These grants were supported by the ASCFG Research Fund.  
To see how you can apply for an ASCFG Grower Grant, go to www.ascfg.org and click on Research Activities.



Growing and Marketing Specialty Cut (Fragrant) Roses in a Northern Climate
Ralph Thurston, Bindweed Farm, Blackfoot, Idaho

Introduction

Early in 2006, the ASCFG provided grant money (totaling $1695) for Bindweed Farm to trial a number of roses as cut flowers, with cold hardiness, vase life, and market reception as primary factors to study.  Located in a zone 4 climate (zone 5 since the onset of global warming) in Blackfoot, Idaho, Bindweed sells to high-end markets in Sun Valley, Idaho and Jackson, Wyoming, both quite distant from major airports. We hoped the extra shipping costs incurred by this distance would make local rose sales competitive with South American roses, which one of our customers once purchased for a nickel apiece (plus freight) in midsummer—a price not easy to compete with.
    
Since customers can get typical roses so cheaply, the grant was designed to test the marketability of roses not often sold by large wholesalers—those with atypical shape (i.e., “cabbage” or “peony” types) and/or fragrance.  Initially, we intended to concentrate on David Austin’s “old-fashioned” type roses, which were bred to bring back fragrance and shape, but we found an almost black non-Austin called ‘Barkarole’ that we had to try to augment the Austins.  Then, at the last moment before planting, we found a series of German roses bred specifically for outside cut flower production available through Newflora in Oregon, so we tacked on two varieties from them to test, as well. Newflora, who brokers and grows for Kordes, a famed German rose company, was gracious enough to send (at no charge) small numbers of five of their other varieties, too.
    
We ordered 12 varieties of roses, twenty-five specimens of each, but, as is typical when buying plant material, one of the suppliers (Hortico) was, unlike Newflora, unable to fulfill their entire order, so we planted a smaller number of 4 of the varieties. We chose Hortico as our supplier because they had a wider selection of offerings at a lower price than our initial supplier choices, who all hedged as to the hardiness of the Austin roses we sought to plant. Roses, moreso than many perennial cuts, are apparently so susceptible to grower abuse and climate problems that wholesalers shy away from commitment to buyers.
    
Most of the Hortico roses came on very substantial rootstock, though one variety (‘Edward Elgar’) was much smaller—obviously at least a year younger in growth.  The Newflora roses were quite a bit smaller than the Horticos, leading us to change our initial intent of harvesting cut stems the first year. Fearing that extensive harvesting would weaken the small roses, we decided to only disbud the first year to make sure they would have the greatest strength possible to make it through their first cold Idaho winter.

Materials and Methods

We planted the roses in holes dug with a twelve-inch post hole digger, in rows 4 feet apart with the specimens spaced in three foot increments.  We filled the holes with a combination of potting soil, milorganite and our clay-based Idaho soil, then covered the just-budding roses completely with wood chips in order to eliminate damage from desiccating wind and heat. One hundred percent of the Kordes roses began leafing out in two weeks, after which we pulled the chips away to use as weed control. The Horticos, though larger, leafed out much later—some taking more than a month—and mortality was high:  Nearly 25% of the Horticos did not live, some of the varieties had almost a fifty percent loss. There was considerable mortality difference between varieties—only 13 of 25 ‘Sir Edward Elgar’ survived, for instance, while 24 of 25 ‘Pat Austins’ lived. ‘Barkarole’ saw only 10 of 25 live, while 23 of 25 ‘Hyde Hall’ survived. Only ‘Dark Lady’, with 10 plants of 10 sent, had a 100% survival rate.
    
Hortico explained the problem as caused by us—most rose sellers recommend soaking their roses in water for as long as 24 hours before planting, but Hortico, according to them, uses rootstock that cannot take more than ninety minutes of soaking. We had “drowned” the roses—though we wondered how to explain the varyin degrees of mortality from cultivar to cultivar. In any case, Hortico graciously agreed to replace the failed roses this  spring.
    
It did not take long for the Kordes roses to begin blooming, and we judiciously set about snipping the buds off in order that the plants put their efforts into growing more leaf and root, rather than toward reproduction. On June 11 we were pinching Kordes buds, while we had yet to completely uncover the Horticos, waiting as we were for them to leaf out.
    
We saved a few buds to see how the roses would look, and on June 18 we made our first cuts of Kordes’ ‘Antique Carmel’ and ‘Mondiale’ (a Newflora free sample cultivar). Our first bout with aphids (one of many) occurred shortly after. Spider mites also reared their heads late in the season, along with powdery mildew in late August and early September.

