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Introduction. . .

Posted by mbravebird VA zone 7 (My Page) on
Mon, Jan 16, 06 at 9:56

Hello, everyone. I've been lurking and reading current and past posts for a few weeks now, and learning a lot. My husband and I recently (in December) purchased a house and two acres, on which we are hoping to plant a half acre of specialty cut flowers for market. The house needs renovation, so my husband is doing that while I am taking care of our son and trying to set up the farm correctly. I think we'll be moving there in March. I'm sometimes intimidated, and often excited and hopeful. As I said, I have been learning a lot from this forum. I've already read Lynn B's Flower Farmer, which was SO very helpful, but as someone on here once posted, all the information on this forum is up-to-date and free!! I know I'll be asking lots of questions of you generous folks.

I am working on my seed orders right now. Oy. The prospect of making decisions about a half acre of what to grow, seed starting, when to direct seed, transplants, and harvest schedules is mind boggling, to say the least. It's also teaching me a lot. I am making a month-by-month estimation of seed starting, transplanting, and harvesting activities, based on the initial list of flowers I created. Hopefully I'll then be able to tell where I have too many and where I need more. One thing that doesn't seem consistent is information about length of bloom time. I'm using Johnny's growing info, which is usually pretty detailed, but sometimes they talk about length of bloom and sometimes they don't. Is this just something I have to learn from experience, from trial and error? I'm certainly willing to just dive in and try it out. But maybe once I get through my big timetable I'll come back to you guys with some bloom length questions. And a million other questions, of course.

Thanks for reading!

April


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Introduction. . .

April, welcome to our site! I am glad to have someone new to talk gardening with! Some of my best buds here got out of the business this year and they were the chatty ones!(Besides me!)

I think you will hear from many of us that you are starting with an awful big bite of ground to do your learning on. It has taken me 5 years to work up to about half of that...of course I do all but the heavy work on mine...I also work with a best buddy who has her own garden 3 miles down the road. Maybe working with your husband on it will be different for you. DO you have heavy equipment to work with?

DO you have a market in mind to sell to or are you going to do roadside sales or how will you market your flowers? IT takes time to build the market up.

What is your soil like? Do you understand your soil and what it needs now? How will you water 2 acres of flowers? How will you conquor the weeds in your soil? Are going to grow organically?

I would love to hear more about your plans!


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RE: Introduction. . .

First, welcome, and congratulations on your new home and new business!

Length of bloom time, like so many other desirable traits, tends to be pointed out only when it is exceptionally good. Experience will help with the rest.

Half an acre, along with baby/child care, is a big bite to take for your first year. The learning curve will be steep, no matter how much you read. You might want to consider it a learning year, since making a profit the first year is darned near impossible anyway. It takes awhile to build a clientele, if you don't already have an already-committed outlet for your flowers (like a best friend who owns a grocery store, for instance).

I don't have to ask all the questions, since LizaLily just did! I'd like to hear more about your plans, too. I do have a question about child or baby care, though. How old is your son, and will he be in school or at daycare often? Growing for market doesn't generally combine well with care of a baby or young child. They just will NOT lie there quietly for hours on end while you work.

Here's some unasked-for advice: grow ProCut sunflowers. Lots of them. No matter what flower fashions come and go, sunflowers always sell, and the ProCuts are fantastic. I can't wait to try the new yellow-with-green-center. I don't grow for market any more, I just want it for my own enjoyment. Length of bloom time is very short - they were bred to all bloom at once, which is perfect for large-scale growers. To get longer duration of bloom, you would succession-plant them.

Best of luck to you! Let us know how it all goes along.

Jeanne


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RE: Introduction. . .

April,
Welcome to this wonderful and informative site. If nothing else, we can swap learning experiences because I'm pretty new at this too. I'm entering the 3rd year, and still get nervous about whether I'll have enough flowers, but with the help of books and all the generous people on this site it is getting much better. I can't tell you enough how important getting your soil right is, and if you'd like a list of things I WISH I'd done, just ask! Good luck to you.
Cheryl


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RE: Introduction. . .

April,
I'm glad you decided to take the plunge, and post on this forum. I've met you on other forums. It's always good to see new posters here, and read what they are growing. So, what are you growing????

