Operation Flower Farm is a Go!

I have been longing for a nice cutting garden for years.  Anyone who knows me knows I am into vegetable gardening, and have a pretty good grasp on herbs and roses.  Truth be told, I have never been wonderful growing flowers.  I remember grabbing colorful seed packets when I was a kid and attempting to grow bright zinnias that claimed to grow 3 feet high, and launching wildflower seed spread into the yard before “seed bombs” were a thing, and nothing ever grew.  In recent years, my MO has been to buy pretty annuals from the Amish markets around May, stick them all over the place, water indiscriminately, and pray…a lot.

Last winter and spring marked my first gardening season in an apartment, and the death of a few purchased plants poised on my shady apartment balcony only added to the frustration of not having an appropriate garden, or even access to a garden hose.  Compounded with all the emotions that went along with temporary living, I leveled with the fact that I would soon have the ability to garden again, and it was time to start dreaming.

When I found my old farmhouse in May, and went under contract over the summer, naturally the first thing I did was start spending way too much time on Pinterest dreaming of the kinds of gardens I would have.  Vegetable gardens are wonderful, and in no time I had a plan to use some of the old storm windows to make a dreamy greenhouse.  I have always wanted lavender fields, and I missed my mint garden like nobody’s business.  I wanted a different kind of challenge though, and after seeing some inspirational flower fields and flower farms (did anyone know that was a thing?) I was hooked.  I had planned on planting in the fall, but since I didn’t settle until November, it was not until recently that I really started thinking about what I wanted to do.  A few flower beds turned into a tiny micro-sized farm, and I am learning now all the reasons why my past flower-tending was futile.  At the risk of making a cheesy sales pitch, I never thought I could grow flowers, and now I can…and you can, too!

I will do my best to document the cutting garden progress.  If you are interested in planting along with me, PLEASE DO!  This year, I will be focusing on my experience and likely linking to the resources I found helpful.  I am by absolutely no means an expert, but I have been learning a ton about the process of growing your own cut flowers from seed, tuber, bulb and corm!

Getting up to speed

So far, I have (with the help of a ton of research and pinspiration) mapped out my flower beds, ordered seeds, and started germinating.  If you are looking to start this year, NOW is the time.  In fact, you might already be behind depending on where you are, but it is better late than never!  Here is what you will need to do to catch up:

#1 Dream BIG!

This part is fun.  Hey, if you read my New Year’s post and are looking for something to work toward this year, this would be a fun start and truly embodies the process of setting out to do something you didn’t think you could.  So, start by dreaming.  I love Pinterest for this, and magazines, garden shows, whatever gets you feeling joyful.  For me, a huge source of inspiration was finding flower farms already in existence across the country.  Floret is a HUGE help.  Erin’s fields are gorgeous, and her photos make you want to reach inside the screen breathe deeply.  This is an extremely important step, because when you screw up a packet of seeds, or overwater by accident and drown seedlings, you will want to give up if you don’t have a big dream to keep you motivated.

#2 Consider what you can plant

We are lucky here in zone 7 because we can grow pretty much everything.  Our bulbs can typically stay in the ground, are properly overwintered, and pop up every spring, and our summers don’t come on too hot too fast.  You should absolutely check your hardiness zone, because even here in the tri-state area, our zones change from zip code to zip code.  I am technically in zone 7b, but an hour away you may find yourself in 6b, which is about 10 degrees cooler.  Check your zone with the USDA here, and consider the plants you already have growing to determine what might be best for your area.  So much of this will be trial and error as well, so you will get to know your garden, your plants, and your area over the course of a few years.  Again, I believe you will be able to plant most anything, though your climate will determine what amendments you need to make, when to start planting, etc.

#3 Pick your flowers and plan your gardens

It is OK to start with a small patch of garden.  Whether you are turning over an existing bed, or creating a new one, make sure it is in a location that will receive the kind of sun the flowers you plan to plant need.  This is why I do not break these steps apart.  You will constantly being getting inspiration, finding new plants, re-thinking your design and needs, and growing your space into a micro-farm…ok maybe that last bit is just me.  Honestly though, if you go overboard, you might get frustrated and overwhelmed fast, so do not bite off more than you can handle.  You might find you plan out your dream garden, then think about what part of it you want to work on this year.  I remind myself constantly that it is better to work in small chunks with a big end goal in mind, rather than trying to do it all at once.  I’m pretty stubborn, but when I heed this guidance it typically works out better, and I have more fun.  If it helps, keep a list of things you want to consider growing next year (an A-list and a B-list if you will).

