Getting Started

So you want to start a flower farm!?

Yay! Congratulations! I think it’s amazing and I’m here to encourage you. I do want you to be set up for success, so I want to share with you a few pieces of information that I wish I knew when I was first getting started.

 

Start Small

You probably have big, big dreams and that’s fantastic! Hold onto those dreams, but it’s also important to be a little realistic with yourself and try not to bite off more than you can chew. In my humble opinion, if you’re just starting out with farming, an acre is wayyy too big. Chances are you have another job or children. Maybe you’re retired. Whatever it is, we all have other responsibilities in life and just know that the larger the farm, the more time and more responsibility it will require of you. 

My very first farm was less than 1/8thacre. I moved up to a quarter of an acre and felt that was manageable and was a great size for me. Now after moving farms, I’m actually growing on less than ¼ acre. This is intentional because I’m realistic with my other business and life responsibilities.

Know that you can grow A LOT of flowers in a small space and reap an incredible abundance of stems. Try not to worry that you wont have enough. There will be PLENTY for you to harvest.

One of the reasons it’s important to start small is because you want to set yourself up for success. When the farm is bigger than you can handle, it’s easy to feel defeated and get discouraged trying to keep up with it all. It’s better to farm a smaller area really well than to farm a larger area poorly. 

 

Sell your Flowers before planting a Seed

This may feel challenging or even downright impossible, but it is key if you want to make any money. It is absolutely disheartening to have a field in bloom and no destination for your flowers and this will sneak up on you if you’re not conscious. Start networking. Whether it’s with florists, grocery stores, farmer’s market managers, or your community. Let everyone know you will have flowers months ahead of time! You can start a CSA and collect payment ahead of time. You can get a contract with a grocery store. You can get yourself into a farmers market. Florists are a little trickier as they usually like to SEE your product before committing to buying from you, but you can still start the connections. 

 

Know the Value of the Flowers

Pricing is hard, and it’s uncomfortable. It is so common for beginners to under value their products and work. When you price your bunches and bouquets less than what they’re worth, you not only are hurting yourself but are hurting the other local growers who are trying to get a fair price. I know this is all probably unintentional and maybe with some naivety, so it’s important to do your research ahead of time and know the going rate for the flowers you are growing and bouquets you plan to make. Pricing can vary widely depending on your markets. Don’t be afraid to ask around. Pay attention to flower prices at the farmers market, ask the produce manager at your local grocery store what they buy flowers wholesale for, ask florists what they commonly pay/bunch. Look online and ask for guidance. You want to make sure you’re starting out within standard market prices so everyone wins. 

 

Start with the Most Giving Flowers

This is also along the lines of setting yourself up for success. If you’ve never grown cut flowers before, you may not want to start with lisianthus. Know your zone and what flowers are the best cut and come again varieties. I’m in Zone 9 and the easiest summer flowers to grow here are cosmos, zinnias, marigolds, amaranth, celosia, sunflowers, and strawflower.

 

Plant in Color Blocks

This is much easier for harvesting and is especially important if you plan to sell to florists. Try to avoid the mixed seed packets unless you want to do a small trial patch. 

 

Tighter Plant Spacing

Know that you can pack the plants in! For most plants, my spacing is 9 inches. My very first flower farm was really cute with one drip line down a bed and one plant at each 12’’ spaced emitter. If only I knew how much space I was wasting! I now plant more than 5 times that amount in a single bed! My beds are 3 feet wide with two irrigation lines running down them and plants are staggered 9’’ apart for a total of 5 “rows of plants” down a bed.

 

Pinch and Cut Hard

Most plants need pinching to send their energy into the side shoots so you have useable stems to cut. When your plants start making their first bud, you’ll need to cut it off leaving just a few nodes above the ground to grow shoots off of. You might need to pinch flowers 2-3 times. This encourages longer stems. Similarly, when you cut your first flowers, cut hard. Meaning cut lower onto the plant than you think would be okay. You should be stripping off leaves and small stems. When you cut hard, this sends the signal to the plants to produce longer and thicker stems. 

 

Save for a Cooler

There is some debate about whether a cooler is absolutely necessary for storing cut flowers. My take on it is that it is not necessary, BUT it makes a world of a difference. If you think you may be in the cut flower business for a while, then absolutely start saving for a cooler. It is the best investment you can make, even more so than investing in a greenhouse right away. For the best results without a cooler, you’ll want to pick flowers in the early morning and store in the coolest, shadiest part of your house. You wont be able to store them long, so try to move them to their destination as soon as you can after they are fully hydrated. You can also find a used refrigerator, remove the shelves, and manage to fit a few buckets in there to store your flowers a bit longer. 

Phew! I hope that wasn’t too overwhelming. Of course there is way more I could speak on, but these are what I believe to be the most essential considerations when first starting out. If you are interested in no-till farming, make sure to view my other posts and my YouTube channel for information on how to do that. Also make sure to join the Flower Farmers Facebook group for a wealth of information on growing cut flowers! 

