May 28, 2019
A Little Spice
May 25, 2019
Lots of Rain, with a Side of Marketing Decisions
It has pretty much been raining all week. Oh, there has been a break in clouds here and there—for a few hours at a time—but all day, all night, RAIN. Wind too. I had my tomatoes and pepper mostly hardened off prior to this week. I went back to bringing them in at night for a couple of nights (lows in the upper ‘30’s), and finally left them outside, but covered them with frost cloth every night. Even left them covered during some of the days. It has just been so cold and rainy. Oh wait—I think I mentioned that.
I told everyone they would be ready this weekend. I decided today to lower my prices, since they are still pretty small. In a normal week, with warm weather, they would put on some good growth.
Tomato and pepper starts. This was a week ago, and sadly, they look about the same. It has been too cold and rainy for them to put on any noticeable growth.
So, what does a flower farmer do in the rain? Well, let me see…
I managed to rally the kids and get our kitchen/dining room floor mopped. Go us! Um…caught up on paperwork, to some extent. Made lots of phone calls. I purchased flowers. They were supposed to be some that would go with my own, but I didn’t even get out there and harvest any this week. I know—sad!
I still have the same plants blooming as last week—alliums, perennial bachelor’s buttons, and lilacs.
This is in my oval flower bed on the west side. Those bachelor’s buttons have gotten huge! I’m already thinking about moving a couple of them elsewhere—this one in front in particular. It’s gotten so it’s crowding the ninebark.
Yesterday we had a whole afternoon of rain-free weather. There was even some sunshine here and there! I managed to get about 1/3 of my Bells of Ireland thinned and weeded, along with quite a bit of the garden hoed. Also, some other weeding done. So while I was thinning, I left them at roughly 6” apart, for now. They’re supposed to have 9-12” each, according to some sources, but I guess I’ll let them get even bigger before I decide to do that. I can say with a fair amount of confidence, that I will have plenty of Bells this season!
I have also been thinking about and working on marketing a bit. I have a hard time putting myself out there. I am trying to be more active on social media and get over my fear of calling people! Something I’m trying to figure out right now are the “Fresh Flower Fridays” at my Morgan Mercantile booth. Since I started at the beginning of this month, I have sold exactly ZERO arrangements out of there. I have brought anywhere from 3-6 arrangements, always with 2-3 “Grab and Go” bouquets wrapped in paper, and sometimes with smaller/less expensive arrangements in a vase.
These were my Mother’s Day weekend “Grab and Go” bouquets at the booth (3 shown here.)
I haven’t marketed it as much as I should, so I need to work on that. I don’t think it’s just a marketing issue, though. The store gets plenty of foot traffic, particularly on weekends, which is why I chose Fridays. Yet, no-one buys the flowers. It’s discouraging! I’m trying to decide how long I keep it going with zero results, before spending that time, effort, and product toward a more profitable direction. Maybe I should take those bouquets around to local businesses instead, as a freebie, with my card attached. Or use them to drum up more business subscribers. It’s just such a waste.
The other thought I’ve had is that maybe more people would buy the flowers if there were more of them. However, at zero profit currently, I don’t feel like I can justify stocking the booth with a whole bunch more. I’m thinking next week I need to call the city and ask about setting up a farm stand in front of my house, and putting signage up around town so people find out about it. Perhaps people just don’t expect to see flowers at a vendor booth inside a store, or something. I don’t know. In any case, it’s not working very well right now!
Back to growing things—I have cosmos coming up! Lots of them! I am so glad. Last year I got a total of maybe 4 plants, and they struggled. So at least something is enjoying the rain! Well, something other than the weeds, I mean. Our orchard weeds are about 3 feet tall right now! We let out the chickens to forage and they disappear!
Here’s to some sunshine this weekend, and solutions to all the dilemmas!
May 22, 2019
I now have a website for my flower farm, at www.bluebirdflowerfarm.com. I am writing a weekly blog post for the "Farm Journal" portion of that website. Most of my "and blooms" posts have thus transferred over there. Also, I haven't figured out an easy way to cross-post them--if you have any tips for me on that, let me know! [UPDATE: 1/16/21--I have closed down the website, and moved all of those blog posts over here! So there you go!]
