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February 15th 2016

Soil Preparation

Written by
Floret

Floret_Bed Prep-1We pull an insane amount of flowers out of our little plot of land. With so much volume going out the door, we work diligently to not only replace the biomass, but also to build and improve the soil each and every season. Cover crops, bought in and homemade compost, rock powders, natural fertilizers, mulch, compost tea and various foliar treatments are all part of our fertility arsenal.

Every fall we take soil samples from our field and greenhouses and send them into the local soil lab for testing. The information from the test gives us a broad overview of our soil’s’ health and what we can do to improve it. A good soil test normally runs around $50, money well spent in the long run. This test measures everything from the percentage of organic matter, the pH of the soil, plus any lacking or overabundant trace minerals.

A good lab will give you recommendations on what amendments need to be applied to bring your soil into good, working order. I always make sure to let the lab know that we farm organically so that they don’t suggest chemical fertilizers. Once we have the information back from the lab, we then set about making necessary improvements. Fall is a great time to add rock powders and trace minerals so that they have time to dissolve into the soil.

Floret_Landscape Fabric-20Our farm is situated on top of a sand bar (note the silver shine to the soil above) and while the freely draining nature is wonderful in early spring when most other fields are unworkable, it definitely comes with its own set of challenges. In addition to being very hungry, our soil also has difficulty holding water and nitrogen. I often feel as if we’re feeding an elephant with how much organic matter we add each year.

In addition to applying the soil labs’ recommendations in the fall, we also heavily amend each bed before planting in the early spring and again each time it is replanted throughout the season. The same treatment goes for the greenhouses as well.

Floret_Bed Prep-2

Floret_Bed Prep-4 Floret_Bed Prep-3To start, we put down a thick layer (3-4”) of compost across the top of each bed, making sure to spread it out as evenly as possible. Our favorite compost is made locally from recycled plant debris. We purchase it by the dump truck load and it runs between $15-17 a yard, delivered.

Floret_Bed Prep-5We then sprinkle a generous dusting of a high quality organic fertilizer at a rate of 1.5 lbs/10 linear feet (or) 10.5 lbs per 70 foot long row. One fifty-pound bag covers about five of our 4 x 70 foot long growing beds. Our favorite fertilizer is Nature’s Intent (7-2-4) which is made from natural ingredients including bone meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, kelp meal and rock powders. It may not be available in your area, but you should be able to find something similar if you give the specs to your local feed or garden store.

Floret_Bed Prep-6Floret_Bed Prep-7The ingredients are then tilled into the soil and irrigation lines are laid down. Because our soil is so sandy, we put down four lines of drip, a foot apart. If you have clay soil, you could probably get away with only two or three.

Floret_Bed Prep-8Floret_How To Grow Dahlias-11For beds that aren’t covered in landscape fabric, new plantings are thickly mulched with straw, shredded leaves or grass clipping to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Once plants are in and growing we feed them with a weekly application of compost tea.

Floret_Bed Prep-9 Floret_Bed Prep-10 Floret_Bed Prep-11 Floret_Bed Prep-12After a growing bed is done producing heavily, we mow the remaining foliage down and take up the fabric, pull back the drip irrigation lines and amend the bed using the same process outlined above before replanting. While the process is labor intensive, it has greatly increased the health of our plants, in turn upping our flower production across the board.

Pictured above, a hoop that was filled with Iceland poppies. Once the plants slowed their flowering to a trickle, we pulled out the plants, prepared the beds, and replanted with a late crop of Celosia.

Floret_Succession Planting-21I believe in using natural methods and ingredients when it comes to growing. In our valley organic agriculture is slowly catching on, but there are still so many farms that spray toxic chemicals on their crops (our neighbors included) and use synthetic chemicals to fertilize rather than compost and natural fertilizers. I understand why. A natural approach requires more time, money and steps. But in my opinion, if you have the choice, it’s certainly one worth considering.

From day one I’ve used only natural ingredients in the garden. I personally don’t want to be exposed to toxic chemicals and my sweet kiddos have grown up in the garden. I never could stomach the idea of exposing them to poisons, just so I could get a perfect crop, so I worked hard to grow the healthiest plants possible, ones that could resist pests and disease.

For you mamas, please keep in mind that whatever you use in the soil and apply to your plants, at some point will probably come in contact with your children. If you don’t have children, but are an animal lover, the same goes for you. Yes, growing naturally is harder, and a bit more expensive, but I truly believe it shows in the quality of the flowers, and in the health of you and your family.

Below little Jasper is spraying an early crop of spring flowers with compost tea, a safe and effective natural disease preventative.

Floret_Farm Kids-10

Later this week I’m going to show how we use pre-burned landscape fabric, to keep weeding to a minimum. It is one of the most requested topics, and I’m excited to share our tricks.

Like with the other posts, your feedback and participation are highly valued. The ‘February Blog Blizzard’ took an enormous amount of work to put together, and the team and I have no way of knowing if we’re on track or not, unless you tell us. I would really appreciate it if you would please take a minute and leave a comment. Even a few words would be great! I would love to know if this was helpful, what questions do you still have about the topic, what are you struggling with, or if you have any great resources relating to this topic that you’d be willing to share with other readers.

I read every comment and am going to set aside some time every day to answer your questions below. If you submit a comment and it doesn’t show up right away, sit tight, we have a spam filter that requires we approve most comments before they are published.

