Dear Mrs. DeVault:
I ran across your column
on the internet a few weeks ago. It was exactly what
I was looking for. The one I read was titled “Becoming
a Flower Lady.” Well, I have been working at becoming
the flower lady for several years now in my hometown!
I love to garden, and have been looking for a way to
turn my favorite pastime into a small business. My husband
actually offered me half of his vegetable garden in
order to plant zinnias!
So I have begun (I’m
scared of failing, but excited, too). I would like to
start at our local farmers’ market. Could you
please tell me a little about pricing bouquets? I have
read anywhere between five and eight dollars depending
on size but I have only found this information on one
You’ve just asked the
question of the century! Pricing is difficult, and a
lot depends upon your location and the location of your
farmers’ market. Check prices in your local flower
shops and supermarkets, and see what other growers in
area farmers’ markets are getting. Check wholesale
price lists (on other websites and eventually on this
one, we hope) for a general idea, but realize that is
a low price.
Never undercut competition, or
sell yourself short. From what I’ve seen, $7 to
$10 is average for a nice-size bouquet. That’s
what I charge. Many growers (me
included) also make mini-bouquets for $3 or $4, or simpler
bouquets with just zinnia and cinnamon basil for $5
or $6. Bouquets with more unusual flowers, such as lisianthus,
can bring more.
Remember to include sales tax
when you do your figuring. And don’t cut prices
at the end of the market! If you have a few bouquets
left at the end of market, enjoy them yourself, give
them to a friend or nursing home. If you discount at
the end of the day, cheap people will wait for the cheap
stuff. And your hard work will be worth nothing.
little bit about Melanie
Melanie and husband George own a 19.2-acre certified
organic farm in Emmaus, PA, where they, with son Don
and daughter Ruth, have operated a modified CSA and
members-only home market stand, sold at Farmers’
Markets, to health food stores and restaurants. Melanie
specializes in specialty cut flowers. A former newspaper
reporter, she also is a freelance garden writer. She
is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower
- and selling!
Posted MAY 23, 2003: Most of my perennials
have grown a foot, even in the seemingly sun-less sky of early May
in Pennsylvania. The greenhouse is brimming with seedlings stretching
for my attention, and a place in the garden. Early annuals are perking
up. Others are under row cover (that is fighting the wind, sometimes
unsuccessfully. Sound familiar?) -- and questions are coming my
way already about selling bouquets, selling at Farmers’ Markets,
pricing and what flower goes with what. Everyone, it seems, is thinking
summer. All right!
Think ahead, because how you maintain, cut and care for your specialty
cut flowers IS EVERYTHING. Have you seen vendors trying to make
a quick buck by adding buckets of flowers to their vegetable stand
-- flowers they quickly cut and throw in a bucket with leaves on
the stem to the bottom, some with powdery mildew? (Cringe here).
Half of the flowers are well past their prime. (Cringe again). They’ll
last for the unsuspecting customer about three and a half minutes,
and the customer will think all flower growers are hucksters. Sigh.
Proper post-harvest handling of flowers is crucial. There are some
great reference books (Lynn Byczynski’s “The Flower
Farmer” and Frank and Pamela Arnosky’s “We’re
Gonna Be Rich!” are two of my favorites) with basic post-harvest
information. The standard varieties deserve a spot in the brain.
But with so many song lyrics clogging that same brain, who has time
to remember specifics on every variety when you can easily look
up the information??? Both Johnny’s
Selected Seeds catalog and Germania
have harvest information. Also,
The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers’ quarterly
magazine offers the latest research that includes flower longevity
The research is
pretty technical stuff that obviously helps the big grower. You
can glean some tips, particularly if you use floral preservative.
But don’t let the fancy wording and chemical treatments and
temperature restrictions scare you.
Since we at Pheasant Hill Farm are certified organic, we follow
through with organic standards for flowers, too. That means no preservative,
according to our certification director at NOFA-NJ. Many experts
say you can’t be a cut flower grower without preservative.
When I told one such expert grower I did just fine with water, she
commented, “You must have good water!” (Hard, or alkaline
water doesn’t move up the flower stem easily, so if you have
a problem in your area with wilting flowers in tap water, a preservative
may be necessary.) We have well water which we get tested every
year. Many of our certified organic friends also grow flowers using
plain tap water -- in different states -- and have no problem.
Our customers at
the farmers’ markets we’ve sold at nearly always tell
us, “Most of my flowers from last week are still nice, but
I have to have some more...” If you choose long-lasting varieties,
and tell your customers to keep their vase as clean as their coffee
cup, changing the water every or every other day, the flowers last
very well. Our customers are happy to have their bouquets last a
week. They say they pull out the statice and strawflowers and such
and keep them in smaller vases for two or three weeks. Quite honestly,
we WANT them to buy a fresh bouquet every week at the farmers’
market. (Selling to florists or wholesale is a different ballgame).