Results

We continued disbudding until we couldn’t stand it anymore.   Excited to show our customers what they would be getting the following year, we collected a small bucket of roses with six-inch stems to take on the route in mid-July. Before Jeriann could tell her first client that the roses were just for display, she was asked how much they cost. Having not even thought about pricing, she offered the short-stemmed roses for a dollar apiece, and our clients could not get enough all summer long.
    
Production varied greatly. The Kordes roses far outperformed the Horticos (including the Austins). ‘Antike Carmel’ produced 214 stems in just two weeks (nearly ten a plant), but ‘Ice Girl’ did better than that with 483 stems in a 29-day period. Of the Austins, ‘Charles Darwin’ (171 on 15 plants), ‘Falstaff’ (121 on 21), ‘Pat Austin’ (186 on 24), ‘Pilgrim’ (202 on 21), ‘Hyde Hall’ (323 on 23), and ‘Dark Lady’ (an even 100 on ten plants—a ten stem average). ‘Barkarole’ (5 on 10 plants), ‘Rosemary Harkness’ (16 on 14), and ‘Sir Edward Elgar’ (0 on 13) did very poorly. On August 12 we resumed disbudding in order to assure the greatest possibility of the roses’ winter survival.
    
Market reception could not have been better. Only the ‘Ice Girl’, a white variety that bruises easily and was by far the most productive cultivar, did not sell out completely.
    
Vase life favored the Newflora offerings, with all of their cultivars getting 7-12 days in plain water. ‘Magma’, ‘Mondiale’, ‘Cinderella’, and the two trials of ‘Ice Girl’ and ‘Antique Caramel’ all fared well. No Austin (‘Falstaff’, ‘Charles Darwin’, ‘Pat Austin’, ‘Dark Lady’, ‘Hyde Hall’) did better than 4 days in the vase. However, as most of our clients used the roses for events, vase life was no problem. One client even faked a “peony” wedding in mid-August by using the full-flowered Austins in place of the bride’s preferred choice.
    
‘Ice Girl’ was the most fragrant cultivar. Clients mixed them with the similarly-colored ‘Pilgrim’ to take advantage of the latter’s shape. ‘Pat Austin’ was considered an event rose, having a lousy vase life of at most 3 days, but a nice fragrance and a fine deep peach color. ‘Caramel Antiques’ were only lightly scented, but their durability, color, and shape were great. A Newflora sample of ‘Magma’ displayed a wonderful yellow with sunset edges. ‘Charles Darwin’ and ‘Pilgrim’ had the best shapes, with ‘Pilgrim’s’ vase life fairly good for an Austin. ‘Falstaff’ was a “fabulous” cool red with good petal count and a relatively good vase life, and ‘Dark Lady’s’ color was likewise stunning—a pink red. ‘Hyde Hall’, while having a nice sweet fragrance and lush pink, many-petalled blossoms, was very thorny—but not thorny enough to hold back sales. All in all, we were shocked to see how receptive clients were to what we once thought was a “commodity” flower—something we wouldn’t be able to compete with, it being so omnipresent throughout the industry.
    
We continued to disbud well into October, and when mid November rolled around we piled bark around the roses to protect them from zone5 withering cold. When the sales were added up, we determined that we could have actually planted the roses as annuals and made a profit, had we not disbudded. As it was, even with disbudding as extensively as we did, sales receipts (at just over $1700) were greater than the cost of the roses themselves (though it did not fully pay the attendant costs of labor, irrigation, soil amendments, etc.—see chart on next page).

Costs

50 roses Newflora                       $154.00
250 Roses from Hortico               $1,431.00
300 ½ gallon emitters @ .20        $60.00
700 feet ¾ inch tubing @.20 ft.    $140.00
Soil amendme                           $100.00
Bark for cover/weed control       $200.00
Labor (planting, weeding, disbudding, spraying)
100 hours @ $10.00                   $1000.00
Sales route
(600 miles per week, 4 weeks)   $1000.00


Conclusions

If mortality rates are not too high when spring rolls around, it seems evident that rose growing in the U.S., for a long time now seen as a nonprofit enterprise considering the plethora of imported roses, is feasible on a small scale, at least, and even in a northern climate. Indeed, given the prolific production of Kordes Roses, a grower could make money treating them as annuals, not worrying about their winter hardiness.


Investigation of Various Mulches to Reduce Weed Pressure and Increase Quality of Lisianthus for Cut Flowers
Brenda Smith, Smith & Smith Farms, Dayton, Nevada

Introduction

In December 2005 the ASCFG Research Fund funded an on-farm study for a proposal I had written to investigate the use of different mulches to improve lisianthus flower quality.  I felt since lisianthus is slow growing and fairly non-competitive against weeds, that mulching might improve the crop for us.  However, I was hoping some of the alternative biodegradable mulches to the standard black plastic might work as well and provide a better fit for my cultural practices.  I already send miles of drip tape to the landfill each year and have been reluctant to send miles of plastic mulch along with it.  

