Wow, Spring came in all her glory! While there are still a few chilly nights in the forecast (we aren't quite done with those dreaded frost blankets), the rising temps of the spring season are well underway. The grass has greened up, the trees are beginning to swell with blossoms, and bulbs are putting on quite a show. About darn time! In case you were keeping a record (we are) Spring is about two weeks later this year, and if you missed it (we did), long-term forecasters like The Farmers Almanac predicted all of it. But does it really matter? Spring is going to show up when it's ready, and it appears that it's ready (thank God.)
The spring season in Virginia is interesting. Mornings feel like winter and by noon it's summer - dress appropriately y’all. I enjoy the strong swing of temps during the day but some of our favorite spring crops (like the ranunculus), do not. The greenhouses do almost too good of a job trapping the spring sun’s heat, creating environments that are hotter than H-E-double-hockey-sticks, and, from what we hear, there’s not a lot of flowers there. Temperatures inside our houses can be a solid 20 degrees warmer than outside temps. Without mechanical ventilation to help bring down the temperatures, we work a couple of different methods to keep our cool crops comfortable.
First, we always crack doors. Yeah, easy I know, but opening the doors on both ends of our high tunnels allows for air to pass through and is sometimes enough to reduce the temperature at ground level. That’s where it matters most.
Second, we install our shade cloth. We put a lightly woven fabric over the top of our high tunnel roofs to drop temperatures inside. Our fabric is 50% shade and this we find is suitable for a vast range of different flower crops we might grow in a tunnel. Putting on our shade cloth takes a team to tackle but instantly drops the temperature by a few degrees almost instantly.
And last but not least, we unzipper the houses! This is one of my favorite tasks because it means that warm weather really is HERE. Our houses have metal channels that the plastic lays over and is pinched into by a long zig-zag wire called wiggle wire. With a gentle rocking motion, this wire secures the plastic to the frame of the house. This is how the plastic is attached to the entire structure. On each corner of all of our houses, I removed the wiggle wire that held the sides in place. This allows us to roll up the sides of our houses and vent them, bringing the house much closer to outdoor temps. Venting the houses is essentially our only saving grace to growing in our tunnels without the use of mechanical fans.
Here's a little pro tip: tie something bright to the handles of your roll-up sides when you put in wiggle wire and take it off when you remove the wiggle wire. That way, you will have something to remind you (and everyone else trying to be helpful) that the wiggle wire hasn’t been removed. You see, the sides will roll up even if this wiggle wire is in place and will tear the plastic. If this happens, you’ll have to replace the entire side of plastic. This is expensive - don’t roll up your wiggle wire! We now add rolling the sides up and down to our daily house opening and closing routine.
With Spring in full regalia, you can only imagine how jam-packed our cooler is so the dahlia tubers are getting the boot. I moved them and everyone cheered. It's a dirty, heavy job but someone’s gotta do it and we needed the space! While it's still a little early to leave them totally exposed in the open, I hauled them off to hang out in a free spot in Tunnel 3. We will have to cover them with extra protection for a few nights, but otherwise, we can let them hang out and wake up while they wait for their new field space.
I added a few new varieties of ball dahlias to our lineup, so when I rotated the crates, I snuck in the new tubers that have been waiting to join the squad. I try to add new stock to our core crops every year. I like to grow and design with new varieties if they’re different or have better traits than ones in last year’s lineup. I’m all about improving our crop profile and keeping up with our industry so that we can offer our cool findings. This is partly because I’m a plant junkie, but it also keeps farming a little more exciting. As if it wasn’t action-packed enough.
Each dahlia crate contains one variety and is labeled, twice. When I inspected tubers, we did lose a few, but not much. This is to be expected. I don’t freak out because after a few years of growing this finicky plant I find that tubers always keep me guessing. It’s better to just relax and wait until sprouts begin forming (or should be) before allowing myself any anxiety.
While we overwinter our field dahlias tubers in our inside cooler, we have had some success with leaving our tunnel dahlia bed in the ground all year. So far, it looks like our tunnel dahlias are still going strong and we’re on track to see more success with this method in 2021. The tubers are already beginning to emerge from the ground with lots of nice green shoots, letting us know a small early crop of dahlias will be coming this summer.
I can’t believe I’m already talking about dahlias. As we head into the last month of the first quarter, I still can’t wrap my head around how we got here so quickly. Time might be flying, but at least it’s a colorful whirl filled with my favorite thing - flowers.