 

Happy farming! 

 -Katie

I have a NEW Farm!

It’s been a beautiful, flowery filled three years farming flowers no-till at The Collin’s Farm in Davis. Now, I’m on to new land and new opportunities. It’s been a process of learning to let go, accept, and just continue growing.

In August, 2018, I was gently told that I could no longer continue farming where I was at for the following year. This news was not entirely unexpected, but it came much sooner than I imagined.

The owners of The Collin’s Farm have the opportunity to build their forever home on their property. This is something they’ve dreamed about for decades! They made the tough decision to ask all of the farmers on site to kindly transition to new locations so they could enjoy more privacy and their homestead for years to come. This is very honorable, and I have no ill feelings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I am eternally grateful for their generosity and support of me farming there these past three years.

Still, this news was hard to stomach and it has been a process of letting go these past several months. For the last three years, I’ve grown flowers using no-till farming methods at The Collin’s Farm in Davis on approx. a quarter of an acre. This was the first place I truly dove in and experimented with no-till farming. I was able to build up my soil beautifully these past few years and really see the difference! I grew hundreds of varieties of flowers. I supplied countless local community members with bouquets, arranged weddings, and more with the flowers grown at my farm. I supported the pollinators and invertebrates. I taught my son the basics of farming and to have reverence for the soil and plants. I gave him an outdoor playground and the opportunity to see me work towards my passions. I learned so much through experimentation and about myself as a farmer. For all of this, I am so incredibly grateful. 

Photo by Elissa Kennedy

Photo by Elissa Kennedy

This farm was more than just a farm. It was a sanctuary for both my son and I. As we navigated our family separation and several moves, the farm was our constant. It was a place we could both feel reprieve and marvel in joy and beauty. It never failed to lift our spirits. This was the hardest thing to let go of. 

I had to trust, just trust, that I would find a new perfect spot to farm. 

In October 2018, I moved to a new place in Winters where Nalin and I could live AND farm. It was a dream come true. Admittedly, I signed a lease for this new place, which is WAY more than I can honestly afford each month, BUT it was one of those experiences where I walked around and knew, in my bones, that I needed to be here. I had been searching for months and this place was my full YES! It was everything I needed and dreamed of. Of course it was more per month than I could afford, but this is where my work of trusting comes in. I need, and will, trust that I can make this work for this is absolutely the place I need to be. 

My home is a modest sized studio apartment called a “Casita”. It’s perfect. I have a flat area where I can farm, literally a walk down a small slope from my house. I’m going to farm the same size as I was at The Collin’s Farm. My new plot is 120 feet by 70 feet which is approx. ¼ acre.  There is a greenhouse right outside the door of my Casita that I can use to my hearts desire. I already found a place to compost right outside my home, and my landlord made a huge terraced garden that will be exclusively for vegetables. I’ll be managing a mini vegetable farm in addition to my flowers! My partner helped me find a high quality stand up floral cooler, which will be clutch once I start harvesting buckets of blooms! 

Overall, my new place is more than I could have dreamed of. It’s gorgeous, peaceful, and full of opportunity. 

I’m really excited to take what I’ve learned over the last three years and The Collin’s Farm and apply it here, to my brand new farm. In fact, I’ve been feeling inspired since I am starting a brand new no-till farm from scratch, to share a video series on YouTube sharing my exact methods. Perhaps you would like to follow along and see how I plan to take bare, fallow clay soil and turn it into a thriving flower farm without taking any tillage equipment to it!

So far, I have a cover crop that is growing and competing with the grasses. I sowed daikon radish, crimson clover, vetch, and California medic. The idea is to add nitrogen with the legumes and for the daikon root to break up the clay a bit. I didn’t sow any grasses because I knew the grass pressure would be high around here.  Meanwhile the cover crop grows, my partner has been helping me to build a fence around my plot to keep the turkeys out. There are so many here and they’re real pests!! In March/early April sometime, my partner and I will have sheep grazing on the covercrop and grasses. Their manure will leave me with amazing nitrogen nuggets and I will then cover sections in landscape fabric for “occultation”. It’s a method that allows for decomposition and weed suppression before planting. I’ll then plant out thousands of summer plants that I will have started from seed in the greenhouse here. So that’s the plan at least!

Meanwhile, this winter, I have been busy pulling up landscape fabric, netting, T-posts, bamboo stakes, and irrigation from my old farm. I am also digging up and potting up countless perennials and planning on transitioning them to the new farm. It’s a big process!

I’m enjoying the process of moving, of transitioning and letting go while embracing the new. I know it’ll be a while till I can really build up the soil beautifully here, but I cam committed to starting and sharing the process. 

Thank you for following along and for your support as I navigate these new stages in business! 

Sincerely,

Katie