The Crop Report

The Crop Report: Week 18 | The Great Peony Watch

The Crop Report: Week 18 | The Great Peony Watch

It’s the week leading up to Mothers Day, and it’s nothing short of our own Superbowl around here. Mother’s day is our biggest flower sales week of the year. The farm is just beginning to hit its spring rhythm and we are getting back into the mindset of balancing crop rotation. We are putting new summer fields together and pulling out finished crops like ranunculus.  

The arrival of Mother’s Day usually means we are harvesting peonies for mommas and designers left and right. But remember when I said that our season was about two weeks late? That still seems to be the case. And, while mother nature will inevitably catch herself up during summer stride, those two weeks can be felt hardest right now when we want those flowers more than ever.

Peonies are an interesting crop to grow. I’ve always grown up with a couple of peony bushes around the house, admiring the marching ants just before the real show of blooms arrived. But it wasn’t until I began to farm them that I fully appreciated this farmhouse staple.

We plant our peonies from scraggly roots. They are tough suckers, so if you have a friend or neighbor with a healthy bush, you can actually start your own with little more than a shovel and a hunk. Some of ours came to the farm this way; from old plantings of past addresses and friends who knew of my fetish for flowers. Beyond the ones I lovingly acquired from friends and family, the rest were purchased for cut flower production, bred for sturdy stems, showy, abundant blooms, and the most sought-after colors.  

When we purchase or relocate small divisions of peonies we plant them and then wait for three years before cutting a single bloom off the plant. Three years in peony time might as well be a decade. By not robbing the life cycle of the adolescent plant we can build long-term root growth making a much larger and more abundantly producing peony bush. The sacrifice in the first few years is worth the payoff, but boy, watching the young buds stay on the bush is flower farmer torture. 

Y’all know me. I’m a rule-breaker. When underage plants are blooming their socks off like the temptress they are, I usually find a few blooms that have been “naturally decapitated” and they end up in my house. I try really hard to leave our young bushes alone, but sometimes the fruit just proves too tempting.

This year that won’t happen because our plot of about 1500 plants (plus or minus a few) have all matured to harvestable age!  We couldn’t be more thrilled about finally getting our snips fired up in the peony patch. And of course, it’s the year that’s two weeks late!!!

So, we watch as the buds swell and multiply, and as the temperatures rise, the color begins to arrive. We squish the buds checking to see if they are close enough to snip. When the first one feels like a marshmallow with some give in the middle, we squeal because we know that not only is that one ready for harvest, but many many more will soon fall close behind.

Much like the neighboring poppies, we watch the peonies like a hawk. The spring temps and some strong sun will speed up the maturation process and flush the peonies into bloom. Every few hours we will have to walk this field. Crops like the peonies require more frequent monitoring, so I try to plant close to the main beehive, (the shop, my home, the coolers). If we are always passing by it frequently, we are more inclined to notice harvest-ready buds.

We dry store our peonies in our cooler laying them flat in cardboard boxes sorted by color. This is one of the only crops on the farm that we store dry in our cooler, and they provide a fun trick for the kids as they snip the ends and rehydrate the peony to watch it bloom. It’s a crop that we turn fast, so from the first bloom to the last bloom, it’s a dizzying 4 weeks at best.

The first bloom of the field was spotted and cut. She lives in my house this week, but I hope to send out a few more to live in yours very soon. Keep calm, it’s peony season!

- xoxo Jess

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