2014 was year number seven for me as a business owner and cut flower grower. It was not like I had hoped it would be. None of these years were as I had hoped that they would be. I have heard that year seven really is where things start to get easier. I have also heard (usually in a more hushed tone) that year seven is where a lot of businesses loose momentum. That was me last year, lost momentum and I did not seeing it coming. Though I probably should have realized that since I had already been stretched to my limit the year before, there would not be room for more stretching.
I should have hired help at the beginning of the season but I did not. By the time I realized that I would have to turn away business because I physically could not handle anymore, it was too late. There was no time for finding or training an employee and by the end of July I was exhausted. As in what am I doing with my life, I could work at Starbucks and be a lot happier. Well we all know that’s not really the truth but I was seriously fed up with my situation. For the first time since I started my business, it did not grow from the previous year. It stayed the same. It would have made me panic had I not been so exhausted, I sort of felt defeated. I love to grow but I don’t love the heat and humidity of July, I don’t love sunburns or bug bits. I don’t love my 45 minute drive to and from the farm. I especially don’t love not earning a living wage. I mean a girl has got to eat!
You know what does pay a decent wage for me? The design work. Which I like. I really like it a lot. I don’t much care for all of the office work that comes with it but you have to pick your battles. So that was it. I had decided to quit growing flowers and just be a designer. That’s right, it was August and I knew I could not continue to live my life this way. I was done.
So that was that, the decision had been made…. But if I was going to be a designer a whole lot of peonies sure would come in handy. And if I’m going out there to tend to my peonies I may as well plant some iris. And I do love ferns. And I did have a bunch of hydrangeas out there already. And I could plant a prairie…. This situation really snowballed on me. In September, less than a month after I had decided to stop growing, I had spent $5000 dollar on plants and shade structures. It was at this point that I realized maybe I needed a 12 step program.
I put in a lot of perennials and I put them in landscape fabric. I ordered some more for this year (plants and landscape fabric.) By the end of this spring I should have about half of my field in landscape fabric with perennials and woodies. This was the plan that I had started the year before and it was still a good plan, I just need some help in executing it. Also I need to make some money in the off season.
So clearly the solution to my problems was not going to be quit growing flowers. I decided that the solution to my problem was going to be to start another business… hmmm… and I better hire a couple of helpers. Yes that was the choice, to separate the farm and the weddings into two different brands. My hope is that this will have a huge impact on my marketing and my identity as a designer. Stay tuned… big things are coming this way!
Last year we bought a house, really it was 2013 but right at the end of the year. So we had the task of building a new cooler last spring and someone suggested I write a blog post about. Well here it is and I am going to apologize for the fact that it is not a very riveting story.
Here is why I love my Coolbot cooler and intend to build another one… it’s way cheaper than a regular walk in. A friend of mine is a florist and she just had a new walk in cooler installed. She went with the typical rooftop unit type, the electrical work and cooling unit alone cost her somewhere in the neighborhood of $7-8000. A Coolbot and a window air conditioner cost about $700-1200 depending on your taste in air conditioners. I know there are people out there who say that these things are not the correct humidity for flowers. Perhaps that is true. I have been using this type of cooler for 5 years and haven’t had any issues. I usually keep a bucket of water in there and if I am concerned about a particular item getting a little dry I cover it loosely with a plastic bag.
Her are my instructions for how to build a Coolbot cooler:
- Go to the website http://www.storeitcold.com/coolerconstruction.html
- Read the info on their website regarding what type of AC unit to buy.
- Read through their info on how to insulate properly.
- Follow their plans and instructions to build your own cooler. Seriously they have thought of everything. If you run into problems go back to the website, I’m sure the answer is there. If not, give them a call and they will help you!
- Gather all of your supplies, find a handy person, and get to work. Someone who is familiar with a hammer and 2×4’s is necessary for this step.
framed up room and pre-hung door
my handy guy being handy
insulation done on the outside
AC unit in, still needs pink foam board to cover the inside coolbot will get mounted next to the ac unit
A couple other bits of advice: Make it the right size for your situation. Bigger is usually better, unless you want to fit your car into the garage… in which case measure your car before you start to build. Also don’t leave untreated/unpainted wood in there for shelves and what not. It will absorb moisture and get a little moldy. Also cover the floor with something you can mop. Happy building!
Project total about $1000 for 4×8 cooler box (not including the ac unit and coolbot):
- $550 for the double layer of 2in pink board
- $150 for lumber
- $200 for the door
- $100 for hardware and spray foam
It sure has been a while since I updated this blog. Last year was a long and busy one, I had little time for reflecting until about September by which time I was unhappy with a whole lot of things which I was reflecting about. I did very nearly decide to quit growing flowers as a profession. I have been sorting it all out over the last few months and I will be making some big changes to my business, and thus my life, this coming year.
