Clearing, caretaking and composting

It’s been that busy time clearing the remains of the flowering season and trying to get things put to bed for the winter. Doing this properly will save you time and effort both now and next season, as well as getting the soil in the best place for growing next year.

 

ZINNIA TUNNEL CROPS – LOTS OF BIOMASS TO DEAL WITH

 

Clearing

First things first, do you need to? It is always better to have something growing or covering the soil. The soil around roots is the most biologically active part so clearing and composting old crops is never as good as letting them rot down in situ. This is where a ride on mower can be rather handy or a strimmer if not, or it if is too wet. A hedge trimmer is also useful to separate out staking and support netting by cutting above and below. Tunnel crops are always coming out to make room for the next course and so will need composting on your heap.

 

Ride on mower clearing

MOWING OFF WITH A RIDE ON MOWER

 

If you have been using mypex or membrane to grow your annuals/biannuals in, you shouldn’t have too many weeds and so you can let the mypex cover and protect the soil, let the remaining flowers rot down over the winter and you can get on with something else (an easy decision to make as the weather deteriorates). If you haven’t used mypex or ground cover then you will probably have more weeds and want to strim/clear and cover.

 

Caretaking

All that organic matter can be left to decompose over the winter, preferably covered with mypex or black plastic to prevent weeds growing and allow worms to move up to the surface freely. An alternative to covering with plastic is a liberal and generous mulch of something sterile, green waste, DIY compost (if you made it well!) or even straw. Anything to stop the winter rain trashing the soil and to prevent excessive soil leaching. You will need considerable amounts though, in order to stop light getting to any leftover weeds.

BLACK PLASTIC AND LOTS OF WEIGHTS – IT’S A GOOD LOOK

 

GREEN WASTE FROM A COMMERCIAL SITE – LOTS AND LOTS REQUIRED

Commercial green waste being delivered

Commercial green waste being delivered

 

THICK GREEN WASTE AS OVERWINTERED MULCH

 

 

If soil temperatures are still warm enough, Sept or possibly early October you can try and get some mustard established as a winter cover crop. Depending on where you live and the severity of the winter this may not make it through to Spring but will have suppressed weeds and donated lots of organic matter to the soil before it expires. A rye/vetch mix is also an option here, if you don’t need the soil for early crops, as it will add more organic matter and N, and really keep weeds out of the picture.

 

MUSTARD ESTABLISHED IN SEPTEMBER

 

Composting

Everyone has their own take on this and it’s a really important part of recycling fertility and physically dealing with all the material you will be producing, especially from covered cropping. Here are a few pointers for flower growers, especially if you are newbies or have not been producing anything resembling the crumbly, friable, sweet smelling goodness that everyone else always seems to manage to.

 

The End Result

THE END RESULT – MAY CONTAIN FLOWER SEED

 

The first issue is that of the Nitrogen : Carbon ratio (or ‘greens’ vs. ‘browns’ in old allotment speak). Our heaps of flower farm waste are going to be simply too woody to really break down properly and so will need some amending. Ideally with something wetter, greener and with more Nitrogen than all those woody stems – like the veg waste from your kitchen but in larger amounts. Practically this means some sort of manure to be mixed in at regular intervals, we use chicken manure, horse manure (ideally without bedding) or fresh digestate (from a digester). This added Nitrogen will allow the first set of microbes to multiply rapidly and start to heat up the heap.

Secondly, most of our cleared material is bulky and will need physically breaking down before it can decompose properly. This can mean shredding (although I only manage this once or twice a year) or usually hedge trimming larger stuff with considerable stems. At any one time I typically have a pile of waste next to the pile to be added once cut up or weathered for a few months. Too much bulky material will lead to large air pockets and dry heaps that won’t decompose. Shredding really eats through all those piles of stuff, turbocharges the entire process with all that extra surface area for microbes to work on and may be an important factor if you don’t have much space for your heaps.

 

Compost heap

MAY NOT BE THE PRETTIEST PART OF YOUR FLOWER PATCH (but the blue Europallets are the best..)

 

Practically, compost heaps made of pallets work really well – they will need some serious bracing or they can also be made of straw bales if they are easily available. I have 3 heaps (3 -4 pallets along each side) so that I can leave them for 12-18 months with no mixing- I just walk/jump on them to pack them down after adding manure. They will rot down to a third of your finishing height, so you need to keep piling on material until it’s practically impossible. They won’t look pretty and so you may be tempted to hide them away but they still need to be accessible.

 

Composting

STARTING TO STEAM UP DURING THE FIRST FROSTS – a pretty picture of a compost heap

 

And so at this point of the year, once all that is done you can start to take a breather, unless you haven’t tackled the dahlias of course which has not been easy during this wet autumn.

 

Ash

 

Internal Affairs

We have always had the odd local volunteer here on the workforce and some have become good friends and loyal companions over the years. A suitable trade of skills, time and fresh produce can always be made and of benefit to both parties.

However, we were able to cast our net a bit wider last year (as we had our first year in a ‘proper normal house’) and so were able to offer accommodation, learning, grafting and food to a select few over the season. It was a bit of a leap of faith for us, but it has been a really positive experience and certainly helped out on the labour front a wee bit.

