Greetings from the cool environs of coastal California. As you may well know, California is the land of microclimates and what holds true for growers close to the coast may be entirely untrue for folks just 15-20 miles inland. The state of California, roughly 750 miles long from north to south, and 200 miles wide from west to east, has an incredibly variable geography and range of climate patterns that affect each of us as growers quite differently. While the rest of the country and interior California swooned and wilted under the extreme heat that was rampant this summer, the foggy coast of California rarely saw full days of sunshine or temperatures above 65 degrees. Cool days turned into weeks without the blessing of warm sunny days. When the grip of the fog was occasionally broken, we were treated to brief forays into the 90s, making for rather abrupt and shocking transitions for plants and growers alike.

All of this translated into a season of long flower stems and good blossom color as our plants stretched for what little sunlight was available, and were able to maintain vibrant flower color because they were rarely washed out by exposure to days of intense light conditions. For growers in our area, this has also meant that many crops have had relatively long cutting periods, as well as more overlap in the bloom window of succession plantings. However, lacking the strong stimulation from the sun, almost across the board, coastal growers are reporting decreased plant productivity and higher incidence of disease. Particularly in the disease realm, we have seen far greater presence of mildew on crops such as larkspur, calendula, dahlias and zinnias, along with rust finding its way onto field-grown snapdragons much earlier in the “summer” than we would normally expect. As is often the case, ecology has a complex and region specific way of playing out, with benefits such as longer stems, better colors and longer cutting windows, contrasted with the challenges of increased disease pressure and lower stand productivity for the species that usually grace us with multiple cuttings.

In speaking with several growers across the region, I’ve found that sales of basic crops like dahlias, zinnias, asters, snapdragons, sunflowers, gladiolas, stock and mixed bouquets have been steady this season, with direct market retail customers not showing significant signs that they are cutting back on flowers as a result of the down economy. However, many growers report that their sales of specialty crops like tuberose, lilies and dwarf/colored callas are slightly down for 2010. Perhaps consumers are trying to save a little bit of money, but are still showing their love of flowers by prioritizing less expensive selections. Given the long vase life of the above mentioned specialty crops, perhaps we as growers just need to work more on consumer education so that people know they are really getting tremendous value along with distinctive beauty and fragrance from some of the more unique items we grow.

Christof Bernau

UCSC Center for Agroecology

Christof Bernau UCSC Center for Agroecology Contact at [email protected]