You didn't ask for any advice; but, I would offer this comment: Be careful about growing too many sunflowers with green centers. While the customer may be smitten by them the first time you offer them, they won't buy them week after week. They want the tradition sunflower. They will buy these continuously throughout the summer. Many customers at market buy a bouquet or two, and a bunch of sunflowers.

Finally: Quality in your flowers is the most important thing you have to offer. Second, a friendly, happy attitude. And, we believe price is third. Be sure to grow more varieties, more quantities and better flowers than the competition and you will do just fine. Be sure to make your bouquets stand out from the competition by making them look better than their bunches, or cutting longer stems or displaying them better. Don't worry about the competition, concentrate on your product and presentation. Repeat flower buyers always notice see the difference. This is what we have found to be true.

Good luck to you; and, again glad you posted!!

Trish


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RE: Introduction. . .

Oh, thanks, you all, for all the welcomes, questions, and advice. Feel free to continue with the advice. I actually have a document where I've cut and pasted advice from this forum. And Cheryl, I'd love to know what you WISH you'd done. Hindsight is 20/20, right??

Gosh, I'm unsure about how much I can accomplish, too. It's one of the most intimidating aspects. I wasn't sure, LizaLily, if you were thinking I was planting all 2 acres or a 1/2 acre -- it's a 1/2 acre. But I still worry that it will be too much, and it seems like Jeanne is wondering the same thing. Luckily, I will not be doing it alone during most of the harvest time. My husband works in the school systems, so mid May - October he will be able to devote much of his time to flower farming. He also has an erratic schedule, which can be both a good and a bad thing. He does theater performances for school assemblies, so when he has a bunch of bookings he's gone for days, then when he doesn't have many bookings he's home for days. Even though his spring schedule isn't very full right now, I'm just assuming that I will be doing most of the seed starting and transplanting and direct seeding myself. I think I'll be able to snag him to run the machinery for soil prep (or watch the boy while I do it). But my main plan is to combine childcare with our friends who run a market farm and CSA down the road. They have a son who's six months younger than ours (my son is almost 2). We might switch days of working on each other's farm, with one of us watching the kids and the other two working. I'm hopeful, but I really don't know how it will work -- how does it all sound to you guys?

As for soil prep, I'm getting the soil tested this week, so I'll find out soon what it needs. We are loooking for a walk-behind tractor now. When I did research about how to create soil health, I got really excited about no-till/sheet composting methods. That's where I met Trish, in a post on another forum asking if there were others who did it on a larger-than-garden scale. Trish, I'm SO grateful for you referring me to this forum, and for all the helpful info. I've decided that I will experiment with as many sheet composted beds as I can find the materials for, and then do traditional preparation of the rest. I'll probably have to buy compost, but we do have a large-scale supplier nearby. I am planning on doing it organically.

Watering is a great question. I think we might get a big water collection tank and drip irrigation, following the example of our CSA friends. But I really haven't thought enough about it, honestly. What do you all do?

And marketing -- we have access to four farmer's markets, all within 20 -45 minutes away. We are trying to decide how many is reasonable to start with. Again, it all depends on how much we can get done, given our inexperience and childcare issues. Our CSA friends are stopping their flower growing, so they are going to offer their CSA members a subscription to our bouquets, which we would just have to deliver to their house down the road. Our current plan is to 1) offer the subscriptions and 2) sell at one Wednesday market and one Saturday market. The other thought I have is to take any extra harvest we have to local florists or grocery stores and introduce them to the idea of using our flowers. It all depends on how the other plans go. How does this all sound to you all?

And as for what I'm growing -- oh, my. So hard to figure it out! I have made a big list that seems HUGE to me, and after I finish placing everything on that list into the seeding/harvesting schedule, I hope I'll have a better idea of what I can actually order. That's a whole new post in itself, which I will do. Take sunflowers, for example. I do have ProCut Orange on my list, but I also have other varieties that bloom at different times -- Sunbright Supreme, Sunbright, Soraya, and Holiday. I can't figure out whether I should focus on succession planting one variety or rely on the different bloom times of different varieties. Or combine both approaches. What do you all think, or what do you do? What do you think of the ones other than the ProCut that I've chosen?

