SPECIALTY CUT FLOWER CORNER: For the beginning grower

A flowering of questions
How to price
Preserving organic flowers
Help...do I need a permit to sell?

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 and let me know who you are an where you're growing.

June 2, 2004: Lots of questions are coming in via e-mail, everything from how to price flowers to how to preserve them, so I'd like ot share my answers to some of the most popular topics!

Pricing Flowers

Kelly writes: Well I have been enjoying your column for 2 years now. I have never had a real good question I wanted to ask you until today. So here goes. This is also my second year of growing cut flowers, after thinking about it for 3 years I finally took the plunge. I started out small. Actually too small as I sold everything I had and wished I had more. But that’s how ya learn. Anyway my field has expanded 3 or 4 fold. I have customers to buy, but how should I go about pricing? This has been relatively easy last year. I sold all bouquets and priced them at $5 and $7 for mixed. This year I have a customer that is interested in purchasing one type of flower only. She is a florist. How would you go about pricing different types? Like zinnias and sunflowers?

Mel says: The USDA’s Market News Service has wholesale flower prices, issued on Tuesday and Friday -- www.ams.usda.gov. (Go to Market News, then Fruits, Vegetables and Ornamental Crops. Or you can go through Growing for Market’s ‘Favorite Links’ page at www.growingformarket.com.)

Remember, this is wholesale prices and it’s only a guide. But it gives you a good clue to what’s hot and what’s scarce, and a general figure. The May 11 Boston Ornamental Terminal prices, for example, showed that offerings were light for bupleurum and hydrangea and delphinium, and the market higher for godetia and lisianthus, and steady for sunflowers with prices varying for large, medium and small head varieties. Price listed for medium head varieties, long stem, was $5.50-6.50 for bunched 10s. We got $8 from our local florist. The florist paid $5.50 per bunch of 10 dianthus. Many local florists like dealing with local growers because they know the product is fresher, the smell won’t be lost in shipping and some flowers (like zinnias) don’t ship well. Two florists we’ve dealt with have been great (and very fair) in helping with pricing items we aren’t sure about, too. Remember, also, that florists like long stems, even though they usually cut most of the stem off).

If you sell straight bunches -- one variety of flower in a bunch (terminal prices tell you the number in a bunch) -- at a farmers’ market, the price should be higher than the wholesale price! If your flowers are selling too quickly, ask yourself if you are charging enough for them. (Don’t forget to figure in sales tax as part of your price, if applicable in your state.) Check local prices in grocery stores, floral shops and at other area farmers’ markets to see what people are getting in your neck of the woods. Don’t give your flowers away. You worked hard to grow them!

Floral Preservative

Jennifer asks: What do you use for floral preservative since you’re certified organic? I asked the man who certified the farm where I’m growing and he said there aren’t any available to organic growers as far as he knows.

Mel says: Our certifier, NOFA-NJ, told me last year if common floral preservative is used (and florists often have Floralife incorporated in a tap in their shop) the flowers can’t be sold as ‘organic.’ BUT -- there is a product called Vita Flora (www.vitaproducts.com or phone 1-800-874-1452) which has a hydrating-conditioning solution for fresh cut flowers and nutrient solution and more, and literature says the product is USDA National Organic Program Compliant. (Always check the most current OMRI list or check with your certifier to make certain a specific product is allowable.) I double checked with Erich Bremer, our certification administrator at NOFA, and he was kind enough to call the company. He found that Vita Flora is certified with an accredited California certifier. He said he, and many other certifiers, just like to double check ingredients.

I haven’t tried Vita Flora yet, but I will. The hydrating solution is said to open and unclog dirt and bacteria in vascular bundles of flower stems to allow uptake of floral nutrients. The product is said to prevent bent-neck and extend vase life. Vita Flora 2000 nutrient solution allows for uptake of nutrients and is used in arrangement vases.

As I’ve said before, plain old water has served me well at Pheasant Hill Farm in Emmaus, PA. But I’ve been told we have good water! Most experts say you need floral preservative. Our farmers’ market customers have always said their flowers last into the second week and beyond. (And we want them to buy more, right?) We tell customers to change the water every other day to prevent bacteria buildup, or to use the homespun flower food formula: Add 1 teaspoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and one crushed aspirin tablet to 24 ounces of water.

When my flower partner and I sell flowers under ‘The Flower Ladies’ at our local farmers’ market, we sell our flowers as ‘sustainable’ and tell customers via display information how we grow the flowers, from seed starting in organic potting mix to post harvest handling. Since Linda’s property is not certified organic, although she doesn’t use chemicals, and occasionally uses a hydrating solution, and since we combine flowers, we can’t use the organic label.

A lot of research has been done on each flower variety as to whether floral preservative is benefical. The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers offers the latest information in their Cut Flower Quarterly.

Permits for flowers?

Bonnie asks: What kind of permit would I need to grow and sell cut flowers at farm markets and my home?

Mel says: That varies from state to state, and municipality to municipality -- and farmers’ market to farmers’ market! To find out regulations for a farmers’ market of your choosing, get the name of the market manager or a farmer in the market and ask if they are taking new members. Some markets charge a fee for the year, some a weekly fee. Most have a list of rules for you. To sell from your home, check with your local zoning officer for specifics on the zoning of your farm or residence. We are zoned rural agricultural and selling farm products from our farm is an allowed use here in Pennsylvania. If your zoning does not allow sales, you may be able to attain a variance. Your local official can also tell you if there are any weird restrictions in your state or municipality regarding sales of cut flowers.


Happy growing!