Over the past few months, as I’ve been selling off the bits and pieces of equipment I’ve accumulated in the last ten years of being a grower, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting quite a few people who are just beginning to get into the flower business. All those memories came flooding back over me of what it was like when I was just starting out. First and foremost was just trying to find information on growing cuts and next was trying to find someone to talk to who had any experience at it. Then I came across the name of the ASCFG and that search forever changed.
    
When I talk to these new growers, that’s the first and best piece of advice I can give them:  join the ASCFG.
    
As I’m being asked which varieties should I grow the first year, or how do I approach a florist, or how do I cut lisianthus, or which varieties of sunflowers are the most popular, or what to charge for a bunch of zinnias, what’s really running through my head is the enormous wealth of information that’s archived in the ASCFG Bulletin Board. It’s all there. All those answers.
    
When growers hear what the price of a membership is, I can see the dollar signs in their eyes as they’re adding up all that they’ve already spent, or need to spent to get started. Seeds, bulbs, greenhouses, irrigation supplies, buckets, E-Z Ups, etc. But an ASCFG membership is the first investment you should make.  So, Number 1: Join the ASCFG.
    
Number 2: Expect to some legwork to find customers. Visit your local farmers’ market and talk to other growers. Will people actually buy flowers at the farmers’ market you’re thinking of vending at?  We all think, “Who could see those beautiful flowers and not buy them?” but I went to my first local market four times and sold nothing! A vendor down the way was selling bouquets in soup cans for one dollar (all she brought, ten or so) but I couldn’t sell one flower. The next week I was at a different market.
    
Florists; I always call first. Ask to see if they’re interested and then stop by with flowers. Usually that’s all it takes, but don’t take it personally when you hear the word no. There are plenty of customers out there who want to buy your flowers, but you may have to search them out.
    
Number 3: A lot of your first year will be spent just finding out what works for you; what you can grow well and what you need to spend more time on. I really admire one of the growers I’ve met, Ann Franzenburg (yes, she’s joined the ASCFG!) because she is so well organized. Nothing like I was. She’s decided to grow 10 annual varieties, 10 perennial varieties, and a few bulb crops. That way, she’s not overwhelming herself the first year and she has good records of what she grew and how she needs to adjust the second year.

    
Number 4: A lot of your success will depend on your attitude. I just spent some time talking to Danielle Ferris of Petal Patch Farms. This will be her third year of growing and it was wonderful to hear the change in her voice from when I first met her at a conference where she had so many questions and was scared and nervous about starting out. Now she sounds so knowledgeable about what she’s doing and has that attitude of success.
    
Her advice to new growers is that you can’t be afraid or unwilling to switch gears when something doesn’t work. She’s had no success with florists but has teamed up with another smaller grower at her local market to whom she can supply flowers. She says to be realistic about what you can do and learn what your limitations are. Don’t be afraid to accept offers of help or to ask for help. Also, tell everyone what you’re doing because word of mouth has helped her get customers and plants. For her, getting perennials established has helped to ease her workload, as has a drip irrigation system. Her own tests for vase life and stages to cut have built her confidence about what she tells her customers. Danielle says attending the Raleigh conference helped to reassure her about what she was doing, and she was very impressed by the willingness of other growers to take time to share information.
    
And Number 5: After you’ve become a member, try to find another member close to you, or someone you can call or email to talk to when you have questions. I fondly remember all the ASCFG members who have given me help along the way, and I like to think I’m paying-it-forward by helping other growers get started as well.