Taking a cue from a thread Missy Bahret started on the Bulletin Board, I asked some of our South & Central Region growers to describe their most successful new venture in the past year. They gave some fascinating answers, many of which related to season extension. 

This was certainly true for Rita Anders (Cuts of Color, Weimar, Texas). By far, Rita says, her greatest success was growing dahlias under lights. Following Vicki Stamback’s example, Rita started dahlia plugs in her greenhouse in August. She strung 75-watt bulbs 4 feet apart above her dahlia beds, which are 100 x 3 feet. Rita’s dahlias began producing in the early fall and were still blooming when I spoke with her in late February. Blooming prolifically, in fact – she had just cut 10 buckets of dahlias!

Rita is an experienced farmer who started growing greenhouse tomatoes in 1979 and shifted to flower production in 2004. Not one to shy away from new challenges, Rita made that shift with gusto, quickly taking on a wide variety of flowers and growing methods. Rita has 10 greenhouses, several of which are gutter-connected, and 3 garden areas covering about 1.5 acres. You will get to see all of this at our 2011 Regional Meeting because Rita has graciously agreed to host the meeting at her farm. Mark your calendars now for Monday, August 1 More details will be coming soon.

Nancy Bartlett (Blue Stem Farm, Folsom, Louisiana) says her two new hoophouses have revolutionized her business, putting her about 6 weeks ahead of last year, despite the record cold winter. In late February, she was already prepared for the Covington Farmers’ Market with the first of her spring flowers. Nancy also extended her market into December 2010 by producing red lilies for Christmas. She put up a small tunnel covered in greenhouse film and used a portable heater as needed. The lilies did well and were blooming in early December. This was great for Christmas sales and also led to Nancy’s film debut! It happened that a film crew was in town filming The Lucky One (based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel). They needed a farmers’ market scene and chose Nancy and her son John to be in it. They also bought all of her lilies and John’s produce. In the booth next to Nancy was actress Blythe Danner, selling roses. Watch for the release of The Lucky One starring Zac Efron (and Nancy Bartlett) in late 2011.

Beth Eggers (Wye Mountain Flowers & Berries, Roland, Arkansas) has been trying low tunnels made with a hoopbender to extend her season. Beth has dealt with a lot in the past year.  In 2010, she had installed low hoops and her crops were doing well—until a freak hailstorm destroyed almost everything. Undaunted, Beth is trying the low hoops again and is hoping that they help her get to the Little Rock River Market much earlier than would be possible without the hoops. She says making the hoops is not difficult, but installing them requires two people.  

Although not a new venture, Joy Boudreaux (Boudreaux’s Garden, Baton Rouge, Lousiana) says cut mums have been great season extenders for her. For the past five years, she has been growing several hundred mums from which she sells blooms at the Baton Rouge Farmers’ Market in October and November. Joy plants her mums 6 inches apart and uses three layers of netting plus rebar every 4 feet. She uses row cover over the top to protect the plants from strong storms. Joy also grows potted poinsettias for December sales. She sometimes forces bulbs for early spring sales too, but this year her spring market may be delayed a bit. That is partly because record freezes have slowed her annual flowers. But more importantly, Joy will be busy preparing all the flowers for her son’s April wedding—bouquets for the bride and seven bridesmaids, boutonnieres, cor-sages, and 3 large arrangements. She is even making her own ribbons using remnants of the bridesmaids’ dress fabric. Although Joy has not done much floral design work, she does have training, as required by the state of Louisiana. Until a lawsuit last year convinced the legislature to change the law, Louisiana required anyone selling floral arrangements (even at farmers’ markets) to pass both a written exam and an extensive practical exam which included making four types of arrangements. It was the only state with such requirements.

Janet McKinney (Flower Hill Farm, Laneville, Texas) found several ways to extend her season. With her new wreath-making machine from Terra Tech she created Christmas wreaths, using gathered materials from her farm (cedar, Leyland cypress, holly). Janet is thrilled with her machine—so much easier and faster than handwiring. Janet also forced paperwhites and amaryllis to fill out her holiday offerings. For fall, she put her 9-year old son to work making “natural bird feeders.” He bundled leftover sunflower stalks and seed heads, sorghum, broom corn, millet and other grasses into a bouquet-like form, tied it with florist wire and then covered the wire with twine.  Market customers couldn’t get enough of these.

Janet Bachman’s (Riverbend Gardens, Fayetteville, Arkansas) new venture is not season extension but a shift in focus toward more perennials, such as peonies. Janet’s peonies were glorious last year. She had her best day ever at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market just before Mother’s Day, with peonies selling like hotcakes. (I’m trying to control my jealousy.) Janet participated in the ASCFG Perennials Trial last year, and like many of us, discovered a favorite in ‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia. She says the plants seem to have survived the winter too. If you haven’t tried this one, it is a real winner. Another of Janet’s new favorites is Narcissus ‘Apricot Whirl’(see picture). One of her florists selected this flower from a bulb catalog that Janet had received from a supplier. When it bloomed, the florist bought most of them and liked the flower so much that she even put it on her Facebook page. In her downtime this winter, Janet has been busy revising ATTRA’s cut flower publications: Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing and Woody Ornamentals for Cut Flower Growers.  Both should be available by mid-summer 2011 and they are free.  Call ATTRA at 800-346-9140 or visit www.ATTRA.ncat.org.

With the National Conference in our Region last year, we skipped the Regional Meeting as is the ASCFG custom. But we won’t be skipping it year. Keep that Monday, August 1 date open for our meeting at Rita Anders’ farm in Weimar, Texas. It’s going to be a good one.  

Josie Crowson

Josie's Fresh Flowers

Contact at [email protected]