Year-round flowers strategy
By Lynn Byczynski
Flowers are a natural addition to a market farm or vegetable garden, and a beautiful way to increase revenue and extend the season. They have the same cultural requirements as vegetables, for the most part. Start them in the greenhouse just as you would any vegetable or herb crop. Outside, grow them in the same beds, with the same tools, fertility, and irrigation. Flowers will attract bees and other pollinators that help increase yields and quality of your other crops. And watch for the many beneficial insects that will hover around your flowers until they find some vegetable pests to prey on.
Flowers attract people, too, with their colors and fragrances. They will beckon customers to a farmers market stand and add value to a CSA share. Johnny's offers a wide selection of flowers that are easy to grow from seed, providing you with the best possible profits. And there's something for every season.
In spring, offer a selection of bedding plants ranging from always-popular petunias to less common varieties such as Gem marigolds, Tapestry phlox and creeping zinnias. Create your own themed collections of plants and group them with colorful signs to explain the connection. Be imaginative and educational: Grandmothers Garden for heirlooms such as hollyhocks and morning glories; Butterfly Rest Stop for plants that migrating Monarchs feed on such as asclepias, tithonia, and zinnia; Glorious Garnish for edibles such as calendula and viola. And don't forget the customers who don't have time or space to plant their own pots. Create instant gardens for patios and decks, mixing flowers, herbs and even vegetables in big containers.
In summer, sell cut flowers at farmers markets and farm stands, to supermarkets and florists. Many CSA farms offer bouquet shares or have a few beds of flowers for members to cut themselves on pick-up day. If you're just starting with flowers, try a few basic crops such as sunflowers and zinnias, which can be planted with a push seeder and require little attention other than weeding and watering until its time to harvest them. Grow some easy fillers such as cinnamon basil, statice, and Amazon celosia; the result will be dramatic summer bouquets!
Fall brings an opportunity to sell florals along with pumpkins and gourds. Sunflowers, grasses, and grains have an autumnal look that sells well beginning in September. Wreaths made of broom corn, sweet Annie, or ornamental peppers are easy to make and can be sold right away or weeks later after they have dried. Arrangements of dried flowers are coming back into style for fall decor, and are perceived as being a good value because they'll last for months.
You also can extend the fresh flower season by planting in a hoophouse in late summer. For example, by September 1, you can plant a final crop of a day-neutral sunflower such as Sunbright Supreme, to bloom in late October through Thanksgiving. Fall plant flowers that need a cold period, such as sweet William and larkspur, to bloom early next spring.
Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.