Before we dig into one of my favorite topics, I wanted to take a minute and say THANK YOU for your incredible feedback. When I asked for comments on the last post, I had no idea that the response would be what it was. Hearing your stories, your struggles, you dreams, your fears, your grand plans…it was amazing. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you took the time to share them with me.
Oftentimes when I’m writing, I feel very alone. I want what I’m sharing to be clear, helpful, and hopefully strike a chord, but I have no real way of knowing if it will. Your incredible feedback was just what I need to hear, in order to know that yes indeed, I am on the right track. So, thank you very much!
Ok, now let’s dive into the good stuff.
Here at Floret, we have just two tiny acres dedicated to flower production. Yep, you read that right, only TWO acres. We utilize every available square inch of that space growing large volumes of high quality cut flowers that supply over a dozen grocery stores, numerous flower shops, our on-farm workshops and wedding couples throughout the Pacific Northwest.
We employ high intensity production techniques that work on a small scale. As soon as one variety is just about done blooming, we have another one ready to plant in its place.
One of the biggest mistakes we made early on in our farming career was expanding. We rented a two-acre field down the road, in addition to the two acres we tend here at home. At the rented site we were in a hurry and were out of money, so we barely prepped the beds, added a tiny sprinkle of compost, minimal fertilizer, no landscape fabric and overhead sprinklers instead of drip irrigation.
That year about killed us. We weeded and drug hoses all summer, hired extra labor just to stay on top of the weeds, battled insect pressure and disease like never before. We had to scrape for good quality flowers and ended up tossing at least half of everything we grew. The crops at home were grown in heavily amended beds, with consistent irrigation and produced literally three times the amount as the other field. When we did the math at the end of the year we found that the entire rented plot had been a financial loss. In an effort to save time and money up front, we paid for it in the end.
The next year we let that field go, tilled in all of our grass paths around the farm and added another 40 beds when we thought there was no way to expand. We also worked super hard to grow the best possible blooms and packed every square inch with production. That massive failure taught us such a great lesson, and our farm has been profitable ever since.
One of the biggest questions I get from budding growers is how on earth we get so many flowers out of our little plot. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you our keys to success including succession planting, soil preparation, landscape fabric, seed starting, bouquet planning and much more.
My hope is the information will dispel the myth that you need a sprawling field or estate-sized yard in order to have your own flower farm or cutting garden. Our little TWO acre plot keeps our entire family plus a team of employees busy most of the year. By simply dedicating a little spot to flowers, you too can have beautiful, abundant bouquets all summer long.
When visitors come to our farm, the first thing they comment on is how small our place is. While I have shared that we farm just two tiny acres more times than I can count, until folks actually see our micro farm firsthand, they rarely believe it.
Like so many others, we got sucked into the myth that we needed to expand in order to grow the business. This was before the idea of Lean Farming was introduced, and a bigger plot seemed like the obvious next step for us on the road to increasing revenue. But after scaling up and nearly killing ourselves in the process, we realized that there had to be another way. The more we looked for answers, the more we realized that there was still so much good growing space going unused on our tiny farm. So we let the extra field go and refocused our efforts on maximizing our tiny two-acre farm.
In addition to fine tuning our succession planting schedule and preparing our growing beds with the best amendments available, we also discovered that plants can be spaced much closer together than we originally thought. John Jeavons, in his groundbreaking book Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible, outlines an intensive approach to gardening revolving around close plant spacing. His discovery was that most plants only need a small amount of space to thrive. The key is planting on a grid versus side-by-side rows. A secondary bonus to increasing the amount of plants grown in a small space is that as they fill in their foliage canopy covers the soils surface and blocks out weeds. We took this idea and applied it on our flowers with incredible results.
We quickly realized that we could double; possibly even triple our production by adopting this new method of growing. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out exactly how close each variety could be planted without diminishing production or inviting in disease. We finally settled on what worked the very best and simplified things by creating just six separate spacing regimes: 6×6”, 8×12”, 9×9”, 12×12” and 18×18”, with the 9×9” spacing being our most popular.
In the old days, one of our 70-foot beds would have had two rows of snapdragons planted down the center, spaced roughly a foot apart, equaling 140 plants. With the new method, plants were spaced 9×9” apart, resulting in five rows per bed and a total of 466 plants. That’s over three times the amount of plants in the same bed!
Our growing beds are four feet wide, with 18” paths in between. This allows us to fit an enormous amount of plants in each allotted growing bed. It also makes for tight working conditions, but we feel it’s a worthwhile trade off. We use landscape fabric with holes burned into the spacing grid for each variety. I will show you exactly how we do this in an upcoming post.
It’s important to utilize consistent bed widths and lengths, whatever you choose, throughout your planting area for ease in calculating the number of plants needed. And if you aren’t able to plant an entire bed with only one variety, be sure to plant varieties with the same spacing requirements, and roughly the same amount of days to flower in the same bed. This is particularly important if you are using landscape fabric.
This intensive approach is suitable for both flower farmers and backyard gardeners. It will take a little testing to see what works best for you. I know many flower growers throughout the country in varying climates who have great success with maximizing their growing space by utilizing planting grids. Give it a shot and see what you think.
Here’s a little peek into what spacing we use for some of the most commonly grown varieties, based on our four foot wide, 70 foot long beds.
6×6” spacing = 7 rows per bed. This ultra tight spacing works great for: Lisianthus, Bombay Celosia, Larkspur, flowering Cabbage and single stemmed Sunflowers.
9×9” spacing = 5 rows per bed. This is by far our most popular spacing, making up about 80% of our field. Works great for: Honeywort, Basil, Frosted Explosion Grass, Snapdragons, Chinese Forget Me Not’s, Iceland Poppies, Nigella, Bupleurum, Dusty Miller, Globe Amaranth, Pincushion Flower and Zinnias.
12×12” spacing = 4 rows per bed. This spacing is ideal for plants that get more bulky like: Bells of Ireland, Celosia, Cosmos, Amaranth, Perilla, Queen Anne’s Lace, Chocolate Lace Flower, Foxglove, Black Eyed Susan’s and Scented Geraniums.
18x 18” spacing = 3 rows per bed. This spacing is great for large plants like branching Sunflowers, Salvia Leucantha, Eucalyptus and Dahlias.
Vine spacing: 8” between plants and 12” between rows = 2 rows per bed, one on each side of the trellis. Great for Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums, Love in a Puff and Hyacinth Bean.
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