Spring into Summer

It is May already. The days are flying by and the list of jobs to do gets longer every day. Tasks this week should include planting, planting and more planting, weeding, pricking out, potting on and propagating. The dahlias need to go in, the sweet peas need tying in to their supports and two beds in the polytunnel need clearing ready for the next crops to go in. But it is pointless growing everything unless you can cut and sell it and so every week we spend a large portion of our time cutting, processing and marketing our product. This weekend will see us providing market bouquets for three retail outlets, stocking our own little flower shed, filling wholesale and retail orders and selling our produce at a busy market in Bedford.

I always feel like bunching and selling flowers is not real work. To me the work is the growing side. So I tend to get frustrated when I don’t get time to work in the field or greenhouse. On the growing side the work is never done – there are always more weeds to pull, more plants you could grow, so it is very difficult to draw a line under it and say I’ve done enough. There is never enough time.

So here is the funniest thing – I absolutely love going to the Bedford Flea market once a month. It’s the one time every month when I interact with customers face to face. My chance to showcase British grown cut flowers to the general public. And that’s what I am all about!

On a more practical note – feedback from the tulip crop this year. It has been a good year for tulip growing, with a very high proportion of good quality, long stemmed blooms being produced. We cut our first stems in the last week of March – first was the Exotic Emperor closely followed by Avant Garde, and we are still cutting now – the last two varieties to harvest will be Menton Exotic and Renown Unique. Best varieties for us this year – Victoria’s secret, Apricot Parrot, Columbus, Backpacker and Renown Unique.

Week 01 (starting Jan 3rd)

Taking Stock

Seed sowing will start from the end of January. Not many varieties will be sown that early, but as the weeks progress more and more will be sown each week. As the weeks move on we will be sowing successions of some things, first sowings of others and pricking out and potting on of the seedlings that have already germinated. By March there will be so many things to sow and seedlings to look after that we won’t have enough time in the day, or space for everything. Therefore it is really important that we try to be well prepared now.

Early in January I try to do a stocktake of all of the seeds I have – I organise them alphabetically and make a note of any that I do not have enough of. This year I need to order extra antirrhinum, phlox and setaria (because foolishly I forgot to save any seed last year.) I will also check how the stocks of compost, seed trays and plant labels are looking. Anything I need for the fast approaching seed sowing and propagating season will be ordered now. Nothing is more frustrating than getting a full day to work on seed sowing than finding out you’ve no labels and have to go scratching about for old ones. Our old labels, pots and trays are recycled until they are no longer fit for purpose, and I’m afraid we still use plastic, until the alternatives become reliable and affordable.

Seed suppliers we use

Moles seeds, Chiltern Seeds, Plants of Distinction, Premier Seeds Direct, Seekay Horticulture, Breeders Seeds, Roger Parsons Sweet Peas.


Sinclair professional potting compost or for peat free, Sylvagrow

Seed Trays and Pots

H. Smith Plastics

Getting ahead. If we have time this week we will clean and clear our propagation area (heated conservatory and windowsills, the greenhouse and the polytunnel.)

February 2021

A new season is just about to start for us. Yet again the winter has been a very wet one and it will impact on how early we will be able to get onto the land again. Lockdowns have meant we have been shut for most of the winter. At the time of writing we do not know when we will be allowed to re-open properly again. I have no doubt that unfortunately for the second year running we will see restrictions on weddings planned for the first part of the year, meaning some of our couples will not be able to have the weddings they had planned for, unless they feel like postponing again. In some cases weddings have already been postponed twice. My advice to my brides has been if you get a chance to have a wedding, just do it. You never know what the future may bring.