121 Comments

  1. Heather on

    Do you use soaker hoses? Or drip lines? I have 6 acres and I’m slowly but surely trying to establish my plots, two zones are setup with timers and drip line systems. But I’m having one heck of a time figuring out the correct tubing to buy. It looks like you have an initial tube that feeds the water to the branched off hoses? Do you just add attachment deals to each branch off? these hoses will be the death of me 😂

    Reply
  2. Anita on

    This is great information, I only use organic material in my garden too, and have to prepare my own compost. I enjoy composting just as much gardening. Looking forward to this year’s gardening my husband bought me a greenhouse 😊.

    Reply
  3. Ren on

    This makes so much sense – replace the harvested organic matter. Thank you. I am just starting to create flower beds for the first time. Do you have any suggestions for new beds that have grass / weeds – have you used solarisation? Or should I just dig weeds out? So time consuming – is there an organic way to deal with grassy new ground? Thanks any suggestions greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Barbara Ottolino on

      Read Patricia Lanza’s “Lasagna Gardening”. I have used it only on a small scale, both on a farm to develop soil atop a flint road, and on a small suburban lot, to expand beds and improve soil. I am not sure how well it scales up, but don’t know your situation. In the suburbs, I gather all my neighbors’ bagged fall leaves usually disposed of by the city, and shred them on my garden beds. (many are already shredded by lawnmowers.) Free leaf mold for small scale gardens.
      Eliot Coleman’s books and U-Tube tutorials describe measured amounts of various recycled organic material, with careful descriptions of their integration on a 5 acre farm. Use of cover crops and specific nutritional value of each are described in detail.

  4. Erik on

    What kind of irrigation hose do you use? I have used soaker lines but those fail so not sure what is reliable.

    Reply
  5. Marie Tuttle on

    I have to thank you for a very well explained piece on ground preparation. It is invaluable information for the novice and experienced alike. I write a gardening blog and I know the time and effort involved so thank you for taking the time and putting in the work to do this. Great stuff!!

    Reply
  6. Kat on

    Thank you so much for taking your time to write all of this down. You are so inspiring!

    Reply
  7. Heidi on

    Very helpful information! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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  8. Eloise van Dyk on

    I’m so inspired! Thank you! Please continue!! I am soaking up all the information..

    Reply
  9. Peter McAlpine on

    I am most impressed by your “Never give up” spirit. Your summary of how you have got to where you are now indicates a lot of worry and fears, and probably also enough tears to cover one of your raised flower beds. I wish you continuous success, and for you and your inspiring family, good health, happiness, and an abundance of blessings!

    Reply
  10. Tammy Chinn on

    Thanks again for all you do I rely on your information and inspiration so much! I am curious why you use a 7-2-4 fertilizer instead of a more P heavy fertilizer for flowers. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Haley Carter on

      i am curious about this too!

  11. Ana Wieman on

    I just learned about Floret Farm after reading this week’s issue of the New York Times Style Magazine. It’s thrilling to hear that the place (Mt Vernon) we plan to move when we leave our day jobs is host to an organic flower producer who is so generous with knowledge and transparent about challenges while sharing passion for the beauty nature creates. For years I’ve been worried that commercial flower production and sustainability weren’t compatible, but Floret Farm seems in harmony with nature while producing a profusion of georgous flowers. My little 20’X80′ P-Patch here in Seattle is home to some fabulous dahlias and poppies and the soil here at Picardo Farm is probably the reason why. I hope to learn how to have the same success when I move to Mt Vernon!

    Reply
  12. Chelsea on

    You’re the best. Every time I read one of your entries I seem to reflect with morning dew from the inside out. Thank you times bloomzillion.

    Reply
  13. Patti on

    Love your blog, your book, and all the information you so freely share…thank you!!!

    Reply
  14. sheri singh on

    So thankful for your comments and sharing. Tell me what the tractor attachment is that “fluffs” your soil so nicely and leaves a nice “crumb” to it. Doesent look like a tiller job. Im putting in beds now, and have downloaded your free planting packet that came with the book I preordered. I have to hire the tractor work out and need to be savy about what to request. Blessings to you and your generous spirit! You have saved the farm in my heart with your sharing and love for others. May you be blessed 100 fold for your recognition of true love for your countrymen.

    Reply
  15. Mike Dunnigan on

    Thanks for all the good ideas you are sharing here. We just purchased some drip tape online and were surprised that it was already prepared with emitters every 8 inches. We had thought that we’d need to punch holes roughly the distance of the spacing of our flowers–from every 6 to 24 inches depending on the varieties. Do you use the same spacing for all your plantings?
    Thanks

    Reply
  16. wenda vince @sandyhillfarm on

    dear Erin and family

    Your info is so complete thank-you. I have always grown my crops whether vegetable or now flowers and shrubs with little or no motorized equipment however age takes a toll and I found your info on landscape fabric so helpful. It addressed my concerns about it being too wasteful in particular and the how etc. of it all just wondering about the best irrigation equipment and will no doubt find this info in another blog. thanks again for your help to all of us out here!!

    Reply
  17. Anna Gregory on

    I’m just now reading this, but keeping it in mind for this Fall and Next Spring! We have a few chickens, and we regularly clean our their coop. After that we are left with alot of straw and chicken poop. We generally just throw it on our tomato beds (which works like gangbusters) but how do you feel about using that in place of a flower bed fertilizer, and would you still add more amendments? Thank you!

