Adding Flowers to Your Farm
When it comes to market gardening, it can be difficult to find a balance between diversity and efficiency. Whether you're hoping to put together a beautiful table at a farmers market, attract restaurant sales, coops or local shops, or satiate the culinary curiosities of a big CSA, having a wide selection of different crops, varieties, and options keeps your operation viable and competitive in the farm to table marketplace. Farmers across North America are doing something unique to increase profitability throughout the growing season: growing flowers for wholesale floral markets, retail bouquets, and flower CSAs.
While adding another layer to the market gardening scheme can seem daunting, flowers can be synced up to the rhythm of other crops grown on the farm. The first planting of most flower transplants can be started somewhere around 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in spring and can be transplanted out as soon as the threat of frost is gone. Starting flowers with the first round of summer transplants usually times them out perfectly. Flowers like sunflowers that tend to outgrow their seedling cell more quickly than others can be started a week or two later or can be potted up as they fill out the tray.
Like beans, cucumbers, and squash, flowers can be planted in successions. This ensures that there are blooms to harvest all season long and syncing up your plantings of flowers with your summer rotation can keep things simple. Most of the flowers you will plant will take around 60 to 100 days to maturity. This makes it important to ensure that your final planting of flowers reaches maturity before the first frost of the fall season. In some regions flowers can be planted as late as early fall while in more northern regions this means that the final succession of flowers needs to be in the ground around mid-summer.
Maintenance of flower seedlings is fairly easy. Keeping them weed free allows them to develop broad, healthy plants without becoming leggy or diseased. Keeping them under row cover until they form blooms can give them a jump in early spring and protect them from pests. When fresh blooms are ready for harvest, keeping them picked will actually help them continually produce blooms. In the case of zinnias, calendula, cosmos, among many others, dead-heading old blooms or imperfect blooms keep them in flowers all season long. With sunflowers, often times after the main flower is cut, varieties like Goldy Double or Velvet Queen will prolifically produce smaller flowers on branches coming from the main stem.
When it comes to flowers that are intended for drying, blooms can be harvested throughout the season and dried in batches or plants can be left through the growing season and harvested as whole plants at the end of their season, ready to hang. Leaving whole plants in the ground to dry can make the harvest of these blooms fairly easy, but you do run the risk of losing some of the early blooms that will begin to diffuse into seed as they age. Dried flowers give the added advantage of having something unique and special to sell during the holiday season when fresh flowers may be long gone in your region. Strawflowers, globe amaranths, and statice are beautiful flowers for dried floral arrangements and are also great when added to fresh bouquets during the season.
Targeting Your Flower Markets
Just like all other elements of the farm, it's good to have a solid business plan for your flowers. While flowers are fairly easy to grow, it does take time to harvest them and even more time to make arrangements. Knowing if you are going to tackle a retail bouquet market or strictly pick and wholesale the blooms for floral boutiques can give you an aim for what sort of diversity you want to grow, how much bed footage you will dedicate to flowers, when you want them to reach maturity, and how much time will be needed for their care on a week to week basis. You-pick flower days and you-pick flower CSAs are a good way to take some of the labor out of harvesting and bunching flowers while bringing community onto the farm and allowing individuals to get creative.
Flowers are also fragile and need to be harvested fresh and placed into cool conditions quickly. Having good systems and cool storage are essential in maintaining quality. Picking flowers early in the morning or late in the day is better for them than picking them in the heat of the day when they may be dealing with wilt from heat stress. Placing the harvest in cool, clean water will help to further preserve their beauty. Washing your clippers between each flower type can prevent the unwanted spread of disease.
If you are brand new to flowers, growing a small plot and incorporating bouquets into market sales is a good way to get a feel for whether or not adding them to your farm fits into your personal growing style. Flowers are good for the soil, attract pollinators and beneficials, and overall add a level of joy and beauty to operations that contribute value beyond their typically high dollar retail earnings.
Only recently have certified organic flower seeds been available for organic growers and fortunately this trend appears to be growing. As more and more flower types become available organically, growers all over are doing their best to purchase their seeds from sources they know they can trust. It has been a seemingly slow process and this is largely due to the fact that people don't eat flowers. (Which is a decidedly untrue statement given the popular edible flowers like nasturtiams, Tangerine Gem, and others.) Because people won't eat your bouquets, it can seem unimportant whether or not the seed was grown using organic practices or not. The truth is, like all other crops, it matters a lot. Buying organic flower seeds not only ensures that more land around the world has been farmed organically, it also adds to the demand, encouraging more breeders to produce organic stock. Organically produced seed also ensures that the plants grown in your own organic system will thrive. Kate Spring of Good Heart Farmstead talks about why choosing organic flower seed is important for her farm and you can read her story on our blog.
Adding Flowers to Your Farm?
Let's face it, the flower scene isn't for everybody. I know plenty of farmers who skip the flower section of the catalog every year and that's totally okay. That being said, flowers can be a profitable addition to the farm when proper planning is made for them. I've been growing flowers as a part of our farm business for the last 11 years and I have to say, it is one of my favorite parts of farming. Seeing the daily activity of pollinators and hummingbirds in the blooms, enjoying the colors, textures, and shapes, and seeing the happy faces of customers as they walk away with my flowers is pretty hard to beat. The added stability of season long sales and their eye catching flair at the farmers market booth even entices my husband to think they're alright.
Are you ready to add flowers to your farm? Check out our great selection of organically grown flower seeds today.