Once you have your flowers picked (pun intended 😉 ) map out your final garden plan.  For me in the past, I have done everything from sketching rectangles on a post-it note, to drawing it up in Photoshop.  It really depends on my mood. This year I have been really into SketchUp, so I planned them out there.  I probably would not recommend it if you do not already know SketchUp, and honestly if my sketchpad and colored pencils were not still packed, I would have probably just used that.  Here is what I came up with though, for this year:

You will want to denote the size of the gardens, to determine how many plants you can squeeze in there.  This will also tell you how many seeds or tubers to order.  To give you an idea, the large rectangles are mostly 4’x16′.  I find that 4′ is a good size to be able to reach into the garden without having to step into it. I use 4′ beds for my veggies, so for me it works.  Each 4′ section will fit between 3-5 rows of flowers, depending on the size of the flower.  I will go more in depth  when I plant everything, but I would recommend Floret’s website again and also any book on lean farming.  Many farmers not use a close plant spacing technique which maximizes garden space.  For example, if a seed packet says a plant needs 12″ spacing, really you could probably get away with 9″, and by staggering your rows of plants, you end up with more plants per square yard.

#4 Buying seeds, tubers, corms, oh my!

Real flower farmers might be screaming at my through their monitors right now, but it is not too late to buy seeds, tubers, corms, and even bulbs.  Typically, especially here in zone 7, fall is for planting.  Many of these perennial flowers (the ones that come back every year) need a winter cold to go dormant.  They set roots while snow is falling, and pop up in the late winter, flowering in early spring.  While your spring-planted flower crops will be less prolific, you can still have beautiful harvests planting in the spring.  The most important thing to remember, though, is to PAY ATTENTION to the best planting time for each type of flower.  If you will, be the flower and think about what it needs.  This will help take the mystery and anxiety out of growing flowers.

I will get to planting momentarily, but for now, the buying.  Consider how many plants you need, remembering that growing from seed is so much more economical than buying flowers in pots from the greenhouse.  I would recommend purchasing seeds and tubers from reputable vendors online, not necessarily from the hardware and grocery stores.  While these could bloom, you will have more fun buying flower types and varieties that are more rare, and often the distributors take great care to sell seeds with high germination rates, and tubers from plants at their own farms from mother plants that have been selected for excellent production.  This year, I purchased from the following:

Assorted seeds including Sweet Peas – Floret Flowers Excellent seeds, beautiful packaging, and a great resource for how to plant and grow

Dahlia Tubers – Swan Island Dahlias (the #1 source for Dahlias…they have everything, and their website is dahlias.com…come on.)

Ranunculus Tubers, Anemone corms, and some bare root plants – Bulbsdirect.com Straight from Holland!

Assorted Seeds – Swallowtail Seeds I purchased backup seeds because they sell poppies in packs of 2,500.  They have a pretty large selection of other varieties as well

#5 Planting Schedule

While you are waiting for seeds to arrive, and truly during your research process, write down what kind of flowers you are growing, and what germination conditions they require.  Some varieties has special needs, for example, wildflowers (like Poppies, Snapdragons, Foxglove, etc.) produce tiny seeds and scatter them all over in the fall after blooming.  These seeds sit on the surface of your garden and soak up sunlight to start the germination process.  Keeping this in mind, you do NOT want to push them into the soil.  Make a note of this!  By contrast, some seeds must be completely covered.  Some need warmth, some require cold to sprout.  Some can be translated, and others resent root disturbance.  Many can be planted right in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked.  A spreadsheet is a good stay to stay organized.  Here is mine:

I will continue to add to this should I need to, and it is also handy to add notes as I learn more about this area and what my plant babies need to grow.

#6 Prep and Plant!

This is where the fun really starts!  I have started several of my seeds indoors, per my chart.  I have soaked and and pre-sprouting my tubers and corms, and am ready to prep my garden site.  When you make it here, you will be all caught up and we can start gardening together!  The most important piece here is to monitor your plants and pay attention to what they need.  TEST YOUR SOIL and if you need to make any amendments, do so.  I purchased a soil tester from the hardware store, which you stick in the ground and read the soil acidity.  Be sure to test all over your garden site, as a few feet can make a difference.  Proper preparation will make a difference (I know this from veggie gardening as well).  Do not slack on prep or anything relating to germination.  Soil prep may also include loosening the soil, hydrating it, or ensuring proper drainage.  Again, seeds may need cool temperatures or warm ones. Sweet peas, for example, germinate well at about 70 degrees so I have them on a heat mat, but once they sprout, they will go out into the garden where they can get lots of light and benefit from cooler temperatures.

 

I will continue to post about this exciting adventure, so feel free to follow along in your own garden!  If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below.  I will be back soon with more as I continue to prep and plant outside!

 

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