Updated: Nov 8
As the owner of a small flower farm, I experienced both successes and failures this past season.
As a market flower grower, I have faced many challenges, but 2023 has been the toughest growing season so far. Despite the difficulties, I am optimistic because I can now look back, learn from my mistakes, and understand the things beyond my control.
Last fall, 2022, it was warm, much like this year, but then the temperatures dropped abruptly, and we experienced a deep freeze and measurable snow. By mid-November, the ground was frozen at a depth of 4-5 inches, and I had yet to receive my wholesale bulb order. I did everything I could with the tools I had to thaw the ground, build daily bonfires, and cover the area with a low caterpillar tunnel. It was a chore, but by December, thankfully, that hardship was behind me, and the bulbs were tucked away in the ground for the winter.
The weather of spring 2023 was quite unpredictable and fluctuated rapidly. In late April and May, we experienced temperature differences ranging from 20-30 degrees. One day, it would be in the 50's, and the next day it could go up to the 80's. On May 3rd, the temperature hit 88 degrees! Weather in the spring here in north Idaho is never reliable or predictable, but I can't recall having such temperature fluctuations in years past.
I faced many problems with my spring crops, and many failed to thrive. Unfortunately, I lost almost 1000 tulips, and the ones that did manage to produce were of poor quality. Additionally, despite my best efforts, most of the ranunculus and anemone plants could not bloom in the warmer temperatures, even though I had placed shade cloth all over my plots to protect them. These crops are expensive to grow and require much time and resources. Not getting a return on my investment was a significant blow to my small business.
In anticipation of unpredictable weather patterns next spring, I have taken measures to ensure I am better prepared. While this does not guarantee success, I am confident in my ability to handle any challenges that may arise; as for the tulips, I am uncertain whether their failure to bloom was due to planting them in frozen ground, the erratic spring weather, or a combination of both!
As if I needed another blow
I had lost my entire stock of Dahlia tubers to improper storage, and they all went to mush due to frozen temps. My ignorance cost me dearly; I've learned so much from these failures. Storing dahlia tubers can be tricky, and it can take some experimentation to find the best method for you with the resources you have. Fortunately, I now have an insulated walk-in cooler, making storing them in a more controlled climate easier.
I have hope for 2024
The challenges this year have caused me to open my eyes to the things I take for granted. I have more clarity about the direction I want to take my business, so the romantic notion of what I do is forever buried. This work is challenging, and honestly, the odds are not with me; it's a high-risk investment. I have a whole new respect for all farmers, small or large scale. It took me four years to gain that wisdom.
I have been thinking about why I should continue as a flower grower. If I can bring people with similar interests together and teach them the love and value of market gardening, my life will be more fulfilling than that of a billionaire. While it would be nice to be self-sufficient with flower farming, achieving that goal will take time and effort. However, I am hopeful that one day, I can make a better living with this work.
This past summer, some mutual friends came to stay with us for the weekend, and she brought me flowers. She figured no one thought to bring me flowers because I grew so many. I was surprised by how touched I was. I didn't think flowers could evoke that kind of emotion in me. For me, it's hard to see the beauty in the flowers when I'm so focused on their production. I generally appreciate looking at pictures from the seasons past when there are 2 feet of snow on the ground. Occasionally, I think to myself, wow, I grew that! So, even more now, I aim to build connections by showcasing the beauty of flowers.
A significant win this past season was the launch of my homeschool farm and garden program. I invited several high school and junior high-aged youth to come and learn all about market growing and gardening. It was such a huge blessing and filled me with a sense of purpose. I'll be solidifying a curriculum to continue for seasons to come!
There is a flower farmer language, and we have unique names for different people in our lives. A "marigold friend" is someone extraordinary and
supportive. These friends are always there to help you with anything, from weeding your garden to sharing your social media posts. They're the ones who stick with you through thick and thin without being critical, but instead bringing a curiosity and offering solutions. I'm grateful to have made countless Marigold friends in my life!
Recently, I learned that many retired friends who garden are seeking connections. Knowing this, a few of us are considering starting a group that meets at my lil flower farm. We could work and learn together. I'm considering naming the group 'Mari-Golden Girls.' They will play a role in harvesting, troubleshooting, and learning the ins and outs of production growing. Ultimately, they will go home with beautiful fresh-cut flowers and hopefully new friendships. What do you think of this idea? Would you like to join us? Please send me a message and let me know.
So, despite the challenges of this past season, I have hope for what's in store for 2024. I appreciate your support, and I hope you will continue to follow along and be part of the story unfolding here at my lil flower farm!
Sweetsong Flower Farm