.
“When it’s all said and done, I think it’s worth it because we’re our own boss,” says Liz. “I think it’s rewarding because we’re able to generate our own income, and we’re able to help the community.”