In addition, I have started up a bi-monthly newsletter, called Bluebird News. In it I share information on various topics relating to growing, harvesting, and arranging cut flowers. It has been fun! Also, you are invited to join my list! I just need your email address to do so.
For pictures and such, I have finally joined the world of Instagram (@bluebirdflowerfarm)! Despite my initial reluctance, that has been a good thing for me, as it has forced me to take more pictures of my floral design work. I am also on Facebook (bluebirdflowerfarmutah).
Anyway, with all this content I'm creating on a regular basis, I haven't been around here much at all, and I apologize for that. I really don't want to let this space go entirely, because talking about books and gardening, and connecting with my friends here has been such a bright spot in my life.
May 18, 2019
Planting Before the Storm
This was the end of April. Still very green out there thanks to all this rain!
We’ve had a rainy, stormy week here at Bluebird Flower Farm. It has rained now for 3 days and is supposed to continue all the way through next week. As I looked at that weather, I knew a couple of things had to happen before all the rain:
- I had to get some seeds in the ground! Our last frost date is coming up, and though it will be cooler at night (upper 30’s, low 40’s), it shouldn’t freeze. Plus, if I could get the seeds planted, all that rain should help them germinate!
- War on weeds! The same rain that was going to make all my flowers grow was also going to give those weeds a jumpstart as well. Attack!
So I spent some quality time this week, hoeing, making rows, and chucking seeds in the ground. I’m not kidding—I was literally throwing them down! Last year, I was much more precise with my direct sowing. I had my trowel with the measurements on it (bless my heart), and the ones that needed 6 inches—by golly, I was placing a seed or two every 6 inches! Yes, it took a very long time. Nope, not doing that again. Once again, learning from my failures.
The problem I found doing it that way, was that when germination was spotty—which it was—I ended up with huge gaps in my rows. I reseeded in those gaps, but there was still all kinds of wasted space. Did I mention that it took a very long time?
Here’s what my direct sowing looked like this year: with the hoe, clear any weeds out of the row space. Make a couple of furrows. Water the furrows well. Sprinkle seeds generously down the furrow. Tamp down, covering with dirt if darkness needed for germination. Go on to the next!
I may regret this, but I did not put any labels of any kind marking what I planted. (I did make notes of it once I came inside, but that was more how many rows of what type I did, not bothering to try to describe where I put them.) Last year, I very meticulously used my little plastic labels and marked where I sowed each flower, and even each variety within the row. For one thing, MORE TIME! For another, those little plastic labels got stepped on, broken in half by the hose, and pulled up. In other words, they were generally useless by about halfway through the summer.
I pretty much know what the foliage of the different plants I put in looks like. If I’m not sure, I look it up. I also feel fairly confident now with which seedlings are the weeds. Once they bloom, it should be obvious which variety it is—they were all pretty different from each other. For instance, I did a whole row of white cosmos—I don’t think those will be mistaken for anything else.
My new method will require a lot of thinning. I am bracing myself! It’s hard for me to thin out the plants! Particularly when they’ve done so well and come up and are growing strong. However, thinning is absolutely necessary for the health of the plants. Another plant of the same species can be just as bad as a weed at stealing nutrients and water from the one you want to keep, if they’re too crowded together. I’m reminding myself of this as I go out there this week!
My baby Bells of Ireland, which reseeded themselves so wonderfully need to be thinned. They are looking amazing! I hate to pull out any of them! I will need to harden my heart, though, and just do it. It’s for the greater good! I’ll keep telling myself that. It really is—it’s just—hard to do. I worked so hard last year to get ANY Bells to grow. I will do it, though. After a few more pep talks!
I have found volunteer bachelor’s buttons growing in places they don’t belong in the garden, as well. So far I have successfully transplanted those babies to fill in spaces in my bachelor’s button row. All this rain is helping them survive the transplant job.