I also want to bring up filler choices, but this post has gotten so long I think I'll give you guys a rest ;). Thanks for all the feedback and advice. Trish, your point about how to focus on our own product and presentation is a good one, and makes me feel more brave about showing up at market (gulp!).

OK! Let me know what you think!!

April


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RE: Introduction. . .

April--Welcome to this awesome forum! There is so much to be learned here. I've learned much more here than from books. The people are so willing to answer questions. I just wanted to comment on the Soraya sunflower. I have grown that for a couple of years, and although you get an awful lot of really nice stems from a single plant, it does have quite a bit of pollen which customers don't like. You absolutely must grow Strawberry Blonde. People love that one. Also they really love Moulin Rouge, but I know some of the growers here don't really care for it. SB and MR are the two that are most popular with my customers. Also, Starburst Lemon Aura. I love that one. Keep asking questions, because I enjoy reading the advice you're getting!


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RE: Introduction. . .

Jennifer, thanks for the welcome and the recommendations. The pollen was something I hadn't thought at all about. I think Holiday has pollen, too. So, the reason not to grow them for cuts is that the customers don't like the mess? What is there in favor of the pollen varieties?


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RE: Introduction. . .

Keep it simple.

In your list you have already chosen three of the best pollenless sunflowers: ProCut Orange, Sunbright, and Sunbright Supreme. If you were set on Holiday, (I'm guessing because of the bloom time and maybe appearance), add Sunny to the list. This is also an F1 hybrid, which means no pollen and longer vase life.

As tempting as it might be, we don't recommend growing the branching varieties. Large commercial growers do not grow these for a very good reason -- they tend to drop their petals, and short vase life. Your competition will be growing these. That's okay because you will be building a better reputation for top quality flowers. If you want smaller flowers, just plant the single stem sunflowers closer together. This is 6" apart, 6 rows in a 4' bed.

Is your head hurting yet from all this information and trying to compile seed orders, and figuring bloom time? Try scheduling bloom time for thousands of lilies in crates. That one always guarantees a headache!!

Trish


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RE: Introduction. . .

Trish, I did like the smaller size of Holiday, but your suggestion to plant the others closer seems very doable. And thanks so much for the good explanation about the benefits of pollenless. I think I'm sold. So maybe I'll just keep it to those three varieties, and succession plant.

Boy, I can't wait to let you guys get a hold of my ordering list.... I'm working on it.

And no, I can't imagine scheduling crates of lilies -- how long have you been growing flowers? I ask that because I imagine it takes a while to build up to the more ambitious projects.


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RE: Introduction. . .

It's the inquisitive mind that makes for a successful operation; and you have already learned one key element -- write things down. This is our eighth season growing for market. We started small nine years ago with a half acre, and grew from there. (We always think we never have enough growing space.) When we were growing on the half acre, we were also growing container plants, hanging baskets, specialty annuals, and perennials.

Succession planting is so important in order to have flowers all season. In a previous post, it was mentioned that ProCut bloom all at once. In a perfect world that would be true. However, they start to bloom slowly, and the greatest harvest is in the middle. Then, they slow down. You will find that you need to harvest every day. Succession planting every two weeks faithfully pretty much guarantees you will have sunflowers all season. Mostly likely you will be cutting in two sections at once because of the overlap. And, sometimes the weather does strange things; and, one crop will catch up and bloom at the same time as the previously sown crop. Because of this, we also experience that feast and famine syndrome -- 30 buckets at market one week, and maybe 15 the next. This doesn't happen that often; but, sometimes we do find ourselves at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Trish


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RE: Introduction. . .

I have some minor doubts about your childcare situation. I found that in the peak of the season, I not only worked at least 6 days out of seven, but those days were up to 16 hours of work, even more on harvest and market days. If you can make it work out, though, more power to you! You might lose some flowers because you just can't get out there to cut them on your childcare days. Only experience will tell if that is a significant problem or not. It might not be. Also, growing flowers for market is a very time- and labor-intensive job. Your son won't be small forever - you might not want to miss that much of this time in his life. On the other hand, it might be okay. You'll find the level you're comfortable with.

