germination

Last week I started my first round of seeds for the year and everything is germinating beautifully. Stock, snap, eucalyptus, sweet peas, poppies, bells are all looking good. Stock always germinates so quickly, I think it was only a couple of days in the germination chamber and then under lights.

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And then almost a week later it is actually looking like a tray full of baby plants! These will go into the hoop house, I am hoping in about 5 weeks. We’ll see how much snow is still piled up in front of the doors.

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Also last week I planted my ranunculus tubers after a week and half of cold treatment. This will be the second time I have tried ranunculus and I am hoping for better results than last year. They require a long growing period before they flower but when it gets too hot (like June) they start to shut down. So the hoop house is really going to help me out with this one. I hope.  Again I am shooting for about four or five weeks and these guys will be headed out into the hoop as well. They have already started to lift the soil that they are planted in, which means there are glorious green shoots under there and they are about to emerge.

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Now that my germination chamber is nearly empty (still a couple of pokey guys in there) I have room to start some more. On the schedule for this week godetia, nigella, and scabiosa.  In a couple of days I am going to have to buy more lights for this operation since I am running out of room. In the past I have never had a need to start so many plants this early in the year but the addition of those hoop houses has has me thinking spring. Have I mentioned my excitement about the hoop houses….

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the seeds

I started my first round of seeds today, it felt good and productive. Usually I start during the last week of January and keep my fingers crossed for at least a few nice days in March so that I can get a small cold frame up and start to move stuff out of the basement. The addition of our hoop houses last fall is helping to alleviate some my anxiety in that regard. This first round of seedlings will get planted into my new hoop house, which is sooo exciting. Not only will I have flowers earlier but I will have more room in my basement to get more plants started for later.

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This is my new germination chamber, it holds 16 flats and right now they are all 72 cell. These guys are going to be in the basement for a while and will need room for their roots to grow. Seeding at this time of year is a definite balancing act. It is possible to start things too soon and have stressed out plants in the spring. First on my list are always cool weather loving plants that can tolerate a light frost and are generally slow growers. We are not technically frost free until the first week of May and I need to get out plants way before that if I want flowers in June. I have planted out to the field snapdragons, stock, godetia, bells of Ireland, campanulas, scabiosa, and sweet peas as early as mid-March if the soil is ready to be worked. Some of these varieties were on my seeding list for this week and some will get started next week. It’s a bit of a gamble, but when you make your money selling flowers you get used to taking chances with the weather. This year with the addition of the hoop houses some of my anxiety in that regard has been alleviated as well.

crop planning

Right now I am up to my neck in crop planning for the year. In an ideal world I would have had this done by the end of last year so I could work a little less hard this month but…. well it didn’t happen. We bought a house (no not a farm) and are busy building a new germination chamber and grow room in the basement. Yay! So in the hopes that this fancy new grow room will be functional come Monday morning, I am scrambling to figure what I am going to plant first. Here’s my process….

1. Figure out who my customers are and when they need flowers. Well that might be a topic for another day, but the short story is that I need to squeeze as many flowers out of my operation as possible for the longest possible time frame. I am particularly interested in having more variety early (April, May) and late (October, November). These parts of the season take a bit of risk and creativity. The addition of my hoop houses last fall should help.

2. I already ordered my seeds based on what worked well in the past and what I wanted to add this year. I made a list of all these seeds and how many I have and separated them into annuals and perennials. The annuals I separated one more time into plants that will be direct seeded into the field and those that I will need to start plugs for. Since the plug production is allegedly starting Monday I am working on that part first. Annuals are first on my list since most of the perennials aren’t going to produce much this year anyway.

3. I take that seed list of annuals that I created and go down the list writing in potential seed dates with the corresponding flower dates. Some, like snaps and sunflowers are going to have 8 different sow dates, others like gomphrena and kale will only have 1.

4. Then I go through that list of all the possibilities and start fitting them into my field map. I have sort of a small field so I know that not everything will fit. I begin to look for things that I know are not going to work well for me based on past experiences and cut them out. Things with multiple sowings get looked at to see if I can tweak the dates and turn 4 sowings into 3 with out much interruption in the flow of flowers.

5. Now I am going to look at that field map (which is a ridiculous mess and doesn’t make sense to anyone except for me) and group flowers together by flower date. With only 12 beds dedicated to annual plugs I am going to have to double crop as many of them as possible. I am hoping for 6 beds to be done flowering and tilled up in time to get another later group of flowers in that same bed. Which is sort of like having 18 beds to work with. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

6. I have the list of possibilities and the tentative field map and I start to make spreadsheet for every sowing of every variety with: variety, seed date, plant out date, flower date.

7. Lastly, I will take that spreadsheet and make a new field map. Double checking that I got everything on the map that is in my seeding plan and adjusting quantities based on how much I am trying to squeeze into each bed. Then I will repeat a simplified version of this process for the direct seed items. I have additional room for those. Lots of room actually but there is no water access in that part of the farm so I am limited to only directly seeded flowers.

I know that it will not all work out exactly like I have planned. I will forget to water some flats and plants will die, or the germination will be bad for some things, or the weather will not cooperate. Lots can and will go wrong but this makes it a lot easier in the middle of the summer when I am feeling overwhelmed and there is still planting to be done if I want fall blooms.

goodbye 2013

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2013 was sort of a crazy year and I am sort of happy it is over. I had started this blog because I wanted to keep a record of my growing business but things got really out of control and it just didn’t happen. I felt like I was behind form the beginning. Partly due to the weather, partly due to my own lack of planning, and partly due to some personal things. Ah yes, those personal matters. One of the joys of being self employed, shit happens and you still have to show up for work.

Last year was by far my best year, as far as sales go. I can actually see that there is a possibility to make this a career. BUT it was a lot of work, and I mean a lot! We are talking 12-15 hour days for most of the summer. Sundays were usually only a half a day. Maybe only five actual days off from May through October. It was long and exhausting. No, that was not all spent in the field, probably less than half of it. Most of it was in answering emails, sending out quotes and invoices, meeting with clients, making bouquets, delivering those bouquets, ordering plants, paying bills…. The list goes on.

I learned a lot about myself and my business last year and I am going to attempt to recover some of that over the next month or so, before it has all become too distant of a memory.