So You Want To Be A Flower Farmer?

FlowersSo You Want To Be A Flower Farmer?

Flower farming is a wonderful occupation for many people. It is exhilarating, challenging and constantly changing. You will be your own boss, surround yourself with beautiful plants and flowers, and work outdoors.

It’s so flattering to get calls and emails from new-to-be flower farmers. While time limits the amount of help and advice I can offer, I thought I would address some of the questions I commonly receive. I hope this is helpful. Good luck in your venture!

1) How do I get started?

Study. This is a business. Your business. You have to be extremely passionate about beginning a flower farm, as passionate as you would be in starting any other business. It’s not about throwing some seeds into the ground and stepping back. Do your homework, research and build a business plan. Know yourself and your potential customers. Do the math and all the other learning curves involved. Some people who contact me want the “easy answer” or my “magic wand”. I actually had a woman who thought this would be a dream job “because the flowers grew themselves”. Ha, ha, maybe I can train them to harvest themselves, too! They want to learn how to become a flower farmer, easy and free, over the phone or by email. There is no “easy answer” and it will be your “magic wand” that will get you where you want to be, and only yours. You will build knowledge, experience and skills as the years pass, but you first have to be willing to pay your dues and do the initial ground (literally and figuratively) work.

2) How much money will I make?

I honestly have no way of knowing. This will depend on a lot of variables including you, your number of growing months, expenses, yields, types and quantities of flowers grown, the quality of your flowers, and your markets. Do your math, do your research and write your business plan. Do not expect to make much, or anything, for the first few years while you become established.

3) What should I grow?

Go slow while you are learning. If you’re just starting out, you could choose some of the easier annual and perennial flowers to grow until you become more experienced. Some perennials, shrubs and trees take years to give you a return on your investment. You will learn over time what does well in your growing location. Every year add to your grow list as you learn about the habits and needs of new plants. Keep track of your sales by flower type so you know what you need to grow more (or less) of, where you are lacking, and what flowers are profitable for you.

4) Where should I market my flowers?

Markets for your flowers will depend on your location and if you want to travel or add a delivery service. CSA, farmers markets, florists, markets and on-farm sales are just a few options. You may start out with one type of client and change markets as you expand and learn what suits you and your location. You will tend to evolve many times over your flower farming career.

5) How many hours do you put in?

During the growing season I put in 12- 18 hours a day, almost every day. I am up at 4 AM reviewing notes, updating the website, planning the workday, and doing all the “inside” work involved with a business. I am in the field at daybreak. Our day “ends” around nightfall.

At the end of the season (after our hard freeze), our fall cleanup and spring planting prep begins. This goes right though until the weather prevents us from doing any more. In December we begin to start seedlings and begin our winter projects which may include repairs, maintenance, building, tree removal, office work, bookkeeping, etc. It is a much welcomed “slower” time for us, but by no means vacation time (although it would be a good time to take one!) Winter projects and seed starting continue through March and April. By April we are geared up for the next planting season.

Some Tips:

Lose The Romantic Notions. Flower farming is farming and all farming is extremely labor intensive. If you’ve never farmed before I suggest that you work on a farm for a season before you pick up your own shovel. Although a flower or vegetable garden is great experience, farming as a business will be a lot different for you.

Devour information. Part of the fun of this business for me is that the learning never ends. There are some great books already written on both growing and marketing. A list of some of the very informative books available is offered here: http://www.growingformarket.com/store. (While you are there, check out the entire website by Lynn Byczynski, Growing For Market.) There are thousands of websites out there on growing, design, diseases, pests and products. Some of the best are the university websites. Study them. Every growing season you learn new techniques, learn about new plants, new diseases and pests, and develop new skills.

Take care of your soil. Like you, if not taken care of, your soil will burn out. Care for it. There is nothing like being proud of your dirt.

Keep meticulous notes. You will build a good supply of information to refer back to every season.

Keep accurate accounting records and obtain all necessary licenses. Find out what licenses are required in your area. Learn a good accounting program or hire someone to handle your bookkeeping for you. Keeping good records for your federal, state and, possibly, local taxes will save you a lot of grief further down the road. Start out right. It will also give you a great picture of your financial health and help you to obtain your goals.

Stay Sane. Be philosophical about failures. Most years you will have some failures. Try to determine what the underlying cause is and correct it. Some years certain insects and diseases are worse than others, even to the extent of wiping out entire crops. Weather plays an important role. Hail, wind, hard rains, drought, etc., all can take your beloved flowers out right along with your hard earned money and labor. It’s all part of farming and happens to even to the most experienced farmers. It’s never fun, but it is part of it. Diversifying your crops will help cover the loss of others.

