Well here we are in the mid-winter looking at the Trials and New Varieties.  Most of us are “plant people” or we wouldn’t be in the flower business.  It is great to have a career that allows creativity and enthusiasm, however, there are pitfalls as well.  It is easy to get caught up in flower fever, ordering the newest seed varieties leading us to start hundreds and hundreds of seedlings. Yikes, we need a plan.

I started as a perennial plant grower, so my background is all about newer, bigger brighter. What’s the hottest variety each year?  Aren’t all gardeners victims of this as well?  Whether it is the marketing that gets us or sheer curiosity, we love to try new plants.  And herein lies our downfall.

Farmers need to choose their crops wisely.  I find successful flower farmers balance variety and selection with practical logistics of demand and manpower, topped off with personal favorites and the unusual.  That is why the Trials are so valuable to us.  We can learn from other members’ experiments.

After reading the Trials Reports and the New Varieties section I’m ready to try it all.  Fortunately, common sense sets in and I remember we have limitations of markets, land and time.  With the perennial and woodies we grow we have to be even more selective.  They are a long-term commitment for the space they are allocated.

Now is the time all that record-keeping comes in handy.  You did keep records, didn’t you? At least a few notes to self.  You need to know what did well for you last year, and perhaps more importantly what didn’t do well for you.  Ditch those losers.  You need to make room for new favorite sons.

When I’m looking at new plants and dreaming of great things, I find it helpful to think about what we are physically capable of, as well as thinking how our market will be.  I make a list of what I want and then next to each item list where I plan to sell it.  This really helps with the reality check.  It also helps to allocate greenhouse and field space for each new and annual crop, leaving space of course for successional plantings.

We experiment with small quantities of a new item.  But therein lies another problem, marketing small quantities of many different flowers.  I love plants and I grow many varieties, but I’m finding over time it is hard to market so many different varieties and just as importantly, keep track and care for them.  So now we have moved into the phase which smart growers will start with: narrowing the number of different crops you grow to a manageable size.  Thinking about your marketing plan all the time.  Florists want one thing, farmers’ market customers want another.                        

We pick and choose any additions to our crop mix with an eye on what we are missing.  Do we have enough orange in October?  Are the florists wild for green again this year?  Would we be better off growing more of the same as last year?  Do I know how to germinate echinops and how long does it take to produce?

I now make general lists of what sold well and not so well in each type of market.  I also make notes after each farmers’ market.  The more complex and diversified your markets are the more you will need to track.  I’m realizing I need spreadsheets for everything and of course backups.

Regardless of how complex your system is, the important thing is to track what is selling.  The best way for us is counting stems cut and stems sold of each variety.  You will be surprised by how much these numbers differ from your general notes. So try to do both.

I’m looking forward to a great 2008.