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.