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July 6th 2015

This week on the Farm: Week 24

Written by
Floret

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This past week was likely the most beautiful and abundant our farm will be all season. The high temps and lack of moisture have run our early summer crops through their full flowering cycle in a matter of 10 days. It’s absolute insanity. Word from other local growers is that everything is flowering too fast to get harvested and sold. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

It’s a bit heartbreaking to watch it all come and go and have no way to capture the abundance. My grand succession plans have long been tossed out the window and now we just work with what is and try and not stress out.

But this is farming. No matter how well you prepare the soil, baby the plants, choose the best varieties, put together the perfect harvest crew, plan every last detail out, you really have very little control in the end. You can only do your best and then see what natures has in store for you.

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In our early years of farming, we experienced on of the wettest springs on record and basically our entire field rotted before it had a chance to bloom. 30,000 sunflowers and two acres of summer bloomers literally melted into a diseased mess right before my eyes.

We had just expanded to meet the ever increasing demand for our flowers and rented a new field a few miles away. Unlike the soil here at home which is sandy loam, it was two acres of rich, heavy clay. We were excited about the prospect of not having to irrigate or fertilize so much and jumped in that spring with both feet. I hired a bigger crew, ordered more seed, planned for abundance. Then the rains started and they never stopped.

We had bit off a huge chunk of debt to expand and when the flowers sat and rotted in the field, I learned a valuable lesson. You can do your very best but you’ll never have control of the outcome if you’re farming. Never.

The rains finally let up by August our home crop of dahlias ended up saving the day and we were able to break even by years end. That season almost broke me. I let go of that big new field that fall and instead turned to maximizing our little plot here at home. Paths were tilled in and turned into more planting beds and in the end we found a way to grow just as many flowers on our measly two acres as we had planned for on four.

Looking back I can see it was all meant to be. Our success with small scale, high intensity production has been able to help so many other budding growers who also have a postage stamp plots. That season was pivotal in guiding us in a new direction.

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I know there is a big lesson in this season too. I can feel it. So, while the field is a blaze of color and most of it is going unharvested because no matter how much we pick, and no matter how late we stay up to bunch, we’ll never be able to get it all into the hands of our customers.

I’m working really hard on letting my expectations go. Every time I feel that tidal wave of worry, I try and remember to breathe and instead of clenching down in fear for what this means for the rest of the season, I instead listen for the message. What huge message is in this experience that I’m supposed to hear?

On the bright side, I’ve truly never seen so much beauty all in one spot. The abundance has made for a marvelous backdrop for the book I’m writing. Seriously, the images leave me breathless they are that stunning.

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So, while this season isn’t going at all how I had planned or hoped, I’m looking for the silver lining. I know it’s there, it’s just a matter of time before I see it.

25 Comments

  1. Mara - TheFarmAtOxford on

    Oh I hear you on the strange weather, super hot dry spring, then crazy rains…a ton of my dahlia tubers rotted, so many I got from you in spring, sadness! I replaced them and soldiered on. Our weed pressure here is insanity, a great lesson for the future in how better prepared we need to be. Mother Nature is a harsh taskmaster at times. But you are so right in that the extra gloriousness of the fields is something to be appreciated, you may not see it again like this for years to come. Hang in there lady, I know your plate is full but you’re doing great work. <3

    Reply
  2. Melody Idol on

    Erin, you are such an inspiration! I would love to see more info on the roses that you grow for one of your posts!

    Reply
  3. Viv on

    OMG!!!!! How that must sit on those tired shoulders. Your hard work and dedication is always most appreciated,– and important….and those pictures are insane!!!!!!! I like the u-pick idea, too, but, I don’t know with your operation if that would work for you . Volunteers?? Friends?? maybe to help you pick, and get chores done, then they could take home some blooms at the end of the work day. They could volunteer for 1/2 a day or whatever–then it would be the same handful of people,— instead of visitors picking, etc. Just a thought. You know it’s out of your hands, it’s what you do with the experience that matters. WE are VERY wet here, too. My second year for market. Re-planted sunflowers, Zinnias have a little disease, and some of the dahlias have rotted. But, I will have some to pick for awhile. And it’s ok. I, too, doubled my seeds/plants,–and glad I did, because of the loss so far. We are blessed to have what we do. Just breathe, Erin, and we can’t wait for the book!!!

    Reply
  4. Jackie - Tierra Blooms on

    I’ve heard about the heat and dry in Washington this season. Here in Maryland we are commenting that it’s been Seattle weather, very unseasonable here! Too much wet here, but thankfully not devastatingly so. Best wishes to you for a more manageable fall :).

