Making it work any which way we can.

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Making it work any which way we can.

The last few weeks have been scurrying around dodging torrential down-pours that we have been having in what seems like FOREVER in the PNW.  Being English I’m used to the rain but this is getting a little bit too much for even me to cope with and there does not seem to be any end in sight.

I always feel that I’m running a couple of weeks behind the ideal schedule with my flower farm, I don’t think Instagram helps me when I see all these perfectly organized flower farms with everything looking so on schedule but I know social media can be a demon for making you feel that you have not got it quite right.  As the years pass and my experience grows I too will hopefully be one of these perfectly organized people!

So what have I been up to?  Planting and germinating lots of little seeds.  This is my third growing season I am approaching.  The past two seasons I have germinated my seeds in the greenhouse, this year I am trying to extend the season longer.  With farming, whether it be vegetable or flowers most of your expenses come at the beginning of the year before you actually sell anything so the cash flower at this time of year is not always flush, but you continue on trying to make things work – as you will see it’s sometimes a bit of a patch work quilt.

I have tried soil blocking this year which I love.  Filling these little gadgets with my damp soil mixture and making what looks like little chocolate brownies.  Soil blocking saves on endless plastic seed cells, and I can have more rows of seeds germinating.

Once the seeds are nestled into their blocks then I whisk them up to my boy’s bathroom!  Yep, our bathrooms have heated floors and are great for germination.  Next winter my investment is going to be heated mats so that they don’t have to tip toe through the seed trays to use the bathroom – but hey you have to make it work!

Once germinated they are then taken to a shed for the grow lights.  I was intending on getting some regular florescent lights from the hardware store.  However my husband decided to make a call to a friend who is an electrical wholesaler…….he happened to have a line on grow lights that pot growers were using (I’m in Washington where it is now legal to grow pot.) Anyway the pot growers are now using a different type of light and these came at a very good price.  Our original plan was to have the grow lights in the greenhouse but these light give off a bright pink glow that could be seen for miles around so we decided to get the shed decked out with grow lights – I feel with flower farming that you are always thrown curve balls and have to make quick changes in plans, it has certainly made me more flexible in my way of thinking.

Once my seedlings are at a good height I am then transferring them to the greenhouse which is thankfully starting to warm up.  This is a constant rotation as I am also going to try my hand a succession planting, (I tried my hand at this last year but I have to say I was not hugely successful, but with the aid of my spreadsheet and Leticia I hope to do better) I have master spreadsheet drawn up and am planting each variety a few weeks apart. This year I have my neighbor Leticia helping me out with all of this work, there is no way that I could get everything done on my own – I am still working an office job but next week cutting down to three days a week so that I can devote more time to my farm. Having an extra pair of hands is a huge blessing and I recommend it to any new flower farmer.  She may only come over for a few hours a week but we get the jobs taken care of so much for efficiently.

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A look into the future

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A look into the future

Well this weekend is going to be interesting, my youngest son has flown down to LA to spend the weekend with his brother who is at University in San Diego.  Don’t get me wrong I’m really happy that my boys get along so well that they want to hang out together, and really who can blame them for choosing Southern California, the weather is Washington is abysmal at the moment, part of me wishes that I had tagged along too – but I did not want to spoil their fun!

 

My husband said that this weekend was going to be like a trial run for when they are both away at University.  That made my heart miss a beat…….I don’t want that day to come, not that I don’t love my husband but I love the energy, laughter & noise that the kids bring to the house & maybe the strength that I often need when I need things lifted or a hole dug which they do with such relative ease rather that me struggle and curse tying to be “one of the boys”.

 

Instead of being sad all weekend missing my young men I am going to embrace it, after all I did have a life before I became a mother, it is sometimes hard to remember that far back but I am pretty sure I did.  That being said, life takes funny twists and turns.  Instead of sitting back and relaxing when the boys have both left home I know that I am going to be as busy as always, just a different busy, it won’t be driving all over the state to soccer games or constantly loading the washing machine it will be a different busy.  

 

I would have never have dreamt that I would have owned my own business, and guess what it is doing rather well.  This weekend’s“to do list” is even longer than my journal has space for this weekend.  I will hope to cross off at least a quarter of those projects.  But along with putting my new David Austin Roses into the ground, planting my first batch of sweet peas starts into the ground, setting up our new office (which after 10 years will not longer be in our kitchen – yippee!!)  I am also going to squeeze in some relaxing things.  I started with a hot yoga class tonight – boy is that good for stretching out those tired muscles and clearing the constant chatter, which always seems to be at the back of your mind.  We are also going to try and remember to go out for dinner before we collapse in front of the fire at night, and take a long walk with our hugely energetic puppy on some new trails that we have not been to before.  Maybe life after our boys will be OK.  Life ebbs & flows and sometimes takes on a new normal and that is how it is supposed to be, and at least they have chosen somewhere warm to go to school so when the Washington grey gets too much for us come February or March we have somewhere to escape to.

