SPECIALTY CUT FLOWER CORNER: For the beginning grower

Spring Harvest: Planning now for next year's early bloomers
Column 11: Most northern growers are chomping at the bit to get back out in the dirt (yes, we are all certifiably nuts). But if you take this lull in the schedule to do some planning for next spring, you can satisfy everyone's cabin fever with extra early bouquets and baskets.

By Melanie DeVault

A 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 Growers.



I’ll be happy to anwer them! E-mail me at devault@fast.net

Or contact The New Farm Team.

January 30, 2004: By now, just about everyone in *cold country* is at least thinking spring (while we slip on ice and shovel snow). Ah, spring -- a time to dig out the seed packets, prepare the soil and start getting our hands in the potting mix, yet again. Last column, we got started on a seasonal harvest roll with information on how to keep the cash box ringing into the winter months. So while you're charting the seeding schedule on your calendar (click here for more from Mel on charting), we'll talk about how you can plan now for an extra early spring harvest next year.

Extending the season to include a spring harvest is a great way for the flower grower to get the cash flowing. Come spring, everyone is REALLY ready to see fresh cut flowers (we growers included!) and, there are many people out there who want to buy that little bit of sunshine and happiness that flowers have to offer. Many farmers’ markets are starting earlier in the season and fresh cut, home-grown flowers are a welcomed sight. Florists want them, as do many stores. After all, following flower-crazy Valentine’s Day, we have St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, graduations -- so many reasons to celebrate with flowers.

It’s time to think ahead now, because having a good variety of flowers in spring means ordering ahead, sowing seeds in summer and planting in fall. Have a hoophouse up yet? That’s great for spring flowers. You can make use of woodies and perennials, of course, and plant seeds (or order plugs) early and plant some varieties under row cover (reemay) to get late spring crops, too.

Last summer, one of our farmers’ markets started May 1, and another mid-July. Our on-farm market started the beginning of June, and I did a wedding in early June. A health food store said customers were asking for bouquets by the beginning of May. I had to have lots of early flowers but it was a terrible, lousy, wet year for everything. I didn’t have enough. Perennials saved me.

I made bouquets of Euphorbia (there are great varieties for early spring and late spring); Aquilegia (columbine); Alchemilla (Lady’s-Mantle), Chrysanthemum parthenium (feverfew); Dianthus (Sweet William), Shasta daisies and Achillea (yarrow) -- with some early snapdragons, stock and statice. While many larger growers treat several varieties of perennials as annuals -- even Shasta daisy -- mine, and those of my flower partner, usually do well for several years (depends on the severity of the winter). I always start a new patch of yarrow, and cut from both old and new each year.

Getting started with perrenials

Many perennials can be started more or less painlessly from seed -- and plugs are available from a variety of sources (if you are not certified organic).

According to Bob Wollam, who gave a presentation to our regional group from The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, the following varieites are best sown in flats (June to August) and then planted (August to October): Dianthus “electron” and “neon duo”; Achillia “Colorado” (my favorite) and other types; Hesperis (sweet rocket); and Rudbeckia “Indian Summer" and “Prairie Sun” -- a BIG hit at our markets. Bed preparation should be done in August -- raised beds covered with black plastic -- and these varieties should be planted in four rows on 36-inch beds with 9-inch spacing.

It’s really kind of a nice change in summer to be seeding a few flats in the greenhouse, since most time is taken weeding and cutting at that time of year.

For direct sowing in summer/fall for spring harvest, Bob recommends: Larkspur, Nigella (another big hit at our markets); bupleurum; Poppy Somniferum; Silene armeria, and Centaurea (bachelor’s button). Sow from August to October (the end of August is great) using an Earthway seeder or hand throw. Space normally in three rows on 42-inch beds).

There are many other options that make great bouquet material,
including: Myrrhis Odorata (Sweet cicely) for light, feathery foliage; Dicentra (Bleeding heart)); Polygonatum (Solomon’s seal); Viburnum burkwoodii. And don’t forget lilacs and peonies (don’t leave them out of water after picking and keep water clean). I mixed lilacs with apple blossoms for table displays last year at market and customers nearly fought over purchasing them. “I know they won’t last forever, but they smell so good, and they mean spring to me!” one customer said.

Bulbs for spring blooms

Bulbs are yet another major choice for spring harvest. Tulips do well in raised beds, the soil amended with compost and bone meal. Order in early July (Number 1 bulbs, French type) and plant closely in October. Cover with 6 inches of topsoil and rake. They'll be ready for harvest in April. Can’t get them planted by October? Some growers advise just be sure you get them planted before the ground freezes.

To get extra stem length, treat them like annuals and pull them. Big growers do, because you can get an extra 6 inches. After all, the critters and weather will get so many of them after the first year, they’ll be spotty and take up valuable space. Cut when they’re barely showing color and store in the cooler.

Daffodils are good -- just remember to keep them separate from your other flowers for for 24 hours post-harvest. Daffodils release poisons that will kill your other blooms. Dutch iris can be planted closely in November or December or as long as the ground is not frozen. Plant in 4 rows, 2 inches between bulbs. You can stagger planting by one week from the last of October to the end of December for a succession of great cuts.

Hoophouse flowers

How about planting plugs and bulbs in your coldframe or hoophouse? Bob Wollam recommends preparing your beds in October/November and planting in November/December for Icelandic poppies, freesia, ranunculus and anemone.

In her Hoophouse Handbook, Lynn Byczynski recommends planting anemone coronaria in early fall for early spring blooms; bupleurum, nigella, bells of Ireland, agrostemma and bachelor’s button direct seeded in fall in unheated hoops to bloom two weeks before field crops; and delphinium planted as plugs in fall for mid-spring blooms. Snapdragons planted in fall carry through to spring; stock and sweet peas are possibilities. Find out lots more from her handbook (available through Growing for Market, www.growingformarket.com).

If you have a small greenhouse, like our double poly 21-foot by 32-footer that’s heated minimally with a Modine heater, you can also do hanging baskets for Mother’s Day and other spring occasions, too. Hanging from the crossbars, they don’t take up excess space.

Next: Summer Harvest