It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature, but We Have to Try!

Rain, rain, and MORE rain! It looks like it’s going to be a repeat of 2018—pests included.

Last year was such a hard one for so many of us in the Southeast, especially in terms of weather and pests, and 2019 is setting up to be just as bad, if not worse, with record rains so far this year and top of record annual rain fall last year.

As I got ready to write this column this was weighing heavily on my mind, so I decided to ask our Southeast Region members what they’re planning to do differently, do more of and do less of, to try to get ahead of Mother Nature. It gives me fresh hope to see their smarts and tenacity!

Renee Clayton, Wild Scallions Farm, Timberlake, North Carolina is working to make her farm more resilient to what Mother Nature is throwing her way, including more covered space with two new caterpillar tunnels. She continues to build the soil after starting with red clay that now has progressed to clayey loam via cover crops and mulch. She says it’s much more resilient and so much quicker to be able to work after heavy rain. More permaculture beds and diverse perennials, which also gives better habitat for beneficials.

Hope springs eternal for Southeast Region flower farmers, hit hard by weather and pests in 2018 - and hoping for a "return to normal" in 2019! Photo by Eileen Tongson.
Strategies farmers are using: building their soil, adding raised beds, more covered space. Photo by Renee Clayton, Wild Scallions Farm

Jennifer Logan, Whimsy Flower Farm, Blairsville, Georgia is shooting for sustainable low-till methods, such as cover crops, to improve her soil’s ability to absorb water. She will also be trying out some ways to “crimp” over a cover crop and plant zinnias directly into a crimped or mowed stand of rye, the goal being to increase the soil’s fluffiness so rainfall filters in and drains away instead of racing over the top of her beds. Crimping is simply allowing a cover crop, such as winter rye, to grow until it’s in a stage likely to stay down when smashed, so it will suppress weeds for more than a month and conserve moisture … and you just plant plugs right into it. Want to know more?

  • Crimper example: watch?v=YuvSbmumgcI
  • South Carolina experiment last year: https://www. tists-five-trials-managing-soil-health
  • This one is long but AMAZING: Gabe Brown Nebraska farmer: the-5-keys-to-building-healthy-soil/

Andrew Moman, Twin Rose Farm, Murfreesboro, Tennessee is trialing methods to fight the heat and insects, and improve harvest. White on black film on their rows to cut down on heat absorption. Shade cloth helped a lot last year on their high tunnels. Smaller, more frequent planting to allow them to remove crops affected by heat more quickly. More varieties for drying so they can be less worried about perfect harvests and get yield from each crop. For pests they’re using more aggressive methods to get (and stay) in front of problems: proactively spraying neem, PyGanic and a few new things for bugs and powdery mildew; several rounds of beneficials (ladybugs, lacewings, and predatory mites) in their high tunnels, and mulching pathways to keep moisture in, stay cooler, and give pests less area to hide.

Lis Murray, Hawk & Sparrow Flowers, Stanley, North Carolina says she’s in a holler, so her flower and berry rows are planted on contour. Her biggest problem is Bermuda grass. This year they’re tilling in the worst areas, covering with a silage tarp, and hoping North Carolina heat will burn it up.

Sara Brown, Meadowview Flowers, Princeton, Kentucky is raising 15 guineas to help deal with insects, especially during dahlia season, where she’s had a lot of pressure from grasshoppers, earwigs, cucumber and Japanese beetles (sound familiar?). She’s been bagging dahlias but still has damage when insects are hiding when the bags go on.

Margaret Stokes, Flowers Local Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee is also using organza bags on her dahlias.

Paula Fisher, Garden Bee Flower Farm, Walnut Cove, North Carolina lost 400’ of sunflowers due to cloudy days, rain, and humidity caused by Hurricane Florence. Now she’s going to use more downy mildew-resistant sunflowers and apply an organic fungicide like Serenade, alternating with an organic copper fungicide during wet, humid weather.