The view from our farm, it never gets old.  PC: Stephen R. Phayre

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A quick overview of 2016

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A quick overview of 2016

This time last year I started my first blog, it all started very well with a somewhat regular blog. Well to be honest there were just the three!  Then what happened, radio silence……..or in other words a very successful and busy year on my little flower farm.  In this blog I am going to try to summarize 2016.

I started off the year listing goals that I would like to achieve in this second year of being a farmer florist.  I had decided that I would like to start a Flower Community Sustained Agriculture Share – I thought if I sold 5 shares that would be a great number to start with.  Within a week of advertising I had sold 10!!  With a CSA individuals sign up well in advance of you actually having produced any flowers, and as this was only my second year of flower farming these 10 people took a great leap of faith in me.  I have to admit I was a little nervous, farming is so dependent on the weather or a couple of deer mowing through your crop in one sitting, but at the end of June I was ready to go and then for the next 15 weeks I produced 10 unique seasonal flower bouquets.  This is something I am going to be doing again this year, a few slight changes to my CSA program but I am hoping it will be as successful as last year.

I have to say the highlight of my flower farming year was attending the Floret Farmer Florist workshop in May in Mt. Vernon, Washington.  I managed to squeak onto a place for this workshop.  I has been looking forward to attending this 3 day workshop for so long now that I was worried it was not going to live up to my expectations.  How wrong I was.  It was way above my expectations.  True you can’t learn how to be an efficient farmer florist in three days but I took home with me some very valuable experience, not only in flower farming but floral arranging and marketing.  They have an amazing crew up a Floret that are so open and welcoming.  The other great part of this workshop was being surrounded by like-minded people for three days.  What a great bunch – all from different backgrounds and in different stages of the flower journey.  Some folks had not even put their feet in the water yet and some were seasoned veterans but all were happy to share their very personal stories and experience.  I know that they will be friends for life.

Weddings – again I set myself a little benchmark on how many weddings I wanted to be able to design flowers for.  This bench mark was 5 – a good little safe number I though.  By the end of 2016 I had designed flowers for 9 weddings!  I was lucky enough to work with some amazing brides and their families.  

I finished the year off working with Kelly Welk from Ciderpress Lane.  Kelly and I had worked on various projects throughout the year, mainly working together raising funds for Rescue Freedom.  This however was a different event.  We held a Christmas Wreath Making Workshop.  What fun that was, ladies came together to sip mulled wine or spiced cider and create their own unique Wreath.  This was such a success that we will start making this a Holiday tradition.

All of this and a lot more kept me away from the keyboard – not forgetting that I’m still working 4 days a week in my regular job, my oldest son graduated from High School last year and left for college in San Diego and not forgetting we welcomed into our home our adorable and VERY adventurous puppy called Charlie, she reminds me of what it’s like to have a toddler in the house again.

Where will 2017 take me I wonder?  I have a few things in the pipeline that I am working on at the moment, more of that will be announced in the next couple of months.  I am already meeting with brides, planning and working on their vision for flowers on their special day.  I really am going to try harder to keep everyone updated with the goings on at Willow & Mabel Garden Co., Your support of my growing business is truly appreciated and I hope that 2017 proves to be everything that you hope and more.  Never stop dreaming.

 

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This is Not a Hobby

This weekend it hit me.  This is no longer a hobby. This really is a business that I am operating around my 32 hour week in the office!  It seems that the long dark days of winter disappeared very quickly and May is just around the corner.  We have been working at a frantic pace to prepare our flower beds for planting.

Ideas and knowledge have changed so much in a year of this flower farming adventure. Last year I had several garden beds with nice little grass walkways between them.  These little grass walkways have now gone, along with a lot of other grass on our property.  Every square inch counts in flower production I am quickly learning.  In place of walkways there is weed barrier.  Weeds are the flower farmers enemy!  My son and husband have been rock stars, making a template and then using the template to burn over 2,000 holes in the weed barrier where we can plant our flower starts.

Then came the irrigation system.  There is nothing worse (apart from weeds) than dragging around hose pipes to the far reaching sides of your property trying to keep everything watered.  Irrigation is key.  Again my husband to the rescue and as he runs water lines all across the property and then ties in drip systems so all these lovely little plants can keep strong and healthy and grow to their full potential.

Of course before we put in place all of these weed barrier and irrigation we amended the soil.  My big mistake last year was using horse manure.  After I had spread copious amounts of horse manure I found out that as horses only have one stomach they do not digest weeds and grass well enough so when your little newbie flower farmer spreads it all around she ends up with a boat load of weeds also mixing into her soil and as I might have mentioned - weeds are a flower farmers nightmare!  This year we are using fish compost.  It is all a learning experience!