I went out and checked today, and here’s what I have coming up so far: buttons, Bells, dill, pennycress, sweet peas, poppies, and California poppies. By the way, I found some poppies growing over between my hyacinths on the side of the greenhouse. I forgot that I had sown some there! So that was a fun surprise. Vegetables so far: spinach and peas.
Planted this week: cosmos (4 varieities), zinnias (5 varieties), rudbeckia (3 varieties), what I had left of the ageratum and statice, parsley, chamomile.
All of those were put in on Thursday. I was really hustling to get them in before the rain started! I also did as much weeding as I could while I was preparing seed beds and planting. I got a decent amount done, but as predicted, the rain is bringing them up all over. You know purslane, “mother of millions?” Yeah, there’s probably a million of those seedlings popping up out there right now. That weed won the war last year, big time. It completely got away from me. I’m using cardboard and weed fabric this year to help keep it at bay, along with lots of hoeing on this front end of the season.
Earlier in the week I bought some perennials from the nursery and got those planted into my flowerbeds. Most of them are varieties that I am growing or have tried to grow this year. So be it. I have realized that my tiny perennial seedlings will probably not bloom until next year at the rate they’re going. So I got 3 pink salvia for the front flowerbeds, 3 ‘Fragrant Angel’ white echinacea that I put in the East side flowerbed, 3 red Jupiter’s Beard—which went into the bed I cleared out around the honeysuckle bush, and 4 lady’s mantle, which went into the front shade bed by the porch.
Yes it was expensive. I think it will be worth it, though, as they begin to produce useable stems this year. These ones that I’m growing will just add to that in future years, assuming I can keep them alive! The perennials I put in last year are doing awesome this year. My perennial bachelor’s buttons in the oval flowerbed are huge! They have probably tripled in size—I was cutting 18” stems from them this week! Last year it was more like 10” stems—and not very many at one time. Same with the catmint I planted last year, and the pincushion flowers. They are big and healthy. Bring on the flowers!
In fact, many of them are doing so well that I may need to move or divide them in the fall, to make some elbow room for the other stuff I have planted in the beds. The alliums will need to be thinned for sure! I am already figuring out where I can put a bunch of them—I think in the back, because the deer won’t bother them. Not only that, when I so blithely scattered seeds last year, little did I know how many babies would pop up! They are all attached to a mini onion-like bulb, so they should be fairly easy to transplant.
I continue to get the flowerbeds weeded and cleared out—one at a time. The problem with accomplishing one garden chore is that I always end up giving myself a few more in the process! I got the front shade beds weeded today, and the lady’s mantle planted in them, but realized that the tulips need to be thinned out. Plus, there were several of the tulips practically sitting on the surface. So I dug up several of the clumps that most needed to be relocated. Alas, I didn’t have time to get them replanted this afternoon. So next week those need to go back in the ground. At least I think I know where I’m going to put them; but of course, it needs to be weeded first. Like I said: finish one chore, end up with 3 more.
I will take a few more pictures tomorrow and get them added, so you can see what I’m talking about.
In the meantime, as the rain comes down all week, I plan to work more on inside stuff. Hey, I rallied the kids this morning and we actually got the kitchen and dining room floors mopped! Situation there was getting pretty desperate. I got some mending done. Amazing what prolonged rain can do!
May 11, 2019
Gardening with Kids, Part 1
As you may have noticed, I love gardening! Now that I’m farming, I still love it! There’s something about working in the dirt that is a little bit like cheap therapy—it definitely calms my soul and lifts my spirits. Then there’s the miracle of a tiny seed sprouting up into a plant that flowers or produces something delicious to eat. As an adult, I enjoy the entire process—the planting, the growing, the weeding and watering, the harvesting. (Ok, ok. Maybe not so much the weeding and watering! Mulch and drip irrigation to the rescue!)
Get a load of those fatty fat carrots!
So how do we get our kids to experience the joys of gardening for themselves? Here’s a hint: I wouldn’t start them off with the stuff that even we don’t like—i.e., the weeding! Not that they can’t learn to help with that, but perhaps with a time limit, or working with you. However, that’s a separate issue. We’re trying to figure out how to lure them in, so that they want to do their own gardening! So that they too, at some point, find it worth it to do the maintenance chores in order to receive the built-in rewards.