    Reply
  18. Amy Bee on

    Hi Erin

    Thank you for all the work you are putting into these blogs – I’m in New South Wales, Australia, and considering the big change from working in Education in the Sydney city to flower farming! Even though I’m on the other side of the world to you, our farm is in a colder area than most might expect for Australia so a lot of what you have to say is very relevant for our conditions, if only we had the same rainfall! I’ll be watching your blog closely and spending the next little while reading over your past posts, I so grateful to have come across all your resources! Soiling testing and prep is where we are at right now so I was very interested to hear your tips and suggestions. We have pretty hard clay soil with very little organic matter so we are also considering growing a crop of canola (rapeseed) first to start breaking things up a little with their tap roots.

    Thanks
    Amy

    Reply
  19. Amy Young Miller on

    Your how-to posts and beautiful photos are invaluable to me, as a small organic farmer! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Keep ’em coming!

    Reply
  20. Elise Stubbs on

    Thank you that has answered some of my earlier questions! Elise

    Reply
  21. Mollie on

    This was one of the most helpful posts for me. I really appreciate you taking the time to put it together. It was simple, straightforward, specific and practical. All of which I really appreciate. Thank you!

    Reply
  22. Tara on

    I am loving all your blogs! You are so generous with your information and resources. I am planning my first year as a flower farmer and your blogs are informative and inspiring!!! Thank you

    Reply
  23. Angela on

    Thank you for these easy to follow instructions! I’ve been looking forward to the post about soil prep and was happy to see this!

    Reply
  24. Sara Davies on

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing, I have loved reading your blog, having stumbled upon your article in Living just a few weeks ago in a stack of magazines my grandmother gave me… I have worked on an organic vegetable farm for the past ten years in different capacities, from farmers markets and CSA to managing the greenhouse to bookkeeping and blogging for them and during that time also grew flowers wherever I lived, sometimes for a wedding or two. I’m also a mom, I have two daughters, 22months and 5… I have always dreamed of having a flower farm someday and you have inspired me to bite the bullet and till up my 1/4-acre yard! I feel so happy to have found you and this amazing resource, I hope to be able to come to a workshop next year! Thanks again for all that you do and for creating this vibrant and open learning space

    Reply
  25. Beth on

    Thank you so much for your great posts! The information that you share so generously and the accompanying photos are invaluable.

    I have two questions:
    1. Have you used composted manure? Would you recommend avoiding cow manure because of the possible antibiotics and hormones possibly given to the cows?
    2. Do you ever find it difficult to reach into a 4 foot zinnia bed for cutting because of the height of the flowers and the closeness of the plants?

    Reply
  26. Shyla on

    Thank-you Erin!

    Reply
  27. Wendy on

    I have only recently found your blog and love it. I’m getting the first patch of soil tilled in a few weeks, so looking forward to seeing what I can grow. I too would love it if you could post your recipe for compost tea. Love all the photos. Thank you so much for sharing :)

    Reply
  28. Sadie on

    Great post! I’m in Whatcom County, WA and curious – where do you purchase your compost from? Thanks so much!

    Reply
  29. Alaina Noel on

    Erin, thank you so much for sharing! Gives me hope for our very sandy garden!
    Alaina Noel

    Reply
  30. Amy on

    Hi Erin,

    Would you be willing to share your compost tea recipe and application rates?

    Wonderful posts. Always inspiring.

    Reply
  31. Julio on

    Erin-
    This post is great! I didnt know you had sandy soil, so I’m glad to see how you treat it, I have the exact same issue here. But, instead of living in a sand bar, I live in a river bed, so lots of rocks too. :/
    This post reminds me of the “fish guts” treatment/amending you posted a long time ago! lol
    Thank you!
    PS.: I got my answer from the previous post, no fabric for dahlias!

    Reply
  32. Growing With Landscape Fabric - Floret Flowers on

    […] Before laying the fabric, beds are amended with compost and fertilizer, then lightly tilled and given four lines of drip irrigation each. You can get the full scoop in my recent post about soil preparation. […]

    Reply
  33. whitney on

    Couple things to maybe work into that weed fabric post… you actually run your mower over the top of the fabric? And that works okay? And the fabric always goes down before the plants, right? You’re never trying to line up the fabric with something you’ve just seeded or planted out, right? Also, I’ve harped on it a bunch of times, but please talk about how your tractor “pulls up” your fabric without tearing it! Thanks!!

    Can you tell what a noob I am??

    Reply
  34. Saneth on

    Do you have a general recommendation for how deep your soil layers are. We are in the Texas hill country and have a lot of limestone and hard compacted soil. Not sure if true raised beds will be cost effective, but I definitely want to add enough good soil for the roots to develop.

    Thanks again for all the great information.

    Reply
  35. Laura Winslow on

    Your blog posts are terrific! The information is so valuable!! I am eager to learn all I can about raising beautiful flowers! I don’t sell them, I give them away and paint pictures of them ! Your flowers have always inspired me to pick up my brush!! But then I love gardening and growing them! Thank you Erin and team for all your hard work to make such beauty!!

    Reply
  36. Jackie on

    Love it! I would love to hear a quick rundown of the crops you typically don’t use landscape fabric with. Thanks Erin!

    Reply
  37. Ali on

    Thanks, Erin! Another great article, feeding the soil is key! Interesting to hear you numbers, our organic compost runs $25/cy.