Sara Brown of Meadow View Flowers has added 15 guinea hens to her farm, hoping they will help battle the beetles, grasshoppers and earwigs. Photo by
Piedmont Wholesale Flowers Market in Durham is a cooperative of eleven flower farms in central N.C. Photo by Sandra Seagroves

Mary Stephanie Kilroe, Dancing Hearts Homestead, Monroe, Georgia is on the lookout for insects, especially army worms, and will have Bt and spinosads ready. Last summer pests made hundreds of flowers unsaleable. She also lost crops from heavy wind and rain and is going to use netting to horizontally trellis every flower crop.

Donna Mills, Floral & Hardy Farm, Lexington, South Carolina is going to try to grow eucalyptus again after the eucalyptus beetles ruined her entire crop last year, including 30-foot tall trees.

Linda Doan, Aunt Willies Wild Flowers, Blountville, Tennessee says she’s keeping their hoophouses filled all year with no summer lull. If wind, rain, drought happens, more florals will be inside a controlled environment.

Anna Phythyon, Franklin Flower Farm, Franklin, North Carolina says they’re entering their first full-time season as a commercial grower. Their strategy is to master seed starting and succession planting, always having new plants ready to plug into the field if it washes out.

Susan Wright, Shady Grove Gardens, Vilas, North Carolina says for her, it’s not the growing she’s focused on for 2019, it’s all about the sale: keeping better records, working on efficiency and photography.

As hard as last year was with the weather and insect pressure, running our businesses—successfully and happily, even with pure joy and fun—has got to be the biggest challenge we face. If you couldn’t attend the ASCFG Denver meeting held February 18-19, be sure to take a look at the videos and slides as soon as they’re posted in the Members Only section of the ASCFG web site. “The Business of Flower Farming” was jam-packed with tons of great information that you can take advantage of this year.

Cathy Jones of Perry-winkle Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina says she had a few positive outcomes during all the wet weather, including a good bit of time spent reviewing those presentations from previous years’ meetings.
For this last section, I’ve included some insights gleaned from the Team Flower Conference “Rise and Shine” held in Waco, Texas, March 4-6.

Julio Freitas, The Flower Hat, Bozeman, Montana “The Six Pillars of Flower Farming” Julio’s #1 pillar, Careful Crop Selection, should be front and center in our planning every single year, as growing conditions, trends, availability, and varieties evolve. Be mindful and focused on hard-to-ship and hard-to-find varieties. After that, ask yourself, “Is this variety going to make a difference in my designs?” Will it make a difference in your customers’ designs? If it’s not a standout, consider not growing it, or just grow it for yourself.

Lauren Wiebe, Stone House Creative, Winnipeg, Canada “Client Communication” Lauren’s premise is that a lot of client-based issues are the result of our own failures to effectively communicate. That holds true, I think, whether the “clients” are designers/florists, wholesalers, brides, CSA members or farmers’ market customers. Educating our clients and prospective clients on our processes will make the difference. Think about the effectiveness of your communication process. What’s working well? Is there a stage where the email back-and-forth always seems to start? Do you seem to lose prospective business at a specific point? She suggests creating email templates to streamline, systematize, and organize your business. What a simple idea! It will save time, ensure a high level of service and keep your brand personality and messaging consistent.

Natalie Gill, Native Poppy, San Diego, California “Lessons in Business Expansion” Natalie is exactly the kind of person I forever want to work with, for, or around—authentic, kind, fun, and smart. Her real topic: building a business that works for you, not because of you. Beyond building a team, the secret to this lies in one word: Systems. “Sweat builds you a job, systems build you a business.” How do you get started? It’s easy: checklists. Checklists for every single procedure. Her employees give input into each one, identify checklists that need to be created, and are accountable for using them. This is how her business not only survived but thrived when she crushed her heel and was bedridden. It’s also the way you’ll be able to step away and, oh my gosh, even take a vacation in the midst of the growing season.

Valerie Schirmer

Three Toads Farm

Valerie Schirmer Three Toads Farm Contact at [email protected]