12/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent
TEMPLE, Pa. — “Around here, poinsettia is still king,” said Temple Greenhouse owner Dieter Wolter recently of the demand for the holiday flower, especially in vivid red hues. While his family’s business also grows bright pink and purple cyclamen — once popular as a Christmas plant in Europe — the pointsettia still reigns.
Wolter said he can relate to Santa Claus right about now as he and his family prepare to sell the roughly 4,000 poinsettias — including 20 varieties — and other plants they raised to holiday shoppers, local business offices and churches.
Wolter has owned Temple Greenhouse in Muhlenberg Township, Berks County, Pa., since the 1970s. His father, Gunther Wolter, bought the business in 1963 and made many changes over time to the original company, which included four small greenhouses started in 1949.
In 1969, the Wolter family added a 4,050-square-foot greenhouse. Later, they built two more greenhouses on the property and in 1984, embarked on a major expansion and remodeling project.
A lot has changed over the years.
When Dieter Wolter came on board, the business was surrounded by farm fields, he said. Now, housing developments occupy the land around the greenhouses.
Today, Wolter runs the business with his wife, Sheila Wolter, their son, Karl Wolter, and daughter, Erika Moore.
Dieter and Sheila Wolter’s grandchildren also spend a lot of time in the family business, he said, referring to Moore’s children — Samantha, 10, and Rylie, 6 — and to Karl Wolter’s daughter, Amelia, 4.
The poinsettia business has grown over the years, Dieter Wolter said.
Today’s poinsettia hybrids are hardy and easier to maintain than earlier varieties, he said.
“The breeders have done fantastic jobs,” Wolter said.
Temple Greenhouse offers several sizes of the holiday flower in both potted and hanging baskets.
“We have unique colors that nobody else has,” he said, including some pointsettias covered with speckled red and white leaves.
The plants, which the business raises from seeds, are kept at about 62 degrees overnight and 75 degrees during the day, he said.
The greenhouses, which cover approximately 22,000 square feet, are heated by a natural gas system but are also equipped with a boiler that can burn oil, Wolter said.
Today’s growing methods include the capability to automate inputs of water and fertilizer, Moore said.
“The chemicals are more exact,” she said of following EPA guidelines. She stays up to date on greenhouse practices and regulations by taking courses that also satisfy continuing education requirements.
The poinsettia business faces problems similar to farmers with outdoor crops, Moore said. Destructive critters can include groundhogs that dig under the greenhouses to get inside, stay warm and eat whatever they can find.
But Moore said that unlike the toxic plants mistletoe, holly and Jerusalem cherry, poinsettias — unless eaten in massive quantities — are not poisonous.
“Bugs are all the time,” she said about the insects that invade the greenhouses.
And routine maintenance is always needed.
“You just always have upkeep,” she said.
The Wolter family has a German heritage, and so Temple Greenhouse also features a store that sells German foods such as specialty chocolates, cookies and gift baskets. Many of the treats, such as stollen, remind Dieter Wolter of his German upbringing. His mother, Annelis, 92, “is still baking,” he said.
The family, which stays active in the local German community, also makes their own bows to decorate handmade wreaths of fresh evergreen branches.
Karl Wolter crafts memorial graveside boxes out of logs he decorates with used clay skeet discs, miniature deer and spent shotgun shells for former hunters and outdoor sportsmen.
Karl also makes barbecue sauce — but won’t disclose his recipe — that’s canned in pint jars and sells for $6 each.
“We have one-of-a-kind items,” Dieter Wolter said, and added that he likes to see a shopper smile over finding a unique item in the family’s store. “It’s instant gratification,” he said.