17 Lessons Learned as A 1st Year Flower Farmer
Are you thinking about starting a cut flower farm or are you about to become a 1st year flower farmer? Waking up to fresh flowers every day sounds like a dream, right? It was always easy to picture myself standing in my own field of flowers. I just never imagined how many lessons I would actually learn as a 1st year flower farmer. For years I dreamed of being a flower farmer. I’ve dragged my husband to dozens of properties for sale over the years in hopes of finding the right spot to grow our own flower farm. After losing out on multiple properties, I finally decided to give flower farming a shot on our neighbor’s ¼ acre field.
“It is always exciting to open the door and go out into the garden for the first time on any day”.– Marion Cran
Investing In My Cut Flower Farm Through Floret’s Online Flower Workshop
In 2019 my husband encouraged me to sign up for Floret’s Online Flower Workshop. The online flower workshop is a huge investment, but so worth it for anyone thinking about giving flower farming a try. Erin and her team at Floret are a wealth of knowledge and share everything they know about flower farming. Floret’s course breaks down flower farming into a six week intensive online course. One great thing about the course is that you can watch the lesson videos and work at your own pace. Along with the course you also get a course handbook that goes in depth on flower farming. You also get lifetime access to the Floret Alum online community that allows you to network with other flower farmers.
After finishing Floret’s Online Workshop, I felt more confident and excited to begin my journey as a flower farmer. I’d been growing flowers for years in my garden. Now I was also equipped with the business knowledge to be a successful flower farmer. Little did I know going into 2020 (not to mention adding a pandemic on top of everything else) how many lessons I would actually learn as a first year flower farmer.
Here are 17 lessons that I learned being a 1st year cut flower farmer:
Lesson #1: It all starts with Good Dirt
One of the first things I learned in my Floret Workshop is that flower farming starts with good dirt. Dirt can’t be that important, right? Well if you want to grow beautiful, healthy, and strong blooms, you must have good soil for growing. Understanding your soil’s fertility is one of the most important and often overlooked steps of having a successful flower farm or garden.
1st Year Flower Farmer Mistake #1: Not Doing A Soil Test
I have two fields where I grow flowers. The first field is a small 25’ x 60’ strip in front of my house. In 2019 I used this space to grow almost 200 dahlias. I assumed that because I had previously grown flowers here that I could just add some compost and call it good. Most of the flowers that I planted in this space did not grow successfully because they lacked the nutrients they needed to grow. I had poor soil in this spot. You can bet that I will be doing a soil test this winter and amending my dirt as recommended.
On my neighbor’s ¼ acre field I brought in the recommended soil and amendments. The difference in the two fields was night and day. I grew huge, beautiful, healthy flower plants in this area. Of course this spot is where I grew my dahlias and focal flowers. Unfortunately all my perennials and bouquet fillers were in the front space and my bouquets lacked many of these important flower fillers.
Lesson #2: As a cut flower farmer, your hands and feet will constantly be covered in dirt
There is truly something therapeutic about getting your hands dirty in the garden. I love the connection with nature that gardening and flower farming provide. However, when your hands are still dirty and you’re preparing food, that’s another thing. I would have never imagined how cracked and dry my hands would become from flower farming. I do wear gloves for some things, but I found that my hands became the dirtiest and torn up from stripping flower stems as I harvested them.
Each night when I finally had a chance to shower before crawling in bed, I’d find myself scrubbing my hands and feet to get all the dirt off my skin. I started to wonder if my finger tips would ever look clean again. I’m happy to report that by winter my fingers look clean again (well at least until spring comes around). I did also find that certain hand creams helped to moisturize my dried out hands when I put them on before going to bed.
“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.” – Alfred Austin
Lesson #3: Wear Closed Toe Shoes While Working On Your Cut Flower Farm
I have always been one to wear flip flops. Even in the middle of winter you can find me walking around with flip flops on. As a 1st year flower farmer, I quickly learned that wearing flip flops is not a good idea. While they will certainly give you a better tan line than a pair of work-boots, you might also find yourself stepping on unwanted objects.