A word of STRONG advice: get a cooler. Even if it's just a couple of old refrigerators in the garage (that's what I had), you can lose a lot of your most valuable flowers (and therefore a lot of income) just because they opened at the wrong time. For half an acre of flowers, I think you might need more cooler space than I had. I could only keep the most expensive flowers in my fridges - there wasn't room for secondaries or fillers. I think Trish (flowerfarmer) has an entire small stone cabin that stays cool, but I could be confusing her with somebody else.

I second Trish's recommendation of Sunny. Great performer. Another one-bloom sunflower I really love is Eversun. Here, it makes a HUGE, perfect flower. It barely beats the first frost here (my frost-free season is 90-110 days), so it's not superfast, but it's not slow. The really slow sunflowers don't beat the first frost here. In your climate, that's not a problem. Double Quick Orange is a good one-bloom, early, fluffy orange, ahead of Teddy Bear and WAY ahead of Giant Sungold. It branches a little but not usefully - I treat it like a one-bloomer. If you try even just one branching sunflower, Lemon Aura is a very good choice. I don't think that color and shape is available in any of the one-bloomers, and my customers loved it. I grew both branching and one-bloom types. They both had virtues and drawbacks. If your season is long enough to get two crops from one bed, in other words till in the finished plants and plant another in time to get flowers, the one-bloomers are wonderful for that. On the other hand, some of the branching types give you more than one harvest for only one planting. Some drop petals. As far as I can tell, Lemon Aura and Panache of the Sunburst/Aura group don't drop petals, and have an excellent vase life (performance of the other colors in that group have been disappointing to me - the first flower is small and the rest are unusably poor). Moulin Rouge is very finicky - if you don't cut at EXACTLY the right stage, it drops petals. Some have experienced petal drop at all stages, so you probably wouldn't want to try that one. Infrared is only ever so slightly better, ditto Chianti. Strawberry Blonde (aka Ruby Eclipse) and Summer Sunset mix will drop petals if cut any later than when the flower first opens, but are unique in their colors, so I worked with them anyway, harvesting every day or every other day to minimize loss of too-open flowers. Oh, and surprise, surprise, Pro-Cut Peach turned out to be a very useful brancher here, NOT a one-bloomer like the rest of the Pro-Cuts. I wish I'd planted it with the branchers instead of the one-bloomers!

Those were my sunflower experiences in a cold-nights, non-humid, short-season mountain climate. Yours will vary, guaranteed!

I didn't succession-plant much in this ultra-short summer, but that's the name of the game for you, as Trish mentioned. If you decide to try both one-bloomers and branchers, plant them in separate beds, so you can till in the finished one-bloomers without tilling in the branchers that are still producing.

My customers loved the unusual colors of sunflowers. I wasn't the only flower seller in my market; the others tended to have the more classic-colored sunflowers, sold more cheaply. I had the high-end flower customers. I used the classic colors plenty also, of course, but higher-end bouquets were my market niche, and the unusual colors made for some lovely, different bouquets.

Speaking of market niches, if there are other flower sellers in the markets you plan to go to, you might need to find a niche of your own. Do something better or differently from the already-present merchants. It could take you awhile to figure out a niche, and it is almost guaranteed that it will take awhile to develop a clientele. Please, please, please don't undercut other flower-sellers' prices if their prices are reasonable already. Everybody loses in those battles. If you are the only flower seller in those markets, lucky you, you don't have to find a niche! - but it will STILL take awhile to develop a clientele. Customers tend to want to see you there week after week before they conclude you are reputable and become willing to buy your flowers. Of course, if you sell them a substandard product, they won't be back. As Trish mentioned, quality MATTERS!

I gradually moved to all of my sunflowers being pollenless varieties, as more and more pollenless choices became available to me, and my customers voted with their pocketbooks. Most don't like the mess on their dining-room table, some are allergic, but the result is that pollenless varieties sell better. Soraya is gorgeous and unique in its up-facing form, but customers don't seem to care as much about the perfect orange color and up-facing flowers as they do about pollen. Just one pollen-rich flower can keep a mixed bouquet from selling.

Trish, my idea of sunflowers blooming "all at once" is over about two weeks. That's what I usually got from the ProCuts, about two Fridays' harvest from each color, maybe three if they had only just barely started the first week and were almost completely done the third week. I should have made that more clear.

Jeanne


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RE: Introduction. . .

