July – mid season challenges

24th July 2022

Sorry, it’s a ranty one!

It’s been an exceptionally dry year here so far. We are having to irrigate in the perennial field, which is something we never normally do, as we have a clay soil under weed control fabric, which tends to keep the moisture in. On top of that last week saw the highest ever temperatures, just above 40 oC, on record in our region, accompanied by some strong winds. Some crops have been badly damaged by the drought and temperatures – antirrhinum, cornflowers and sweet peas in particular hate such heat. So we have picked our battles and concentrated on keeping our late summer flowers alive and healthy – the dahlia, zinnia, cosmos, amaranthus, statice and helichrysum. The chrysanths also look good and I’ll cut the first china asters later today.

On a positive Jack has grown the best crop of chillis and peppers, in part due to the extra sunshine we’ve been getting.

There can be no doubt that climate change is having a significant impact on our planet. I get very frustrated with those who either bury their heads in the sand and ignore, or even worse, dispute the evidence. During the heatwave I saw many articles about how we need to adapt to new hotter summers in the UK, by perhaps installing air conditioning as standard in new homes. Awesome. Like bandaging up a gangrenous wound. Running air conditioning requires a lot of energy and if this energy is coming from non-renewables then we are just adding to the problem and creating more pollution and pumping extra CO2 into the atmosphere. Why not make it standard to fit solar panels to new homes? Or electric car charging points? (I could go on and on, the endless creation of unsustainable, thoughtless new build housing estates drives me nuts.)

To those people (with the exception of those who are medically vulnerable) who jumped in their petrol cars, drove to the retail park, and bought an electric fan to run night and day during the heatwave, shame on you! Putting your own comfort for a couple of days before the environmental and financial cost of your actions it just an example of the unthinking, self centred actions that contributed to the mess we are in. I bet many who did this would happily jump on a plane and head off to somewhere like Lanzarote for two weeks in the summer and lay happily toasting themselves on the beach for days on end.

Here is a scary thing, as a grower and arable farmer I see how difficult it is in our ever changing climate to keep plants alive and yielding well. The past few years we’ve seen crop yields compromised by flood, drought, pesticide resistant insects, herbicide resistant weeds and disease. Farmers are actively changing their practice to become more sustainable with their use of chemicals, fertilizers and cultivation techniques. Climate change is and will continue to affect what and how much food we can grow. I don’t know about you, but I’m rather fond of eating. Adapt we must, but while we are adapting please can we also take steps to limit (maybe even reverse) the climate change that is the underlying cause?

Rose Season

05th June 2022

May was a manically busy month – sowing, planting and harvesting all happening on a daily basis. We added more wholesale customers to our books, mainly due to the pleasing trend for using more sustainably grown cut flowers. There is still a shortage of British grown cut flowers – especially when it comes to the range available.

June sees the end in sight of the planting for this year. We are still sowing, but it is the biennials and perennials for autumn planting that fill the greenhouse shelves now. We have had very poor germination this year with many things – and it can only be one thing, the compost quality. I am hearing the same from growers throughout the country – compost prices have shot up but the quality has gone down (just like the cost and quality of everything else it seems).

Tasks for this week will include planting out the zinnia, echinops and potting on the fancy chrysanths. I’ll also feed the dahlias and hopefully finishing planting the pumpkins, squash and ornamental gourds. And of course there is plenty of weeding.

This week we are also cutting daily and sending flowers down to the garden museum in London for an exhibition to celebrate British Flowers Week. Our friend Kate Kashiri of Kate Wren Flowers has been selected to exhibit there. She has given us carte blanche to cut and send whatever looks at it’s best in the field right now. We are so proud of her and know she will create something amazing. I expect roses to feature quite heavily, as the first June flush is just about to start in the polytunnel, so Kate’s display should smell amazing too!

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.