Early one morning this past summer I learned this lesson the hard way. While I was spraying compost tea on my plants, I managed to step on a bumble bee. I was walking along and all of a sudden I had the most excruciating pain in my foot. Somehow a bumble bee flew between my flip flop and my toe. The result was a terrible sting on the bottom of my long toe. I could barely walk back inside the house. My entire foot swelled up and remained swollen for over a week.
Let’s just say that I learned my lesson and I was much more careful to wear close toed shoes while working in the field. I’ve also stubbed my toe on garden stakes as well as thorns and other unexpected objects. It’s a wise idea to make sure your feet are protected when working outside.
Lesson #4: You will learn to tolerate spiders and bees
All my life I’ve been afraid of spiders and bees. So much so that I even make my husband get the spiders that I find in the house. Well this past summer I learned that I had to overcome my fear of both. Of course both bees and garden spiders are beneficial to your flower garden. Without the bees your plants will not be pollinated and garden spiders eat many of your unwanted pests like aphids.
I’ve never seen so many bees in my garden as I did this past summer. I started over 60+ dahlia plants from seed this year (dahlia seeds purchased from Floret). It’s no wonder that Erin named this collection of seeds Bee’s Choice Dahlias, the bees LOVE these dahlias. Of course, I quickly learned that the only way to harvest many of these blooms was to become comfortable around the bees. I learned to be graceful and work carefully around the bees. Harvesting in the morning before the bees became active helped too.
While I am much more comfortable around bees these days, I still jump at spiders. There were many times this summer that I would harvest a beautiful bloom, only to find a giant spider crawling on it. I eventually became a little more comfortable around them and would gently shake the spiders back onto the plants letting them go back to work at eating any unwanted garden pests.
Lesson #5: You Will Have The Best Tan Ever, But Don’t Forget To Protect Your Skin
When you’re outside everyday from sun-up to sun-down, it’s easy to get tan very quickly. I had quite the farmers tan this past summer and I even wore sunscreen every day! This winter I am definitely starting to notice some new sunspots, especially spots on my face and ears.
Skin cancer can be a concern when you are exposed to the sun all day. To protect your body from the elements, I recommend wearing a sun hat, sunscreen, lip protection, and even UV clothing. When outside all day, don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen throughout the day.
Lesson #6: You Will Work Harder Than You’ve Ever Imagined When You Start Your Own Flower Farm
I’m pretty sure that I’ve never been more exhausted than I was this past summer. I had planned to possibly hire some part time help, but with COVID I was left to manage the fields by myself as I could not justify the expense of hiring help. Other than my husband helping me til the field and put stakes into the ground, I pretty much farmed by myself. There were many days that I was literally outside from sun up to sun down. The second my head hit the pillow at night, I was sound asleep.
Although I worked harder than I’ve ever physically worked before, being a 1st year flower farmer felt incredibly rewarding. Seeing all the plants that I grew from seed definitely made it worthwhile. I pushed myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself before and knowing I accomplished this, felt great! The one thing I often forgot was to drink enough water throughout the day. Keeping hydrated is definitely important when you are doing physical labor in the sun all day long.
It’s OK to Ask For Help
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes the work is more than you can do by yourself and it’s important to ask a friend or family member to help. Later into the summer a friend offered to help me deadhead flowers in the garden. It was a task that I could easily teach and delegate. I was so appreciative of the help and was able to compensate her with fresh flowers to take home. A win for both of us!
Lesson #7: Use Drip Tape
If you want to save yourself countless hours of time watering, install drip tape. Having your flower rows properly irrigated ensures that your plants get the right amount of water and it saves you a ton of time from having to hand water. Last summer as a 1st year flower farmer, it was my first time using drip tape for irrigation. Let me tell you that drip tape was such a lifesaver!
I did spend hours setting up my drip tape irrigation lines. The wind would blow it all over the place when my seedlings were little. I found that using landscape staples worked well to secure the drip tape in place. I also had to install a pressure valve so that my irrigation water didn’t blow out the drip lines. Once I had everything installed and set-up properly, my watering was on autopilot. Just make sure you check the lines for any leaks or clogs periodically.
