Spring came a little early this year, and I sure took advantage of it. While I’m a realist, and know we could still get a late freeze, or several of them, I’m sure hoping we won’t because I put out thousands of plants.

After a couple of really cold weekends, which had me praying hard, winter had been pretty much otherwise non-existent. We were lucky here on our farm but I know of others who weren’t so lucky, losing thousands of cool annuals. I check my Weather Channel app constantly, and with no bad weather coming, we just kept planting.

I have seeded thousands of flowers, bumped them up into larger cells, and when they’re big enough, moved them out into the garden to make room for the next round. Would you believe that we were planting out zinnias and sunflowers right after Valentine’s week?  I could wait, according to the frost tables, but I’m just going to my chances and I see cold weather is coming, we will be pulling lots of Agribon out onto the garden.

This past January I held a farm day, and was so pleasantly surprised that so many of you came. I hope everyone’s questions were answered, and that you were able to meet other growers in our Region. We had members from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. I was really hoping that you all could make relationships with growers close to you, and build friendships to help you grow each other. I was touched by those who attended, and then sent thank-you cards and emails. Even those who couldn’t make the meeting because of other commitments took the time to thank me for creating the meeting, and that was really nice as well.

The weather cooperated, and we had a nice day out in the sun. I apologize for it being kind of last minute, but I was dealing with a sick mom in the hospital, and it was tough to make a decision any sooner. My mom is finally turning the corner and getting better each day.

At the end of February I attended the “Deep Dives” meeting in Portland, Oregon. It was good to get away for a visit with other growers in different parts of our flower world.  Thank you to West and Northwest Regional Director Lennie Larkin, who pulled together a great program, packed with a full array of growers.

You might wonder why I would want to go to a meeting so far away, how could growing in that region teach me anything? It doesn’t matter where the meeting is held; I always come away having learned something new, or seeing a different way of growing a flower I’m already growing, or having a look at a new crop.

I’m going to touch on a few of the speakers, but I encourage you to check out the Members Only section of the ASCFG web site, where videos of the presentations are posted.

Tony and Denise Gaetz from Bare Mountain Farm gave a great presentation on no-till farming. Tony has been posting YouTube videos, available through his web site, on several topics you may find useful. Currently there are 35 videos available; if you subscribe to his site, you’ll be notified whenever he loads another one.

Fallon Shea, Garden Valley Ranch, Petaluma, California, spoke about growing roses. She was so full of energy and joy that it spread throughout the room. She is one little bundle of flower joy, so infatuated with flowers that she can see the beauty in a dead tulip lying on the ground. She has a different way of looking at life.

Fallon came to Garden Valley Ranch at the age of eighteen, with green hair and all, and talked her way into being hired. Now she manages the huge rose gardens there. Look through the presentations for pictures of some of her favorite varieties.

Ray Gray, formerly of King’s Mums, gave an excellent presentation on mums for cutting. I was especially interested because I’ve grown mums for two years, and needed some help in figuring out some things. I took cuttings from my first-year mums, dipped them in rooting hormone, and stuck them into plug trays. When they were good and rooted, I transferred them to 4” pots until July, when I planted them in crates in the same house as my winter dahlias.

They all grew great, and bloomed, but not when I wanted them to. I was stuck with too many fall colors in December. What I figured out from Ray is that mums need short days to initiate bloom. Since I had them in them greenhouse with the winter dahlia crop getting 14 hours of extended light, they didn’t want to bloom early enough. So this year I’ll plant all the fall-colored dahlias in a different greenhouse where they won’t get the extra light, and I’m still going to plant the reds, creams, and green mums in the same greenhouse with the dahlias, because I like the blooming with the December flowers. Ray also told me it was good to cut them all back now, and take whatever cuttings I need. He also said to pinch them back again in June.

Mums also need support because many of them get tall. From my experience this last year, they were really nice and tall, and I thought they would be fine without the netting, but I was wrong. Once the blooms started sizing up and got some weight, they starting leaning and lying on top of each other. You don’t want this to happen, because they curve and it’s hard to work with crooked stems.

Some points Ray made were that the decorative cushions and pom-pons are great sprays. Spiders and quills are incredible as buds or disbuds. Spoon mums are great for bouquet work.

Our great President, Dave Dowling, and Janet Foss, a long-time grower, and one of the nicest, most genuine people you ever want to meet, gave talks on bulbs, and some of their favorite crops. Find these in Members Only.

The highlight of the evening was Speed Dating with the Experts. While I’m no expert, I was paired with Southeast Regional Director Val Schirmer.We moved from table to table every ten minutes, and attendees took turns asking us questions. Everyone got to speak and we all learned from each other.

Tuesday morning we boarded the bus to tour Peterkort Roses and Oregon Flowers. I’ve ordered roses from Peterkort for my wedding work, and it was good to see where they come from. I am also infatuated with roses, so want to see how they grow them. It wasn’t what I expected. They grow a lot of plants, which were somewhat dormant this time of year, in these channels filled with coconut fiber.

Peterkort also grows amazing freesia, Italian ranunculus, anemone, and a few other flowers. All their crops are grown inside huge gutter-connected bays that go on and on. The freesia were three feet tall, and the ranunculus were 30 to 36 inches. They do not grow like that in Texas! At least, not for me.

Oregon Flowers was the second greenhouse operation we toured. Massive gutter-connected bays of greenhouses, all climate controlled. We saw houses and houses of tulips and lilies. They have a machine, imported from Holland, that takes pallets full of crates filled with media and bulbs, and places them neatly down the rows, which are as long as football fields. No human ever has to lift a crate. Once they’re placed, support netting, drip lines, and water heater lines are dropped into place. When the crop is finished, the crates are removed by the machine, the soil is dumped and sterilized, and the crates are refilled and replanted. All the work is done by automation. A real sight to see. I used to ridiculously think I planted a lot of lilies. What I plants is a drop in the bucket in comparison.

After the grower meeting, I spent the rest of my time in Portland at the ASCFG Board of Directors meeting. We were very busy planning all the rest of the activities for this year, and into 2018. We’re working on some great projects, and information will be released as they are finalized. The food in Portland was amazing and the hotel staff was exceptional.

In closing, I would like to share a story. As I saw waiting for my flight, I was sitting next to this nice older lady. She was leaving a message for her husband to pick her up at the airport because she wasn’t feeling well. I was worried she was having heart issues, so when  she got off the phone, I asked if she was okay. She said she was fine but was coming down with a cold. She was milking it with her husband because she didn’t want to ride the bus. We got to talking, and when she asked why I was in Portland, I told her it was for a flower meeting. She pleasantly spoke of flower growers she had met on the Metro on the way in. She even remembered it was our sweet ASCFG Secretary Linda Doan, and her husband Roy, as well as Jane Hudon of Colorado.

It’s a small world, and so great hear what a nice impression some of our grower flowers left on other guests in Portland.

Rita Anders

Cuts of Color

Rita Anders Cuts of Color Contact at [email protected]