In short I did not decide to quit growing flowers but I did decide to scale it back a little. And by scale it back I mean that I will be growing more this year than I did last year. You see I still have some more sorting to do. Or maybe I am just slow to learn my lessons. My plan is to hire some help and get my personal life back to some degree. So here is what is currently happening:
I have got lots of baby plants growing in my basement getting ready for the spring. Hopefully spring will arrive in a timely fashion this year. These are all about three weeks old, some are so small and slow, I should just order plugs and save myself the trouble. Things like eucalyptus, poppies, campanula. But then I look at the price of the plugs and say I can do it myself. Well now my grow room is nearly full and I need to start another 15 flats next week.
It finally rained last night and a whole lot today too. They kept on saying it was going to rain last week and it really didn’t, which sort of caused me to fall behind in my office work. So I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it started to come down last night. Not only is it giving me a day to catch up with inside work but it has been couple of weeks since we got any measurable rain at the farm and the ground was starting to dry up. I have transplanted so many things in the last couple of weeks and a good soaking is just what they need. What have I been planting you ask. The list is long: lisianthus, snaps, stock, bells bupleurum, sweet peas, dusty miller, campanulas, grasses, dianthus, scabiosa, and more stuff I can’t think of right now.
It finally got warm last week and so many perennials and shrubs are coming up and leafing out. There will be a lot happening in a couple of weeks, inside the hoops and out in the garden. Right now I have anemones and ranunculus in the hoop and fritillaries, narcissus, and tulips outside.
The to do list seems endless right now. There are still so many transplants to get in the ground, more seeds to start so I’ll have flowers late in the summer, irrigation lines to set up, weeding to do (yes, so much weeding), and my first wedding of the year is on Friday. Yikes! At least Mother Nature took care of the watering for me today.
April is one of my busiest months as a flower grower and, as it is in it’s final days this year, I am thinking about all of the things that should be done by now but are not. Not entirely my fault, most of it can be chalked up to the weather. We have been on a roller coaster ride for the last few years so I think I am over the anxiety that it causes (mostly over it.) By now I would like to have a whole lot of annuals planted out. I did get a couple of beds in last week: snaps, stock, sweet peas, bells, calendula, but there are about 20 more flats sitting out there waiting for the ground to dry up a bit so I can till and plant.
I have also been ordering, paying for, and receiving stuff. You know the type of stuff you know that you need but you don’t really have the money to pay for it because it’s only April, but you need it if you want to have a productive season. Stuff like plants, bulbs, shade cloth, landscape fabric, cover cop seeds, market booth fees, a new market table, gas to get to the farm…. It’s enough to give a girl a headache. I try to keep my attentions pointed in the near future and resolve that this fall I will save more money so that I can make it through the long and expensive spring. It is hard to do when you need so many things to run a profitable business, sometimes it’s hard to draw the line. But look at what I got last week, a bunch of bare root stuff. Probably won’t pay for itself this year but hopefully next year I will have at least recovered most of their expense.
And I am still starting seeds, both annuals and perennials. The annual seeding schedule starts to lighten up a bit in the basement and moves into more direct seeding as the weather warms, assuming that it will warm! On my list now are more heat loving plants: celosias, marigolds, gomphrena, grasses, as well as more successions of scabiosa, and snaps. On top of all the actual work of growing the flowers April is a big month for marketing and beginning to sell these flowers. I can grow as much as my heart desires but unless someone actually pays me for them, well, I don’t eat. Tulips and anemones are blooming in the hoop. Ranunculus, stock, snaps and poppies are getting buds set. Mother’s day is coming, people have weddings on their mind, and I almost always feel like I am forgetting something. And that is the madness that is April, every year. It brings new life and excitement along with long work days which are scheduled around the unpredictable weather.
What is going on out there these days? That is what everybody wants to know. It has been a long and cold winter and all of the plants seem to be sleeping in this spring. I can’t really blame them, it is snowing again right now. The weather had been nice and warm for a few days, then rain and now snow. It will warm up later this week and I think that a lot of plants are going to be in a hurry to get up and do their thing. Already I have iris, narcissi, tulips, lady’s mantel, dianthus starting to poke up out of the ground. Lilac and viburnum buds are beginning to swell and I saw a couple of witch hazel flowers starting to open. I think that spring is actually here. I am so happy that we got those hoop houses up last year. Even though spring is late I still have tulips ready to go for Easter.
We planted all of the new hops yesterday in the rain. I think that there are 20 different varieties now. Yikes!
I’m going to start field planting annuals late this week, not too far off schedule despite the slow start. Last week I planted a ton of alliums that I got a good deal on, since it’s spring and my supplier was hot to get rid of them. Mention bulbs on sale to me and I loose my mind. No self-control whatsoever. Another round of lisianthus just showed up as well as some scented geraniums and succulents. Oooh my basement is over flowing with all kinds of good stuff.
Seriously overflowing, I have flats on the floor. Not a great pic but you get the idea. Most of it can get moved to the hoop after tomorrow night’s return to frigid temps. And I am going to fill that germination chamber up with annuals one more time this week, then it’s on to the the perennial project.
