“Well, it’s winter now.” That’s a sentence we say around here as a joke whenever anything is cold or dark or frozen. We do not grow much of anything in the winter months, so December and January are meant to be cozy times curled up with catalogs and textbooks and computers on our laps as we sit as close to the woodstove as possible.
I look out my back window and see some of my woodies that were planted six or so years ago. This year some of them have really paid off. Especially Physocarpus, Hydrangea paniculata, Symphoricarpos, and Cotinus. The Cotinus branches are now naked of leaves because “Well, it’s winter now.” It’s a tricky business harvesting those beautiful leaves in October as it feels like each day could be the last day they are intact. Also in October I appreciated the Symphoricarpos orbiculatus as the foliage turned from green to an olive bronze. They worked well in several weddings for texture and interest, as both deep magentas and burgundies and neutrals are very sought after in September and October. In planning that garden and my next field of shrubs for cutting I often reference Woody Cut Stems by Lane Greer and John Dole. If you are thinking of investing in some shrubs and trees for the long haul, definitely order that book from the ASCFG soon!
As I reflect on 2017, my flower farm fared well. We took on fewer wedding projects but expanded our business selling to other designers. I changed my management structure and delegated the counting and packing of stems to my “process manager”, which allowed us to fill more complicated orders but also freed me up to make deliveries and keep on top of planting schedules. My “harvest manager” keeps track of my harvest lists with the help of an assistant or two. Our team was smaller, but we spread our cutting over more days of the week and did a better job harvesting as maintenance while not wasting time cutting flowers we didn’t need. We were a leaner and more efficient crew, so payroll was significantly less, even though we were able to raise wages a bit across the board.
As you all know, delegating can be tough, and having submanagers requires that I convey to them what pieces are important (and why), but then I also need to step back and get out of their way. It’s so important that I don’t undermine their management. I like giving verbal directions and talking things through, but my team tends to work best from a list and they often take notes when I talk. This is great because my handwriting is difficult to read at times. I’ve learned a lot about managing a crew over the last few years, but last season I had a breakthrough that seems obvious now. I realized that I can’t both rattle off general stuff that needs to happen, and schedule every moment of my team’s work on immediate tasks. If I want them to both operate without me and get ongoing projects done, I need to leave them with some unstructured time to tackle those jobs. Of course, unstructured time really works only for folks who have plenty of hustle on their own and are good at seeing the big picture. Now that I know this kind of work is possible I’m excited to raise my expectations for that in the future.
We have started to pore over our sales records to analyze the data. In May and June, poppies and anemones ruled the roost. It feels great to kick off our selling season with such special flowers. We also tended to sell out of anemones, so people learned they need to snap them up early. One weekend that stood out was that of July 4th. Last year that U.S. holiday fell on a Tuesday. A Saturday before a holiday is usually a big day for market sales, but it appears that July 1st was one of our largest sales days for mixed bouquets. If you sell at farmers’ markets in the U.S., it might be worth beefing up your crop offering for that week. Sunflowers would be a fairly easily programmed option to expand for the holiday. In our climate, stock too. For that week eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’ that had wintered over was a main ingredient as well as snapdragons. Holiday sales are a great example of how helpful it can be to keep detailed sales records, as those days are outliers for number of units to produce. It’s also helpful to notice the trend that for us a Wednesday following a holiday weekend is always significantly slower than an average Wednesday.
As I step back from 2017 and reflect, I am so thankful to be a flower farmer in this community of flower farmers. We are fortunate to have each other to lean on for support when we get frustrated and figuratively and literally stuck in the mud. Even just being able to text each other a bit and say “Oh my goodness, this is hard right now!” can mean so much in our world full of beautiful photos of bountiful harvests. We really are each other’s best cheerleaders and inspiration. I appreciate you all so much. I hope you all are able to recharge your batteries a bit and do some strategic planning for 2018. Happy New Year!