Written by Becky Porlier
In January, I attended a great workshop hosted by the EFAO on Ecological Cut Flower production. As a new farmer growing flowers and natural dyes in Northern Ontario, it was encouraging to hear what works for the presenters. Each had a unique and complementary perspective to offer that would have been well worth the trip and time for anyone considering growing cut flowers. Here’s what I took away from the workshop.
If you’re a market gardener or former market gardener, the equipment and infrastructure needed for flowers are mostly the same. You might need to expand your cooler capacity to accommodate buckets of early spring tulips or autumn sunflowers, but irrigation, hoop houses, hand-tools and seeders are all interchangeable. (There is even a chart for which flower seeds will work with the Jang JP seed rollers on Johnny’s!)
Local flowers are growing in popularity. They add such beauty and whimsy to an existing market garden roadside stand or your farmers market booth. Many are excellent companion plants and attractive to beneficial insects.
However, if you have bees (which we do), I was surprised to learn that pollinators actually aren’t the best for cut flowers, as the insects help fulfill the last wish of a flower – to be pollinated and then go to seed. So if long-lasting blooms and honey are your wishes, netting, succession planting and timing the harvesting of flowers right will be key to maximizing your production.
In an already busy growing season, adding cut flowers to your production goals might be challenging if you’re not at a farmers market. Selling direct to florists, or finding a free-lance designer takes time and a degree of luck and patience. If you are in the Toronto area, the Local Flower Collective, which connects growers and retailers/designers could be a great resource. If wholesaling is more your style, the Ontario Flower Growers might be worth investigating. There is also Slow Flowers and the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers to help out the budding or established flower grower.
In the same way that we know food grown locally is better for people and the planet, flower production faces the same opportunities and challenges. An $8 billion dollar per year industry, cut flowers are predominantly flown in from South America, Africa or Holland on a year-round basis, with significant harm to people and planet. Grown in large mono crops, those red Valentine day roses are full of chemicals keeping them dormant, plus fungicide and pesticides required for international shipping. Nothing says I love you like a floral chemical cocktail. Skipping those international roses are only possible with local growers.
If you are considering cut flowers, (go for it!), and think of the joy to be found collaborating with a freelance designer such as Deb who says working with Theresa helped her to “fall in love with floral design” all over again. Partnering with a designer allows you the time to focus on growing, and the designer the freedom “to be constrained.” Seasonality encourages creativity by narrowing down the choices to what’s available in the moment. Which is also to say, never guarantee a variety! Mother nature has the last say always, and making sure that is clearly communicated to everyone involved is key to your sanity.
Becky Porlier is the co-owner of The Colour Farm, a cut flower and natural dye farm in Callander Ontario. A founding member of the Upper Canada Fibreshed, she has been actively involved in the local food, fibre and now flower movement, for 10 plus years.