Everything was in place by Friday night so that meant that it was all systems go for planting.  That is how I have spent my weekend.  I think that we have all weather systems pass by. From hot sun to torrential rain but through it all I kept planting.  I have planted just over 1,250 plant starts that I grew from seeds in my greenhouse.  This is just the top flower beds, next weekend I shall be attacking the lower beds and the dahlia beds in the lower field. As I write this I am truly exhausted and I know that this is no longer a hobby but the best thing of all, I LOVE EVERY MOMENT.

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The First Row of Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas are one of my favorite flowers.  The early summer arrival.  I love going out before the world is fully awake and cutting a large bouquet of the sweet smelling beauties whilst the grass is still damp and the dew is on the petals of these beauties.

 

I purchased my sweet peas from two different sources this year.  Floret Flowers and Higgledy Gardens.  I have probably about 15 different varieties. Some them I have grown in years gone by and a lot of new ones that I am very excited to see the results of.

 

I usually start my sweet peas in the kitchen on the heated floors.  As soon as they peak their little heads out of the soil I take them and put them in a sheltered spot outside and for me that at the far end of the greenhouse out of the wind.  Sweet Peas like cooler weather.  You want to grow rugby players not athletes.  If you keep them in the warm you will get straggly, skinny athletes, keep them in a cool sheltered spot and you will get tough rugby players.

 

Once they grow a couple of inches tall you need to pinch off the middle stem to encourage new strong growth.  My sweet peas are now a few inches tall so today between cooking roast lamb for our Easter Dinner I planted the first two rows of my sweet peas.  I am hoping we are past the danger of a really severe frost, I just have to worry about the one or two naughty chickens we have that insist that their acre of fully fenced field full of all sorts of juicy bugs is not quite enough for them and they fly out and start scratching around my flower field.....so I am hoping that they do not attack my new sweat peas otherwise roast chicken may be on the menu.

I have many more sweet peas to plant out but as always I ran out of time this weekend and it will have to wait for another day.  Thankfully the weather report looks wonderful for the next week and with the evenings getting lighter I might be able to get some more of these little chaps into the ground this week.

I will keep you updated with their progress and the results of my new sweet peas and how they compare to my old faithfuls.

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The weeks fly by!

My blogging has been a little thin on the ground this past month.  Spring, I think must be the busiest time of the year for a flower farm.  Not that it seems there are any particularly quite times but you HAVE to get everything into the ground on time otherwise you flowers are going to be way behind schedule.  In the Pacific Northwest we have also been experience some unseasonable warm weather which has been throwing things off.

This year I am working on learning how to succession plant, with the aid of my wonderful greenhouse it has made this somewhat possible.  I do have to fine tune my system but as they say Rome was not built in a day.  The idea of succession planting is to lengthen your growing season so that you have flowers available for a longer period of time and not having a deluge of flowers all at once and then having them go to waste.

I start sowing seeds early in my greenhouse, by the time the danger of the last frost has past they are nice and sturdy and a few weeks ahead of schedule.  Then every two weeks I am planting more seeds and bringing them on in the greenhouse ready to plant out.  I have not got this down to a fine art yet but I am finding resources that will help me.  Johnny’s Seeds have a very handy spreadsheet that will help you figure out what you need to plant and when.  Sadly I found this after I started my planting schedule but this coming winter I will be actually excited to sit down in front of the fire and get this fine tuned.  If you are interested in looking at their calculator here is a link.  http://www.johnnyseeds.com.

I have also had a flurry of activity on the wedding scene.  I have several bookings for this summer and still have appointments to meet with new brides to discuss their wedding flower plans for the big day.  I will put together a blog at a later date giving a little behind the scenes look at what it takes to prepare flowers for a wedding.  It is a lot of hard work but to see the look on the bridges face as you drop of her wedding bouquet on that special day makes it so worthwhile.

Lastly, I am so excited to say that I have just returned from a three day workshop at Floret Farms.  I have wanted to attend this workshop ever since I started this adventure.  I was very excited on the weeks leading up to the workshop but I was also a little nervous.  What if this workshop did not turn out to be everything that I had hoped for?  I had read amazing reviews to say it was life changing etc. but could it really be that good.  Well, yes it was – and more.  Once I have had chance to collect my thoughts on everything this workshop meant to me I will write a little piece so you can hopefully understand why it meant so much to me.

Until then I have another wedding this weekend that I am about to start preparing for. Family then starts arriving in from England next week getting ready for my oldest son’s graduation from High School – did I say I was busy at the moment?

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