Biodegradable also fits in with my idea of end-of-season cleanup—the less I have to pull up, the happier I am.  We are not certified organic growers but we do grow all of our crops using organic methods.  
    
Although lisianthus is not native to our area, our climatic conditions are similar to the high prairies where it is native.  We have low humidity, well-drained sandy soil, and hot, dry summers.

Materials and Methods

    I obtained three different mulches in spring 2007.  I set up my 4 different treatments, 2 rows (20” centers) X 50 feet:
    1.    Garden Biofilm – 100% biodegradable, manufactured             by Polar Gruppen, Norway.  
    2.    Planters Paper –  100% biodegradable, manufactured             by Ken Bar, Reading, Massachsetts.
    3.    Alfalfa hay, obtained from a local source.
    4.    Untreated, bare soil

    Lisianthus plugs were obtained from Germania Seed Co.  The following varieties and plug sizes were transplanted:
    1.  ‘Mariachi Blue Picotee’ – 125 tray
    2.  ‘Mariachi Mist Pink’ – 125 tray
    3.  ‘Cinderella Pink’ – 125 tray
    4.  ‘ABC Purple 3-4’ – 125 tray
    5.  ‘Mariachi Mist Pink’ – 280 tray
    6.  ‘Mariachi Blue’ – 280 tray
    7.  ‘ABC Deep Rose 123’- 280 tray
    8.  Goldsmith Seeds also donated ‘Twinkle’ seeds to be included, I started those transplants myself.

Our field was prepared by spreading compost, California Organic Preplant Fertilizer 7-5-7, Algit Sea Kelp and Azomite amendments.  The amendments were disced in.  We do something like a reverse listing of beds, by putting in a furrow, laying t-tape (10 mil, 4 inch spacing) in the furrow and then covering the t-tape.  When this is done there is only a slightly raised bed, especially in sandy soil.  I then run the irrigation to wet up the soil.  I rolled out 50 foot sections of the Biofilm mulch and the Planters Paper mulch and then went along the edges with a hoe to cover the edges.  On May 19, 2006 I transplanted an equal number of each variety and plug sizes in each treatment on 6-8 inch spacings on both sides of the t-tape.  Two lines of plugs are planted to one bed.  I made holes by hand in the Garden Biofilm and the Planters Paper mulches and then planted the plugs through the holes.  After planting I scattered the alfalfa mulch around the newly transplanted plugs.

Results

First let me say right off, the results of this trial were nothing what I thought they would be.  It basically became a failed experiment about 2 weeks after planting due to several fierce windstorms.  There was something to be learned from this failure.  However, because the Research Committee entrusted me with hard-earned funds for this trial, I am planning to repeat the trial at my cost this season and hope to obtain better results.
    
Within 2 days after carefully laying out this trial and transplanting all the lisianthus, our spring winds came in.  I did try to plan for the winds by using wind fencing along field borders.  I also felt I had adequately anchored the edges of the Biofilm and Planters Paper.  The wind kept lifting the mulches through the planting holes made for the plugs and lifted the mulches off the ground.  Because the soil is so sandy, it kept falling away from the edges and a couple hours into the windstorm the mulches were flapping in the wind and damaging the tender plugs. What alfalfa mulch didn’t actually blow away ended up burying the small transplants.  I had to keep pulling the alfalfa from the plants.  I even tried putting light rowcover over the mulched rows and this did not help keep the mulches from coming unraveled either.
    
All of this re-laying and replacing of mulch quickly became much more time-consuming than I felt was worthwhile.  After all, I have been able to grow fairly nice lisianthus without mulch, and with significantly less time and frustration.  I ended up pulling up the Biofilm completely after re-laying about 4 times in less than 2 weeks.  Some of the Planters Paper remained in the field through the season.  We ended up harvesting lisianthus from all trial rows as would be expected, with no discernable differences in stem length, bloom time or flower quality.  I did not take measurements or counts however, since the mulch treatments were compromised from the beginning.  Some plants that were not unburied from the alfalfa did not grow through the mulch and died.

Conclusions

So what useful information, if any, came out of this trial?   A couple of ideas come to mind:  These mulches don’t stay down in our winds.  Sandy soil used to hold down the edges of the mulch actually blows off the mulch edges.  Since the soil is so sandy, I don’t think I can get a big enough raised bed to really stretch the mulches over the beds and secure them properly.  If I were to use alfalfa again, I would put it down after a first weeding of the lisianthus, once the transplants were bigger and would not be buried by shifting alfalfa.  I am currently going back to the drawing board to rework this idea for the upcoming season.  I will report back again next year at this time to let everyone know how round two in the battle of mulches vs. climatic conditions goes.