sunflowers

2020 in Review

2020 was weird. I’m going to assume that all of you have been going through it, too, so I won’t summarize the massive impact covid has had on all aspects our lives last year, but for my little farm it basically boils down to two main phases:

PHASE ONE of 2020: ALL IS LOST AND THIS IS GOING TO SUCK! The weddings got cancelled, changed, and moved, so I was certain that I would make no money in 2020. I started my farm in earnest 4 years ago and within 2 years it was clear that wedding florals would be the best way forward for me in terms of a sustainable business model. The year – 2020 – that I thought was going to be a break-out (meaning I’d make a decent salary and be able to invest in the final bit of infrastructure I needed) was sure to be a dud. The buzz in the flower farmer groups was that we were in for it and as nonessential workers everything would have to be shut down, no one would buy flowers, and for many farms this was the end of the road. There was a lot of scared talk, particularly from farms who had several employees and who were agro-tourism destinations.

AND

PHASE TWO: IT DIDN’T SUCK AFTER ALL. The community came out for me, I continued to grow, and while some of my income was gone from weddings, more of my income came by other means. In fact, financially things are ahead of last year (though probably not where I would have been) AND it was a great year for learning, thinking, growing, and connecting. And I got my infrastructure. I increased planting, I had a lot of failure (per usual)…and I had some really great help. I am very, very thankful that I am tiny, this year more than ever. I’m especially thankful that I don’t have big loans for land or equipment or space. The stress that I’ve had has been largely based on my own physical limitations and the need to respond to the changing market. If anything, my business has grown this year. So 2021 should be very interesting!

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weeds

2020 Flower Failure Report!

I don’t think I’ve ever documented my growing failures before, which is funny, because there have been A LOT of them. I think I’ve been embarrassed and I haven’t wanted my clients to think I’m sloppy or I don’t know what I’m doing. But when I think about it, I doubt my clients ever see the end result of these growing failures, since if I’m flowering a wedding or creating a custom bouquet I will do everything I need to – including purchasing wholesale flowers or from other farmers – to get them what I’ve promised. With that in mind, I’m hoping documenting this stuff will help other growers – especially beginners and people who are self-taught, like me – in their quest to get something – anything!- to grow.

So, in the interest of education for my fellow beginners/dilettantes it’s probably worthwhile to talk about what I f*cked up this year. It’s also in the interest of me, because documenting this stuff may be useful in the future and is a good exercise in reflection.

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Farm, flowers, and work work work work work work…2019 in review

2019, for me, was a year of work! Which is not a bad thing! If you’re doing work you love, you’re hardly working, am I right?

Maybe.

We built a studio! It has been so lovely to have heat in the winter and a/c in the summer. After living in this for 9 months it sure doesn’t look like this any more! I’ve managed to fill it up and already wish I had double the space. It’s a huge improvement over my shed!

This was a year of exponential growth here at Passalongs Farm. I almost tripled my wedding work. I more than tripled my growing area. I built a studio that had electricity, air conditioning and heat!!  I stopped doing farmers’ markets (mostly) but doubled the flowers I sold by the road. I hired people to help me! (That was a big step.) I put more money into my farm, but bought more product elsewhere. I started a reflowering project, where I re-made flowers from weddings into small bouquets for folks in local nursing homes. I went to two growers’ conferences. I worked. I worked a lot. I learned as much as I worked.

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Who knew? 2018 in review!

photo by Time Bandit Photography

Last night I was at a New Year’s Eve party with friends I hadn’t seen in person for a couple of years. We moved to Massachusetts in 2015, and so while most my North Carolina friends and I stay in touch via social media, many of them I usually only see once a year, if that.

Here’s the cool thing, y’all: every single one of them told me how beautiful my flowers were, how much pleasure they got out of seeing the bouquets, and many of them also said: WHO KNEW? Who knew you could do that? Who knew you had that business in you?

I didn’t. I hadn’t. But guess what? I did and I do!

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Year 2: flowers I’m loving, flowers I’m not

This is half a note to myself for next year, half a blog post!

Now that I’m smack dab in the middle of year 2 of my little flower farm, I’ve developed some clear favorites and discovered some flowers that simply were not worth space or money. Some are too fiddly and not very impressive, some are kind of ugly, and some simply aren’t worth the bed space.

Plants I grew this year that I could do without:

delphinium. I know! It’s gorgeous! Its blooms make a nice flower crown. But in the kind of arrangements and bouquets I’m doing right now it’s too tall to use effectively and it flops over. Plus, when I started the seeds a mouse ate all but 10, then out of the 10 only 2 did much, then the ones that grew were gorgeous, but like I said, not practical for what I do.

statice. I have really mixed feelings about this stuff. I think it’s ugly, but it provides good stiff structure for some of my floppier flowers. It grew really easily from seed, though, so that’s a plus.

celosia. I bought celosia plugs and they’re doing awesome, but they are very, very ugly. Maybe I bought the wrong kind (Sunday mix) but every single one is orange or red. There was supposed to be pink and salmon in there, too, but there isn’t. Maybe once the zinnias and dahlia start popping and I have more hot flowers I will like them, but for now they don’t go well with anything I have.

allium. Gorgeous, I know, but the chipmunks or whatever garden rats are out there ate every single one. Same with the anenome and the ranunculus. They are expensive but if I have to grow them in individual wire cages they are too fiddly for me.

Things I love (new this year, besides the obvious dahlias and peonies!) or wish I’d grown again this year:

orlaya. Brilliant overwintered hardy annual. Will definitely plant again in the fall.

garland chrysanthemum. I didn’t grow it this year but really wish I had. It was such a nice little flower to add to arrangements, it smelled sweet, and it grew from seed super easily. The foliage was pretty, too, and added some airiness and green to bouquets. I might start some now to try to get some for fall. I had hoped I would get volunteers but I didn’t.

ageratum. Blue! Study stems! super easy to start!

clary sage. So easy to grow and while the flowers are small, they add a really nice pop of color, they started early, and the foliage was one of the earliest fillers I had.

nigella. I don’t know why I fight the nigella! I should just give in to its hoop house domination and grow as much as possible. The flowers are gorgeous as are the pods, and the only thing I’ll change for next year it to provide support, because flopped over and bent it’s not much use.

More filler! And preferably something perennial. I’m definitely investing in some mountain mint plugs for next year, and while I like the scented geranium it is not holding up well at the roadside cart as it sometimes gets full sun.

There’s a pattern here: more small, useful, hardy filler flowers and greens, especially those that I can easily grow from seed or find in plug form, and fewer fiddly, expensive corms and bulbs and focus flowers.