You see where I’m headed with this, don’t you? What part of this whole process will they enjoy the most? If you guessed HARVESTING—yes! We have a winner! My little ones—and now, middle-sized ones—are always on the hunt for a snack. Growing delicious things that they can pick and eat while they’re out playing in the yard is a sure winner. Raspberries and strawberries, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, spinach—get some food into those hands! They will start to associate gardening with happy, yummy delights. Even the things that need a good washing first can still be fun to harvest together. Potatoes and carrots come to mind here.
Yep, that lettuce was taller than he was.
So that’s the first step. Let them pick things out of the garden and eat them. The littles will love it, which then tends to lead to an interest in growing some for themselves. As their interest grows (ha!), carve out a small section of the garden that is “theirs.” It doesn’t have to be big! In fact, it will probably be more successful if it’s small at first. To some extent, let them choose what to plant in their garden, though of course you will probably need to advise them on spacing and timing of the sowing. Work together, if they’ll let you help them; otherwise, stand back and let them go at it! Some things will make it and some won’t—that’s life, and it happens to experienced gardeners too. It can be hard for me to let go of the control, but it has gotten easier over time. It’s not the end of the world if you have carrots growing up in the pea patch.
If they’re not interested in having their own patch, don’t make a big deal about it. Let them help you plant the family vegetables. They won’t have any of “their own” to eat, but as everyone gets to eat the family’s anyway, they can still participate that way. If they start off strong, but lose interest by July—again, don’t make a big issue of it. Let them start helping with the family stuff. Or show them how to pull out their dead pea vines (pulling things up is always fun!) and plant some beans—whether for them or for the family—makes no difference.As a sidenote: it has been fun to see the differences in my kiddos choices planting their gardens. My daughter always includes flowers in hers (takes after her mama!), where my oldest son is always very focused in on the vegetables that he likes to eat. For my younger son, this is really the first year where he’s done it all on his own. Like his big brother, so far he has been focused on vegetables, and keeps saying he needs more space. I am encouraging him to keep it smaller!
This was my daughter’s garden one year. You can see a few vegetables in there!
Ok, here’s where you may disagree with my methods. When they’re little, I did all the weeding and watering. Now that I have 3 in elementary school, weeding their own patches is strongly encouraged, but I still step in as needed. Maybe once a week, if they have neglected their little patch, I require them to weed it for their daily chore. However, I really want this to be a success for them. I want them to have something to harvest from their garden. If they completely neglect their garden and then everything dies—yes, it’s a life lesson to learn, but what I think they would learn is, “This is stupid. I’m not good at this. I’m not doing it again.” So, I offer to help them, I require it of them somewhat regularly, then at times I just do it for them. I do not tie it to the gain or loss of other rewards like screen time.
This year I have started a whole bunch of tomatoes and peppers to sell. My oldest two wanted to get in on the seed-starting as well, so I got them each one of those little Jiffy peat pellet kits that come with the tray and dome. So they have their own tomatoes and peppers growing in there, along with some cucumbers and watermelons in 4-inch pots. Now to teach them about hardening things off! I am guessing this will require quite a bit of my help as well. Heck, it’s hard for me to remember to take things in and out!
Bare feet for harvesting potatoes!
How do you know if it’s working? How about when of your kids says to you, “Anything I pick from the garden always tastes ten times better than store bought.” YEAH! Try not to look too smug as you say, “That is so true!”
I figure, even if they don’t end up loving it like I do, at least they’ll know how to do it. Who knows, maybe the gardening bug will hit later in life!
I’ve got some other tips and ideas for making gardening fun for kids, so stay tuned!
May 4, 2019
Seed Starting: A Few Things I've Learned
I am certainly no expert on seed starting, but over the last year and a half I have learned a lot! Yes, that is code for “killed lots of baby plants.” Last year my results were pretty dismal. I had maybe 6 Bells of Ireland that survived long enough for me to plant them outside, a handful of snapdragons, and really not much else. Oh, tomatoes. I did have some tomatoes that made it as well.