Spread out your bloom times. Scheduling is a learning process. You don’t want all your flowers blooming at once. You’ll study days to maturity, day length, and succession sowing.

Take care of yourself. Flower farming is hard, sometimes exhausting, very physical work. It seems we all burn out at some point during the season. Minimize this by stretching, staying hydrated, getting enough rest, eating well and taking time to enjoy the business and your accomplishments. Treat yourself as well, if not better, than you treat your plants. You are no good to anyone run into the ground.

Some qualities you will need:

Stick-to-it-tivness
The ability to work when you are just plain too tired and burnt out to work.
The willingness to pay your dues over the course of building your business.
The understanding and acceptance that Mother Nature is bigger than you.
Patience
Honesty and Integrity
The love of living things – people, plants, animals and insects.

 

 

 

 

 

Deer Repellent System From Messina Wildlife

Deer

I want to mention a deer repellent system we’ve used very successfully this season. Believe me, if it works here, it will work for you. We’ve had a few “security breaches” this fall, but I think that was due more to user error than anything. Deer get bolder in the fall and I needed to protect our inlet beds with more fencing earlier on. (I did lose my last two plantings of sunflowers to the vermin and learned a *few* new cuss words, but not near as many as last year).

You must spray religiously, on time, (I spray every 3 weeks) but you are only spraying the ribbon, not acres of plants. I spray about 1500’ of ribbon in less than 20 minutes. The repellent is pleasant smelling to humans.

Using black step in posts with the black ribbon, the fence blends in with the landscape well. So far it has prevented the need to install a 10’ deer fence – fencing us in or out also! It is also simple to set up temporary protection for seasonal bloomers such as tulips.

The link to Messina Wildlife is here.

 

New Flowers For The 2015 Season

Fall Bouquet
Fall Bouquet
We continue to extend our season with new plants and row cover. This is an example of what was in bloom on October 20th, 2014 – just after our first frost and freeze of the season.

It amazes me that after a season full of way too long hours and hard days that I am still this (overly?) excited over new plants this fall! This must truly be what I was meant to do! There are so many flowers to choose from, and I select our new plants based on feedback from our customers and bloom times; we are always trying to extend our season. We were definitely short on spike shaped flowers for some months and it seems we can never have enough pink and purple flowers, regardless of the shape. Blue is always an elusive color in the flower world, so we are trying a few new “blue” varieties this season. “Coral” and “salmon” were definitely a big hit, although I do admit to being color challenged with particular shades. So in trying to fill our gaps, we’ve added the following to our grow list for next year.

New Varieties for 2015

kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate
Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate

Annuals:
African Daisy – Zulu Prince – White
Agrostemma – Ocean Pearls (White) & Purple
Amaranthus – Molten Fire – Foliage
Amaranthus – Coral Fountains
Aster – Andrella Super Mix, Bonita and Hulk
Carnation – Chabuad
Celosia – Celway Series
Celosia – Sunday Series
Flowering Cabbage/Kale
Honeywort – Blue & Yellow
Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate
Lace Flower – Pink and Blue
Phlox – Tapestry Mix
Salvia- Lighthouse Red
Sweet Sultan
Tassel Flower (Irish Poet)
Tweedia – Heavenly Blue

We’ll also be adding 43 new varieties of Dahlias. Very exciting!


 

Helleborus (Lenten Rose)
Helleborus  or Lenten Rose  (photo courtesy of Walter’s Gardens)

Shrubs, Perennials and Biennials:
Astilbe – pink, white
Black Snake Root – Hillside Black Beauty
Columbine – McKana’s Giant
Fern – Lady in Red
Feverfew – Virgo
Forget Me Not
Foxglove – Excelsior
Geum – Blazing Sunset, Lady Stratheden
Heath and Heathers – A Variety
Holly
Lamb’s Ear
Lenten Rose
Liatris – White
Lobelia – Compliment
Loosestrife – Alexander, Beaujolais
Meadow Rue
Pasque Flower
Peony – Coral Charm, Coral Sunset, Felix Crousse, Festiva Maxima, Paula Fay
Pin Cushion – Beaujolais Bonnets, Black Knight
Poppy – Pink Ruffles
Russian Sage
Salvia – May Nights
Tickseed – Jethro Tull
Tulip – Hakuun (white) Japp Groot ( yellow)
Turtlehead
Veronica – Blue Shades
Weigela – Wine and Roses
Yarrow – Cerise Queen, a beautiful shade of intense rose-pink.

