The refreshing smell of earth with the sweet scent of decaying dahlia plants laced in. Hands in the dirt, gently pulling out dahlia tubers from the cold ground. All of sudden the past season’s mistakes and end of summer burnout vanishes. This is the Flower Farmer’s New Year. Well, at least this flower farmer sees it that way.
With garden knife in my gloved hand and mud encrusted on my knees, slowly taking out the scented geraniums then changing gears and ruthlessly ripping out blackened zinnias. Tearing out thick stalks of amaranth that are now slimy from the cold. Looking in between the dead plants to see the amazing resilience of volunteer ranunculus and sweet peas, over ambitious in their anxiousness for their time in the spotlight once again. This process gives me the needed time to reflect. To plot. To forgive my perceived failures over the last eight months. To refocus and get excited for the next season. It’s a bittersweet time. The growing season went too fast but at the same time, was drawn out. Having my phone buzzing with messages and phone calls requesting flowers then having to disappoint is never fun. The different ideas of how to fix this for next season begins to swirl within my head. Knowing there is only so much I can do while also knowing there is so much more that I can do. Then something unexpected and grand happens, the answer to my woes and concerns.
Each fall, amidst the decay of the summer flowers and in between the fall planting, there is space for forgiveness, rejuvenation, there is opportunity. The fall of 2018 is definitely one for Sierra Flower Farm to put in the books. It was the “normal” fall but with the added blessing (and complexity!) of moving our family home and flower farm. Though a quick car ride of about fifteen minutes away from our previous home, it feels like an entirely new world. A world where the night is quiet, aside from the hoots of the owls and the yelps of the coyotes. For this once-upon-a time-city-girl, the peaceful night is something I have only experienced a handful of times.
*** Update*** I had originally written this blog post last October. This past fall and holiday season the name of the game in the Chase household was: triage. What couldn’t be put off any longer was dealt with, while what could be put off was. It’s been a game of catch up but we are finally getting to the point of being ahead of the game for once (yay!). Instead of scrapping the blog post and writing a fresh one, we decided to embrace our delay and stay genuine to the feelings and situation we were in at the time this was written. Since it is based on the “flower farmer new year” I figured it was a good time to publish in lieu of the actual New Year being just days ago.
Now, allow me to be completely honest. Our new house is definitely that Fixer-upper in a good neighborhood, in other words: the house is not the best but has potential and the dirt it sits on it quite amazing.. The patriotic house colors is just the beginning. The horrible smell in the house was something that felt like it would never go away. The first couple months of being in our new home was rough. Flower season was still going as well as life, crates of spring bulbs were being delivered and stacking in a neglected corner. Where our old house was light and airy, the new one is dark and gloomy. We definitely did not buy for the house. It has potential, but it’s a pretty rough gem to say the least.
Once we walked out into the field, all our hopes, dreams, and inspirations come flooding to lift our hearts and spirit! Yes, the house is stinky but we have LAND!
No more scattered patches of flowers tucked wherever we could nestle in just one more. No more choosing between favorites and having to decide which flowers get the coveted front growing patch. No more of the family, the wood turning and the flowers living on top of one another.
With this new house we have battles ahead of us. Simply because we conquered one battle does not mean it it done. After one win, there are others. Some of the challenged we knew, others we suspected, and then others we have been blindsided by. Inside the house, we still have walls of moving boxes awaiting to be unpacked or donated. The smell has finally been improved and Crookshanks the Cat is doing a magnificent job at eradicating the mice (though Graham hasn’t been keen on having to “finish the job”). We have some battles in the house for sure, at this point more aesthetically to simply make it nice. Let’s move onto the main reason we wanted this property (trust me it was not the smell or built in pets).
Out to the backyard: past the lush lawn where the girls and Pike the dog can rumble to where there is a huge area of just glorious soil that separated by a wire fence and a fallen down gate. Okay, the soil is not glorious (it will be) but it’s space! Waaaaaay more space than we have been working with (did you get my point?). Now, let’s be honest, the increase in space wasn’t a tough thing to beat out the previous house on. We called ourselves a micro farm but it was more like nano! On 2/10 of an acre and now we’ve upgraded to an acre. Both these numbers aren’t just speaking in growing space, this is the total space of the property- including house and areas needed for the girls to play and Graham to store and make his gorgeous wood turned pieces. Growing space: we’ve upgraded from actively using about 1,200 sq ft to now a ¼ acre, for annuals alone. It will be great!
Graham and I did something we were told by many we couldn’t do: be a flower farm on our tiny property. We could have sat on our hands, dreaming and waiting but, instead, we leapt. We had three successful seasons with that little square footage for growing. Not ideal, it definitely had its own trials, but we were able to: have successful bouquet subscriptions April-October, provide enough for a weekly Farmer’s Market, build arrangements onsite at Eddy Street Vintage Market, sell bulk buckets of flowers, design custom pieces for small and large events. Whew, all that despite neighbor’s weed whacking the dahlias and my dog trampling the flowers to get to the neighbor dog.
We see the potential to increase volume of flowers, be more efficient (and don’t tell Graham but I have dreams of hosting workshops for those who want to play with local flowers and having artistic days for artists to use the flowers with their chosen mediums to express themselves, this is a super specific dream haha). All of this sounds like small potatoes, but trust me, it’s not. There is a lot of opportunity. There will be some trials too.
Let’s chat about some of the challenges that are facing us with the new property:
I can’t even call it soil. It’s dirt that has been saturated with harsh herbicides for most likely decades! Not just a homeowner going out in the field with some stuff they grabbed at the store but they hired people to bring out the big guns. The kind of herbicides that you need licenses to purchase and use. Pretty icky. Pretty disheartening.
