Search

Taking Stock: Part 2

It's been 10 months since I wrote Taking Stock and tried my hand at annuals for the first time, throwing literal seeds in the wind to see what sticks while we wait for our peonies. Here's what grew, and what didn't.

{See how cute that farm cart is? It's our neighbors'! They let us use it for Farm Tour Fridays. Bc VASHON.}

~

It's been a truly amazing growing year that passed in the drop of a petal. Peonies remain my favorite flower. These entirely edible, adaptable, resilient, medicinal, fragrant plants are the best there is, period. That's a hilled row I will happily die on.


But there was also so much value to be had with the annuals I grew this year: We established relationships with local florists doing amazing botanical artwork; with our incredible Wax Orchard neighbors; and with many of the amazing local farms on the Island. I learned what I am obsessed with growing, what I hated growing, what I could grow, what I couldn't grow, and the positives and negatives of dry farming on Vashon. The results were surprising, entertaining, and satisfying; even if less lucrative than hoped. Montage time!


Ten months ago, I thought Stock would be a lock and was so excited. Poppies were a must. Ranunculus and Snapdragons were: "meh, I guess." So what made the cut as my favorite cuts?


THE CROPS


STOCK is the annual I was most excited to try. But FORGET following production sheets on these sensual and undervalued flowers!

Labor, resource, and space intensive; growing Stock (Matthiola) using production specs from seed envelopes or websites quickly became an unprofitable, time-consuming, and frustrating endeavor as they ate up precious soil and nutrients for just one stem per plant--a hard pass for my hyper-focus on sustainable, climate-forward farming. But, it is a great sensory and vertical addition to arrangements. Rather than throw stock seeds out with the fertigation water, I've decided to go off-script and figure out how to grow them sustainably. Since wholesale pricing of this stem is so out of line with its growth requirements, labor and resource reduction will be critical. Here is what I'm trying for Stock in Year 2:

  • Direct Seeding - Everything says direct seeding is a no go for these. FALSE. I have had no issues with direct seeding Stock on any of my successions this Summer/Fall. Where watering was not consistent during germination, I still had those groups germinate well, just a week later than the beds I misted daily. I also do not use any heat pads for germination or growing on.

  • Selecting for doubles - Don't bother! Complete waste of time. Staring at tiny, fused cotyledons and snipping did not add to the rate of doubles in my rows, only to the frequency of my eye twitch. Beyond that, the single Stock flowers are beautiful in bouquets and perfect for drying. So keep them!

  • Space - Stock will get very little off-season space this year. Instead of valuable row space in a tunnel, these cold-loving stalks are growing in a raised bed on top of sleeping lilies or in crates in my garage grow-space. Direct seeding Stock in crates and growing in the cold garage is a great winter solution and good pairing for my early forced tulips.

  • Pricing - This is one crop that I strongly feel is undervalued. Typically my fresh sheet prices are taken from wholesale commodity lists, but for Stock I list higher. It's worth more.

All told I've cut labor, energy, and dedicated soil space while increasing my total Stock production for Year 2. (Following this method also makes it a great option for gardeners looking to layer their early spring bulb pots with added vertical interest). Even will all the cuts I've made to this cut; its high fertilization, seed costs, and single-cut-type make it sustainable only at continued above-current-market price. If it doesn't sell at a sustainable price point Year 2, I'll grow it just for our on-site arrangements and added goods in Year 3.


POPPIES were a flower I couldn't imagine not growing, and that is confirmed x 1,000. I love every type and can't wait to double down on these gorgeous flowers in Year 2. This year I grew Icelandic, Shirley, and Breadseed varieties from seed and experimented with different growing and harvesting techniques; ending up with storage and vase life that exceeded my requirements. Low resource demands and high production--along with direct reseeding--make these sustainable as well as beautiful. They are also nearly zero waste: the seed pods add arrangement interest, the stalks were a favorite spot for beneficial insects, and the crop had so much harvest that it filled cut flower/u-pick demand and still provided more than enough seed for the following year. (Not to mention; the extra breadseed that is wonderful for baking.)


We dry-farmed our poppies this year with huge success, but could easily prolong the harvest period with minor additional/recaptured irrigation. I am quadrupling my Icelandic seeding this year & starting earlier. For the larger poppy varieties; visitors enjoyed walking these stunning rows so much, that this year we will have an entire 150'x35' field designed as a poppy maze just for pollinators and visitors to enjoy. I can't wait!


