If You Plant It, They Will Come
I have always dreamed of a field of sunflowers in bloom, like the countryside of Tuscany. The plan before COVID was to have a catered dinner amongst the sunflowers. Total dream setting and dream event. Well, you know, Covid.
As the perpetual optimist that I am, I still planted the about one-acre field to sunflowers in mid-June like we had planned, so we would have optimum blooms on our dinner night, which was scheduled for mid-August. We purchased birdseed and oil seed sunflowers from the local co-op. The two ten-pound bags were less than $25. We chose to mix the types of sunflowers to stretch out the bloom time. The hope was that one variety would bloom sooner that the other so the bloom span time would be longer. This is the same idea as succession planting—blooms for a longer time. We used a 4-row corn planter and planted the seeds as thick as they would come out. This hardly used one of the ten-pound bags.
Once the sunflowers germinated and were up a few inches we cultivated the field. That was the only weed management we did on them.
When the sunflowers were about five feet tall my dad went through with a bush lawnmower and created the maze. Originally, we were going to cut a straight path and set up for the dinner in the field but when we knew the dinner wouldn’t be happening, we decided to change and do a maze.
I kept our social media following informed about the stages of the field. They were just as excited as I was to see buds then the first bloom!
The maze became an income generator for us. We sold tickets for time slots. Guests could come and experience the maze. This was the summer of 2020 so we were still dealing with the early stages of COVID. We conservatively determined how many people we wanted in the maze at a time. It was outdoors but we still wanted to be responsible. We had 25 tickets per 45-minute slot. The ticket cost was $10 for 5 and older, children under 5 were free and didn’t need a reserved ticket. We hosted 3-4 time slots per day with the best, dreamiest times being during “Golden Hour”. The tickets sold out. We could have had more time slots and more people per session, but we wanted to be safe. People showed up at their time. They could explore and complete the maze as many times as they wanted in their 45 minutes. The maze took about 8 minutes to complete (if you didn’t make any wrong turns). I parked our van near the field and told them I would honk once to say they had 5 more minutes, then honk twice when the time was up. I encouraged them to take and post lots of pictures of the maze. It was a great experience.
During the time slots we were sure to have our flower cart stocked with bunches of sunflowers they could purchase to take home with them.
We also arranged times with a few of our favourite local photographers. They hosted family photo sessions in the fields. They paid a fee for the use of the field. They could book sessions as often as they wanted during their time. This was another way to generate an income from the field.
We were already insured for having people come to the farm so there were no changes to our insurance costs but it is definitely something you want to have to protect yourself.
We are planning another sunflower field experience for 2022, this time larger and to possibly include a flower festival with other local vendors. We will also plan the dinner that I always dreamed of.
A few important points to keep in mind:
Our sunflower maze field was set back, and not visible from, the road. This was helpful in controlling when people came on to the farm. We didn’t want unexpected guests. It is still our home property.
Plan to chop the field before the sunflower heads mature and the seeds ripen. We had a bit of a volunteer sunflower weed problem this year. But the wild turkeys ate very well in the winter.
Find a local drone operator to take overhead and promo videos and photos for you. The photos are pretty breathtaking. You can do a bird’s eye tour of our farm by searching Harris Flower Farm Elgin County on YouTube.
Reach out to photographers early to let them know your plans, and definitely consider trading professional family/promo photos for the cost of their session.
When the field is in full bloom and it’s a warm summer night, go out at golden hour, stand in the field and really breathe in the amazingness around you.