    Would love to hear more on your irrigation schedule and also IPM strategies. Here in northern Illinois, our corn flea and Japanese beetle pressure is insane!!!

    Reply
  38. Randy on

    Thanks for sharing your information and asking for comments. My mother-in-law is a wedding florist here in MN and keeps trying to get me to grow more flowers in my vegetable garden, and this year is the year where some flowers (that aren’t attached to weeds) will be growing where some veggies were last. I am pretty excited I also am very grateful to see someone that grows on sandy soil like I do.

    I have two questions and one comment. Have you researched or been told by your lab analysis if growing flowers changes soil fertilization recommendations/targets from the well known food production targets? I was wondering if you know if they follow a Reams, Albrecht, or other methodology for their soil nutrient targets and if those are changed at all since those were developed with food production in mind.

    Also, does the testing lab know what your compost application rate is and take that into affect when providing your recommendations? I am asking this because if they don’t, many (vegetable) gardeners fall into a trap where adding potassium-rich compost as well as potassium fertilizers will over-saturate the soil ratio and start replacing nutrients. When this occurs with vegetables, you get potassium ending up in places where other elements should be in the tissues, sap, and fruits. They may taste okay, but they do not keep as well and ultimately are less nutritious for biochemical reasons. We would all like to think organic food is more nutritious, but usually it is just less poisonous because what is kept out of it. This would be intriguing to see if flower “shelf life” and cold hardiness could be improved like vegetable/fruit shelf life/hardiness can be improved when soil ratios are kept on target.

    Lastly a comment about gardening in your area. Have you gone to take the tour of Paul Gautschi’s garden in Sequim? Even if you can’t do what he does on your scale or if you have automated harvesting (I don’t know if you do), it is worth it to take his tour and watch the Back to Eden documentary that was made about him. It is free to watch on YouTube. It was the best 1h 45m I have spent on gardening. With my sandy soil, I was constantly watering and weeding. When I implemented his methods, I have not watered my vegetable garden in three consecutive years and weeding is so much more under control.

    You have a lovely operation here. I am glad I visited. Hope to hear from you during the blog blizzard!

    Reply
  39. Bibi on

    Great tips again Erin, I would also appreciate your recipe on compost tea! Last year was our first year with cut flowers and we found the straw mulch was great, helps to keep the flower moist through the hot summers! Thanks again!

    Reply
  40. Yeng on

    Hi Erin. Thank you so much for you generous wealth of info. I would love to see a how-to blog on your hoophouses. I’ve been searching high and low and have yet to find something similar. They look simple but yet sturdy and functional.

    Reply
  41. Meriwether on

    Your blog is very very helpful and so appreciated! Thank you !!!

    Reply
  42. Kel on

    Thank you so much for the February frenzy of information, you are so generous with your knowledge! I’d love to know how you make your compost tea. I use worm tea, but sadly nowhere near enough of it available for all my beds!

    Reply
  43. Dennis on

    I cannot, cannot thank you and your team for these posts. They are SO encouraging.

    I don’t know how far I’ll get this year, but I’m doing my best to knit together a plot here, a plot there to grow some of these beautiful flowers and get them into people’s lives.

    And I’m loving and learning from the arrangements that you post. I had already started to forage when I stumbled onto your Instgram page.

    Cheers to all of us here

    Dennis

    Reply
  44. Heather on

    Your posts are one of the highlights of my week. You have me fully inspired! Currently surrounded by seed packets, garden drawings and a calendar. Happy gal. :)

    Reply
  45. Molly on

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and organic practices! Your generous spirit shows forth in your beautiful flowers and abundant garden. Love and appreciate your blogs. :)

    Reply
  46. lou desena on

    erin, enjoy reading your posts and phto’s.thank you for the “knowledge you give us.

    Reply
  47. Terri on

    I love the picture of little Jasper doing the compost tea application. I have a future firefighter who would love that job I think. I am excited this year to have found a source for rabbit poop which to me, is better than a sleigh full of Christmas presents. I have a friend whose daughter is in 4H and she has a friend (also in 4H) who has 30 poop-making rabbits. She agreed to save it all for me over the winter and even said that the kids like to do community projects so if I have any projects that need to be done, they’ll help me with that too. I can think of a few…. Wonder if they’d build me a little flower stand? And a cute arbor for my farm’s entrance? They will rue the day they volunteered their services to me!

    I have wonderful soil (thank God) which is the main reason that despite filling my home to bursting with children, I WILL NOT MOVE. My neighbors are apple farmers and are huge proponents of spraying chemicals but I will not. I think it’s an important point you made- as parents (of pets or children), we should try to avoid toxic chemicals at almost any cost.

    I am thrilled to hear that I can probably get away with not using four lines of drip like you do. I thought because Erin does it, I must do it too. You just saved me a couple bucks.

    P.S. Would you be insulted/a little freaked out if I named one of our hens after you? If there is a rooster in the bunch, I promise I’ll name it Chris if that would make you feel better. But there won’t be a rooster because they are sex-linked! But seriously, can I?

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Terri, you a too funny!

      Of course you can. But promise me you’ll post a picture of her and send me a link!

    • Terri on

      It’s a deal!