Jeanne, I'm itching to respond but I'm exhausted and need to go to bed -- but let me just say that I've been very busy the last two days getting a truck and a COOLER!! I second guessed myself the whole time, hoping I was doing the right thing, and then logged in and saw your strong recommendation...! Made me feel more confident. Anyway, more tomorrow after some sleep.

April


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RE: Introduction. . .

While a small stone cabin does sound quaint, Jeanne, we actually have a barn. This is a sketch of our barn which houses the cooler for our flowers. The barn is longer than it is wide. The exact dimensions I don't know because I am just not good with those things. The fieldstone wall in the front extends back, and becomes one of the walls inside the barn. This wall is built into the side of a hill. Upstairs in this building we store our buckets and other market related items. We have a resident squirrel up there; and s/he refuses to move out. Behind this barn is our bouquet making station. It was never under cover except for a canopy of trees. This winter we (I love how I include myself when I have done zip, zero, nada) are building an extension on the back of the barn. So, next season we will be out of the elements; however, it won't feel as if we are closed in because we are using large (read: recycled) windows. This is all built within a huge old barn foundation. The foundation walls from the old barn remain giving the area a somewhat English courtyard atmosphere (that according to my English friend). Our building also does double duty. During the winter, we store our dahlias tubers in it because it is well insulated; and, we have one of those nifty thermacubes. The heater is plugged into this little device and comes on when the temperature drops to 35 degrees. It goes off when the temperature reaches 45 degrees. How cool is that?

Image hosting by Photobucket


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RE: Introduction. . .

Jeanne, your harvest schedule is definitely something I couldn't do with a child. But during most of harvesting(May-October), my husband will be home and flower farming full time. Pre-harvest season, he's only available when he's not performing, part-time at best. I think what I'm going to have to do is just play it by ear, season by season, only doing what I can do at the time. So, I'm going to order and plan as if we are doing a half acre, but then just do what we can do. I think our marketing plans are flexible enough to accomodate less production. And then we'll just go year by year, adjusting based on what we've learned and, like you said, what our limits and needs as a family are. I remember reading in a recent Growing for Market about a woman with a baby and a toddler who was, with her husband, doing flower farming. She had found a happy balance, but it also sounded like her kids were pretty OK with spending a lot of time outside with her while she worked. We'll see how it all goes. I'll definitely keep you updated.

So, the cooler -- is a 58 cubic foot restaurant refrigerator. 70 inches wide and 29 inches deep. It's in the garage now. My husband and I just go out and stare at it occasionally -- it makes this venture very real, and we also can't believe we moved it by ourselves. It's used; we spent $750 on it, and I have no idea if that's reasonable. It was about $3000 new. But we have it!! Do you think we'll need more space, or will it suffice for a while?

Thanks so much for all the detailed info on sunflower varieties, and how customers react. I'm not sure what our niche might be. One of the markets has a lot of flower growers, but the other three available to us have either one or none at all. The pricing is an interesting issue -- I'm a bit nervous about it. I don't want to undercut anyone, but am also really not sure what I'm doing. I was thinking that I would follow the USDA lists, but I know there are drawbacks to that, too. What system do you folks here use to determine price?

Trish, your setup sounds and looks so lovely!! Is there a photo page on this forum? I'd love to see pictures of everybody's setups, farm stands, etc.

April


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RE: Introduction. . .

We're the largest market flower farmers in a 150 mile radius. We grow on 10 acres and undercover in four hightunnels. We also have a propagation greenhouse where we are growing annual seedlings all season for sucession planting, and perennial seedlings for fall planting. We participate in three farmers markets; and, we do a small European stand one day a week on a corner in a busy lakeside (one of the Great Lakes) tourist town. And, sometimes we do worry if we're going to have enough flowers to cover the markets. Our set-ups at market are large. During the height of the season, we're usually at the market between 4:30 and 5:00 am. We grew and developed a reputation for top quality flowers at a good price. This took time; and, we never take our eye off the ball. We're always reading market trends; and, we try to stay a few steps ahead of the competition at market. We do have alot of competition. This is not a bad thing because it does keep us on our toes. If you find you're the only cutflower vendor at market, this isn't necessarily a good thing because there's generally a reason for the lack of other cutflower vendors. You won't find us setting up our tent in that camp.

