My family has raised cows and crops for at least four generations. Farming is in my blood. I have loved growing up with the cows and the alfalfa, but I had the urge to try something different. So I started to think of other crops that I could grow that could diversify my family’s farm. Then it hit me… cut flowers. I knew I enjoyed growing flowers from the good old days in high school greenhouse class. I could spend all day in the greenhouse on winter days. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the cut flower industry. I bought three books and read them all…. several times. I ordered many seed catalogues and read blogs about flower farmers. I talked to a few florists in my area about locally grown cut flowers, and they all said they did not know of any farms in our area. SCORE! I found my empty niche that needed to be filled. (To this day I only know of one other flower farm in Utah.) When I researched flower farms in other states I found that some like Oregon, California and Washington had 50+ flower farms. Utah only had one. Some florists seemed to be excited about the prospects of locally grown flowers so we decided to take the plunge and start a flower farm. This is our story.
I immediately started ordering seeds and planting them. We were already behind starting many of our seeds in March and April. Ideally I will start planting in January for next years crops. Here in Utah March and April are still pretty darn cold. So I built this artificial “greenhouse” in our apartment and grew hundreds of seedlings in a space no larger than 8’x4′. All of the materials to build this little gem are available at your local hardware store. Shop lights, a few boards and some cinder blocks were sufficient to grow hundreds of seedlings in our spare bedroom. A few hints: buy one ‘warm bulb’ and one ‘cool bulb’ to get a nearly full spectrum of light. Position the lights about 2″ from the tops of your plants so they get full intesity. If you are really short on space like I was you can leave the lights in 24 hours a day and switch out trays every 12 hours. This allows you to start twice as many trays in the same amount of space. Keep a fan on the seedlings at all times to reduce the chance of disease and to strengthen their stems.
All the while I continued to reasearch and learn everything I could about growing good cut flowers. One great thing about flower farming is the wealth of knowledge available from seasoned veterans. They are so willing to share all of their secrets to success. In some industries successful businesses keep their methods of production a secret, but not in the flower farming industry. Flower farmers have the mentality that there is enough business to go around. There are never too many fowers. My greatest resouces are the Flower Farmers Facebook group and Floret Flower Farm Blog. They are some of the most generous people that I know, and I could not have do it without them. So I am going to do my part, small as it may be, to give back to those looking for help and inspiration.
My next challange was where to plant these things once the weather warms up? After several dead ends I finally got the approval to plant in my Parents backyard. The area is only aproximately 50’x60′. This is not a lot of space, but when researching flower farming I found that many people had small farms and still grew lots of amazing things. I was determined to try so I tilled up the ground, added a dunptruck load of manure from the family farm and lots of compost. I sprinkled in a couple of bags of Azomite for trace minerals and some general fertilizer onto the soil and tilled it up again. I made raised beds because flowers need good drainage. Here is a picture of the plot in the begining stages.
In order to make this small space work I really needed to take an intensive approach to farming. I had to maximise every square inch. (You can get great information about intensive farming from the Floret blog) I plan to continue to grow seedlings in plug trays and transplant out when other plants have started to go down hill all season long. You cannot expect to get quality flowers all season long if you only plant one time. Plants get tired after producing at full capacity for months on end, so the most efficient use of space is to pull them up and plant again as fast as possible. Floret tries to get at least two crops from every flower bed every season! I decided to spend the money and get drip tape to water all of our flowers. It slowly emits water along the length of the tubing reducing foliar diseases and conserving water. So far it has been a great investment. We just turn the water on each afternoon and the drip tape waters all of our plants perfectly.
These are two month old snapdragon seedlings.
I have already made a million mistakes, but there is no other way to learn. Just yesterday I killed 100 celosia and 100 bacchelor button seedlings because I did not water them and they died in the heat of the sun… There is nothing I could do but plant 100 more and learn from my mistake. It will take me years to learn to grow all of these flower varieties really well, until then I will continue to do stupid things and learn the hard way.
This is our first year in production so I plan to post what has been working for me and what hasn’t and hopefully it can help someone the way others have helped me. By posting all of the stupid things that I do I hope to keep someone else from doing the same thing.