When I was younger and travelling around Australia, I did quite a spell of volunteering on organic farms and smallholding under the WWOOFing scheme. This can be a really easy way to get practical experience of different horticultural set ups as well as enjoying a cultural exchange and window into another country’s culture. Of course, not every visit was that rewarding but we had a camper van and were able to escape from tricky situations or locations fairly easily. Some farms took the opportunity to take advantage of new blood to send you down to plantings that had not seen anyone for years and were not visible anymore or just use one as plain weed fodder for days on end….But for a couple of months it was a great way to see how people made money from small plots of land, each environment posing its own challenges.

Camper van and times of adventure


So we were able to play hosts this year and our very first first intern, Monica, came from Finland in March, during a particularly cold and wet spell. She was in a position to stay for 3 weeks as part of a sabbatical/workplace retrain scheme and was keen to learn about flower growing as she had acquired some land. We’ve had lots of contact with Anya in Norway over the years but this was our first visitor from Finland (She brought salted liqourice which I was able to use in some great ice cream combos over the summer). Her incredible mastery of English meant we could have a true cultural exchange and hopefully impart sufficient knowledge to get her really set up for a Scandi summer.

Monica & Jesse bonding

Ben, our second recruit, was introduced to us via family contacts in Florida and was able to stay for a few weeks in early summer. He had some horticultural training and was able to help me set up irrigation tape for the coming summer. A good thing too as it then stopped raining for about 7 weeks….As it was his first time in Europe he was able to visit London and Oxford from us and then go on to Paris.

Min (Smoke Bush Flowers) was our next willing helper and as an experienced florist was put to work on just a few events going on….

Min earning her keep in a muggy marquee

Florists who wish to supplement their supplies with their own grown speciality cuts are a common client here at G&G and we have taught many of them and advised others over the years. Both Min and Lydia who came shortly afterwards were keen to learn some growing skills to help their floristry stand out.

Lydia from Rose and Ammi flowers was interested in growing flowers as she had moved to a new southern location and had some land available. As well as the florists in Edinburgh, she also manages a silk ribbon business and so there was lots of natural dye chat going on. She was able to slave away on a busy floral weekend but she’s coming back to see us this year so it can’t have been all bad.

mustard as a cover crop and soil improver
mustard cover crop I got Lydia to sow before she left

So, with appropriate vetting and filtering (emails and phone calls advised) a suitable intern fit for your flower farm can be found, especially with the power of social media to get news around. It can also be a way of learning and sharing all sorts of other skills and interests with fellow like-mindeds, as well as a cultural exchange for farmers tied to their plots. We are already pretty full up for places and slots this year….

Ash

Flower Farming – Through the Seasons

Green and Gorgeous celebrated it’s tenth anniversary this year. In 2008 I started growing on about 1/4 acre, squeezed in amongst rows of organic veg, the flowers proved their worth and slowly they crept across the entire site, with further tunnels being installed to protect the more delicate blooms and extend the season. Here we are today on four acres with our home and workshop overlooking the fields….

A series of practical on-farm workshops looking at how to grow, harvest and sell quality cut flowers.

Over the past decade I have seen a huge rise in the number of people throwing in the day job to boldly go into the flower patch, from nurses to accountants, many with no horticultural or floristry experience – just a love of flowers and a need to do something they are interested in and inspired by for a living.

Delphinium picking
Delphinium picking

I decided to become a flower grower after being a gardener for many years and was still unprepared for how much and how quickly I needed to learn so that I did not end up wasting enormous amounts of time and money.

Bucket of Ranunculus
Bucket of Ranunculus

Even with good horticultural skills and plant knowledge I had to find ways of scaling up my gardening practises without completely exhausting myself.

Using a hedge trimmer to cut back perennials

There was also the small matter of learning how to arrange flowers to make them irresistible to my customers, which in turn brought up many other questions. What were the right flowers to grow that would meet their tastes and requirements, how to ensure a continual supply against all the weather would throw at us and how can I organize all of this into the space and time that I have so I can still have a life outside of work?

August Bridal Bouquet

Together with my partner Ash we have been tackling these questions by finding techniques and systems that have allowed us to reduce our acreage and labour but turn over more profit. Over the years we have slowly improved – our site layout, tools and equipment, ways of selling, what we grow, our branding, how much we charge, who does what – to make the business as efficient, profitable and sustainable as possible. It is a work in progress and there is still much to do and learn but I like the challenge and the never ending process of learning which flower farming brings. 

There are many courses out there now on growing cut flowers for business and pleasure with the majority being just for a day. These are worthwhile but can only work as an introduction to the subject, to get people thinking along the right lines. Many of the people that have attended my ‘Flower farming for Beginners’ course over the past five years have been glad to know about pricing and finding the right customers but they need more detailed information on what I call the ‘nuts and bolts’ of growing.

My feeling is that if you are planning to make a career out of floriculture, a series on growing flowers for business would be even better, where you can keep checking in, reinforcing what you are learning in real time. I want to offer a course that runs through the season so that people can learn as they grow.

So this year I am offering ‘Flower Farming through the Seasons’ a series of three timely workshops that will take you step by step through a growing season. This will be a real time experience that is completely practical and business orientated, it is aimed at people who are new to Flower Farming or perhaps have done a season and have even more questions than when they started.

For more information about the course and to book online just visit our shop. If you are interested in staying with us the night before we have two rooms available in our farmhouse on a bed and breakfast basis, please get in touch for more details.