    Reply
  5. Leslie Emanuels on

    I love your honesty. I would be feeling the same way. But what you have is a blessing from God! I tend to focus on what I don’t have instead of what I do. I am an avid runner. A few years ago, I broke my femur and tore out all the ligaments in my knee. I could not run for a long time. God spoke to my heart to look at all I could do. Last year in the garden, I had these awful grasshoppers that seemingly ate everything. I went into the garden with my big basket and a heavy heart. I kept seeing those darn grasshoppersand all the damage. But God brought the lesson to me once again as I looked over and my harvest basket was overflowing.

    God is providing what you need not for the past and how things looked and were done before but for the present and the future. Your 2 acres (instead of the 4) has worked beautifully. You are so right that you would not have all these beautiful photographs without this season. You are blessed abundantly. Enjoy.

    Reply
  6. Kathy Horn on

    Whenever I need a lift I visit your website. I am sorry to hear of your plight. I have been feeling a bit (okay, a LOT) sorry for myself this Spring and Summer. My husband and I have been flower farmers for over 20 years and this is , by far, our most challenging season ever! We have had record amounts of rain over the last few months. Our soil is Prairie loam and holds moisture. I have thousands of plants that I cannot transplant to the field because the ground never dries out enough – it is constant muck. Only half my dahlias have survived. I replanted sunflowers today – 80% did not germinate. Foliar diseases are moving in. Entire crops will be lost because I cannot hold them them in the flats any longer and more rain is predicted. Also our temps are all over the place – nothing is “normal”. Weeds are everywhere.
    Worst of all, my husband had an accident at work last week and broke his hip! – Without my farming partner, I am absolutely overwhelmed with the work load and the disappointments.
    Like you, Erin, there is absolutely nothing I can do but accept the circumstances. I am looking for the silver linings. My husband will recover and Spring will come once more…….In addition we have had a slap upside the head in terms of FINALLY streamlining our operation! I see more hoophouses in my future.!! And maybe I will have some time later this summer to tweak my personal garden which always gets left behind in the feverish pace of the cut flower seasonal frenzy! Some things good will come out of the bad…….. Hang in there, Erin.

    Reply
  7. Kristen Carrier on

    Your honesty is inspiring. This is my first year flower farming and within it have been some moments of worry and doubt, but when my hands are in the dirt and when I am assembling a brides bouquet I am reminded why I do what I do. And why I have chosen this crazy, but beautiful life. Moments of fear and doubt are only reminders to turn our attentions back where it should be. Thank you as always for sharing what is true to you.

    Reply
  8. Holly on

    Erin,
    Would love to know what roses those are in the above photos and also, what roses you are growing for cut flowers…?
    Your farm, family and life are just beautiful!

    Reply
  9. drea on

    We also have had to sit back and watch nature take it’s course! Too much rain.. But yet I have to be thankful, because we don’t have it nearly as bad as some! Our cross is not being able to get all our succession plantings out because of rain and mud.. I’m a little worried about what will happen later on this fall, and if we will have enough flowers, but I just have to breath deep and plow ahead.. It’s hard on a person when it’s only their second season, and had such big dreams, but there is always next year! I can’t wait to put to practice all the things we learned thru trial and error! Mostly error..

    Reply
  10. nole on

    Erin, would it be possible to do U-pick during these overflow times? Maybe create a newsletter for locals that you could send out when you have availability? We drive about an hour to go to a U-pick farm in Northern Virginia and love it! They send out emails to let us know what’s available and it’s always super crowded!

    Reply
  11. Chand on

    Erin, I can not believe you do all this on 2 acres! You have the most beautiful flowers. I enjoy the pictures so much on Instagram. Thank you for posting so many. I’m looking forward to moving to the PNW, possibly to Orcas, as soon as we can to be close to our grown boys and their future families. I can’t wait to find your flowers at a local market. Keep it up! You are bringing great joy to others. Cindy

    Reply
  12. Villa Fiore Botanicals on

    We live on old US prairie land in western Indiana – rich sandy soil that drains well – almost too fast. We’ve had a very wet, hot early spring and summer. We work in cycles, with peonies first from mid-May to mid-June. This year was THE perfect peony year and our fields produced like crazy. Now we’re into summer flowers and the rain has kept everything moving slowly. However, two hot sunny days and already I’ve been watering and getting more seeds in. Last year was picture perfect and we had summer flowers in abundance. The jury is still out this year but all looks hopeful. The point is it’s still farming – dependent on sun, rain, temperatures, winds, storms, bugs – each year will bring a new set of challenges and stresses based on things we can’t control. Still – I would much rather NOT know what day it is – but I always know what “weather” it is…

    Reply
  13. Pooh Stevenson on

    OMG I am so sorry for your sucky season. I have been there. Five years ago I had a house full of (2000+) lisianthus ready to bloom…2 weeks of 90+ degree days, a wholesale account that went belly up and watched by beautiful children blow before my eyes. Yes…hold on to the lessons for that is where the beauty lies. (I did a flower seminar here in Michigan this spring with Lynn Byczynski and another local grower and you were often mentioned as a valuable source of inspiration.) Keep up your good work. We all can’t wait for your book to come out. Thank you for all you do.

