Some of my thoughts during this summer season.

First thing that comes to mind was the heat, yes can I say “HEAT”! Central Illinois had its warmest July and August on record. I’m sure our heat was the same as your heat in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio. Don’t want to leave anyone out, so “most of the United States”.

And with the heat came the drought. Like most areas the rain came few and far between any normal amounts. In our area it just seemed to not reach us. Two miles away they would get a half inch , 30 miles away may have gotten one inch. As of the end of August our area was 17” below normal average. We had one measurable rain in August – a quarter inch. July and August storms would roll through and  drop only enough to get your back wet. This past Labor Day when the tail end of Isaac reached us, the weathermen were predicting 5-8 inches for central Illinois; we got a total of 2½” over the weekend.

My neighbors who are all corn and soybeans farmers have been harvesting the corn for the past few weeks. The weather has taken its toll on conventional farmers as well as us cut flower farmers. Almost everyone is collecting insurance on their corn crops this season. The beans fields don’t look much better. They didn’t get the moisture when need in pod (bean) formation. As I travel the country roads the bean fields are getting large yellow patches in their sea of green. It is getting to be that time of year when  combines and large machinery clogs our country roads.

As I walk in our “Back 40” where most of our woodies are, I’m noticing on the red curly and fantail willow that the inner leaves are starting to yellow up and thin out a bit. Oh, the stick season is closer than we think. Been cutting a few bundles of flame willow to try at our farmers’ market the last few weeks and the response has been good. Broomcorn has also been moving well. In a few weeks we will be adding more willows, dried wreaths, ornamental peppers and bittersweet. Have your customers already been asking for bittersweet? Our web site has generated several requests the last few weeks, on top of our local sales. We will start our bittersweet harvest later this week. Just walking the rows and eyeballing them, it looks like the total bunches will be down from last season. Maybe weather related.
With the summer to fall transition we have had some winners and losers this season.

• Sunflower—best year, we are really moving them this year. Sales to wholesalers, retail florists and farmers market all up. We read about and see other farmers using succession plantings and if you have not planted your sunflower program that way, you are missing out. We planted every 2-3 weeks 10 (210) trays of suns and are doing our last planting in the field the second week in September. Gambling on the frost time. Our largest order of sunflowers for a single event was 600 stems, plus 100 mini suns for a Chicago wedding. You can make money on sunflowers !
• Zinnia
• Celosia
• Lilies
• Matsumoto asters
• Ornamental peppers

• Ageratum—just didn’t get the height and volume as in years past
• Bittersweet—low berry/pod volume
• Ornamental peppers—should have grown more
• Lisianthus—need to work on this for better field production
• Millets/grasses—some worked, some did not. ‘Dallas Blues’ came through on the positive side.

We tried something new this year with our red curly willow. We sell in three grades: tips, medium and tall. Normally our harvest starts with the onset of frost and is completed by the end of February. This past winter I decided to leave a row uncut. In June the uncut row was pruned back and because of that, the regrowth has all been medium grade, four to five feet tall, compared to the plants that we pruned in winter, which gave us 8-10 feet of regrowth. Of those we get the tall grade with tips and medium grades in the cleaning or processing. These are more (labor) money in harvest. The one with that June prune harvesting and grading will be less time and more (medium grade) per plant than the tall plants.

The medium grade is our top seller, followed by the tip and tall grades. We also offer 12-24” green curly willow stems. They are sold to wholesalers, commercial accounts, and event planners. Finding new ways to make more money per woody row is what we are working on for this winter.

Hope you are considering going to Tacoma in November for the National Conference and Trade Show. It has shaped up to become one of our more informative conferences in a while. Hope to see and meet many of you there. Emails and phone calls are not the same as face-to-face chats.

Are you using the ASCFG Community Network?  If not, please check it out and sign on. If you can do Facebook, you can do the Community Network.

For the last couple weeks we have been getting seed and plug catalogs in the mail. Must mean fall is here or on the way for some of us. Hope you have your fall and winter sales forecast and items lined up for your customers. Not to get political (recession, downturn economy, election) with your customers they do have money to spend on flowers. It is finding what they want and you giving your best product you can grow for them. Look for new doors and paths to go down to find what is out there. Old dogs can be taught new ideas: at least I’m learning new ones. See you in Tacoma, peace out !

Kent Miles

Illinois Willows

Kent Miles Illinois Willows Contact at [email protected]