It has been a difficult winter for everyone but here on the farm there has been some positive stuff happening too. The new polytunnel is up and I love it – I planted most of it up straight away (as you can see from the photo, not even waiting for paths to go in or the side ventilation screens to be fixed down) and currently, despite the flooding and the mice, I have a superb looking crop of anemones and ranunculus in there. Our florists are almost as excited about this as I am and none of us can wait to get started again! Talking of getting started again, we have started to wake up the dahlias and cuttings have already been taken to increase the stocks of those varieties that look to be good sellers. Taking the cuttings and producing new plants is the easy bit. Figuring out where to fit in another couple of rows of dahlias will be the challenge. Especially as we are just planning the construction of an outdoor teaching and meeting space. The few workshops and meetings that did take place here last year were held outside to help us stay covid safe. And of course for almost every one of them we either had rain or strong winds. So this months project is to construct an open sided pole barn to provide shelter from the some of the weather. In the summer a little extra shade for processing flowers in the field will be an added bonus.

I know once the days get a little warmer and the field a little drier it is going to get manic – we’ve more florists on the books this year, a new retail outlet, a new monthly market and we are looking at teaming up with other local growers to start a weekly central wholesale market for local florists. This year I’m also mentoring a couple of other growers who are just starting out on their Flower Farming journey. I cannot wait for the season to get underway again, this winter has been a long one.

October (how is it October already!?)

I have limped (quite literally as I have injured my foot) through to the end of the season! It was our last day of fresh flower sales yesterday. As the year went on it just got more and more manic as more customers – florists and public alike, discovered us and became regulars. Which was good, it’s just been difficult juggling the growing, cutting, selling and paperwork, when I had no idea at the start of the year how quickly the business would grow.

However we have still managed to complete a few tasks over and above the everyday ones to ensure that we are ready to hit the ground running when the new season comes around. The new polytunnel is up, the biennials are all in, as are most of the hardy annuals for early cropping. Lots more perennials and shrubs have gone in, and the weed control fabric we laid over a large area last year has significantly cut down on the workload. Some of the bulbs have been planted and the anemone and ranunculus are pre-sprouted and ready to go!

We have two areas we want to develop further next year, firstly we would like to grow even more flowers for drying, as the market for them has remained huge again this year. Secondly I would like to try to extend the season for a month either side of where we are at the moment and be able to cut enough fresh flowers for my market bouquets from March through to November. The polytunnel will help with this, as will variety selection.

Now all I need is some half-decent winter weather!

July – the halfway point on the flower farm, burnout and battling on.

July is a milestone on the flower farm. The flowers switch from early summer to late summer varieties, which of course include the dahlias (the first Josudi Andromeda dahlia is pictured). Although without a doubt the dahlias are the real showstoppers they are joined by many others – zinnia, aster, cleome, amaranthus, cosmos, sunflower and ageratum, to name a few. I don’t sow or any more annuals for this year now. Many flower farmers experience a period of burnout now, from the intensity of the work and start to dream of the end of the season and clearing beds for new plants. But of course now we have to work even harder to make sure there will be plants to put into those newly cleared beds. I still have the odd tray of plants for flowers this year to pop in but the main focus in the greenhouse now is biennials, hardy annuals and perennials for next year. Many are already growing strongly in their modules – foxglove, hesperis and honesty look good. Some are just ready for pricking out – sweet williams, stocks, yet more aquelegias and lupins. At the end of the month I will start sowing hardy annuals for overwintering either outside, under low tunnels or in the polytunnel. Where they go depends on just how hardy they really are and how early I would like to start cutting them.

The flower trade is still very busy. Our turnover has more than doubled since last year (and I thought I worked hard then!) However as I write the autumn sown barley has been harvested and the rest of the arable crops are not far behind. I have no idea how we will cope when the combine starts to roll properly and I take up my late summer role as harvest support worker. I don’t do anything big on the main farm, ferry harvest workers and vehicles between the two farms and do two refreshment runs a day around the fields. But these seemingly small tasks take at least two hours out of every day. So that actually adds up to a day lost every week. So now is the point when I switch from making progress to survival. I cut flowers, deadhead, work in the greenhouse, fill orders and water. I don’t weed unless its really desperate. I don’t do any but the most essential paperwork. In fact I don’t do anything unless its vital (that includes eating, drinking, visits to the toilet and sleeping). Life is about to get just a little more manic. Brace yourselves, here we go!