So we don’t need to add hydrating solution or floral preservative
to possibly add two or three days of shelf life.
Rules of the road for . . .
flower beds -- Keep your flower beds weeded from
the beginning and then, with a quick hoe, they won’t be overrun
by weeds. Give them enough water, especially at critical, early
stages. Drip irrigation is much better for many varieties, especially
zinnias, which attract powdery mildew like a magnet. Fabric netting
should be checked to make sure it’s keeping stems erect.
Cutting flowers --
As a general rule, cut just when blooms begin to open. Germania’s
catalog has good specific harvest information, but you quickly learn
what works. (Harvest information for the specific varieties we’ve
been highlighting are listed below).
-- Strip any foliage that will be under water in a vase. Remove
the bottom leaves from the flower stem quickly, in one fast sweeping
motion. I’ve had helpers who try to pull off one leaf at a
time, and it’s just not practical -- or cost effective. Practice.
Don’t hold the stem too tightly, just grasp firmly and pull
down on the stem gently but quickly with the other hand. Lynn Byczynski
recommends cutting the fingers off a pair of rubber household gloves
and covering the fingers that get all the friction. I keep meaning
to try that, but I have to admit I have a hard time using gloves
(which is why my index finger and thumb are a mess from May to October).
-- Cut flowers in the morning or evening, not in the heat of the
day. Cut, strip the foliage from lower part of stem, and get the
flower into a CLEAN bucket of room temperature water. Woody stemmed
plants, like Buddleia and plants that ooze sap, like Asclepias,
should be cut and placed in hot water. I just let the plants sit
in the hot tap water until it comes to room temperature, and place
in our cooler. Most importantly, when a bucket or two are filled
in the field, move them to a shady spot out of the sunlight.
Cleaning -- Water
is the name of the game. If it has been raining and soil has splashed
up on the stem and leaves and the water bucket from the field is
filled with dirty water, put the flowers in clean water when you
move them to the shade. Dirty water increases bacteria which will
make the flowers wilt.
Keeping ‘em cool!
-- Even cutting flowers in mid morning, you need to get the field
heat out! Setting the flowers in a shaded shed or porch, or basement,
will usually keep them fine for a short amount of time. An air conditioned
house is even better. As your business grows, a refrigerator that
can cool to 34°F (best temp for most flowers) or a cooler can
enable you to store flowers a little longer. (Be aware that some
flowers, like zinnias, do not like to be cooled.) If I cut flowers
in the morning, they all get set in the garage or shed for an hour
or so. I put sunflowers and some others in our vegetable cooler.
All the books will tell you not to do that because of ethylene sensitivity.
I haven’t had a problem. But several varieties of flowers,
including Achillea, Antirrhinum (snapdragon), Campanula, Celosia,
Gypsophila and a few others are very ethylene-sensitive.
Transport -- We take
our flowers to market in the back of my station wagon or my husband’s
pickup, with a cover. They won’t transport well in the back
of an open pickup. The wind will do them in. We made the mistake
of buying a used van for our veggie operation years ago. The extra
cost for insurance and a zillion repairs did not prove wise for
us, as small growers.
our favorites, here are our harvesting instructions
for some top picks:
SUNFLOWERS (Helianthus annuus)
Standard varieties are best cut when petals just begin
to lift from the centers. Not only do they last a long
time this way, the bugs won’t eat the petals.
Double varieties should be cut when several layers begin
to lift from the centers. Sunflowers last one to two
weeks and do well in preservative.
ZINNIA (Zinnia elegans)
Harvest when flowers are fully opened.
If you like floral preservative, use it. They do not
like to be put in the cooler! We keep zinnias, and bouquets
with zinnias in them, in the air conditioning. They
should last a week.
BLUE HORIZON AGERATUM,
Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum)
Harvest when flowers are just opening to fully open
. Vase life, 7-10 days. Dries nicely.
Cut when most of the individual flowers on a stem are
opening and showing color. (Perennial statice should
be cut when at least 75 percent of flowers on a stem
are open.) These are great in bouquets, because customers
will tell you “some of the flowers are STILL looking
good, and it’s been 3 weeks!” They love
it, and it makes you look good. Dries well.
plumosa feathery types and Celosia cristata
Harvest when flowers are 90 to 100 percent developed
-- but before the little florets at the base look old
and straw-like. Crested celosia will start to bend and
bleach out if left too long. I let a nice stand of Flamingo
Feather go too long one year, and lost the whole patch.
Lasts up to 3 weeks and likes preservative.
Harvest from the time stems begin to flower and half
blooms on that spike are open, to fully flowered stems.