About five years ago I quit my job in academia (I taught History) and decided to become a flower farmer. If I'm being honest, in those early days I imagined a Marie Antoinette style hobby farm full of clean miniature donkeys and beautiful fields of flowers magically popping up from nowhere. Boy, oh boy - not knowing the full story before you begin such undertakings is one of life's little blessings. So, here I will devolve how anyone, regardless of access to the treasury of Versailles, can become a flower farmer. I will not, however, give all the dirty details, because if I did:
A. you'd never finish this blog post, and
B. some of you might give up before you even begin --
"Over-preparation is the foe of inspiration -- Napoleon Bonaparte -
(probably before that whole Russian Winter debacle)
Find Some Earth
Dirt is essential for growing flowers, but you don't need nearly as much of it as you might think. Can you be a flower farmer from an apartment - maybe not (unless you convince your building to let you put in massive container beds on the roof and are willing to haul literal tons of soil to the top of the building). But can you be a flower farmer in a suburban neighborhood?
Yes! You can! I am. Our flower farm consists of the front and back yard of our 1/5 acre lot and a bit of our neighbors' yards, actually, 5 of our neighbors' yards. But we started out with only a 20x4 cutting bed along our back fence. That first year, with that one cutting bed and succession planting, we managed to harvest daffodils and tulips, bells of Ireland and snapdragons, zinnias and dahlias - in that order. Once you've found your land--as little or as much of it as you can manage/afford--the groundwork is laid for flower farming.
2. Buy Some Seeds
Take some time to plan out your garden, just after Christmas is the perfect time to do this. While it's still cold and snowy outdoors, curl up by the fire with seed catalogues. Here are some of my favorite places to buy seeds. Think about what conditions you have for growing flowers: how long your season is, can you start seeds indoors or will you have to direct sow, what grows really well in your area, etc. Then do some reading about succession planting to determine how many different crops you can get out of your space. Use graph paper to plan out what you will plant where, and when. Remember that when farming flowers (not just growing them for ornament in the garden), you can usually plant them a lot closer to each other, thereby cramming a lot more plants into a small area.
3. Prep the Ground
Once the ground is warm enough to be workable (aka not frozen) get some good quality compost delivered and either till it into your existing soil or top dress 2-4 inches deep with a mix of compost and well draining dirt. Top this off with good quality mulch that will help keep your plants cool and hydrated once summer sets in. Now is the time to think about irrigation. If lines need to be added or amended, now is that time to do so - before you add your soil and mulch.
4. Start your Seeds
If you are starting your seeds indoors under grow lights you can probably start them some time in February (check the dates on the back of the seed packets). Here are my tips and tricks for seed starting success. If you are direct sowing you'll need to wait a few months - use that time to think about buying some grow lights, or even better - a greenhouse. We have both: a seed starting room in our home and a greenhouse in our backyard...and a heated sunroom for starting dahlias - you'll get there, don't worry.
5. Your First Harvest!
Congratulations! You grew a lot of something, now you get to harvest it and DO something with it...hopefully you thought about this in step 2 but if you didn't...no worries (unless you mortgaged the house to cover the cost of the crops - don't do that). Contact some local florists and businesses and see if they need what you're selling. Bring a few mason jars with you around town with your card attached and leave them with potential buyers. Place a few jars on your front porch early in the morning with a sign telling people what they cost, guilt all your friends and family into buying CSA subscriptions from you...basically, do whatever it takes to sell, sell sell!
6. Learn From your Failures and Successes
Know that not every crop will take off and not every flower will be a best seller. Maybe you forgot to grow filler and decide to take over the neighbor's side yard for a mint field next year -- that 's what I did (thanks Karyn). Perhaps the earwigs nibbled all your dahlias and made the white ones unusable, research ways to organically kill earwigs and opt for more forgiving colors next year. Once a month I walk through the flower fields and send myself emails with notes about what to do differently or more of the same, these notes change every single year and each harvest teaches me how be better for the next one!
Whether you start farming for real or farming for fun, I'm right here, with you for the ride. Reach out with any and all questions, I'd love to connect!