In 2018, I had the incredible opportunity to attend Lisa’s on-farm Flower Farmer Boot Camp to learn what it takes to become a successful flower farmer. Those two days would change my life forever but what really blew me away was the number one thing Lisa told us we needed to do to jump start our flower farming success.
Purchase a 100 acre farm? Yeah, right.
Greenhouses and high tunnels? Nope.
Plant 1,000 Peonies? Not that either (but I did drool over her family’s peony patch that has been on her farm for over 50 years).
Lisa told our class that growing a short list of simple flowers would be the key to our success as a new cut flower farm. To be specific, growing a short list of simple flowers over and over again would pave the way to profitability that would build the foundation for success that would sustain our farm in the long run.
In other words…..succession planting.
I was really skeptical that this would work because we didn’t have all the “fancy stuff” I thought florists and farmers market customers were looking for. I mean, zinnias? Aren’t they the stuff of beginner backyard gardens? Basil? Isn’t that for pesto and pizza? How on earth were we going to sell mixed bouquets with so few flowers? And sunflowers….I mean they’re kinda simple and aren’t they everywhere?
Boy was I wrong!
As a new grower, consistency is the key! When it comes to getting your foot in the door with commercial clients, a large diversity of flowers is not a requirement. To establish yourself with commercial clients, they need to know that you can show up weekly during your growing season with quality flowers.
That first season we grew warm season tender annuals on ⅛ of an acre. During our first season we grew zinnias, sunflowers, basil, and ageratum. We changed varieties of these flowers throughout the season, but stuck with this list. These plants are affordable, easy to start, and easy to grow. They also turned out to be easy to sell! That ⅛ acre and short list of summer flowers got us our first weekly florist account, two grocery store mixed bouquet accounts, and my first restaurant account doing flowers for their tables weekly during our growing season.
By mid summer, our mixed bouquets sold out every week at the farmers market. My first florist ended up purchasing over 300 zinnias weekly! His clients were insane over Mrs Burns Lemon Basil and Cinnamon Basil, and he couldn’t keep our sunflowers in stock in his shop. Single stem sunflowers and mixed bouquets flew out of our two grocery store accounts and we had to frequently restock hours after delivery.
This is the stuff flower farming dreams are made of!
The key to our success was succession planting. This short list of flowers became a sales powerhouse for us because we were disciplined about succession planting them all summer long. From May 15 (our last frost) up until mid-July, zinnias, celosia and basil were planted three times during the season. All we changed were the colors: later successions of zinnias and celosia were planted in fall colors because we sold mostly through farmers markets and grocery stores. For our final succession of basil, we only planted the Cinnamon variety for that fall spicy scent. In the meantime, we sowed and planted ten 200-cell trays a week of ProCut Orange sunflowers as well as a single tray each of Procut White Lite and ProCut White Nite.
In addition to succession planting enabling us to have flowers all season long, growing a short list of flowers over and over again taught me something else. We practiced our skills and refined our systems to compensate for weather conditions and beginner mistakes. Because we had another succession of flowers to plant, we were able to quickly recover from losses and mistakes to keep growing and selling our first season.
As a new grower, you need to master a ton of skills to successfully grow a flower from seed to harvest in order to bring it to market and get it sold. Seed starting, bed making, irrigation, harvesting, setting up floral netting – all of these are skills you need to master to successfully grow cut flowers.
When you focus on a short list of flowers you can really hone these skills to master them more quickly. Then you can scale up from there. If you’re planting too many things at once, you lack the focus and time to zero in on the basic skills you need as a farmer to scale up your business.
In a recent podcast interview Lisa had with Steve and Gretel Adams of Sunny Meadow Farms (podcast here), Steve talked about how they started small and built from there. The little gem in this interview for me was when Steve talked about scaling up their farm to the amazing business it is today.
He said, “We started on a ¼ acre the first year, ½ acre the second year….we’ve grown at all the scales since we’ve built the farm from scratch. If it worked on a ¼ acre and it worked well, it’s still working now on 25 acres.”
Now that’s the power of mastering succession planting! Lisa covers succession planting in depth in her book, Vegetables Love Flowers.
So get out there, scale up your business and fulfill your flower farming dreams! Focus on succession planting!
Want to try succession planting for yourself with an easy kit?
Check out: The 50’ Cutting Garden To-Go Kit
For more about succession planting check out these episodes of the Field & Garden podcast:
#132: Keeper Clubhouse Clips (Succession Planting and Zinnias!)
#126: Lisa on the Flower Podcast (Finding your Niche Market & Business Model/The Top 5 Flowers to Grow)
#109: Seed Starting Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard
#104: Easy Indoor Seed Starting with Soil Blocking: The Journey
#101: The Truth about Seed Starting
#97: Flower Colors for your Market with Jonathan Leiss