This week I feel like spring is actually going to happen. The rhubarb and daffodils are coming up outside and almost all of the snow has melted. I can finally a run a hose over to the hoop houses and get some serious watering done! This part along the back is where Nich’s hops are planted and it had the deepest snow cover as it backs up to a giant empty corn field.
And another sign of spring: tulips in the hoop! SO exciting. I really had been hoping that we would have a normal spring so I could be selling these things by now. I could use the money, April gets a little rough in the financial arena for me. All of my needs for spring are getting purchased with little in the way of income. It makes me anxious.
I have gotten most of the planting done in the hoop houses and I am mostly caught up on my seeding schedule. I have another big round this week then I can start to focus on the perennials that have been patiently waiting in my fridge. I am not sure where I am going to plant some of these but it seemed like a great idea during that LONG winter we just endured. Seriously! It was the longest, coldest, snowiest winter of my life. This is not me over exaggerating, these are facts.
Around here we learned that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. Well if they are still teaching kids that today I’ll bet that they are confused. I had to go out and cover up all of my little plants in the hoop house. Come on, it is the end of March! I should not have to cover up cold tolerant annuals inside of a hoop. Forecasted lows in the single digits got me scared and out I went to cover those babies up. And yes I am still watering with melted snow in buckets, though they were mostly frozen this morning.
Also on my schedule for today was to catch up with my seeding plan, which I mostly did. I’m feeling pretty darn good about that. There are few items that I have just decided to skip for one reason or another. And I have had to modify some of my plans since it looks like I probably won’t be planting out in the field for at least three more weeks (probably more). I had it on my schedule to start seeding into my paper chain transplanting system but that requires the ground to be in good shape (not too wet, not too dry) and most of what I am planning to plant probably shouldn’t sit in those trays for more than four weeks. The one exception is my lisianthus. Not seeds, transplants, only crazy people start seeds. I fill up that flat very loosely with my potting mix and then I just smoosh the little plants on top. The cell size is about the same as the flats that they arrive in but a little deeper and way easier to plant out afterward. And that is my favorite reason for having this fancy little system.
Last week was a busy one for around here. The weather finally seems to be less of an issue so I started planting in the hoop house. Anemones, ranunculus, with sweet peas down the middle of the bed. Snaps, stock, and godetia in another bed. And those are buckets of snow melting so that I can water everything since the water source is located 300 feet away over at the house and there are still crazy snow drifts between here and there.
I picked up some willow cuttings and they look great. I am super excited about these guys. When I got home there was a box of lisianthus plugs and a box of dahlia tubers waiting for me. More exciting stuff! The willows I stuck in a bucket of water for now and the lissies I set aside to deal with later. The dahlias I had order because I lost all of mine from last year. I tried that plastic wrap method and it did not work for me. I had a moldy box of plastic and grossness. I tossed the whole thing and ordered new stuff.
The dahlias I potted up into some cow pots and I will take cuttings after they sprout. Since I had to start over with the dahlias I decided that it would be cost effective to propagate through cuttings this year. Of course I have never this before but I am really banking on it working since I only order about 40 dahlia tubers.
On my list for the rest of this week is more planting out into the hoop and starting lots more seeds. I am about three weeks behind. Some stuff I am just going to skip but I will try to catch up as much as possible. I should be mostly caught up by the end of next week. Then I can move on to the perennials and prairie seeds that I am going to start.
2013, year six, was last year. I have said a lot about last year already but there are a few things that I have not said.
Last year I decided that it would be a minimum of three years (probably more like 5-7) before we can afford a farm. That is still the end goal in all of this. We had started the farm search with some limiting criteria: size, price, proximity to Milwaukee, condition of house and buildings. The criteria got looser and looser until we were looking at farms an hour away that would need 50k of work just to make them livable. I do have some long term plans sort of sketched out in my head. But for now I am committed to 3-7 years in my current situation, which has relieved a lot of stress and allowed me to move forward instead of constantly waiting.
I did get an FSA micro loan to help out with some infrastructure last fall. Let me correct that statement. I applied for the loan last fall and then with the government shut down things moved very slowly. It was supposed to be an easier process than the full on FSA loan but I found it to be tedious and redundant. I did get my money in December, $10 000. I had already purchased all of the stuff I needed with my credit card as winter was on it’s way and it’s hard to dig holes and stretch plastic in the snow.
I do not feel like it is a sustainable business model for a person to grow all of their own flowers and do wedding work. It is like having two full time jobs but this is what I need to do now to make things better for the future. I like wedding work but that is not why I started this business, there will come a day when I have to decide between being a floral designer and a flower grower. I hope that I have a few years because I am not ready to make that decision yet.
I think I made some really good decisions last year about how best to move forward in future years. I had previously been all about the year I was in. I started thinking more long term which made it a really hectic year. I wanted to get stuff in place, I was tired of waiting, I was tired of not making money. I have some more work do but I am finally starting to feel comfortable with my business. I know what my limitations are and I have learned to work with them. It has been a long and difficult journey at times but I really feel like it is going to start getting easier.