We are into summer and the days are getting longer for us here in Illinois. As I write my thoughts I think back to our spring and how different it was from last year. Our temps were more in the normal range than they needed to be. With the normal temps we were able to bring crop like snowball viburnum, lilac, cherry, tulips, and iris to our farmers’ market this year. Last year these crops were all finished before market started or shortly thereafter.

WET, WET, and WET! That sums it up here. Broke precipitation records January through May statewide, and it was the wettest March-May for our county. May was four inches above normal rainfall, with that amount we were 3-4 weeks behind of planting. Beds would dry out for 3-4 days, got the ground worked up and planted, then 3-4 more days of moisture. So we played catch-up going into the month of June.

We were able to get plug trays sown on the rainy days, and flowering branches cut in the rain. Getting a few thousand sunflower and the same for the zinnia planted on the dry days. With all this rainfall the peony and lilac crops were much better yields than last year. I feel those crops benefited from all the extra moisture.

That’s enough of my complaining of the weather. Just goes to show positive results come from issues we have no control over. Speaking with other growers in our region, some have had to deal with flooding and tornadoes.

Our update on farmers’ markets: This was our best for sales. We were up over 50%. Our attendances were also up in May. Consumer confidence and desire have been growing. My challenge has been getting enough product to meet demand. I decided before our market started that I would raise the prices on our general mixed bouquets and solid bunch bouquets. Our staple sunflower bunches will remain the same as last year. Our flowering branches and peony prices were raised at the market and wholesale levels.

For the past six years, classes from the Parkland College floral department have visited my farm. They usually come in the fall, but this year they came in May so they could see spring crops. I usually start in the barn, with a history of the farm, and then discuss growing, harvesting, shipping, marketing, and grading. After that, I have them identify about 20 branches (flowering and foliage), and determine how they were grown and used in designs. Then we headed out to tour the fields.

There were 15 students this year, up from the typical 10-12, and after the session, six of them stayed for another hour of questions. They wanted more information on cut flower production, and were eager to see how a flower goes from start to finish. This class also takes field trips to a retail florist and floral wholesaler.

One of the students started an internship with my farm, which sets up a great relationship with the school. If you’re using college interns, these are a great source. Bringing college classes to your farm is valuable to the farm as well as to the students, and what they can learn from you. After all, they may want to follow in your footsteps. Pay it forward one more time.

The ASCFG has two events coming up this summer and fall, both landing in Ohio. The first is July 13-16 in Columbus, the OFA Short Course. This event is the largest horticulture trade show in North America, all under one roof. If you have an opportunity this year, please check it out. If not this year, plan ahead for 2014.

The ASCFG will have a booth promoting the organization and American Grown flowers.

Our “From Seed to Sale” meeting is October 7-8 on the campus of OSU-OARDC in Wooster, Ohio. Monday the 7th around 1:00pm will start a tour of Secrest Arboretum. Our guide for the afternoon will be Director Ken Cochran, showing us what we need to know in woodies for your farm’s product mix. Ken’s tour will wind up around 5:00, when we will move inside for an evening reception in the Miller Pavilion.

On Tuesday, Steve and Gretel Adams from Sunny Meadows will give us the background of their farm and explain their successful production and marketing strategies. Next will be Ken Cochran and others on a panel discussion of holly and other woodies. At 10:00 a.m. Dave Dowling will give a program on lilies. At 11:00 a.m. I will talk about willows, followed by lunch at noon. After lunch there will be concurrent sessions on the hydrangea, peony, sunflower, dahlia, dianthus, and lisianthus. Plan to attend this program, and you will bring back to your farm loads of information.

Looking forward to seeing you at one of these Ohio events.

Kent Miles

Illinois Willows

Kent Miles Illinois Willows Contact at [email protected]