Hope Springs Eternal

Before we can make solid plans for 2019 we need to take a look at how 2018 treated us. I have been excited to add up columns and crunch numbers because even though throughout the season I have a general sense of what feels popular and what doesn’t, and what we need to grow more or less of, I don’t truly know how many dollars of calla lily stems we sold (and does that number exceed the cost of bulbs?) until we really dig through the data. Last year I sold more flowers to other designers than I ever have, and the crops that sold well to them were different than what appeals to my retail customers at farmers’ market, so I will keep adjusting my crop plans to grow more of the right flowers for my market.

Comparing the actual sales of different products that are both beautiful and popular remind me of the scene in Guys and Dolls where Nathan Detroit wants to bet Sky Masterson $1000 about whether the diner where they are meeting sells more cheesecake or more streusel. Masterson refuses that bet because he suspects that Detroit has insider information. The great news for us flower growers is, of course, we can keep track of our own insider information to decide how best to place our bets. Each year is a new gamble, with the weather and consumer tastes as our variables. I was surprised to learn, for example, that our scabiosa crop yielded about twice as much income as our sweet pea crop. I perceive that people “care” way more about sweet peas, but that doesn’t mean that I sell more of them, and it doesn’t mean I should plant more of them either, just because they are so nostaligic.

In 2018 I kept more precise data than ever, and I am so glad that I did. It feels thrilling to learn that lisianthus is by far our most important crop, yielding about twice as much income as our anemone crop, which has our second place slot for solid bunches.

It is of course tricky to compare raw sales without also digging into enterprise budgets and costs of production, but it is useful to track demand and market value.

Our top 6 grossing products last year:
Lisianthus 13.20%
Mixed bouquets 13.07%
Anemone 6.89%
Eucalyptus 6.58%
Icelandic poppy 5.57%

Here are some crops we are dropping for 2019, or as I like to call it “Taking a break and seeing if we miss them.”

Didiscus:  Again we struggled with root problems, and we have decided to expand our scabiosa offerings rather than continue production of didiscus.

Agrostemma:  I love this crop, but it is too fragile, the harvest window is too small, and it doesn’t rebloom.

Gomphocarpus:  I really like these weirdos, but with our expanded mum lineup and more and more eucalyptus joining our party, we aren’t as hungry for weird stuff in the fall. Also the milky sap is a nuisance and the plants get so tall they disrupt our cultivation plans and sometimes fall into their neighbors’ rows.

Ammi majus:  We worry about the sap causing skin irritation, and lately we seem more excited about our daucus and wild Queen Anne’s Lace.

Dutch iris:  Our customers didn’t value these beauties highly enough for us to bother planting and harvesting.

Lily, especially the strongly scented ones:  We sold almost zero of these to designers, and consumers in our market seem fairly indifferent. I did order a few tiger style lilies before I made this decision, so we’ll see how that goes. I hope the retro vibe of those might go over better.

Maybe we will miss these crops so much and add them back in future years, but for now I want to direct our time and attention to the crops that really pay. Also, I am very fortunate to farm within a community of flower growers, and I can generally get my hands on some of these beauties if I am suffering withdrawals.

Another exciting development last year for us was dried flower bouquets. We built a new barn that is suitable for drying and storing the bunches, so we were able to capture more of the harvest for later sales. People seem to have renewed interest in everlastings, and we sold hundreds of mixed dried bouquets in paper sleeves.

I must admit that sometimes it makes me sad when people look at all of our lush floral offerings only to choose a bundle of statice and say, “This’ll dry out, right?” Of course the statice is a durable choice, but I do wish they might instead ask “Will this dry beautifully?” or “Is this my longest-lasting option?” I think the message we should take away, though, is that people are valuing flowers more and more, but they also want to get more value (time) out of them. That tells me to plant more helichrysum, flamingo celosia, and feathertop grass.

Plans are starting to take shape for our “In the Thick of It” grower meeting up here in southern Maine on July 14th and 15th. The point of this event is to meet during a growing season when there are plants in the field and systems in our studios to take a look at. We are planning to tour my farm as well as Broadturn Farm in the next town over on Sunday, July 14th. We are also hoping to work in some visits to the trials at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Mark your calendars.

Happy scheming to you all!

Carolyn Snell

Carolyn Snell Designs

Carolyn Snell Carolyn Snell Designs [email protected] [email protected]