  48. Aisha Crawford on

    Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful tips! I love each and every one of your posts. I am wondering what your take is on adding things like Mykes brand mycorrhizae? I have had my father in law bring me natural mycorrhizae from his 325 acres in the upper peninsula in Michigan. He has an organic farm and organically raised bees there. However sometimes I can’t wait and have bought the brand for plants and veggies. I grow organically as well and would be so sad to find out that it’s not as natural as they claim. Thank you for any input you have ☺

    Reply
  49. Sherry on

    I haven’t even planted the first seed and I had to go back to your first February article and remember why I’m doing this. It isn’t about the money, its about a legacy. It wasn’t cost or profit that was on my mind when I sat with tears streaming down my face and read the article in Country Living about your farm. It was about a promise in Isaiah that the Lord would bring forth beauty where there were briers and thorns. It was a memory of being mesmerized at the age of 8 as I watched my grandmother, who we called Honey, put an armload of bright colorful zinnias in to a vase as she made an arrangement for a neighbor. It is about wanting to bring that same beauty into my daily world and the world of my children and grandchildren. So I will gladly spend $162.00 for a cubic yard of organic compost and put in my first row of zinnia seeds. And I will trust the Lord to help me find the resources I need as I go forward. Thank you floret for all you do.

    Reply
  50. Laura on

    Erin, these posts have all been so fantastic! I was wondering if you’d share your compost tea recipe? (If there is such a thing?) All the best and thanks again!

    Reply
  51. Jillian on

    I’ve been scouring your blog, & read that 100 year old book on Sweet Peas that says, “Cow manure”, more than any other manure is better for sweet peas. Do you ever use aged manures? & if so, what kind? I have access to aged chicken manure & horse manure. What do you plant as a cover crop?

    Reply
  52. Elizabeth on

    Enjoyed this post, found through insta. I have been starting the initial stages of flower farm planning and have been keeping an eye out for soil amending advice. I will be working on clay. Also I have been torn between conventional sprays, biopesticides, & full organic. Always good to head more points of view.

    Reply
  53. Melanie Deyton on

    I love this blog. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It really sparks my passion and keeps me very motivated. Looking forward to the landscape fabric post.

    Reply
  54. Aleida on

    Just a dreamer here but reading these posts with concrete information has been such a joy! Thank you! Will you be doing a post about cover crops or farm equipment you find absolutely essential?

    Reply
  55. Prince Snow Farm on

    What a great post! I grow lots of veggies and 2 beds of zinnias. This year I am taking over a few of my veggie beds with flowers. I literally sat with a notebook yesterday taking notes from all of your posts. When to plant, when to pick, which plants to succession plant and how often. I feel like I am taking a gardening course and it’s wonderful! We have a nearby horse farm who had his compost certified organic last year. So we filled our beds from him and we are going to top the beds this year. We also us Neptune’s Harvest organic fish and seaweed fertilizer. I really like the idea of the compost tea and would also love a recipe. REALLY looking forward to your description of ow to use the landscape fabric. We have used it on the paths between our raised beds, but would love to use it on the beds themselves. Thanks for taking the time to educate and help us do what we love!

    Reply
  56. Dennise Bamberry on

    I love reading your blog! I’ve been an organic gardener from the beginning (everything raw and natural from my household – except meat/dairy/oils – goes out to the compost heap) and believe wholeheartedly in being responsible to the environment. I enjoy everything you share, and am likewise guilty, as another reader posted, about forgetting to test my soil, so thanks for sharing that tip. Well worth reading, and sharing!

    Reply
  57. Emily Nekl on

    Very helpful indeed. I see that you cover entire sections of your farm with a fabric. Do you worry about air exchange and heat for your soil organisms? While compost, fertilizer etc are right at the top of key ingredients, so are worms, soil bacteria etc. love your thoughts on this.

    Reply
  58. Marisa on

    So wonderful! I had no idea weekly compost tea was a possibility as I only did it monthly last year — this year I’m doing more plants and will try the weekly application. Thanks!

    Reply
  59. Joy on

    Thank you for generously sharing this information. I always look forward to reading your post and learning your process. Yesterday I gave myself the Valentine gift of planting some of your Floret seed. We have pet rabbits, they are really sweet and their droppings provide us with an excellent natural fertilizer. Keep up the wonderful work.

    Reply
  60. Corina on

    Jasper on the tractor! Kai and Luke are jealous!

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  61. Katie rosemancreekranch on

    The pictures are just a great way to communicate. I had no idea you had such sandy soil. Remember Findhorn garden and Golden Gate Park were both built on sand dunes…

    Reply
  62. Tracey on

    Middle of the day and stinking hot outside.Am laying on the bed ,reading your much anticipated and appreciated Blog. I am up at first light doing my chores and observing Nature ,at the best time of the day. I have prepared three 16 metre rows ,each about one and half metre wide. My soil is black with a sprinkling of rocks. Yesterday I threw Gypsum along the rows, hoping to help break down the clogs of soil. I have a pile of compost and old cow manure at the ready. The irrigation shop was very helpful in selling me drip tube ect. I won’t be using three lines , as my soil will hold moisture better than sand. I have not yet purchased the Weed Mat and am waiting with baited breath for that information. Any particular wire netting spacing ,there are so many sizes.!!many thanks and have a smiling day today.

    Reply
  63. Holly on

    Thank you for this fantastic post! Sharing what you have learned over years of hard work feels like such a gift to us. I’ve so appreciated reading your blog posts this month. Again many thanks and blessings to you!

