5 things I wish I knew when I started flower farming

Market Bouquets wrapped up and ready to go out into the world

This will be our 3rd year growing flowers. We are still early on this flower farming journey, so wouldn’t say I’m an expert at this point. To be realistic, I will probably write another blog in 3 years entitled “What I wish I knew as a 3rd year flower farmer”. (Kidding, actually not kidding.) Still, there were a few valuable lessons learned in these early years that I wish I knew from the start. Here we go:

Weeds can pile up fast. Get on them early!
  1. Weeds are the enemy.
    They are sneaky. They are relentless. They will get out of hand if you don’t get on them early. Like really early. I can’t tell you how much time we’ve wasted cleaning up out-of-control weeds. It makes the world of difference to get on weed suppression right away, BEFORE they grow more than a couple inches tall. Landscape fabric, mulch and straw help, but do not totally control weeds. We now go through and weed frequently when our flowers are little (April, May, June), it is a quick pass through but consistent. Doing this early and frequently makes it much easier throughout the rest of the season. You will be busy with lots of other chores, you will be tempted to procrastinate. Resist that temptation! If weeds go unchecked, it will take hours and hours of time to get the flower bed back under control. In 2019 we had rows get so far out of control, we just let them go and surrendered. We did better in 2020, but still had our weed debacles (read: our caterpillar tunnel after blooming window was done).
Planting into landscape fabric helps with weed suppression, but it’s not a total solution.
You’ll be rewarded with bountiful, fluffy blooms if weeds are kept in check.

2. Take notes. Lots of notes. Totally detailed notes.
You will NOT remember later, and you certainly won’t remember what you did last summer. Take notes when you sow seeds. Keep track of dates. Take note of whether you prepped seed in the freezer or you did moist stratification. Whether you put seed trays on heat, covered them, every detail. Keep track of when the flower babies germinated. When you planted things out into the field. Where the flowers were planted in the field (create a field map). Note the plant spacing you used. When flowers bloomed, how long was the bloom window. When did you harvest flowers (time of day, harvest method), and post-harvest handling. Vase life. How you used various flowers and colors in bouquets. Whether or not you liked them. And most importantly, how well did they sell? Make notes to your future self. Should you grow a particular flower variety or color again? Anything that worked or didn’t work, and adjustments to be made next year. I make a habit to go through and make field notes each week (sometimes each day).

We keep track of bloom dates, so we know when our tulips (and other flowers) are ready for market.
We take photos of EVERYTHING to remind us which colors and flower combinations were crowd pleasers.
  1. There are MANY ways to do things.
    You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Experiment and find what works for you. Initially it was so overwhelming. I googled how to sow a particular seed and got 10 different ways to do it. I searched Facebook groups for answers to a particular problem and found 10 different ways to resolve it. The thing I learned from this is find what works for you. A quick example. Bells of Ireland can be tricky to germinate. I found a way that worked for me (total experimentation) but it worked. It doesn’t matter how everyone else is doing it. I’m sure other successful farmers do it differently. My method works well for us, and we grew AMAZING Bells of Ireland last year. We will use the same method this season. Hopefully it will work, because I have copious notes to remind me of each step (see lesson #2 above). Do your research, read everything you can, but get out there and try things for yourself. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. By jumping in and doing it, you will learn what works for you. This applies not only to growing, but also to your brand and business model. You do you.
Bells of Ireland seedlings looking good.
Bells of Ireland little babies planted in our caterpillar tunnel. Healthy and happy!
  1. Color combinations and flower varieties matter.
    The best color combinations and flower varieties to grow are important decisions, so take the time to choose wisely. You don’t need to grow ALL the colors and ALL the flower varieties. Focus on what you think will work for the markets you’re planning to pursue. It’s a waste of time and money to grow something that won’t sell, or isn’t usable in your bouquet making. Just because other flower farmers grow Café au Lait dahlias, doesn’t mean you need to. We don’t do weddings, so we don’t focus on growing lots of the blush and delicate color palettes. We sell a lot of market bouquets, and our customers love the bright bold color combinations. So, we grow a lot of bright color flowers that have a good long vase life. Also, we are a very small farm crew, so we don’t grow high maintenance flowers. Instead, we focus on the cut and come again varieties that crank out the blooms and are easy to harvest. The other tip I’ll share is to avoid the “mix” color seed packets (unless you’re on the hunt for new colors to grow in bulk later). It’s usually better to choose specific colors you think will look good together in a bouquet and you think your customers will like. This takes some trial and error. Keep notes on what you and your customers like (again, see lesson #2 above).
Colorful market bouquets featuring a wide range of colors and flower varieties.
Wrapped bouquets featuring snapdragons, bells of ireland and dianthus.
  1. It’s ok to change your mind.
    Give yourself permission to change your mind for future seasons based on how you feel. As you start out on your flower farming journey, it’s totally ok to initially think you’re going to sell to florists, but then you end up selling bouquet subscriptions instead. Follow your heart on this. If it fills you up, do more of it. If it makes you feel stressed out, do less of it. Try things in moderation, go slow. It’s ok to change your mind about the long-term vision for your farm. We have made adjustments each year. Remember I said we don’t do weddings? It’s because weddings would totally stress me out, not worth it. I’ll leave that to the florists who enjoy dealing with brides and Pinterest boards and event day jitters. Also, I am an introvert big time, so I learned that farmers markets are not my jam. But Jim really loves them. This past season we pivoted and decided to do just one farmers market, our local market. Every Saturday morning Jim goes to the Indianola Farmers Market with our farm fresh blooms, chatting happily with our community, while I catch up on chores here at the farm, alone. It works for us.
Bouquet making in our flower studio.
Cut flower field in full bloom.

At the end of the day, my heart is full. Growing flowers, getting out into nature, observing the rhythm of the seasons. There is nothing like it. No matter whether you are a flower farmer, home gardener, or just a lover of flowers – you’re in good company. Hope these tips were helpful.

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