After one full year of a global pandemic, with all the personal losses, business hardships, and global repercussions, I find myself surprised to witness the annual joy of spring. Daffodils blooming, trees budding out, our American kestrel nesting boxes inhabited, the grass greening up, and of course, prepping and planting like mad for the coming season. While life still feels precarious, there are many things to look forward to this coming year. I received my first COVID vaccine (as an essential worker), many of the systems are now in place to deal with the inevitable market shifts, and life in flux feels like more the norm than the exception. I feel like we are ready for anything.
So many lessons have been learned over the past year. For me personally, that includes implementing a real online sales platform, shipping flowers, managing employees during a health crisis, homeschooling, applying for government assistance programs and not feeling bad about it, and finding personal time to enjoy myself outside of farming. This list could go on. I know so many of you are in the same boat. And yet, here we are all, continuing to grow flowers, trying to ensure our businesses and families survive, and coming together to learn and do better. I am so grateful for the ASCFG community and all we give to one another.
While I don’t have many words of wisdom to offer these days, I just wanted to share a bit of our focus this year.
As the home gardening trend continues to be off the charts all around the world, we have invested heavily in spring plant sales. It’s hard to give up greenhouse space I am used to having for my own vegetable and cut flower transplants, but the demand is so high. There are plenty of other sources for folks to buy seeds and starts locally as well as obtain gardening information. But our customers prefer to go to those they trust. And that’s us. I feel honored that people trust us to give them the right information, quality plants, and dependable varieties at the appropriate time for planting. It’s really exciting to see all the enthusiasm and trust they put in us. Selling a plant before it goes into the ground does feel a lot more secure than having to worry about frost, heat, pests, bloom time, and stem length. Plus it has more than a one-week shelf life. So, while plant sales are still new to us, I am really thrilled to expand in this area.
We are doing full-on flower gardens in a tray, with curated color palettes and themes like drying gardens, fairy gardens, and edible flowers. Also tons and tons of veggies, which we grow anyway, so it’s a no-brainer. Next year we plan to build a larger propagation house just to accommodate this expansion—maybe even some equipment to help automate the process.
Due to the uptick in home gardening, I am sure you have all noticed seed shortages and longer waits in receiving your seed orders. It’s pretty obvious that seeds are in high demand. I am really happy to be venturing into growing seed out this year—a few for trials and more for contracted seed that I am selling back to a seed company. This is totally new for us, but I can’t wait to see the results. It seems easy (since I haven’t done it yet commercially). Plant, make sure you grow a good crop (and that it is isolated and pollinated), and harvest once (or twice) when the seed is good and mature. I look forward to writing an update on this venture in a future Quarterly. In the meantime I encourage everyone to do some seed saving trials of your own. It’s rewarding and addictive. The information on how to grow flower seed is extremely limited out on the interwebs, so some collective brainpower and experience will be very helpful for everyone.
We started selling to wholesalers in a big way last year, after quite a few years of trying to get our foot in the door. It was really successful. And while every sector of the flower industry can be precarious these days, I really feel solid trying to focus on this arena for our scale of business. Our farmers’ markets were all over the place last year in terms of when they opened, how they operated, and what the rules were. More sales with less contact feels like something I can handle right now.
Okay, nothing new here as I am always trying to hone in on our systems. But we are trying to up our equipment game a lot this year. In particular I have been chatting with a few ASCFG members about Jang seeders and what rollers are working for which crops. Direct seeding crops can be a huge time-saver if you can get the seeding rates right and you have your weeds in check. If anyone is using a Jang seeder for flowers I would love to connect! Then I can write a follow-up report on what’s working for folks. I am going into my second year using the Paperpot Transplanter and the Kult-Kress Fingerweeder. If anyone has beta on those, I would love to chat.
Tried and True
We are trying some new varieties this year, of course, but not as many as usual. I am all about going bigger on the things that are working for me and finding the best markets to absorb the product I know I can produce well and consistently.
Wishing everyone a smooth and successful 2021 growing season. I look forward to hearing your success stories (and the failures you’ve learned from them along the way) and I can’t wait until we can see each other in person one of these days soon.