    Reply
  64. Connie Gauthier on

    Thank you so much, I feel like I’m taking a course with all your information. Erin, you have a generous spirit! Blessings to you and your family.

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  65. Trish on

    Thank you for the info and please keep it coming!! Your blog and Instagram are getting me through Wisconsin winter!!

    Reply
  66. Cill on

    I’ve been looking forward to this post! Living in the Southeast all my life, I have been fortunate to garden in the wonderful Ridge and Valley, Southwestern Appalachians, and the Mississippi Delta ecoregions before permanently moving to Southeastern Alabama in the sandy Southeastern Plains ecoregion. In the last 5 years since purchasing property here, we have had more problems with disease and low productivity than I ever could have imagined (this has been a recurring sore-spot for my Botanist husband). After following your blog, I am embarking on a new, intensive soil-building regime. I would also love more detail about your drip irrigation, since I think this way of watering may help with the terrible disease problems that we have been dealing with.

    Reply
  67. Andrea on

    I love all of the details! This is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.
    I can’t wait to hear about the landscape fabric. Weeds are my worst enemy! I apologize if you’ve covered this elsewhere, but how do you decide what flowers you use the hoop house with and which you don’t? Also, do you have many bug problems there and if so what organic methods work well? We live in Illinois and the Japanese Beetles love the Dahlias. It seems they just appear overnight and the next day they’ve devoured many petals. It’s so disappointing!

    Reply
    • Barbara Ottolino on

      Johnny’s Seeds sells super fine net and hoop benders that allow you to protect dahlias from japanese beetles. Quick Hoop instruction manual will teach all you need to know. Proteknet “Biothrips” Insect Barrier protects crops without overheating them, but if you need more heat, or wider fabric, there are dozens from which to choose.

  68. Eleanor Burke on

    Erin- your blog posts, as always are terrific. As a novice gardener and flower grower, your willingness to share your years of experience here is a gift. Thank you!

    Reply
  69. Mary Hegnes on

    Thank you. I have sweet peas starting to poke up. They are looking a little “gangly” should i put more potting soil around them and for support or just let them go? Thanks again you are amazing and so generous to share your knowledge.
    Mary Hegnes

    Reply
    • Floret on

      Mary, they always start out spindly. Just let them keep growing and they’ll soon fill out.

  70. Jessica on

    Thank you for sharing all of your insights and practices! Here it seems like very few take the time to do things naturally and we are surrounded by big crop farms (beans, wheat, and corn). I have three little girls that crawl around in the dirt with me so we keep things natural. We are blessed to have neighbors with horses that share their compost. All of your posts show how much you truly care about flowers, the people who enjoy them and the planet we all live on :)

    Reply
  71. Joan on

    What a great post! I’ve enjoyed your February “blizzard” very much! This post was especially relevant as I have a 7 year old daughter and two cats who are my helpers in the garden all summer long. Growing flowers (and veggies) without dangerous chemicals is top priority on my farm. Thank you for this informative post and I can’t wait for your tips about landscape fabric later this week! :)

    Reply
  72. Tara on

    Thankyou – perfect timing and great, honest information. We too have sandy soil and are waiting on our soil test result as I write.

    Reply
  73. Brittany G. on

    Loved the post! I only wish that all the pictures were labeled. I had to re-read the article to figure out what the progression of photos was showing. I may just be too much of a garden newbie to understand this all yet, but I’m enjoying the ride!

    Reply
  74. Lexi on

    Thanks for your detailed posts. I’m LOVING them. When you don’t use landscape fabric and just mulch, what is your weeding approach? I know hula hoeing is tough with a bunch of mulch in the beds. Curious how you manage that. With thanks! Lexi

    Reply
  75. Jennifer on

    Can’t believe I’m saying this and don’t want to ginks myself, but I love this “February Blizzard”!
    The details and specifics of this post are answering our present questions as we are trying to create beds now. The link for Natures Intent was great as well. More specifically the info and clarification on when a bed is done and how you mow it down and re-supplement the bed before next planting is just what we were trying to sort out in our heads of what this looks like. The pictures you’ve included are so helpful as well.
    Always grateful for your time & generosity!!!
    Cheers, Jen

    Reply
  76. Shannon on

    Wow, there is some really helpful information here. Thank you so much for generously sharing your knowledge!
    Is rotation advised…. as it is with veggie production?

    Reply
  77. Dani G on

    Erin,
    Thank you once again for the thorough post! Ive learned an insane amount from you over the past year. (Loving this series!!)
    Where do you purchase your compost? How wide are your high tunnels? Thanks! :)

    Reply
  78. Sherry on

    The info you are sharing is wonderful. Using the information you have shared about soil amendments and groundcover fabric and drip line I did a cost analysis over the weekend and am a little unhappy with the results. What I need is not something you can provide but maybe someone can point me in the direction I need to go to find resources for organic production. I have called our local ag center and emailed several local certified organic farmers and so far have not gotten any response. The least expensive compost I have found is about $50 a yard with minimum purchase of 20 yards. The OMRI listed source I found delivers by the cubic yard but even with a volumn discount the cost is $132.00 a cubic yard. How important is the OMRI listing for organic production? Most soil amendments that are OMRI listed that I have found have to be shipped which is also cost prohibitive. I know there are people in North Carolina doing this I have see several on your posts. Is this the kind of info I can get if I join ASCFG?

