It's taken 12 weeks for our lives to be consumed with my two favorite things PLANTING and HARVESTING! While there has been a little of each going on before now, this is the week that these two main components of flower farming have become our primary tasks. We begin our days walking the fields, the shade gardens, and the tunnels, scouting for color and harvesting anything that will fill our buckets with blooms.
We have some new tribe faces on the farm this season, and educating our team on what to look for during harvest becomes more like a flower infomercial. I get so excited to see the flowers that it's hard not to go down the rabbit hole, pining over each attribute while giving visuals of what qualifies for cutting.
Daffodils are easy. They are as straight as a pencil, but once the neck begins to bend down with the weight of a plump bud, you know it's ripe for the picking.
The hellebore is a little harder. Their beautiful faces are tempting to pick, but it's the seed head in the middle of the bloom that indicates if it will last beyond harvest. I find that hellebores have the best vase life before the seed head has totally blown out. Looking at the photo below, I’d harvest the hellebore on the right, but not the one on the left.
Anemone gives us different clues. They have a green collar right below the petals that will grow each day as the flower opens and closes. Where the collar falls on the stems is an indicator of how many times it’s already opened and closed. In the photo of the anemone, starting from the left, the first one probably should have been cut yesterday, the center is just right, and the third could have waited one more day. That said, all three are totally usable - I’m just hyper-critical because I want every stem to last as long as possible for our customers.
Crops like the ranunculus are harvested based on touch. Does the bloom feel like a marble? Not ready. Does it feel like a stiff marshmallow? She’s good to go. It's a lot to learn and can feel overwhelming, but it’s a bit easier this early in the season when there are only a few crops coming on at a time. Summer will be a different story.
It's taken me 10 plus years to understand the best time to harvest our ever-changing crop lineup, and I know it takes time to learn even the basic signals from ready-to-cut blooms. When it comes to training up new crew members, we spend a lot of time going over-harvesting and answering questions. But, hands-on practice and a little bit of grace work best. We know there are going to be mistakes, but this is where employee bouquets come from!
The cooler is filling up, which means I need to make more room and will be booting the dahlia tubers out of their winter home next week (highly possible that this is a foreshadowing for the next Crop Report.) A full cooler of our blooms is what recharges my battery this time of year. After the color-less winter months, we find ourselves peering inside the cooler just to take a peek at the blooms WE GREW a few times every day. It feels so good!
The rest of our time is filled with planting. In a perfect world, the spring crops would last forever, but that’s just not the case. We have to make sure we have flowers after May.
We were able to get the baby lisianthus planted into the newly amended tunnel beds so darn fast this year! To be honest, the lisianthus crop brought on a strong wave of anxiety for me this week. When the thousands of baby plant plugs arrived last year, we were at the beginning of COVID and with just my sister and I left to run the farm. I had to plant them all myself (with the help of Mary) in a very tight window of time. I skipped steps just trying to get them in the ground (I know that statement is felt hard by every grower everywhere), and the crop did not perform like I knew it could. Considering everything we were able to accomplish despite COVID, I’m not going to come down on myself too hard. We still had lisianthus, and that I’ll consider a win.
When the plants arrived this year, the chest clenching panic from 2020 resurfaced inside me. But, this year was different. This year, I have my tribe. When the beds were ready to be planted, I didn’t even have to ask - the team jumped in and made quick and efficient work of this big spring planting. The lissies are now tucked in and adjusting to tunnel life so well.
But that's not the only planting on the farm! Lily crates are lining up, seeds are being sown, and empty bed space is being filled with a second spring flush of flowers.
While the bachelor buttons and cress look great, we are adding in some later plantings of nigella, monarda, and dianthus. We are weeding out scabiosa rows and filling in empty holes. The churn of trays is in full swing. We move gobs of seedling flats from the grow chamber to the staging tunnels and then into forever field beds. It's always crazy to see all of those spaces crammed full in the morning only to turn bare after an intense day of work. And then, the cycle repeats.
Morning walks harvesting flowers and afternoons planting under the warmth of the sun. This is the dream of flower farming. You get this perfect balance at least once, and it turns out week 12 is this year’s Libra.