As I write on March 20, the first day of spring, as always Mother Nature has the last laugh because we’re expecting a hard frost tonight. Still, the tulips and ranunculus have been blooming, the seeds are in the trays, and the promise of even warmer days mean another growing season is on the way, with all the excitement, disappointments, delights, and aggravations that go along with being a farmer.

March was super busy. Early March brought a trip to San Antonio for the ASCFG Board meeting, and luckily I was able to combine that trip into attending the super regional at the Arnosky’s farm in Blanco, Texas. Then, March 17 and 18 was our own super regional in Raleigh. Whew!  No rest for the weary, though—it was right back up and back at it on our farm.

This report will be a brief recap of those two events. I say brief because if I wrote everything, it would take pages.

The weather and setting at the Arnosky Farm were ideal. Fifty acres of flowers and 26 hoophouses were just amazing to see. The wide variety of flowers reminded me of the need to try new varieties, while also staying true to what I grow best. Frank told us that he uses the foliage of the flamingo feather more than the flower heads, which blew my mind since I never have done that. I want to try Gloeckner’s ‘Superior Sunset’ sunflowers after hearing Frank say how well they do. I also want to try incorporating cottonseed meal into the soil as fertilizer. By seeing the Arnoskys’, I was inspired to try remay to get an earlier start on the season.  Another tip is to grow dianthus ‘Rose Magic’ and ‘Purple Magic’ in the hoop over the winter, to get really long stems. I plan to try that too.

Would you believe that Pam Arnosky can make 45 bouquets in an hour—that could be a record!  Pam and Frank’s hospitality was exceptional, and the program was great. Judy has posted the Arnoskys’, and Dr. Mengmeng Gu’s talks on the ASCFG web site. Many thanks to Rita Anders and to Frank and Pamela for a first class program!

Now for Raleigh, where we had a super turnout of 95 folks—some old friends, and many new ones. We had participants from many parts of the country, some of whom had also attended the Texas meeting. Sunday morning at breakfast at the Ramada, we enjoyed meeting Amy Priestley and her friend Ed Forman from Labor of Love Flower Farm in Rochester, New York (hang in there, Amy!), and sisters Margaret and Mary Ellen from Muth Farm Flowers in Williamstown, New Jersey. As has been said many times, these face-to-face chats are the beating heart and soul of the ASCFG.

Sundays tours were a whirlwind of drive, jump out, tour, jump back in your car, drive some more, tour, and drive again. It was fun and information packed for sure! Leah Cook and Mark Thomas at Wild Hare Farm grow as many as 18,000 tulips a year that they are constantly trying to keep (along with their other crops) from being gourmet meals for the deer. Many participants got the idea of using ladder wire for low tunnels (thanks to Cathy Jones of Perry-winkle Farm for that tip).

Everything on their farm was built by Leah and Mark, a true labor of love for sure—or maybe just a lot of labor! Mark gave a talk on Monday about his Watchdog computer system that monitors temps in all his greenhouses, and sends alerts if temps are outside the proper levels, all for a cost of $250. Quite a bargain!

On to Peregrine Farm, where Alex and Betsy Hitt have a system of moving tunnels, a Haygrove, a passive solar transplant house, and a new processing barn. (Well, they have a whole lot more than that, but remember this is supposed to be a brief recap.) The moving tunnels were quite interesting. The tunnels are rolled from one section of the garden to another once a year. The pros to this system include keeping the soil healthy by the use of cover crops when resting from the flower crop. Alex grows two cover crops before the rotation happens. The Hitts highly recommend The Solar Greenhouse Book by James McCullough, which they used as a guide for their passive solar transplant house. We ordered this book used from Amazon for 1 cent + 3.99 shipping—can’t beat that. We want to look into Winstrip flats, which have lasted the Hitts for 15 years as an alternative to flimsy and easily breakable plastic trays. Alex and Betsy grow half veggies and half flowers, with 70% of sales at farmers’ markets, with other sales to restaurants and stores. They do very little florist business.  Something Alex said hit home: “You can’t be everything to everyone. Do what you do best.”

Monday was a jam-packed day of speakers and information sharing. The title of our meeting was “Knowledge is Flower Power”, and boy was a lot of knowledge shared! The faculty and grad students of N.C. State really showed their stuff: from new cuts to plant problems to weed control to harvesting to postharvest care, there was something for everyone. Many, many thanks to John Dole, Alicain Carlson, Julia Kornegay, Halley Granitz, Brian Whipker, Jared Barnes, Joe Neal, and Iftikhar Ahmad of North Carolina State University for the wealth of information that is so vital to growing the best crops we can. Thanks also to Polly, Linda, and Judy.

Fellow grower and ASCFG member Lisa Zeigler enthusiastically shared many time-saving tips used on her farm, located smack dab in the middle of Newport News, Virginia. Lisa showed a video of her bedshaper that has revolutionized her life and saved countless days of bed prep. We want one! We also want to try more fall-planted flowers for a spring crop through the use of low tunnels. We were also intrigued by Lisa’s use of soil blocking instead of trays to start seedlings. Lisa swears by this method, which eliminates transplant shock. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has the soil blocker supplies. Lisa also swears by Biotello 6 mil biodegradable earth friendly plastic for row cover. Go to Lisa’s website for lots of info, including videos.

Our friend Pat Murray shared some beautiful bouquets that she put together as examples and shared her tips and suggestions for design work. Pat was engaging and friendly as she answered many questions. What we love about Pat is how she can use a gum ball, or a tulip bulb, or a jasmine vine, or anything with an interesting texture, right alongside tulips, ranunculus, peonies, or any other flower to create something unique and one of a kind. Pat loves anything different and is always willing to borrow from the wild to add to her designs. She is a cut flower grower’s dream designer. We want to also thank our friend Orchid Ed for his donation of many gorgeous orchids for Pat’s designs. At the end of the day, it was fun to give away the arrangements for folks to take home.

Now, as if we had not had enough, we stopped at the flower farm of our friend Melrose Haas in Smithfield, North Carolina to visit with her for a bit, and to pick up some tuberose bulbs. Melrose had an amazing crop of tuberose last year, so we are anxious to try our hand at growing this beautiful and fragrant flower. That’s another example of the giving spirit of flower growers: willing to share product, experiences, and advice!

We finally arrived home around 11:00 p.m. Other than Patty leaving her favorite pillow at the Ramada Inn, it was a total success! Hope to see you all soon!

Charles Hendrick

Yuri Hana Flower Farm, Inc.

Charles Hendrick Yuri Hana Flower Farm, Inc. [email protected]