We don't spend 16 hour days in the field. And, we don't know any flower growers who do. For one thing, there isn't enough daylight!! There may be a few late hours during the season (the night before market). Our trucks are loaded the night before market. Sometimes this takes some extreme maneuvering because the trucks (20') are loaded three levels high front to back with the taller buckets of stems on the bottom. Anyway, the rule is: Loaded, showered, and in bed by 10:00 on market night.

All of our grandchildren live out of state. They come to visit during the summer, and work on the farm. We get to spend time with them; and, they receive training they'll be able to draw on during their lifetime (hopefully). I don't necessarily mean farm work. Because they work all aspects of market farming, they learn scheduling, work ethics, manners, and dealing with the public which sometimes requires a great deal of patience. Our customers know and appreciate this. They love that connection with the small family farm. When they know and inquire about a certain grandchild by name, we know we have a customer for life.

The one acre plot is a small grower's niche. This size is ideal for someone starting out. This size can be easily managed as a part-time enterprise by people who have other interests in life -- family, or a regular job. It is recommended that even if you aspire to grow on more acres, one should grow on one acre for a couple of years in order to get some of the kinks worked out.

A grower in Michigan or Idaho for that matter, can't really help much with the pricing points. The best method is to try to fit into your market as best you can with respect to supply and demand. If you have consistently excellent quality, you will be able to charge more than the competition -- although it will take awhile to build up that loyal customer base. They key point is to try and figure out what the other flower vendors are growing, and grow something different. Be careful about growing too many sunflowers on that 1/2 acre. If you are taking too many sunflowers to market, you're not only competing with other cutflower vendors -- you are now competing with every other produce vendor who always has a bucket or two of sunflowers on their stand. They've been told that this attracts customers to their stalls. Those sunflowers may not be in the best shape; but, they will be selling them cheap. A new to the market customer will buy those sunflowers on impulse before they get to your stand. The seasoned market-goer knows to walk the market first before making purchases.

Your new "cooler" sounds perfect for your operation. Our "cooling unit" is built inside an insulated room inside our barn. Businesses such as florists keep their coolers at 34-36 degrees. Since we usually don't hold flowers for more than 24 hours, our cooler runs at 42-45 degrees. This higher temperature keeps our flowers happy for the short time they're in there. You probably already know this; but, talk to your accountant because your cooler can be depreciated over six years.

There is no photo page on this forum.........


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RE: Introduction. . .

Trish, thanks for adding your perspective. Honestly, I can't imagine doing ten acres of flowers -- you must be quite organized (which is part of what your grandchildren learn from you, I'm sure). Do you not spend 16 hour days because there are two of you? I guess we will have a "person and a half" during most of the season, between my husband and I.

The competition issue is interesting too. We've been trying to figure out if we should choose a market without many growers over the one that has lots. The one that has lots of growers, though, tends to have growers who have already found their niche -- bulbs, or more traditional flowers and less "farm bouquet" type flowers. Your comments about variety made me feel less scared about the large list of flowers I have -- which I will be posting in a new post tonight. It looks large to me, but maybe you guys will think it's not enough!

I am hopeful that our family can get "in the groove" of this work. One step at a time. I would like our 1/2 acre to be able to grow and for us to be able to have a full family life, too. It's neat to hear how your grandchildren participate.

April


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RE: Introduction. . .

April, I Think it doesn';t matter what the length of your plant list is! What really matters more is what shapes and colors you are growing and how well they will co-ordinate and if they are in the trendy colors....I grow a very long list of plants but only a small number of each because I just love them all!

Make sure that you have some sprays of misty little flowers, some tall spikes, some umbrels, some flat round flowers(disks), and then some that hang down can be fun too. Look for different foliages and fragrances to use as fillers. WHAt grows wild on your acreage that might have pretty leaves at some time from first bud to leaf fall...do they have pretty berries or interesting seed pods? Do you have tall grasses with striped blades or that turn pretty colors in the fall?
I see that bridal bouquets this year are using loops of green grass as a foliage!

In my bit of woods I cut unfolding hazel leaves in the early spring to go with daffodils. THen the wild cherries bloom. Huckleberry is available year round as are salal leaves. In winter we have cedar and Douglas fir, and holly.