Coral Sunset Peony We've added another 70 peonies this fall including Felix Maximum, Coral Charm, Coral Sunset, Paula Fey and additional Duchess and Sarah. The new plants won't produce for several years.
Coral Sunset Peony (photo courtesy of Walter’s Gardens)
We’ve added another 70 peonies this fall including Felix Maximum, Coral Charm, Coral Sunset, Paula Fey and additional Duchess and Sarah. The new plants won’t produce for several years.

Flowering Shrubs on the Spring 2015 Wish List:
Mock Orange
Flowering Quince
Viburnum


Heaths and Heathers
Heaths and Heathers

There are always those flowers and plants that I have desired for years, but for one reason or another they have been put off. This season I am so excited to try heaths and heathers here! Although a low growing plants, both their flowers and foliage are much desired for floral design. They seem to be border line hardy here, requiring snow cover, protection from the harsh winter winds, and ample water their first year.
Another species I am very excited about adding is Helleborus, or Lenten Rose. Although we won’t see any blooms until 2016, this lovely flower blooms very early in the season, in March and April, just when a dose of beauty is appreciated most. Behind the Lenten rose we’ll put a backdrop of Cimicifuga, or black snake root.


Godetia
Godetia was an early favorite this season. Shown here with veronica and lace flower.

Our favorites from our new 2014 plantings:

I think the number one performer for 2015 had to be the Godetia. It bloomed very well early on, right when we needed it! The tulips were a sight to behold, blooming just in time for Mother’s Day. The baptisia performed amazingly well. I absolutely love this pea-like flower. With 50 plants in blue and yellow, we should have plenty to go with our peonies next spring. The late blooming heroes include Blue Mist, Japanese Anemone and Peruvian Lily. They all continued on well after frost.

Blue Mist
Blue Mist
Lace Flower
Lace Flower – Blue
Baptisia
Baptisia – Available in blue and yellow

Frost Ponderings

bouquet-10-20-14
Sunflowers, ornamental peppers, belladonna, calendula, wheat, cactus zinnia, pom dahlias, lisianthus, statice, blue bedder salvia all survived the freeze.

There was a hard frost and freeze this morning (October 19). Ice-in-the-water buckets kind of freeze. I had very mixed emotions as I walked the fields and checked for damage. On the negative side – it was so sad to see my lovingly cared for flowers gone for the season. I felt a horrible sense of loss.  And panic!  And furthermore, what a darn huge mess to clean up!

On the positive side, a big sigh of relief! I was running on empty. The days are getting shorter. The season has shifted. Mother Nature knows all things need rest, even us humans who certainly don’t know any better.

I have been checking the flowers, crazily, almost hourly. Who’s o.k.? Who’s going to bounce back?  Can I fill Mrs. Heslip’s order? Can I send a bouquet over to the neighbor (who I have neglected lately) still? Can I get another couple of days out of the flower cart? I know I need to learn to let go and shift gears a bit better. I’ve never been very good at that.

I’ll know more in a couple of days if the dahlias will bounce back, but there is an amazing amount still happy out there for October 20th. The lisianthus are stunning still. There’s a lot of filler that is still very pretty. The die-hard salvia; my wonderful anemone. Maybe not enough for a big event yet this year, but certainly enough for Mrs. Heslip, the flower cart, the neighbor; and for me!

 

March 2014 – Out Like A Lamb. So We Hope.

field-snow-IMG_2618 450

3-12-14 Our Sweet Peas are scheduled to be planted here in just about two weeks!

Wow, I have been out of touch! All winter, all I could think to write about was complaints about the weather. I’d heard enough, done enough complaining myself, and was pretty sure so had everyone else!   But yes, what a winter! We will be discussing it for years to come, I am sure. Like all tales, as the years go on, it will become embellished to the point of entertaining. For right now, it is just plain old.

I think despite the horrendous weather, planting will begin soon, even maybe on time. Our ground temperatures have held amazingly warm temperatures through it all with the deep snow cover. Much warmer than last year. Hopefully we will even see the ground very soon!

The seedlings are happy, over 100 flats have been started so far, with more scheduled through the end of April. I am getting very anxious to plant something. Anything.

Let hope that after this winter we are blessed with a spring soon!