Lesson #8: You don’t get to sleep in as a flower farmer
I’ve never been one to sleep in, but being a 1st year flower farmer took this to a whole new level. Most days I was up by 4am and making my morning coffee in preparation to start my day. As a one woman show, I had work to do 7 days a week.
We had an extremely hot summer so that meant that I needed to get all of my harvest done earlier in the morning or late evening. I would spend the middle of the day deadheading, pulling weeds, washing buckets, making arrangements, etc. The work never stops and by the end of the day, I was always exhausted and ready for a relaxing shower.
I will say that one of my favorite things this past summer was listening to the sounds of the birds chirping and the bees buzzing as the early morning light came up for the day. Being surrounded by just the sounds of nature was relaxing and so soothing.
Lesson #9: As A 1st Year Flower Farmer, You Will Have Crop Failure & You Will Kill Plants
During my online flower workshop with Floret, Erin told us that we will have crop failure and we will kill plants. Boy was this true for me! While I had great success growing some crops, there were others that I didn’t even get a single seed to germinate. I had two trays of Larkspur where not a single seed germinated! Other plants I successfully grew from seed and then when I planted them in the field, they died. While I would have loved to have these plants for my C.S.A. Bouquets last year, they served as great learning lessons instead.
Flower farming is a steep learning curve and sometimes the best way to learn is through failure. As a first year flower farmer it’s important to learn to give yourself grace to make mistakes. Just make sure you learn from them.
Lesson #10: You must keep on top of bugs and disease or they will take over your flower farm
I have always loved sweet peas and I was so excited to grow a huge row last summer. Last summer I planted a 60’ row of sweet peas. I started the plants from seed and I transplanted them when they were big enough to plant in the field. The sweet peas started growing quickly and just a few weeks later I noticed that the aphids had found my sweet peas!
At the same time I saw the aphids, I also saw some ladybugs on my sweet peas. I made a mistake and assumed that the ladybugs would get the aphids under control. This may have worked if I had released more ladybugs in the garden, but instead the aphids destroyed my sweet peas. Had I been good about spraying neem oil at the first signs of the aphids, perhaps I would have been able to enjoy my sweet peas all season.
Have A Routine For Keeping Pests Out Of Your Flower Fields
To keep up with the bugs and pests in the garden, I learned that I had to have a regular routine. After my sweet pea incident, I began spraying my fields weekly with neem oil. Neem oil is an organic insecticide, but it’s important to make sure you spray when the bees are not active as it may harm your beneficial bees. I would spray neem oil in the early morning or late evening when the bees were not as active.
Due to COVID, ladybugs were extremely hard to get a hold of this past summer. When they were finally available, I did purchase 18,000 ladybugs and released them into the garden to help control the unwanted pests. Ladybugs can be a great way to help control unwanted pests in your garden. Usually I like to release ladybugs several times throughout the growing season.
Lesson #11: Don’t let the weeds get out of control on your flower farm
In the beginning of the season I was religious about keeping up with the weeds in the garden. I would use my hula hoe weeder to weed in between the rows of flowers. As summer progressed and I became more exhausted and had more to do, the weeding fell behind. This was mostly a problem in areas where I had smaller plants or succession planted. As some weeds grew bigger, I would accidentally remove smaller crops when I pulled up the weeds.
Fortunately on most of my rows I used landscape fabric. This helped a ton in reducing the amount of weeds that grew in my crops. I will say that it’s much easier though to remove the weeds when they are small vs when they are competing with your plants for water and light.
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Lesson #12: Succession plant to have continual blooms on your flower farm
There are so many things to do and keep track of when you are flower farming. One thing that I wish I would have done in my first year is succession planning. This would have allowed me to extend my season on certain plants. For example, I planted all my cosmos at once and of course they all finished at the same time. I could have extented my growing season had I succession planted my cosmos over a period of several weeks.
Sunflowers are a great crop for succession planting. Of course I was excited and I planted all of my sunflowers at once. Sure this was beautiful when they all bloomed at once. However, I had more sunflowers than I was able to sell at once. And of course the florists needed sunflowers when I didn’t have them available. This year I will be planting my sunflowers every few weeks so that I have sunflowers blooming all summer.
