by John Suscovich
Adding a cut flower share can do a lot for your small farm. Whether you use it as a main-stay or just to add an aesthetic element, growing flowers can be a nice addition to your business. Flowers can be used for wedding arrangements, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) flower shares, property beautification, farmers’ market sales, or all of the above.
Everything on a farm should have a use. The wonderful thing about flowers is that they can serve multiple purposes. Edible flowers not only accent your property, but can also be a unique addition to your vegetable CSA. It is up to you to decide how cut flowers might fit into your business plan.
For example, Patty Taylor of Devon Point Farm, CT plants perennials in the flower beds around her house and barn to increase aesthetic, but also sows larger quantities of annuals in the fields to supply the cut flower CSA, an add-on to her and husband Erick’s 200-member vegetable CSA.
Polly Hutchinson of Robin Hollow Farm, RI has created an entire business around cut flowers. She creates arrangements for her CSA, weddings, funerals, and farmers’ markets.
Do Your Research, Create a Flower Plan
Before you start planting flowers, you should know what you plan to do with them. Are they going to be an edible addition to your CSA? Are they going to make your farm stand more inviting? You have to decide on your goals. The specifics of each flower’s growing requirements can be found on the backs of their seed packets, or in seed catalogues such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds or Harris Seeds.
If you decide to get into cut flowers, The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski is a great resource. This book covers everything from the basics, such as site and soil selection, to arranging and marketing your flowers.
What flowers do you choose?
When creating your arrangements, it can be difficult to plan what is going to bloom when. Variables like rain, sun, soil fertility, and pollination all play a role in how long it takes a flower to bloom. For example, sunflower seeds can take anywhere from 50 to 60 days to reach maturity; this is a 10-day window, which isn’t helpful when you have a wedding or CSA pick-up on an exact day.
The solution to this problem is to plant a variety of flowers that complement each other. You will also want to plant flowers in succession, just as you would vegetables. Flowers with multiple heads that bear over time, like zinnias, don’t need to be planted as often. Flowers that produce only one stem, like gladiolas or sunflowers, need to be planted more frequently to have steady supply through the duration of the season.
Composing Your Flower Arrangements
You need to remember three things when putting together your flower arrangements: thriller, filler and spiller.
The thriller is your “money flower”. These flowers are usually a little larger, pop out of an arrangement, and more expensive per stem, but add “pop” and serious value to your arrangement.
The fillers make up the structure of the arrangement. These are often branching stems that add volume and architecture to the bouquet. You should vary the sizes of your fillers to create interest.
The spillers are the flowers with gentle or dramatic curves that spill over the edge of the vase to give the arrangement length and keep it from looking too top-heavy.
Those skilled at flower arranging can create a masterpiece with ten different varieties of flowers. If you’re new to flower arranging, however, stick to three to five varieties to keep the arrangement interesting, but not chaotic. Also choose a color theme for your arrangement. For example, you could choose two different shades of orange, and a purple to accent. This is your time to shine, get the first bouquet just the way you want it, and the rest you can assembly line because you already have the design down.
Lastly, try to follow the “rule of three” for flower composition. Using three (or more of your “filler”) flowers in an arrangement helps create movement and visual interest within the bouquet.
No Matter What You Do, Bring Value to Your Customers
Whether you are raising chickens, growing vegetables, or arranging flowers, you should always bring value to your customer. A happy customer is a repeat customer, and a repeat customer keeps you in business.
When pricing your flower arrangements, keep in mind what you would charge by the stem. Say for your thriller you choose a couple of lilies, which might cost about $3.00 per stem. Your fillers, such as zinnias or statice, might cost $0.50 to $1.00 per stem. Your spillers, plume celosia, snap dragons or ornamental amaranth, for example, might cost $0.50 to $1.00 per stem. Do your math and step back. Would you pay eighteen dollars for that bouquet? If the answer is no, then add more flowers.
Have Fun with It
Flower planting, harvesting, and arranging can be a very enjoyable activity. Even the darkest of spirits brighten at the sight of a well-arranged bouquet of flowers. The more you enjoy it, the better you will get at flower arranging – your customers can tell when you enjoy what you do and take pride in your product.