As the cold begins to settle in, flower farms everywhere are putting their fields to rest and preparing for a slow winter. While many may relish this slow of pace and are looking forward to enjoying a quiet winter, others may be thinking, “How can we keep the harvest going?”Cut-flower farming has quickly become a booming small-farm industry, with many hobby farmers falling into very real and rapidly growing businesses. As a result, some are eager to see the profits continue as long as possible into the winter season. That’s where season extension plays such a critical role on a small cut-flower farming operation—and on farms of all shapes and sizes for that matter. So below we’ve listed just a few ways you can extend the harvest and enjoy cut flowers longer.
Imagine if you could wrap up your plants in a nice, cozy blanket and keep them warm. Well you don’t have to imagine, as that is the primary job of “frost cloth,” also sometimes called row cover.Row covers are probably the most economical way to begin extending your season. These are simple rolls of thin fabric that can be draped over crops. They are often used to prevent pest pressure, but row covers can also trap heat, helping keep your plants from dying back with the frost. Depending on the type and weight, row covers can help increase the temperature by 2 to 8 degrees F, which makes a substantial difference going into the first few frosts of winter. These row covers can also be draped over biennial cut-flower crops and overwintered cut-flower crops to encourage an earlier bloom the following spring. So just this simple addition could theoretically help you easily gain several more revenue-generating weeks on your farm.
Caterpillar Tunnels & High Tunnel Cold Frames
Cold frames or caterpillar tunnels can greatly extend your growing season. You can easily prolong dahlia and heirloom mum harvests, as well as so many other cut flower varieties, with this type of season extension. Much like a row cover, these will help keep the frost off of your plants and thus extend your growing season. Unlike the row covers, these typically stay a good bit warmer, although there are a great deal of variables based on the size of the tunnel, quality of the tunnel and so on. These come in so many various shapes and sizes, but they are typically all more economical than a full greenhouse setup, although considerably more expensive than floating row covers. Unlike true greenhouses, these tunnels are neither heated nor climate controlled. They do work very well, but the temperature inside the tunnel is still directly impacted by weather conditions outside. With that said, these structures often increase your sales period both in fall and early spring. Many cut-flower farmers and gardeners use them year round for season extension, getting a wonderful jump on the following spring.
Admittedly the term greenhouses, cold frame and tunnel are all used interchangeably by many people. For the sake of this article, though, we will be only calling it a greenhouse if it has an option to heat the air inside.Many true greenhouses not only heat the air, but have fans to better circulate that air. Some are wood powered, others use water heating, or some are electric. But, regardless, this is the option if you truly would like the ability to grow cut flowers year round.
This expanded growing capability is the major benefit to a greenhouse, of course, but what I considered to be potentially even more valuable is the ability to use a space like a greenhouse to start all of your own cut flower seeds. Perhaps the most critical start to any grower’s season is starting their seedlings. Without strong healthy seedlings, you could struggle to have a strong growing season.Many small farms do not have this space, so they often buy a large portion of ‘plugs’ or plant starts in early spring. By starting your plants in a greenhouse, you will greatly decrease your operation costs, while also getting a strong start to your growing season. Regardless of what method you choose for season extension, they all can greatly increase your opportunities as a small, cut-flower farming business. But remember that it’s okay to start small and grow from there. Many excellent flower farmers grow for years and years without any of these options, and they can still be very successful.