It’s almost Thanksgiving here at my farm and we have not had a freeze yet. Fields are still green and we are still harvesting sunflowers, marigolds, celosia, grasses, and ornamental peppers out in the fields. We also have our season extension greenhouses that have dahlias, lilies, basils, and zinnias. Life is good but it’s about to end for us too with an expected freeze on Thanksgiving morning. From what I gathered from other growers in our multi-climate region, everyone else is done for the year. It’s been an awesome year in our region with a decent economy and great flower sales. No extreme weather to report for once and we actually had to wait to get in the fields to plow in old crops, compost and start planting our over winter plantings.

As a Regional Director, I get to talk to so many amazing people with wonderful stories and a passion for growing flowers. Recently there have been several who have done some farm visits with me where they come work alongside me and my crew and they see what we are doing and how we harvest. I try to time the visits on harvest days where they get to see the whole farm. This hands-on experience is so valuable to the wannabe growers and it’s an extra hand on days that we are very busy. You can sit in a classroom or read all the books you can get your hands on but getting out in the field for that hands-on experience tops off the education. They get to experience not always perfect weather, ants, mosquitoes, possible snakes, backbreaking labor, long hours and if after a few hours,  they are still around and sometimes they come back week after week, you know they will make it or not. Source out that grower who’s near you and give them a call and possibly you can work this out with them. I’ve found it to be very rewarding to help others and give them a glimpse of what it’s like to be a flower farmer and it might save someone a lot of wasted time and energy if they see what’s it’s all about before they give up a full-time job, or see if it’s something they really want to do or just a dream and not a reality.

Our Region is so big, covering many states and can vary so much which leads me to a story about a recent phone conversation I had with Rocky Ferrell, who grows farm fresh vegetables and flowers in Tucson, Arizona. He wanted to drive over and visit. After talking with him on the phone, I found him to be such an interesting young fellow, 77 years young. I asked him to share his story with me.

A retired financial executive, Rocky started growing vegetables in 1992. He started growing flowers about 2½ years ago after a local florist asked him if he would be interested.  He tried it, enjoyed it, and ended up turning his hobby into a business.

From May to September, Rocky and his son Marc sell flowers and vegetables at a stand at Rocky’s home.

The main crops that Rocky grows are gladiolus, zinnias, sunflowers and dahlias. His favorite glads are ‘Blue Mountain’, ‘Fiesta orange/yellow’, ‘Purple Flora’, ‘Red Sensation’, ‘Tampico Rose’, ‘White Prosperity’, ‘Advance Red’, ‘Vista Tricolor’, ‘Alaska White’, ‘Good News’, ‘Hop Pink’, ‘Joyous Entrée Yellow’, ‘Land o’ Lakes Blue’, ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Finishing Touch Peach’, ‘Plum Tart Purple’, and ‘Victor Borge Red’. He gets his bulbs from Vandenberg Bulb Co. in Howell, Michigan.

He grows the unusual sunflowers like ‘Solar Power’, ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Ruby Eclipse’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Ikarus’, and ‘Teddy Bear’.  His zinnia varieties include the Benary Giants, ‘Inca’, ‘Oklahoma’, ‘Giant Cactus’, dahlia flowered ‘Gold Medal’, and ‘Peppermint’. His dahlia choices are decorative, gallery and ball with success.

Rocky’s wife Gloria makes the bouquets and arrangements and they sell bouquets ranging from $5 to $25 at their market stand. The prices he gets for straight stems are gladiolus for $1-2 a stem, zinnias $.80 to one dollar a stem, sunflowers and dahlias, one to two dollars a stem. Rocky is able to grow lots of flowers despite Tucson’s below average rainfall and below freezing temps.z

He designed his own irrigation system. It works off two 230-foot wells, each of  which has a 5-horsepower pump. Water is stored in tanks, then pumped out to the beds, with Rocky controlling how much water each crop receives.

Rocky uses row cover on his ranunculus and ornithogalum, putting it on in the fall because he experiences a lot of wind. His pest control methods include soapy water and crop rotation. The garden is enclosed by a fence made of hardware cloth to keep rabbits, ground squirrels, rattlesnakes (eeeek), and javelina out. The fence is buried 10” underground.

It’s not easy to grow in the desert, says Rocky, but after trial and error, he has found what crops grow for him. His farming is a hobby which developed into a successful cut flower business.

We are working on putting together the first of two 2014 Growers’ Schools. It will be held in the Dallas area on March 3-4 and will contain tons of information for beginner growers. The program is still under construction and probably by the time you read this we will have it all finalized and you will have already received info on its contents.

If you’re a first-time grower, or even if you have been growing for years, I urge you to attend this awesome program. You were sent a survey and on it was a question about what you would like to see at an ASCFG meeting. We are taking that list and trying to answer a lot of the beginner grower questions, but even like myself who has been growing flowers on my farm for sale since 2004, I don’t go to any meeting without taking something away from it that pays my trip. Spend your winter reading and using the Community Board and the Bulletin Board to answer questions and go back and read all those Quarterlys that you have stacked up on the shelf and go back to the basics. I’ve heard so many growers say  “My first year was so good and now it’s not.” Well, the answer may be that you think after you’ve done it, you can skip this step or that and wonder why things don’t turn out the same. Well, go back to the basics and you will have that first-time crop because you did it by the books.

Rita Anders

Cuts of Color

Rita Anders Cuts of Color Contact at [email protected]