Learning from the first year of growing flowers
Flower farming has been a dream of mine for many years and this year it finally happened. When I was in college, I studied Production Horticulture, and the dream began. It’s been a little over ten years now since I worked in the horticulture industry. I took this time to raise our kids and had begun to wonder if I’d ever get my hands dirty in the world of horticulture again.
Last fall I stumbled on a magazine article about another Canadian Prairie grower, and it renewed my dream that I could farm flowers in Central Alberta! So I took the plunge this spring and started. It’s been a roller coast ride so far. There are things that I did this year that will be different when I start again next year. So I thought I’d share some tips for making year two count before you even get year one finished (in no particular order).
Plant unique flowers
This year because of the high U.S. dollar exchange rate, I ordered the basic seeds. It worked for this year, but next season I will source out better cut flower seeds. The seeds planted this year are pretty, but they don’t have a wow factor. For example, the Zinnias I grew were cute but too tiny. I should have ordered a variety that was bigger and more impressive. Most of the seeds purchased were too similar to what every other home gardener has in their garden. Also, I will order color-specific seeds. I ordered seeds that were a mix of colors this year, and I’m finding that it’s hard to manage a row with lots of different heights and colors.
Plan and research more
To get a whole season of cut flowers, you need to seed multiple times through the spring to make sure you have a great succession. This year I did ok planning ahead, but next year I will dedicate some significant time to planning, so I have a more in-depth spreadsheet. Some of my planning this year was loosely guess work since I hadn’t done this before. I will take the time this fall and plan, then plan some more.
Invest in some key infrastructure
This last spring I had a small 12’ by 12’ greenhouse. I was naive; I thought it was going to be enough room. Boy was I wrong! This fall I have plans to build a greenhouse that's at least 18’ by 20’. I also purchased some rolls of landscape fabric for weed control this year, which I will be doing again! It has been the best purchase I made. You still have to weed a little bit, but only around the plants and not in the aisles. On the rows that don’t have fabric, the weeds are taking over!
Start earlier than your seed packets say to start. This year, I forgot to take into account that germination takes longer. Then, there's transplanting. You transplant because you want nice, strong, and healthy plants to hit the field — not small plants. Next season I will be adding at least three weeks to every recommended start date.
Set up irrigation
This year I was just running a garden hose from our house to the field. It takes a lot of hoses but works if you have great water pressure. However, on super hot days, it would be good to have a drip line under our landscape fabric so that while plants were getting watered I could be working on other areas of the farm.
Get a water and soil test
I planted this year into freshly broken up hay. This hay was planted in the 1980’s, and we’ve learned that fresh broke hay is incredibly dry. I knew that the nutrient levels in the field would be low, but I've had to invest in a lot of fertilizer to help everything grow. If I had done a soil test before growing season, I would have known more precisely what our soil needs to grow amazing flowers.
I have to remind myself often that this is year one. Not everything will be perfect. We will have beautiful flowers and we will sell product. I’m now surrounded by beautiful flowers that our farm has grown! We are doing this! Yes, there are lots of other growers doing it better, but I have to remind myself that they had a first year too. What we see on their social media isn’t what it was in the past. For our farm (and you'll find with yours), it’s amazing how far it comes in a season. We started with a hay field, and now we have beautiful flowers.
Go for it!
So if you have a dream of growing flowers — just do it! You don’t need a fancy expensive greenhouse or 30 acres. This year I started with 1/3 acre (it's about 145 feet by 100 feet). All you need is some time, energy and a love of flowers!