    Reply
  79. Diane Miller on

    Thank you Erin for putting together this information. It is well appreciated. Cheers From Canada!

    Reply
  80. Jilly Snell on

    I drinking in your advice day by day- so grateful!
    What do you use for your tea?

    Reply
  81. Jardine on

    Erin, your time and generosity in sharing your hard won knowledge is so appreciated and truly inspiring

    Reply
  82. Les on

    Wonderful, thank you! How about a compost tea ingredients recipe?
    Thank you for your generosity.

    Reply
  83. Killoran on

    Really great information! Thanks! I’m building beds and haven’t decided if it’s a better idea to just mound the soil/compost, or to use boards, what I should fill it with (because of flooding, I have to build and build and build – the garden is under INCHES of water right now), but this has given me some good ideas!

    For other small-timers/newbies like me: I live in Victoria, BC and I just learned that my city offers free workshops about irrigation! Just something to look into!

    Reply
  84. Anna on

    Thanks again for a great post! It is reminding me that I need to get on the stick about getting my soil tested. Here in Fairfax County VA, you can pick up kits from any library and send them to VA Tech and they will do it for $10 a sample! A good deal.
    I also would love a post on managing expenses. I am much, much smaller scale than you are but still struggling to figure out when it makes sense to spend and when to save.
    And thanks for the organic gardening plug. As a mama like you, I try to grow organically whenever I can afford it.

    Reply
  85. Melissa Smith on

    Erin,
    I received my Floret seeds and can’t wait to start sowing!
    Thanks very much for all the information on preparing the soil and also for growing cut flowers! It’s so great to know that you grow organically. I have not tried fertilizing with compost tea, but have had wonderful results with fish emulsion. I’m going to try making compost tea this season, can’t be that difficult, right?
    Cheers!
    Melissa

    Reply
  86. Brooke on

    Thank you for the organic ideas! I’m so excited to hear your ideas on weed control!

    Reply
  87. Stephanie on

    Another Awesome Post! Thanks so much Erin. I try very hard to be organic in my own garden and it’s very discouraging when the landscape company at the neighbor’s house over sprays fertilizer or pesticides or who knows what into our yard. Organic is important to me because I want to stick my nose right into my flowers and touch my plants. Thank again for sharing.

    Reply
  88. Siaran on

    Hi, just wanted to say I am finally giving myself time for my garden and find your blog really inspiring.
    Just moved home and I now have the garden I have always longed for, cottage garden in the country.
    Really value your posts and can’t wait to find out about your compost tea!
    Any tips for small scale cut flower newbie gardeners are welcome! Keep up the great work. UK fan x

    Reply
  89. Laura vollset on

    Again,just right for where I’m at! So great to hear how to keep fertility high in an organic way and still farm intensively on a small plot!

    Reply
  90. Alyse on

    Thank you so much for all of the work you are putting in to this blog series.The information is beyond valuable and I look forward to each new post. I want to also thank you for your writing style. The way you write is very comforting, if that makes sense. You are bringing the info to the masses without hyperbole or weird innuendo, which seems to be the trend in blog writing. I feel very empowered to take on my dreams of flower farming namely due to your blogs! Thank you!

    Reply
  91. Kelly on

    Thank you so much Erin & Co. This is just what I needed to read RIGHT NOW!

    Reply
  92. brenda on

    Great information! I also garden in sandy soil and have a question regarding watering. Do you find that the drip watering system is enough water for your plants? I find in the middle of a hot summer that it does not keep up. How long do you leave yours on at one time? Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Barbara Ottolino on

      Adding organic matter as often as possible will radically change your soil and watering needs in a few years.

  93. Alexandra on

    Eagerly waiting for your landscape fabric post, my weeds are rampant! There are a few areas of the garden I just throw my hands up and give up. The sad part the soil is so good on those areas but it’s going to the weeds. It’s almost black! We have a creeping Charlie weed. I should call it strangling vine. It has killed shrubs, and I’m always fighting it off my dahlias and I have to keep an eye on my sweetpeas or they kills those vines too! So eagerly awaiting for that post!

    Reply
    • Megan on

      You should also look up your local extension service. They usually have people with tons of weed management experience who can give you several ways to manage the plant-as well as advice on the best time to take action. Also, there are a several plants people call creeping charlie, so it will be important that people know which one if they are going to offer advice-so referencing the botanical/scientific name is a good way to do that. Good luck!! :)

  94. Sarah on

    Thanks so much for this step by step! This is exactly where we’re at in our prep for the year. Do you have any posts about your compost tea, its makeup and application tips? Thanks again!!

    Reply
  95. Donna on

    A soil test is so important! Last year I skipped this step for the first time in a few years, and boy, did I regret it. I always wait until spring, but it really makes more sense to do it in the fall.

    Thank you for the fertilizing tips and mulching tips. Also, the soaker hoses photos are very helpful. Can’t wait to learn more about the fabric!

    Reply
  96. Melody on

    This is great. I’m having trouble figuring out what type of compost to add to the soil. I can find composted plant matter from landscape companies fairly easily and there is also composted dairy manure for sale for quite a bit more, but I’m not sure which is better. Thank you!

    Reply
  97. Christine O'Brien on

    Hi Erin,

    thanks for the great post on soil preparation. Very helpful and important information. We are very fortunate to have rich soil where we live (Missouri), and when we feed our soil with extra nutrients it’s only with organic matter, such as old chicken manure and compost tea.

