Northern Tropics Greenhouse

About Me

Hi, I'm Sandy Burrell.  My adventure started when I purchased a small banana plant in Gulf Shores Alabama on vacation with my husband Ted, several years ago. At that time no one grew banana plants up north, so we grew it as best as we could figure out, actually we were very successful. We planted it in a large pot, put it by the hot tub, and that summer celebrated each new leaf. They came out very often, and we loved to watch it grow. That fall, there was NO WAY I was going to let my new "pet" die over the winter, so we purchased a $300 grow light unit for the basement. After the learning experience of spider mites, we somehow managed to keep it alive and put it out the next year. It grew bigger and bigger and by fall, we didn't want to struggle with keeping the bugs off of it down in the house basement. So wouldn't it be great to get a greenhouse? We discovered that bugs also exist in a greenhouse! And just because you have a greenhouse and can grow plants outside doesn't mean you'll automatically be successful inside. No, just having a greenhouse doesn't make you a great grower instantly, or make it perfectly easy either! Another lesson learned. I got the opportunity to learn about ph changes, fertilizer, bugs, and all kinds of things that I didn't know about or even think about before!

Armed with my newfound growing space, I happened one day to learn on the internet that there were more colors to tomatoes than just red and yellow. Heavens--there were orange ones, white ones, green when ripe ones, BLACK ones, and even striped ones. I had to try them all! That's when things got a little crazy. You couldn't just get a few seeds, you had to get a whole packet. So I planted them all, after all it's not fair to let some grow while others hibernate, right? They won't all come up anyway, right? WRONG! I think every seed came up....What on earth was I going to do with all those tomato plants? I'd better put a sign up in the yard and sell those plants. And maybe I could sell some of those excess banana pups I had divided up, which were quickly amounting to a small army of banana plants! I learned a valuable lesson that spring. Many people around here didn't understand my love of banana trees and "those weird colored tomatoes". Everyone wanted Rutgers, Roma, and Better Boy. They at least wanted red ones, some you could talk into white or yellow ones--but not those funny pink or striped or green when ripe ones either! All those plants needed to be put out somewhere, so we expanded our garden.

After giving away tomatoes, canning tomatoes, making salsa, spaghetti sauce, drying tomatoes in a food dehydrator, and pretty much pestering everyone I could find to take some of these tomatoes off my hands, I went to a small farmers market with my husband and our friends Mike and Kaye Beall. I'd never been to a farmers market, but it looked like fun. Mike encouraged me that I could do this, why didn't I try to sell my tomatoes there? So I started at Minnetrista, on a very small scale. Some weeks I didn't even cover the price to set up my table ($5). I ended up giving heirloom tomatoes away there at the market to convince people to try them. And some did--and miraculously, SOME OF THEM EVEN LIKED THEM!!!

I've always been interested in hot peppers since I was a kid. My mom and dad thought I was crazy that I LIKED tabasco sauce! After I tried some of the Jamaican yellow scotch bonnets, serranos, and discovered aji limon, my taste in hot peppers increased dramatically. When a friend asked me to grow the hottest peppers in the world, I thought why not? and that started my pepper selections that I carry today. I've tried every one, and grown every one, unless it's a new one I"m trying for the first time this year.... 

Now, banana trees are still my favorite plant, but they are closely followed by heirloom tomatoes. I grow them both each year, and I've expanded both the tomatoes and bananas to include more and more varieties. I still grow the red tomatoes and the yellow ones for people who like those. But I'll never do without my black, fuzzy, and rainbow colors of cherry tomatoes anymore! This year we expanded to several colors of bell and hot peppers. Who knew there were so many weird and wonderful things to try?

You can still see me at Minnetrista, nearly every day that they have Farmers market, Wednesdays from 4-6 and Saturdays from 8-12, usually wearing my goofy beachcombers' hat.  You can also purchase plants and produce at our greenhouse at home--Northern Tropics, and by mail order at And now you know my story, too!