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Buying From Becky: Engineered To Fail Part 2

Anyone getting the heebie-jeebies lately around the monetization of the flower farming dream? Just me?Becky posing with perfect hair and a farm-esque outfit... holding an armload of perfect blooms... If you've seen it once, you've seen it EVERYWHERE. Becky has this industry on lock. And for a tidy sum, she promises you can too. When I hear talented local growers choose NOT to plant because they can't afford to take thousand dollar workshops, I am dismayed and disheartened. Especially because:

--unless you are immediately able to charge a higher price per bulb--

you will need to sell 60,000 bulbs before you get back into positive cash flow for your effort. That's 857 trays. If you do roughly 3,500 bulbs (or 50 trays or crates a year), you'll be net positive in 17 years. All that for something that will not give you any proprietary information or purchasing contracts. As if.


So--- I'm gonna say it: You don't need that class to grow that flower. You don't. You don't need the perfect space, the perfect variety, the perfect setup or anything even close. It's nice to make the growing process pretty and tidy and as close to perfect as can be, but it isn't necessary. The only deciding factor in the success of a sustainable local flower supply is whether or not the growers decide to grow.

 

To prove it, here are the specifics of my first year of hydroponic tulips for you to use/improve on for free.

I did 3 trays with my leftover bulbs (origin: Ednie's E/W). The first one was my worst bulbs; ones too moldy to be planted in my crates, the other two were in better condition, but I was out of crate space for them. I figured, if it failed completely, little was lost and a lot was learned. But I lost just 3 of the very worst bulbs.

Crate of bulbs I'd have otherwise destroyed. Yuck.

ALL 222 others are blooming well with industry standard appearance, quality, and vase life. Here is a link to the cultivation specs I used, and another one, but a good rule of thumb is google "cultivation of [crop] production ext." to get multiple studies quickly from extension labs around the country. Key things I controlled this season were: Ph, room temp, and water aeration. To do that I used supplies from Petco (cheaper than hydroponic tests/supplies). In addition to Pin Trays, a multi-tube fish tank aerator in each tray and adding calcium nitrate and Ph Down in the water were my main tools.


I really liked hydroponic growing for the tulips. It was so interesting to watch. They are not as good as field grown, but they are nice and not carbon nasty like imports.


If you are a certified organic operation or working to be, it's important to be told up front that there is no certified organic Calcium Nitrate option available. Calcium Nitrate is most often derived from inorganic sources: combined lime and ammonium nitrate (a salt similar to saltpeter). You can also get it derived from organic sources such as animal manure (my preference) or soy, but it's not allowed yet for certified organic production so you will need to keep logs of your use and output if you are a split operation. We use it for the hydroponic tulips, then use the water from the pin trays on crated tulips and house plants after water changes. If you don't have a split operation, growing in crates can be done in the same conditions listed in the links without the Calcium Nitrate and PhDown.

 

But back to buying from Becky. Everyone I know is working to support local women and minority-owned businesses in floriculture and floristry. Everyone. I live to see it and be a part of it. The problem is that our efforts to do so are being packaged and resold in a formulaic and disingenuous fashion that is making growers I know feel less capable and be less profitable. Often it is predatory toward new growers in a very MLM-esque fashion. Have you ordered from Becky lately only to receive eerily similar packaging to the last Becky you ordered from? Down to the posh post-card and random candy? Did the last Becky recommend this one? Do they have high-pressure sales techniques and appear to be growers, but refuse to disclose the provenance of their seed or rootstock? Do they offer ways to spend money to make money, for not just seed and rootstock, but for intangibles that will 'improve' the sales of the things they sold you?

Remember this rose from Part 1? Koko Loko? It came from a *grower* who was also a nursery and sold pass throughs. Seed and rootstock that are purchased in bulk from the main suppliers (usually national or regional brokers) and then split and resold without coming out of dormancy. That's not the issue. If you've seen the who-owns-media matrix, flower production is similar. That's why that Chantilly Snapdragon seed is largely similar regardless of where you purchase it from. The problem is when a grower encourages or misleads you to think that 1: they are selling products grown solely on their farm or 2: their success is transferable for a fee.


How it actually works: There are a few major breeders who sell to distributors who sell to you. Example:

  • Takaii => distributed by Ball, Johnny's, Geoseed, Territorial Seed etc => Small Grower

  • Sakata => distributed by Ball, Johnny's, Territorial, Burpee etc => Small Grower

If you're a small to medium or new cut flower grower, chances are you recognize some or all of those names. Are you surprised by it? Now, full disclosure, I love the broker system and I love buying directly from the grower/breeder, and I love buying from the nursery. I pay wholesale and retail to support companies I like. If you are selling your own seed or stock, you are amazing--Take my money! If you are a small or local nursery selling pass throughs and locally grown plants--Take my money! If you are a broker getting me access to that fancy unbeatable new variety the breeder worked their ass off to develop--Take my money! And I know that if I have issues, for all of those vendors, the recourse is straight forward in filing a claim or correcting an error.


On the flip side--I have an intense dislike of anything that seems, um, less than radically transparent. And this seems like it is the new MLM. I loathe the dishonest and predatory aspects of it. It's a personal beef that has much to do with my neuro-spicy-ness and some to do with the fact that that space allows for predatory pricing and customer service practices. Particularly on disadvantaged or new growers who may not have access to larger distributors. If I'm buying a rose that's in Philadelphia, I don't want it shipped to California first (unnecessary transportation, hiss, boo), held for a flash sale, then when it doesn't come out of dormancy because of the lengthy process, having no recourse to file a claim. And I want to talk about it, because I'm not sure everyone is recognizing this pattern yet.


If you're a grower unsure of how to get growing and improve your local supply of specialty cut flowers, there is a ton of information available to help get you going. Feel free to comment or message and if I'm able to help, I will. The more we grow, the better the future gets.



Tinuviel

(they/them)

Vashon Peony Co.




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Catherine MacNeal
Catherine MacNeal
Feb 06, 2023

When you spoke to me about these practices last summer, it opened my eyes. While I'm not doing cut flowers for business (except lavender which I am now mostly propagating my own) I buy my flowers and flower seeds from island growers now and beware the splashy blogs and newsletters. I did take the Floret class to learn the basics and I'm glad I did, but I am buyer beware on bareroot roses, bulbs and tubers.

Cheers,

Cathy - Lavender Hill Farm

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