ABC Nursery now in 41st year of growth

May 9, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — For more than 50 years, American presidents, along with the Small Business Administration, have issued proclamations announcing National Small Business Week. This year it’s May 5-11.

One local business has been around at least that long.

In 1958, Stan and Amy Miwa expanded their farm operation into the retail nursery business. Opening a store along the highway in Scottsbluff, they called it ABC Nursery.

Twenty years later in 1978, Scottsbluff farmer Jim Neuwirth bought the business and still keeps it growing. In addition to the plant business, the nursery does a lot of tree and lawn spraying and seeding. In the off-season, Christmas keeps them busy with plant sales, arts and crafts.

Like farming, the nursery business is dependent on the weather, whether it’s good or bad.

“The season was much different when I opened the business,” he said. “March and April used to be nice months so people were busy planting. But in drought years, our springs have become wet, late and cold and our falls became nicer.”

So for the nursery business, Neuwirth thinks we’ve had a six- to seven- week shift in how the season starts.

“It makes it hard to plan for the season, but you just have to go with the flow of what Mother Nature throws at us.”

In past years, Neuwirth has done a lot of seeding and tree planting by now, but this spring’s cold weather has delayed that work. But he said that when summer comes on, that part of the business could pick up in a hurry. The key is to remain patient and the 2019 growing season will be fine.

Neuwirth said that while growing plants remains the same, techniques have changed dramatically since he first opened shop.

“When I started, most of the trees we sold were bare roots. We planted them in wood shavings in March,” he said. “Hardly anyone offered containerized trees until about 1980.”

Another challenge is keeping up with the large number of plant varieties developed each year by plant breeders. Neuwirth said some of the varieties are good and some not-so-much for this growing area.

“The breeders that introduce these new varieties don’t necessarily have western Nebraska in mind,” he said. “Plants that do well in Illinois and Ohio may not be suitable here.”

Neuwirth recommended what are called heirloom varieties of vegetables that got lost in the shuffle when breeders started pushing hybrids.

One of those open pollinated old varieties is Sioux tomatoes, developed at the University of Nebraska to grow in our specific area.

“Over the years, Sioux tomatoes are still tough to beat although few growers plant them now,” Neuwirth said. “The older heirloom varieties tend to work better here. They’re just tougher plants.”

He said there’s also no comparison between older varieties of sweet corn and the genetically modified varieties available at markets. Heirloom varieties just taste better.

“Hybrid sweet corn was developed to grow faster so producers could get it to market faster,” Neuwirth said. “I have no idea what will happen in another 10 years of hybridization. I still can’t believe it’s come this far in just the past 10 years.”

As the severe winter weather winds down, Neuwirth said most people he’s talked with are anxious to get out into the garden and plant. The common rule of thumb is to avoid planting until after Mother’s Day.

“Every day is different in this business,” Neuwirth said. “Watching plants grow and change really does me good. “I’d hate to have to walk into an office and sit at the same desk every day. Like plants, this business is ever-changing.”