When we did the walkthrough on the property back in early August, we suspected this. All this ground and nothing growing on it equals a huge red flag. It should have been a jungle of sagebrush and rabbit-brush along with some grasses. An elderly woman and the yard rather unused. I don’t blame her for hiring it out and not wanting a jungle of sagebrush. Not to mention the constant battle of our county to eradicate noxious weeds: she was doing her due diligence. BUT the lack of anythinggrowing in the dirt we would be growing flowers in was a concern of mine and Graham’s from the get go. Herbicides are bad enough- obviously flower babies are not going to thrive in something that only four sage brush and no rabbit brush or even grasses have been able to grow. Even still, some flowers are much more sensitive to any kind of herbicides than others, which can result in stunted or deformed growth. Our concerns at the time were discounted, assured it was the lack of water and hungry bunnies (a. we knew it was not the lack of water and b. those are some starving bunnies and that thought did not make us feel any better). In the haste of the process, we chose to move forward despite these concerns. More hopeful we were wrong, staying cozy in the realm dreams where rabbits live on air. Well, this week we had to leave the realm of dreams as reality hit. After seeing herbicide being professionally sprayed at the neighbors our suspicion, resurfaced. Our hunch was confirmed by one of our two neighbors (yay, only three neighbors!) that our future growing had been regularly treated over the years and was sprayed over the summer with at least pre-emergent herbicide (if not something more). This in combination with compacted rocky and clay soil equals quite the mess.
Now we have a whole new battle on our hands. Wait, no, not battle. Opportunity. We have an opportunityto heal the ground. To take this dirt that has been left unloved and abused. Now we have the opportunity to give it new purpose. New life. We have some ideas and plans on how to exactly heal this ground and turn it into soil, but that will be for another post (and I think it’s one everyone will want to read for sure!).
Aside from the soil being rather sad, we have lots of furry and feathered friends. The girls find them adorable (as do I) but those critters will decimate most of my flowers in a hot second. They are like earwigs on steroids and that’s not a game I want to play. Solution? Well, Graham said no to a new terrier puppy and there are already a few outdoor cats prowling the property, which means no excuse for new pets (other than the unwanted mice). Plan B is going to be bunny proofing as best as possible. Eventually, also growing pungent herbs around the garden to hopefully deter them! Now in the compost pile, I hope they have at it and leave lots of marvelous rabbit poop! This is a whole new ball game for us having to deal with mammal pests and I have heard many of your stories (at least we don’t have deer!). Another opportunity! Now that we will be experiencing it and working on keeping the Thumpers out of the flower beds, we will be better equipped to teach you guys our ways. Of course, we are going to elect for poison free and use methods that are humane as possible. We have noticed a small hawk that is a regular hunter in our field. Welcoming natural predators, such as the small hawk and owls with posts and owl boxes is another tactic we are going to explore. Let’s see if we can conquer this task or if Peter Rabbit is going to have some delightful (and very expensive) tulips! Graham did suggest I get going on growing chamomile to help Peter with his tummy aches (cute Graham).
The growing space is also rather open. The property backing up to ours have some privacy shrubs and trees that are a double edged sword for us. The trees can cause some shading but it can also help as a wind barrier. There are other areas that will need wind protection. Ideally, I want to plant fun lilacs and other shrubs to act as wind barriers, but for the next few seasons, we will have to get creative and probably with lots of burlap. Not to mention trellising. Other than my sweet peas, I am terrible at actually trellising the plants and this is not good. This year, that unopened roll of hortanova is going to be put to use!
After we detox the soil (yes detox- peak your interest?), I am betting on some crazy weeds! From unwanted grasses to good ‘ol sage brush and rabbit brush. We are going to have weeds. We had weeds at the last property, terrible grasses and dandelions galore but here I think we’ll have those and super prickly thistles (given the one lovingly growing in the landscape! Guess they missed spraying the main landscape). Hand weeding has been the name of the game for years. It’s tedious and honestly, most times: a losing battle. Especially in the peak of harvest season where I am the one harvesting, assembling and delivering. With the crazy high population of earwigs at the last house, weed cloth barrier was out of the question for us. It just gave those boogers more places to hide and make it more difficult for me to get ‘em! At this new property, there is a good amount of space away from the moisture of the grass and rather dry all around. We have defendable space from them which means, weed barrier cloth! The weeds are just too happy in the flower beds making the flowers not and harvesting miserable. Plus, it’s just ugly to look at weeds in with the flowers.
There are numerous other tasks and projects I can list: from harvesting to efficiency to planting- ugh so many! I’m making my own head spin which makes me think what it would do to yours if I went down that black hole of a list! All in time, all will be shared. Ultimately, in the end, there will be pretty flowers, which brings me to my last announcement:
Graham and I are inviting you to join us on Sierra Flower Farm’s (our) journey in taking this unloved property and turning it into a thriving micro-flower-farm. From the growing side to the design side and all that in between! It’s not meant to be simply a “how-to” more of a “how-we-do” on a fun and exciting platform: YouTube. Along with the videos, I will write blogs to go along with it to go more in detail for those who enjoy my ramblings (or just like the specifics). There are tons of happenings behind the scenes to grow and hand you fresh sustainably grown flowers, now you get be hand-in-hand with us while we do it.
We are excited, nervous and feeling rather vulnerable opening up our little flower farm and ourselves to all of you but ultimately, excited! In the great words of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite: “so I guess you say things are getting pretty serious.” Though, we have always taken our growing and delivering sustainable grown flowers serious, being on a larger piece of property makes it feel even more serious!
Hope you all had a great New Year and I am looking forward to handing you blooms soon.