Well, it’s that time of year again: apples ripening on the trees, celosia looking its best, bittersweet harvest, new seed catalogs arriving in the mail, fall festivals upon us, and yes, the “killing frost”.

The killing frost will be here before you know it and when it hits you know it . Zinnias down, darkening celosia hanging to the ground, leaves turning autumn hues and falling, lawns with a frosting on them, and willow leaves still green and crisp in the early morning. The paths between the beds have a crunchy sound as you walk the length to seek out a few harvestable stems that may have survived the first touch of winter.
For us here in Illinois, that touch can be but isn’t always a welcome sight. To me, it means a new season; summer is officially over and autumn is here. Autumn brings us new beginnings as to crops, and chores to finish before the white stuff happens. By now the fall crops are either just finished, like bittersweet, pumpkins and other gourds, rose hips, callicarpa, and it’s the beginning of the willow harvest, fall wreath making, boxwood harvest, irrigation lines storage, plastic mulch pulled off beds, and removal of plant debris has begun.

Fall cleanup is a definite must. The list seems never ending and constantly growing. I remember one year forgetting to clean up some sunflower beds and the stubble was left till the spring. Boy, that was much more work for me in the spring. Work on getting your fall bed cleanup finished in a timely manner; you will be so grateful later in the year. Getting all those weeds removed from around your buildings and structures will also help.

For those of you who do not or have not thought of this, here is a way for increasing your November and December sales. Sell cut evergreens, in one form or another. We make boxwood and mixed evergreen wreaths for our indoor market, which runs the second Saturday in November until Christmas. Last year we started to offer white pine tips to our retail florist and market customers. We sold more than I thought we would to our florists, so this year I’m doing a pre-order with them. For the first time we’re selling wholesalers white pine tip bunches, at 20 bunches per case.
This was one of the times that you flip the switch in your head and the light bulb goes on: Why didn’t I think of this before?  So go out and check to see what you have to sell in the way of winter greens like white pine, hemlock, balsam, and Douglas fir.

I  hope everyone has been drying enough product during from this season. Every year the first and second story ceilings of our barn are filling up with product to use for wreath making in October through December. Seems like so much hanging , but we go through so much more once we start cranking out the dried and wintergreen wreaths. Here’s a tip for those drying product for later use: Sow extra seed in your early planting for just this purpose. If you think “Oh, I’ll just save what doesn’t sell as fresh.” you will not have enough product for later. Next spring when you are deciding on how many of this or that you want for fresh sales, put in an extra bed for dry use product. You’ll appreciate it next fall.

This year’s winterberry crop is looking better in the past. The 2012 drought hit us hard but this year’s above-average rainfall in April and May produce heavily-fruited branches.  All of our woodies have been more productive, ideally leading to more dollars. 

The curly willow harvest hasn’t started as of this writing. It’s a large block of time and product for us and I welcome the change from harvesting flowers to harvesting willows. If you follow us on Facebook  www.facebook.com/pages/Illinois-Willows you can see pictures of the harvest process and the finished product. If you haven’t yet, check out the page and click the “Like” tab. Okay, shameless plug here!

Fall and early winter seem to give us a smidgen more time to reflect and think about the new year, and what we will plant and harvest, and ways of selling it. If you haven’t started a Facebook page for your business you should do so one of these autumn nights. It’s not hard to do, and I feel you need to have one for your farm. It’s another tool to get your farm’s message out to the masses. And if you don’t have a web site, add that to your social media “to do” list.  If you’re receiving more and more wedding requests, then you better have a Pinterest page. Brides to be, mothers, and grandmothers are all on Pinterest finding ideas for their events. Post pictures of your work on this site for many returns dollars down the road. Are you doing farmers’ markets? You’d better be using Twitter. Sending tweets about specials for the market is a way to bring in new or more customers.

We have been using Facebook and Twitter at our market as a comparison, seeing how much of a difference it has made. We will advertise a particular item at a market; one with Facebook and one with Twitter, to see how much difference in response there is in using both. I feel that using social media has been a growing area for us in terms of sales and foot traffic at the market. We will continue to expand in this form to get our message out to the public.

This is the time of year to at least start thinking about a few new ways to promote and grow your business. As you sit with family and friend by the bonfire, with your cocoa or cider in hand, think about what you have done this past year and your dreams for the next year.
Happy people grow happy flowers.  Or is it happy flowers grow happy people?!

Kent Miles

Illinois Willows

Kent Miles Illinois Willows Contact at [email protected]