It’s hard to miss the Hoop House on the Reedsburg campus of Madison Area Technical College.
But even a person with his eyes closed could have found the building in the 70-degree warmth Thursday afternoon by following his nose. The smell wafting on the breeze from thousands of flowers inside the Hoop House would have made it easy. They make for a wonderful smell and a lovely sight, but visitors shouldn’t be deceived.
“You definitely have to like it because it’s a lot of work, a lot of headaches,” said Jos De Block whose business, de Block Nursery, occupies about two-thirds of the Hoop House.
The Hoop House is a 96-foot-by-34-foot greenhouse built by the technical college in 2011 to serve as a business incubator for horticulture businesses.
Jos de Block (pronounced ‘Yos’) and his wife Mary supply hanging baskets and bedding plants to area retailers and to shoppers at two Madison farmers’ markets — the Dane County Farmers’ Market downtown and the Westside Community Market.
This is de Block’s second year in the Hoop House, but he’s no newcomer to gardening.
“I was born and raised in an agricultural environment,” he said.
De Block, 51, is a native of the Netherlands, where he worked in the tulip industry as a youth. He met his American wife there and, after marriage, they moved to Brazil, where they lived nine years before coming to Reedsburg in 1999.
The Hoop House, which rents for a fee to cover costs of water and electricity, also serves as teaching space for the college’s gardening-related, continuing-education courses.
The Reedsburg Community Garden is nearby, which makes the Hoop House a perfect spot for gardening instruction.
“Some of the hands-on classes,” said Kathy Clisch, program director on the college’s Reedsburg campus.
Aside from the farmers’ markets, de Block’s business is wholesale. Now and then shoppers wander into the Hoop House and, when they do, de Block isn’t averse to selling them plants.
But de Block said he’s not there to serve retail customers because circumstances won’t allow him to keep regular hours at the Hoop House.
“I don’t have the time for that,” he said.
Like many entrepreneurs, de Block is trying to get his business off the ground while working a job. He works construction — an on-and-off industry that currently has him off.
“I’m laid off now; next week I might be working,” de Block said.
The de Blocks started by growing perennials in a garden along state Highway 33 and then began growing herbs under lights in the basement of their home in Reedsburg. But de Block said he wouldn’t be where he is today without the Hoop House because the start-up costs in the nursery business are so great.
“This helped me out a lot,” he said.
He said he expects to be back for a third and final year at the Hoop House next year and hopes then to be able to launch a business, but the steep costs he faces are a problem.
“It’s not just the land,” de Block said. “You need a well maybe, electricity and then the greenhouse.”
Money is one thing but to hear de Block tell it, another problem — weather in the form of consecutive cool, late springs — is no big deal.
“As a grower, as a farmer we all know that’s part of the business,” de Block said. “One year you hit the nail on the head and in another it doesn’t go as planned. That’s part of the growing business – working with Mother Nature.”