    Reply
  14. Cathy Bartolic on

    So sorry to hear about your flowers, especially when it all started out so well this year. I can’t imagine seeing all that beauty and not being able to harvest and sell it. Sending you a virtual hug to let you know that I am thinking of you. Hang in there….we need you.

    Reply
  15. Sarah on

    I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your honesty. I’m just embarking in my own flower farm in NZ and I too can feel myself clench up with worry about whether we’ll get a cold wet Spring again and how hot the summer is going to be. Letting go and rolling with nature is going to be a big lesson for me and I thank you so much for preparing me. You’re a true inspiration

    Reply
  16. salviadorii on

    I just found your site while searching zinnia diseases. Wow what an amazing job you tackle. We grow a small organic market garden in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada. Owens Valley.
    After being at it for 21 season we are seeing disease and pest like never before. I am completely convinced it is tied to the harsh drought California is in. We have lost all our potatoes and tomatoes to beet curly top virus and I did learn that Zinnias get it too. We grow in a series of backyards all around our small town to make our living in clean food. I do a few beds of hot weather flowers ,Zinnias,statice,ageratum,gomphrena,scabiosa for bouquets at the Farmers market. After all these years it has just stayed steady selling 6-8 bunches each mkt. Those who have keyed into buying my blooms come back raving at how long they last. I will be reading all you have written and shared here to continue my learning. Thank you so much

    Reply
  17. Christina on

    Your words and honest, heartfelt sharing about the reality of farming and that no matter how hard you plan and work hard to insure all the right conditions we are really at the mercy of Mother Nature leaves me humbled and reminded. I think it is the inspiration you share for “looking for the silver lining” that is what pushes others to carry on- to keep planting, trying, striving. I am inspired most that you are pushing on- acknowledging that it really sucks- but still going for it— that is the message I am getting. Oh and can’t wait to see that book and all the photos. xo

    Reply
  18. Shelley Yoshiwara on

    You’re always spot on with your honesty about farming. You can’t control Mother Nature. We’re in our 13th day of triple digits and the 35th day of above average and anymore what’s average??!! At least my zinnias and sunflowers like the heat and are pretty bug resistant! You’re a joy to follow and the beauty you share is beyond words

    Reply
  19. NW Healthy Mama on

    Erin,
    Thank you for being so real here. I can only imagine how hard it must be to see all those flowers blooming so quickly and not be able to use all of them!
    I wanted to tell you that I’d love it if you’d ever consider guest posting for NW Healthy Mama. I’d be so honored to have you!
    Your posts are real enough to be encouraging to those experiencing similar things and your photos are gorgeous!
    Angela -NW Healthy Mama

    Reply
  20. Bulent on

    “On the bright side, I’ve truly never seen so much beauty all in one spot. The abundance has made for a marvelous backdrop for the book I’m writing. Seriously, the images leave me breathless they are that stunning.” I agree, as far as I can see from the photos, they were beautiful flowers.
    Thanks

    Reply
  21. Killoran Moore on

    It’s so good to hear, not that other people are struggling, but that it’s not just my inexperience. I mean, undoubtedly, some of it is my inexperience, but things have been going totally bonkers (or not at all) and I’ve felt a bit at a loss. It’s good to know it’s not just me. Thank you for sharing these thoughts!

    Now there’s the wildfires – it was ORANGE here all day yesterday (Victoria, BC). I’m glad we’re not in the path. What a year.

    Reply
  22. Margaret Thorson on

    And who knows what the future holds weatherwise. I realized that if you add the data from this year and from 2 years ago when it didn’t stop raining until the middle of July together and average you’d probably get two mathematically perfect years. In this business you just have to roll with the punches.

    Reply
  23. Heather on

    Maybe it is a lesson in water conservation for a hotter, drier future?

    Reply
  24. Jessaca on

    Thank you for sharing your reality! I had no idea this happened. You see pretty flowers and you think, “what fun that must always be to grow flowers.” Just curious, but could you do u-pick hours? I have no idea what goes into harvesting flowers versus something like berries but I love going to farms u-pick, and they usually provide some wonderful insight into growing and the vegetation.

    Reply

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