    We make our own compost tea and it’s the easiest thing to do. Here’s a link how to do it: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/120682464991140417/

    I think it cost us $100 to get a barrel, lumber for stand, etc. The “juice” from the compost drips into a bucket and we call it liquid gold. Feeding our veggies with it all summer long and they thrive like crazy. Growing cut flowers for production is new for us this year, so we’ll be certainly going to feed those beds with compost tea.

    Thanks again for all the excellent information! Can’t wait to buy your book.

    Christine

    Reply
  98. Lynn on

    Erin – this was a very timely post, as I’m trying to figure out the new beds I’m adding this year, and your information is priceless!! My question that sort of goes along with this is on the drip irrigation. I want to save money on water, so this is what I would like to do, but am kind of lost on what to purchase – where – how to lay it out, etc. That would help immensely!! My soil is so bad and I can’t go very deep because of utility lines, that until I can move, I have to put in raised beds. Thank you for another great post right in line with what I need!!

    Reply
    • cali Walters on

      I second this question, I’d love some guidance on irrigation

  99. Linda Q on

    Erin you are so right about having your soil tested not only for nutrients but for the ph as well. Plant that are growing in Soil that is too acid or alkaline will not grow well no matter how much fertilizer you apply! Many state universities and extension location will test soil for free and it does make sense to do this in the fall as the wait time for test results is shorter than in the springtime. Thanks for all of your great tips and I look forward to your post on landscape fabric!

    Reply
  100. Liz on

    Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii! Your soil preparation information is priceless! As of course are all your other blogs too! Thank you for taking the time to share this information with us! I was just up in Waimea(2500 ft. elevation) installing drip irrigation for the first time. Luckily I had done my research, come up with a plan and had the right tools. I had prepped my soil but do not have my own compost tea. Do you make your compost tea or do you buy it? I would venture to say the you probably make your own. Many thanks! Happy President’s Day to you & yours!

    Reply
  101. Jan on

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog, I garden in northern England, frost dates mid/late May to early/mid October and just grow 3 x 12 by 4 foot beds of flowers for myself, friends & family but the joy i receive from doing this is immense. I do have a green house & cold frames for raising plants so i try to have plants ready to go in when a crop as finished. Will your book be available to buy over here when it is published? I do hope so as i will definitely be buying it if i can. plus can you post your compost tea recipe. many many thanks from your friends over the ‘pond’

    Reply
  102. Helen on

    Great post! I hope you’ll talk a bit about your compost tea system. I looked into getting one like yours (wow, they are expensive!) and wondered what you did before you got that, for those of us who can’t quite invest that much yet. I’m thinking of a huge aquarium pump in a 55 gallon drum.

    Speaking of investments, I wonder if you’ll write a post about managing expenses, and when to invest versus save. It’s clear that your compost tea system was worth the price tag.

    One other thing – do you use a bed shaper on the tractor, and are your beds 4′ wide because the shaper is 4′ wide, or did you decide your bed width based on other criteria? Your beds are wider than most other growers’, is why I ask.

    Thank you so so much as always for this fantastic and inspiring blog!

    Reply
    • Kee-ju on

      Second Helen’s excellent request about managing expenses and investing vs. saving!

  103. Meredith on

    This is such great info, and so often overlooked, I’m glad you wrote about it! And personally, I feel like I understand my plants a whole lot more from growing without chemicals. Really happy to see you sharing your beliefs in regard to chemical use. That’s the only way we as a country wok move away from it!

    Reply
  104. Steven on

    Holy cow, I had no idea you guys had sandy soil! For some reason, I had always envisioned in my mind that you had that perfect, rich and elusive garden loam that everyone dreams of having. It gives us hope for our very sandy plot, and I totally agree with you on the feeding of the elephant metaphor with water and organic matter. We are ordering extra compost this week to get our plots ready for the growing season.
    Thank you also for the plug regarding organic as well. We hear a lot about organic vegetables and the effects they have on our bodies through ingesting them, but we don’t hear as much about A) how productive they can be in comparison to conventional and B) even if not consumed how the effects of certain substances can have a negative effect on ourselves, our family, our pets, and surrounding environment.

    Keep it coming, and thank you so much for the wealth of knowledge you have provided us so far!

    Reply
  105. Paula on

    Hi Erin!
    Can you please recommended a gardening journal for me? I want to start tracking favorite seeds, what is working, what isn’t, etc – ideally over a 5 year period. Thanks so much!!

    Reply
    • Angela on

      Lee Valley Tools carries a nice ten year, hard cover journal

    • Deana on

      Pinterest has several printable ones for free. I found one that’s fabulous. Take a peek, I’m sure you’ll find one that fits you perfectly.

  106. mtmanor on

    Thanks for this flurry of info. It’s right on target.
    Around here, our soil is very shallow, heavy, wet, clay. We are guilty of feeding the soil but not testing it.
    I don’t have any excuse because in central Ohio we have wonderful soil testing resources, especially CLC Labs in Westerville, and the Ohio State Extension office.
    Organic compost is easy to find here, too. Like Price Farms in Delaware.
    Luckily, we were able to create our own from wood chips mixed with horse manure/hay/sand. Recycling at it’s best.
    This year, my resolution is to get our soil and compost tested.

    Reply
  107. Grace on

    You are right on track!! This is the info I’m figuring out currently so it was very timely!! Thank you so much

    Grace e

    Reply

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