22, 2005: Winter is a time for planning and searching
for answers (and repairing all that broken stuff, but we won’t
get into that). Seems like specialty cut flowers are definitely
on your lists from the e-mails we’ve been receiving
at New Farm. Here are some of the great questions (and some
interesting shared information) we’ve been getting that
may have a wider audience!
On hoophouses and
Cheryl from Nova Scotia writes:
“I just saw the picture of your gothic arch style hoophouse
and am very impressed. I am in the beginning stages of a cut
flower business here in Nova Scotia. I am doing field grown
cuts, annuals and perennials and last year was the trial to
see what would grow best. I was encouraged by the way things
grew and will be growing more this year so I can hopefully
get a subscription business going. I love the idea of growing
some flowers in a greenhouse to get a jumpstart on or extend
the season...I’ve been very impressed with your operation
and it seems you grow many of the same flowers I do.
“I am trying to get as many perennials established
as I can to help cut down on some of the annuals that have
to go in. I planted 700 tulips in the fall to try and get
my season started a little earlier, and learned a lot by trial
and error the first year. I absolutely did not have enough
flowers the first year, so I didn’t try to start the
subscription business for fear I wouldn’t be able to
keep up with it. I am near a touristy town and want to sell
to the motels, B & Bs, restaurants, etc.
“I have about 15 acres of pasture land and right now
have just taken a portion of the field and plowed 200-300
foot long rows to plant in. They are 5 feet wide, but I plant
in 3-1/2 to 4 feet of that. I mow in between the rows to keep
it neat and easy to walk down. My planting time is usually
the first of June, but the last two years we’ve had
cold springs, so it had to wait until the middle of June to
be safe. The first frost can occur anytime in September...”
- What zone are you, and how much do you heat your hoophouse
and with what kind of heat?
- Is your ground rocky? How is the hoophouse anchored down?
Is it cemented in the ground?
- Do you have a separate well for your greenhouse?
- Is there anything on the side of the greenhouse after
you roll up the plastic, like screening?
Sounds like you have a great thing going and will make a success
of it. B & Bs have been wonderful customers for our flowers,
especially lilies and lisianthus. High tunnels could add a
lot of breathing room to your operation.
Our farm in Emmaus, PA is in Zone 6 so we have more of a
break on the last and first frosts than you do in Zone 5.
Usually we’re safe from mid-May to mid-October, though
I still remember running out to cover sunflowers, ageratum
and tomatoes the last week in May a few years ago when a frost
hit us hard. Our new 21 by 96-foot gothic-arch style flower
greenhouse is not heated. It’s single poly with roll-up
sides. We will plant snapdragons and lisianthus plugs, and
other flowers that can take cooler temps, in March and April
here, and we provide extra cover inside the high tunnel with
Reemay over wire hoops (little tunnels inside big tunnels)
when it’s cold at night. We use this system well into
Our bigger high tunnel has propane heat, and we’ve
grown winter greens (all winter) and some flowers in this
greenhouse very successfully with minimal heat (kept just
above freezing). Not only can high tunnels extend the season
in both directions, they also can enhance the quality of many
flowers, protecting campanula, for example, from wind and
- Yes, our ground is rocky. We’ve been picking rocks
for years and sometimes it seems like we grow them. (An
English visitor who took pictures of our farm to show to
gardening groups there told us everyone was impressed by
the crops and shocked by the rocks in between the
our greenhouse columns on this website for more specifics,
but the high tunnels are anchored by metal pipes/posts that
are pounded in the ground and the bows fit into the posts.
Then 2 by 4s are fastened to the base. No cement.
- We do not have a separate well for the greenhouses. We
use regular garden hose attached to the house line and we
can hand water, or hook the hose up to a very simple drip
irrigation system. In our seeding greenhouse, a 30 by 40-foot
double poly structure with a propane heater, we have a line
off the house line which goes into the structure with a
freezeless hydrant or self-draining attachment. It’s
a great setup, and we hope to add one of these to our bigger
high tunnels when time and money allow. And no, they aren’t
- We actually put screening on the rollup sides of our biggest
greenhouse. Our son (who has a good back) stapled strips
in neatly a few years ago. We thought it would help keep
bugs and critters out. Is it necessary? Eh, not really.
We’ve had great successes in this greenhouse
-- and the bees get in just fine through the big doors at
each end, but we’ve had equally good crops from the
other high tunnels which don’t have anything across
the rollup sides, and we haven’t had a problem with
anything other than voles -- which are a problem everywhere,
we battle with mouse traps.
Several readers had questions about lisianthus. Here are
Do you mind me asking what kind of money lizzies sell for
in your area?
We sold lisiantus bouquets for $8 plus tax which included
3-5 lisianthus stems, depending on size, and 3 filler flowers.
We sold straight bunches of 3 (full stems) for $4.50. Some
areas (like Washington D.C.) can do considerably better. Florists
paid above wholesale price (which varies, but is always good).
We always sold out. But perhaps, most importantly, one or
two lisianthus added to our mixed bouquets always added to
the ooh and aah factor. Our regular mixed bouquets sold for
$7 plus tax, with larger variations up to $20.
What is the best way to start lisianthus?
Buy plugs. Lisianthus are a pain to start. The seed is like
dust. They are slow to germinate (10-20 days) and, once they
do, they grow ever so slowly over two or three months. If
you have the gift of patience -- heck, even if you don’t,
you can be successful with the temperamental beauties because,
well, we have. Here’s how: Sow the seed on the soil
surface and don’t cover. We dust with a little vermiculite
(key word is little). The flats are kept moist. When they
germinate, we sprinkle a little milled spaghnum moss in betwee
the rows, fertilize with a little fish fertilizer and wait.
During the long wait, it’s important not to overwater
or overfertilize, and to keep the air circulating around the
seed flats (we use a table fan). Bump up the seedlings to
a larger cell, the experts say, when the first root touches
the bottom of the cell. This is the critical part, because
letting the lissies get rootbound will give you stunted plants.
(I’ve made this mistake before, of course.) The lissies
can go another month to six weeks in the larger cells or until
they start to fill out the cell. At this stage, cool temperatures
are needed. If the greenhouse gets above 70 degrees for an
extended period the plants will give you fits later. Trust
me -- made this mistake, too. We had a heat wave and wound
up with a batch of stunted plants which is a heartbreaker
after months of care.
Do you use support for your lisianthus?
Only if they make money. Sorry -- yes. In the greenhouse,
they grow nice and tall and we use a single layer of Hortonova
and move the Hortonova up as they get taller. Some growers
use two layers. Outside, they need the support against the
fits of Mother Nature.
One pinch, two pinch
Chris from Michigan writes:
Can you tell me which flowers you pinch?
We’re constantly learning
on this one. Pinching, basically a pruning
method where the tender growing tips are ‘pinched off’,
is designed to encourage side shoots or a stockier plant.
We pinch the Karma dalhias twice and boy what a difference
it makes in the number of flowers! As super grower Dave Dowling
has advised, we also pinch half the crop pf snapdragons; the
un-pinched snaps produce nice long single stems while the
pinched snaps produce 4-5 stems about a week or two later.
Cockscomb, pinched at a foot back to five sets of leaves,
will give you 8-10 stems per plant. Other flowers that are
often pinched are cosmos, marigold, verbena, ageratum (all
annuals) and delphinium and phlox (perennials).
Have a question? Ask Melanie