RANUNCULUS was one flower I wasn't considering growing until a friend/mentor/florist mentioned them. Now they are easily my second favorite flower and I couldn't imagine not doing Fall & Spring runs of these adorable little octopus-looking corms. They are quickly becoming my main crop behind peonies, and I am ecstatic to be able to grow them every year. I will have to do a separate blog on pre-sprouting and growing, because they deserve proper attention. Despite their potential for perennial growth, many varieties have single-use requirements due to royalties/patents. Although this increases labor and waste for these flowers; their high stem production and ease of growing on make them ideal for sustainable floristry. In Year 3, I'll start looking at how to develop our in-house corm production, rather than the current cycle of external corm ordering and destruction.


Side note on royalties/propagation restrictions: My personal take is that I/our company, can financially support royalties and therefor should. The importance to crop futures of maintaining viable hybridizing chains cannot be understated as we face increasing weather extremes and climate change. Yes, sometimes the new-new costs more just because it is new, but often it is because it represents a significant step forward in disease reduction or lower resource requirements. Without people who can make a living creating new crops and improved versions of crops, including florals, we will lose crop variety very quickly. This take is solely for us privileged individuals/corporations, not for every grower. You decide for you.


GOMPHRENA, SNAPDRAGON, & ZINNIA all get honorable mentions for their ease of production and high harvest quantities.

  • Gomphrena is the most sustainable, with great potential as a dry-farm flower for us. We grew it in starter trays and direct seeded. Both methods worked very well. It bloomed throughout the 4 month dry spell and late into Fall. I will slightly tweak how we grow it this year, but largely just on timing and not methodology. Looking for a great, prolific bloom in your small, dry space? Gomphrena!

  • Snapdragons I was not keen on. I half-assed it and wondered if bad associations would make this one a hard pass for me. So glad I tried them! These are easy-to-grow powerhouses and I am now growing them as biennials, which is fantastic because it reduces labor and soil disruption. Need a tall sustainable option? These are a snap.

My biggest missed opportunity? Not netting our Snapdragons.

I don't net anything until I try growing it without first (trust, but verify my friends), but after the first cut these flowers go wild. Even though the Gaudi-esque stems from un-netted snaps are entrancing and I enjoy them for the curves they add to stagnantly upright bouquets, harvesting becomes a frustrating process with a lot of waste as they climb under and over each other to reach light and soil at the same time. I now grow them as as pseudo single-cuts: harvesting down to the base twice per season to keep the stalks thicker for subsequent cuts. There are three types I'll grow this year: Chantilly, Butterfly, and the Classic form, all pictured here.

The best seeds I had were the Organic Defiant Mix from Adaptive Seeds. I grew one packet of these in a tiny 3'x10' patch and it put out hundreds of gorgeous, bright blooms on strong stems consistently from June through November. I cut them back yesterday & covered them for winter. So excited to see what the patch does next year (with netting!).


  • Zinnias we had to dry-farm this year and most varieties didn't do well; only a few held up despite the very dry summer. The timing of getting them in the ground was definitely key to how well they withstood the drought and heat. For production, I tried indirect seed, direct seed, and ordered plugs for Zinnias since I was unsure what method would work best. I managed to kill ALL of the Zinnia plugs when I failed to get them in the ground before the 5-day heat wave. That was an expensive lesson. I already knew that my biggest issue with cultivation is that if I don't put a plant in the ground, I will absolutely kill it; so it was an expensive repeat course at that. 0/10 recommend!

Consistent care for seedlings and potted plants is not my strength and even though I did better this year than prior years getting things planted, Zinnias were not on that survivor list. Poor guys. But they are gorgeous and can be low resource when grown correctly, so I'm excited to re-try them this year. I will do limited indirect seeding in trays for the first succession and direct seeding for all subsequent successions with reclaimed or additional irrigation to improve quality in year 2. I will not buy Zinnia plugs! With these minor changes, I'm excited to see how the stronger varieties preform this season and again in year 3. Huge potential for sustainable production with Zinnias.


THAT'S A WRAP


In taking stock after Year 1, it's easy to see things that worked for me and that didn't. Farmer's Market? Hard introvert pass. Dianthus? Did you know deer and bugs love them? (Because I do now). On-farm sales and chatting with my regular customers? 100/10 my favorite part of warm Summer days. Year 2 is accelerating exponentially as I plant fields of peonies, start all the winning annuals from Year 1, and continue to improve our conservation practices and climate planning. It's a great roller coaster to be on and I'm enjoying it immensely. If the first cut is the deepest, Year 1 certainly laid the soil work for some outstanding growth in the years ahead.

~



67 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All