Snapdragon seedlings, last year. They germinated great, but only a few survived long enough to be planted out into the garden!
Nothing like setting the bar at ground level, eh?! Perhaps because of all that failure, I am thrilled with any progress that my plants make this year!
So, if you’re even more of a beginner than I am, let me share with you a few of the things I have learned that have helped my success rate go up. Some of it’s having the right equipment and some is giving them a chance to get used to changes.
- Use a heat mat. They’re fairly inexpensive, and most seedlings will germinate much faster on a heat mat. If you can’t afford even a small one, try the top of your refrigerator, or someplace equally warm.
- You also need humidity domes of some kind. Plastic wrap works if you’re using cell trays or pots. In any case, get something! Without it, the seed casings will tend to stick to your first set of leaves. If those casings don’t come off, your seedling will die sooner rather than later, because it prevents the first set of leaves from unfolding and photosynthesizing.
This is not like baby chicks that have to peck their own way out of their shells to survive. In a humid environment, the seed casings slip right off of their own accord, usually. Without one, they don't. Simple as that.
The bigger seeds you can usually split with a fingernail or tweezers and gently pull them off. The tiny ones, though, like snapdragons? Forget about it! If they don’t come off on their own, that little plant is finished before it has even begun.
- Last piece of equipment advice: get a grow light or two. Your baby plants need at least 14-16 hours bright light per day. They’re not going to get that with a windowsill. (Plus, windows tend to be cold, which also inhibits growth!) The plants will do best if you keep the lights just 1-2” above their little heads. Move the lights up as needed.
- Before you plant them outside, you’ve got to harden them off. This means gradually get them used to living conditions out in the Real World—you know, where there’s wind, bright direct sunshine, and weather. If you stick them directly out into the garden, the shock will kill them. It’s an abrupt and awful end to weeks of work. Trust me on this one!
So, give them some time to get used to it all. A week to ten days is the usual. Start them off with just an hour or two of being outside in a sheltered, shady location. Gradually introduce them to stronger sunshine and longer hours.
I’ll tell you what—it’s the transporting them in and out that kills me with this one! In and out and in and out. If they are COOL FLOWERS, don’t worry as much about cold night temps killing them off, but do go slower on introducing them to full sun. For your warm weather lovers, do the opposite: take them in at night if it’s going to be cold, and maybe go a touch faster at exposing them to the heat and full sun. Keep them well watered outside, too.
What tips do you have for me? I have killed my fair share of seedlings already this spring, so please know I feel your seed starting pain!
What tips do you have for me? I have killed my fair share of seedlings already this spring, so please know I feel your seed starting pain!
New York asters—in
the actual flowerbed out front!! You can see they are still quite small, but
they seem to be doing well out there so far! These little guys are supposed to
grow up to 3 feet tall and bloom in the fall. I’ll keep you posted! I am pretty proud of
my successes so far, though! To date: sweet peas planted out into the
garden—still alive, though they don’t seem to have grown much yet. Also, New
York asters planted into my front flowerbeds just this past week. They actually
do seem to have grown since getting in the ground—yeah! I’ve got pansies on the
back deck looking pretty good, and snapdragons seedlings—still small, but still
growing—that I’m hardening off to plant into the garden in the next week.
Tomatoes and pepper seedlings are growing like crazy! Need to get them potted
up and started hardening off, as well. Project for next week! Have you had any
success with seed starting this year?
New York asters—in the actual flowerbed out front!! You can see they are still quite small, but they seem to be doing well out there so far! These little guys are supposed to grow up to 3 feet tall and bloom in the fall. I’ll keep you posted!
I am pretty proud of my successes so far, though! To date: sweet peas planted out into the garden—still alive, though they don’t seem to have grown much yet. Also, New York asters planted into my front flowerbeds just this past week. They actually do seem to have grown since getting in the ground—yeah! I’ve got pansies on the back deck looking pretty good, and snapdragons seedlings—still small, but still growing—that I’m hardening off to plant into the garden in the next week. Tomatoes and pepper seedlings are growing like crazy! Need to get them potted up and started hardening off, as well. Project for next week!
Have you had any success with seed starting this year?