Lesson #13: There will always be more to do tomorrow on your flower farm
One of the most important lessons that I learned in my first year flower farming is that there will always be more to do tomorrow. This was a hard one for me to accept at first. There were days that I would work all day without taking a break and I would be absolutely exhausted and run down. I would feel like I had to finish a project that day.
With flower farming (or any type of farming or gardening), there will always be more to do tomorrow. There will be more watering, weeding, deadheading, etc to do. Sometimes it’s ok to leave something unfinished and come back to it tomorrow. Your flower field will still be there waiting in the morning.
Lesson #14: Don’t Throw Away Your Extra Blooms
This past summer I found myself with more buckets of zinnias than I knew what to do with. I literally had hundreds of zinnias that were going to go bad because I had no where to sell them. I had already delivered my weekly C.S.A. bouquets and I didn’t have the time to put together more bouquets to sell. That’s when it hit me that a local senior living facility might have a use for them.
I called up the marketing director at our local senior living center and offered to bring them over my leftover buckets of flowers. The director happily accepted the free flowers. My daughter and I delivered the flowers and it was such a great feeling delivering these flowers to senior citizens. The senior living facility set up an afternoon of flower bouquet making for their residents. They even had buckets of flowers left over that they used the next day for their painting class.
If you find that you have extra flowers left over, don’t throw them away! You can always spread some cheer with flowers. What a great way to share the joy that flowers bring!
Lesson #15: People Won’t Know How Good Your Flowers Are Until They Get to See and Touch Them
When I launched my flower farm business I assumed that it would be fairly easy to sell bouquets of fresh flowers. Who wouldn’t want to have fresh flowers in their home or office? I quickly found that it was harder than I first thought to sell bouquets of flowers.
I decided to make a few bouquets of flowers to showcase what I was growing. After putting together the bouquets, I brought them to some friends and community members around town. Sharing my fresh flower bouquets led to quite a few orders this past summer. Many businesses and community members ordered fresh bouquets for their places of work, client gifts, and even family gatherings.
Don’t Forget To Tell Your Local Florists About Your Flower Farm
I also did the same thing with my local florists. For the florists, I put together a bucket of some of my favorite flowers and foliage to showcase what I was growing. I made sure to showcase my best, fresh cut stems and also focused on colors that work well for weddings. This led to me setting up two florist accounts that I have since built great relationships with.
Lesson #16: You will fall in love all over again with each new bloom
Flower farming is both mentally and physically exhausting. There are days where you might find yourself questioning if you are doing anything right. Or if you’re like me, you might find yourself waking up in the middle of the night. You might find yourself wondering if the wind knocked down your dahlias or your irrigation lines came undone. While farming is exhausting, it can be even more rewarding.
It felt like every morning when I stepped foot in the fields, I fell in love all over again with flower farming. Knowing that I created this field of beauty from the ground up was such a great feeling. And getting to harvest each bloom made me fall more and more in love with flower farming. When you pour your heart and soul into your flowers, you will be rewarded.
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change. ”-Buddha
Lesson #17: Be Kind and Give Yourself Grace as a 1st year flower farmer
And lastly, BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Give yourself grace to make mistakes. starting a cut flower farm is a steep learning curve and it can be tough. Sometimes your biggest failures can lead to the best lessons and learning opportunities. Each year as a flower farmer, you will continue to learn and grow. Don’t forget to celebrate your wins. Did you deliver a bouquet of flowers and make someone’s day? Make a list of things you’ve done well and remind yourself that you grew these flowers!
I am so grateful for all the knowledge that I gained from Floret’s Online Workshop in January of 2020. The knowledge and skills I learned in Erin’s flower farming workshop allowed me to truly get my hands dirty and experience flower farming first hand. I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned in 2020 and I can’t wait to see my flowers bloom in 2021.
What do you think? Are you ready to start your own flower farm or maybe even just a backyard cut flower garden? What lessons have you learned from farming? I’d love to hear from you below. AND don’t forget to PIN this post to Pinterest so you can come back to these lessons learned from a 1st year flower farmer.
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