When we first started 8 ago, we didn’t realize that there would be some differences from the vegetables we’d been for years.

In our first year growing flowers, I bought
a handful of seed packets, including one called Cut Flower Mix. This was a
mixture of flower seeds that were good for cutting. That’s all I knew. I
planted them out directly into one of our field beds. Basically the same as I
would have done for mixed lettuces – except given the broad diversity of seed
size and shape of these various cut flowers, I wasn’t able to use our push
seeder and instead sprinkled them by hand.

As they started germinating – some quickly
and some very slowly – I realized that weeds were also germinating. And it
wasn’t easy to tell what was supposed to be there and what wasn’t.

I could identify any of my vegetable
seedlings as soon as they popped up out of the soil. But this mixture of
flowers was completely new to me. Luckily I had planted them in straight rows
and could weed between the rows. But, in the row, I ended up with a mixture of
flowers and weeds, some fast growing and some very slow growing.

I also ended up with lots of flowers blooming in the peak of summer – which was beautiful. But then they were gone and I didn’t have enough diversity left to make more market bouquets.

Harvesting Cynoglossom flowers

The next season, I had many lessons and purchased a much wider selection of flowers, of different colours and shapes, and no more mixes! I also made sure that I wasn’t only purchasing seeds for varieties of big and bright flowers (like Zinnias and Cosmos) but also for unique smaller flowers that would help the showier ones pop (like Orlaya and Feverfew ), unique grasses that would give texture, and foliage to fill out the whole bouquet and make it look more natural and abundant.

Nigella flowers (aka Love in a Mist)

I made plans to plant the same variety out multiple
times throughout the season to stagger the harvest. That second year I planted
more of these succession plantings than I currently do.  I learned so much about how different varieties
do at different times of the season, when flower pests arrive, and the effects
of daylength.  

The next thing I needed to learn was
starting the seeds in the greenhouse. Based on my poor identification of the
flower seedlings (and weeding) issues of my 1st year, I planned to
start all my flower seeds in the greenhouse, even when the seed packet recommended
it be direct sown. This is something I still do. Nowadays, a few of my
succession plantings of some flower crops will be direct seeded, but not in the
spring, only later in the season when weed pressure is reduced.

The thing about flower seeds is that some
germinate in 5-8 days (depending on temperature and other conditions) like
Marigold or Chinese Forget Me-Not. Others take 14-21 days, like Delphinium or Baby’s
Breath. And some take even longer, especially perennials.

I found that my cells trays with slow-germinating flower seeds sometimes grew algae on top which prevented the seedling’s emergence. This led to wasted space in our greenhouse. To overcome these issues (of space and algae), I started sowing my flower seeds in open flats. I fill an open flat with potting soil then make shallow rows using the side of a pen – usually about 10-12 per tray. In each row, I sow one variety and label it. Once the seedlings grow to an appropriate size, I pot them up into 72 cell trays. While this takes some extra time, this is still what I do for the majority of my flower seeds.

Seeds germinating in trays

A few lessons I learned doing this: make sure that the varieties you plant in each tray have a similar germination and growth speed. Lisianthus is a notoriously annoying flower to grow from seed. They take SO LONG to germinate and they grow so slowly. I would never plant them in the same open flat as fast-growing Calendula (in fact, for very fast-growing, reliable seeds like Calendula or Sunflowers, I sow them directly into cell trays like 98s). You definitely don’t want to end up with 1 slow-growing variety in an otherwise empty open flat – that defeats the purpose of saving space.

Calendula blooming

Doing this has pretty much eliminated our
issues with algae. Also, after I sow the seeds, I sprinkle Perlite (puffed rock
that looks like puffed cereal) on top – a heavier amount for larger seeds and barely
any for very tiny seeds – which helps prevents algae. Ventilation is key as
well – though tougher in cold late winter.

Once our flower seedlings have been potted up, they stay in the greenhouse until they’re large enough to be planted outside.

When we’re planting the flowers to the
field, we plant them with pretty tight spacing (unlike for landscaping
purposes). For cut flowers, we want nice tall stems. We plant them close so
that they strive for the light.

Then we water, weed, and wait. We also pinch some of them (like Zinnias and Snapdragons) so that the plant will send out multiple side stems instead of focusing on 1 centre stem.

Queen Lime Zinnia

Once they start blooming, we start
harvesting. People at the farmers’ market often exclaim “Your farm must be so
beautiful!” when they see all the flowers. It does look beautiful, though we
cut many flowers when they’ve just start blooming (so they last longer for our
customers).

For us, growing cut flowers has been a
great way to increase biodiversity, help our customers connect with the farm, support
pollinators and other wild species, and bring beauty and health to our wider
community.

The benefits have extended to our farm as whole. Our crop rotation has improved (since flowers are mostly different species than vegetable crops), more habitat for beneficial insects has decreased pest pressure, and our market opportunities have broadened (like local and eco DIY weddings).

Shannon wrote this article for Rural Delivery magazine’s Gardening column.



Source link http://broadforkfarm.com/2019/03/23/growing-flowers-what-we-learned-over-the-years/

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