IF you have old shrubs on your new farm, take a good look at them and see if they would be improved by cutting some of the older branches out this year. Then cut the good flower or leaf sprays off and use that week in bouquets. Some like willow should be cut back severely and will produce new straighter branches next year.

I love the flowers but I Love the "woodies" even more!


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RE: Introduction. . .

Lizalily, these ideas are really helpful -- we do have older shrubs, boxwoods actually, that need to be cut back. The rest I will have to discover as the seasons come. I think we might have some Rose of Sharon. And loops of grass as foliage!! I'd have to see a picture of that to get it. How do you all stay up on the latest trends?

Do you ever use cover crops as filler for bouquets?

The woodies are both exciting and intimidating for me. Intimidating because the decisions are so...permanent. But I know I'm going to want lilacs and redbuds; they both hold some sort of childhood feeling for me. I like your description of your "bit of woods" -- enchanting.

April


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RE: Introduction. . .

Your husband's help could make a big difference in how much time you spend in the garden. I worked alone most of the time, with just an occasional helper for a few hours of harvesting only. Arranging and packing up to go to market were strictly me. Being in bed by 10 on the nights before market was impossible for me in peak season. The ultra-long, 16-hour days extended from barely-light-enough-to-see to too-dark-to-see. This far north, there's a LOT of daylight in the summertime. I'm not going to miss those ultra-long days at all.

Trish, I must have confused a description of your barn (in the distant past) with an entire stone house, rather than the stone wall of a barn. The barn sounds much better! I'm not getting ANY GardenWeb photos at all, so I can't see what it really looks like.

The only cover crop I've used in bouquets is the heads on cereal rye, used when green and nicely filled out. A small bunch of them, maybe 3-5 together, is a nice accent in a bouquet. To my taste, using them individually and/or in large amounts gives a weedy look. To some, it would be a wildflower look and popular, but here, I couldn't sell a wildflower look at all.

I kept my fridges at 35-40 degrees, since I sometimes held main-event flowers (tulips, peonies, Oriental lilies)for up to 4 or 5 days. Some flowers aren't happy with temperatures that cold, but those weren't my main-event flowers anyway. With such limited room, only my best main-event flowers fit in the fridges. Had I continued in the business, one of my plans was to get a bigger cooler.

I agree with Trish about pricing. That's something we can't help with much. And I echo LizaLily's use of anything that grows on her property. I used aspen, snowberry, and plain old white wild yarrow in my bouquets.

I didn't stay up on the latest trends, really. I'd look through a recent FTD book or booklet/pamphlet every so often, and ALWAYS look at ANY floral bouquets/displays, everywhere I went. I got more ideas that way. In my particular market, the very latest trends probably would not been recognized, much less popular, so I didn't have to be terribly current.

Jeanne


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RE: Introduction. . .

Thanks for the input, Jeanne! So you are no longer doing market growing? Was the schedule part of that decision? What are you doing this year?
April


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RE: Introduction. . .

April, forgive me, I was out of town when you posted the question above and just happened across it when looking for something else on the older pages.

There were several factors in my decision. First of all, I was working alone, which makes for long hours if I wanted any harvest at all. I tried some temporary part-time employees and (although one of them was wonderful) concluded I didn't want the headaches. The second was that I wanted my life back. I worked long hours in the hot sun and had NO spare time. Starting in late February, I couldn't go away for more than a day at a time or seeds/seedlings/plants would die. Earnings weren't good enough to justify taking up every minute of my life, and didn't make up for lack of sleep from Thursday through Saturday night in market season. The biggest factor was probably the climate I had to fight. We have NO nights over 55 degrees, which makes quite a few flowers impossible (zinnias and celosia come to mind, but there are plenty more). Cold nights cause things to grow very, very slowly. For example, we can't get a harvest of Early Girl tomatoes or dahlias most years - they're too slow! Our long, cold, wet spring causes some things to rot badly - tulips, for instance. Our frost-free season is very short, from roughly early June to early September, 90-100 days. Calling ANYTHING frost-free here is a joke, as we do get some light frosts in midsummer every year. There are NO annuals that bloom here before mid-July, even though started indoors and grown on in the hoophouse before planting out. Even with all the season extension I could possibly do, and all the perennials and bulbs I grew, there just wasn't that much to take to market until the second half of July. Then nothing but asters survived the first frost around Labor Day weekend, so I couldn't make much then, either. I had the high-end market tied up, but you can only make so much in six or seven weeks! I sold out, or close to it, every week at market, but I could not get any more flowers grown and harvested and arranged and to market than I already did, in those six or seven weeks. I'm not sure there would have been enough customers to buy more, but who knows? - it wasn't relevant! My total income just was not worth the time, effort, and exhaustion. Also, I have an outside job in a hospital (I'm an RN) that makes way more money for way easier work, and in an air-conditioned building, yet!

