Extending the season is crucial to Tschetter’s Flowers and to many other growers as well. In the Midwest states, many growers including us, are seasonal. Heating hoophouses in our region is a huge expense. This past winter even southern Iowa had brutal weather. Most January days, the actual temperature was not above zero and one week we experienced -40 degrees actual temperature.

The negative impact of not growing year-round is all of those great holidays with no flowers to sell. On the positive side, that is the time of year that we regroup, relax and vacation, especially to California in January!

Our goal is to have flowers in early April, for Easter, Mother’s Day and in mass for our first Des Moines Farmer’s Market, which is May 2nd this year. That is a big challenge but we usually meet those early demands by extending our season with our five large hoophouses and one small ‘insulated’ ends.

We begin in late January by sowing seeds in flats using our basement grow room. We have 7 shelving racks with 4 ft fluorescent lights. Each rack holds from 20 to 24 flats. We start with eucalyptus (an annual for us),stock, snaps, dianthus and bupleurum. We start around forty thousand plants in our grow room, starting from seeds and bumping them up to 72 cell flats before we move them out to the small hoophouse, all done by hand. Some of our more ‘fickle’ plants are brought in from other suppliers, such as lisianthus, delphinium, campanula, some snaps and wonderful tissue culture statice.

Lilies are one of our biggest crops. We start crating lilies the end of January and keep them in our walk-in cooler for a couple weeks and then out to our small hoophouse. (We usually bring in circa 16,000 bulbs for the season, approximately 1000 every two weeks.)

All hoophouses are closed mid-February and the watering begins on fall-planted tulips and delphinium, hydrangeas, second-year lilies, and peonies. Our frost-free date is around May 10, so you can see that this gives us quite a jump on the season. We have two rows of peonies in the hoophouse and they usually are ready for that early market. A large grower stopped by our booth the first market day last year and asked how we got peonies blooming that early. I told him that we went out every morning and put little sweaters on them. (Of course it was water and heat.)

The first of March we start transplanting into the hoophouses: stock, delphinium, snaps, lisianthus, bells, bupleurum, dianthus and campanula. Mid to late March, we plant some glads, tuberose in crates and then later, follow the stock with more tuberose. We will also direct seed some sunflowers.

We fill at least one hoophouse with stock. Most of our Des Moines Market customers did not know what stock was. It is one of their favorite flowers now! The florists we sell to love it as well. Stock is a great seller and it smell great. It is hard to beat peonies, stock and tulips at a first market. Customers wonder if they were really grown in IOWA!

Another great money-maker are those early peonies for Mother’s Day and weddings. Our field peonies come on a couple weeks after the hoophouse ones.

Then there is the breathtaking ‘Blue Guardian’ delphinium. The florists, as well as the market customers, literally stop in their tracks when they see the iridescent blue hues of these gorgeous flowers. We get top dollar for its beauty and freshness. The early delphinium also has a great shelf life, as it likes cool weather.

Our hoophouse lisianthus starts to bloom around July 4th, the ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas in mid-July and of course the hoophouse lilies start to bloom earlier. Having the first stock, lilies and peonies is a great advantage for us at the market.

The hoophouses help us extend the fall season as well. Fall lilies, sunflowers, zinnias, flowering kale, beautiful dried hydrangeas and tuberose can be supplied almost to the end of the October market.

If you don’t have hoophouses, I would encourage you to consider the purchase and use for extending the season and for improved quality. We have found that Farmtek has been our best source in our area. They would be worth investigating. Karen has been a great help to us in deciding what we should use. Feel free to call me is you have questions about hoophouses….or any other aspect of growing flowers.

Have a great growing season and experience. I am in the process of planning our Regional Meeting for July 6th. If you have any suggestions for topics, personnel or concerns that we can address at the meeting, feel free to call or email me (641) 660-9765 or [email protected], subject ASCFG.