Of course, there were many other things I could have done, besides quit. I already had planted TONS of perennials that would have made for more to take to market earlier, and therefore extended the profitable markets. They hadn't reached maturity yet. I could have tried hiring more part-time help. I had quit my nursing job once, for one season, to focus more on the flowers, with no better results, just less income, so I went back. In the end, I think I just lost interest in fighting the climate, all the time, and having no spare time or money at all. Being a nurse is much easier. I gave up at the end of last season and have been much happier.

Now I'm working at the hospital more. I'll grow some flowers for cutting just for myself and to take to work. I kept so many peony plants and lily bulbs (just couldn't part with them) that I might find myself going to market as a day vendor a few times, but maybe not. I don't need to if I don't feel like it. I've given away or sold most of my lily bulbs and many perennials. I'll also be growing veggies for the first time; my CSA provider is moving to Missouri, and I have quite a bit of raised bed space available. My little hoophouse will grow mostly fast varieties of tomatoes, some basil, maybe a few cucumbers and peppers (none of those produce much of anything outdoors here - they don't like our cold nights).

I envy you folks with a nice, long, truly frost-free season and warm nights, for what you can grow, but I LOVE winter and cool weather and mountains and lakes and our cold nights, for myself. I live in a very beautiful place, in the Rocky Mountains. Selling flowers was never a big dream or life goal for me, just something I thought I'd try, so it isn't at all heartbreaking for me to give it up. I will still be growing flowers but there will be NO pressure, no 16-hour days, no working outside in the hot sun, no severe sleep deprivation on market weekends. And I'll be able to go away for weekends.

Jeanne


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RE: Introduction. . .

Oh, my gosh. I thought forums were meant to be light hearted. Anway, you have to have the passion. We are so full of passion about our flowers that when we go to market, it is totally infectious. Our customers know we love our flowers. Because it's so contagious, they in turn have the passion for the flowers.

Yes, we work hard; but, we would never find anthing else that gives us as much satisfaction as market farmers. I have mentioned this previously; however, it bears repeating. You'll never get rich growing flowers; but, you can make a comfortable living in this business. Wealth beyond that is simply superfluous.

Trish


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RE: Introduction. . .

Jeanne, I had forgotten I asked you that question! But I'm glad to hear the answer; I was curious. I am really admiring of all you folks on here that grow so prolifically in your short seasons, but it sounds like it is a challenge.

I'm sure the hospital is glad to have you back, and it sounds like you feel good about your decision, too. Good luck with the new life and schedule! It sounds like it will support your happiness& health better than the market life did. And we still get to benefit from your experience!

As for us, I am hoping it fits our lifestyle better, but we will find out! Trish, I really agree with you about comfortable living vs. wealth. Part of our journey this past year has been major downsizing so that we could afford insurance for our son, who was diagnosed last year with a bleeding disorder. But it turns out that downsizing is right up our alley, and is allowing us to try a life that we had always wanted but never prioritized... Funny the way things work, isn't it?

My son (2 years old) just came up to me with the water spritzer, after having given the seedlings "a bath". We are already reaping the benefits....

April


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RE: Introduction. . .

I can only echo what Trish said. You have to have the passion, or just love it, or there is no reason to do it. Here, with the climate difficulties, you have to love the flowers all the more to cope with the problems. I lost that passion. I still love flowers, but only enough to grow a few for me.

My posting above isn't meant to be discouraging to anybody else. It's just the way it worked out for me. You will not necessarily have ANY of the same problems I did!

Jeanne


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