This post is the start of a series about the first year of starting a small farm specializing in cut flowers. The series will highlight the challenges, steps and joys of starting a business, farm and creative endeavor. If you are interested in the subject and have questions please feel free to leave comments and I will do my best to respond. Pisgah Flowers is located in Western North Carolina outside of Asheville. Learn more about Pisgah Flowers at pisgahflowers.com or https://www.facebook.com/pisgahflowers. Follow us on Instagram #pisgahflowers
When we moved back into our Airstream full time I had the luxury of a beautiful unused pasture on the property. I picked up a copy last fall of a book called The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski and got it into my head that this would be my new endeavor. I wanted to try my hand at owning and operating a business as well as growing something of beauty and use. I have some previous farming and gardening experience but nothing close to this scale. I decided to start planning, researching and developing over the fall and winter and plant in the spring. The winter was spent spilling over books and articles on everything from starting a business to weed control to greenhouses. I also set up my LLC, took workshops at the Ag extension and met with the small business center on the ends and outs of starting a business. I’ve never seen myself as a business owner or entrepreneur but I decided to take a chance and create something of my very own.
I wasn’t able to start early and plant seeds as starters or in a greenhouse so I knew everything would have to be direct seeded. I would have to choose my crops based on the climate and what worked well being direct seeded. I had to do a lot of research and comparing and guessing. I choose to buy most of my seeds from Johnny’s Select Seeds with a budget around $300 for seeds. I chose mostly Zinnias, Sunflowers, Celosia and Centaurea seeds. I also purchased bulbs from various sources including perennials like Dahlias, lilies and Astilbe to name a few.
Once early spring rolled around I shifted my focus from studying and researching to finalizing my LLC and preparing the field for planting. This I soon learned would be the hardest part of the whole endeavor. I took a fourth of an acre from pasture to field over the course of a month and almost quit several times before I ever planted the first seed.
Preparing the field:
In the winter I sent in my soil samples and met with the Ag extension agency about my results. The main thing I really needed to add would be lime and Rock Phosphate. Since my plan from the beginning was to be organic I knew I wanted to steer clear of chemical fertilizers. We were living on the land, had a creek right next to the field and believe in organic practices the choice was simple.- or so I thought.
When I started calling around to the local farm supply stores they all suggested 10-10-10 fertilizer. 10-10-10 is a non-organic (synthetic) fertilizer and is manufactured chemically. They are made to deliver nutrients rapidly but have the potential risk to plants and the soil food web of burning and dehydration with the leeching of unabsorbed chemicals into waterways. However, every store I talked to acted like it was the obvious unquestionable choice. I decided to go in person and talk about my options. When I got to the store I felt very out of place and any confidence I had about my pledge to go organic felt very far away. I sheepishly asked about the pricing of Rock Phosphate and was once again directed to the synthetic fertilizer option. Somehow I caved and had my Prius C filled to the brim with 10-10-10. What was I doing!? I panicked as I watched my organic ambitions slip away and piped up to two very confused looking young men loading my car; “umm so sorry but I changed my mind!” They gave each other puzzled looks and began to unload my car shaking their heads at each other. I know, it was my typical indecisive self wavering but I couldn’t stand watching my little Prius filled with fertilizer. The nice young men unloaded the 10-10-10 from my car and reloaded it with the much pricey smaller amounts of Rock Phosphate. I pulled away laughing at myself knowing I had provided every man in that store a story to talk about the rest of the day but in the end was able to stick to my organic goals.
Everything I had read all started with field ready to be tilled and rowed. I was at a loss as how to remove the sod enough to till without being over run with weeds. I checked with the ag extension agency and came up with the idea to rent a sod cutter before tilling. What a nightmare! The sod cutter is a machine that slices into the topsoil creating a carpet of grass that can be rolled up like a carpet in its wake. The problem aside from the challenges of operating the heavy machine was the incredible mass that the rolled up grass carpet created. I got through maybe, maybe a row before I called it quits. The mass was just too much for me to transport on my own and relocate. Not to mention loosing the valuable top soil from the rows I was creating. After a day or so recovery from the sod cutter mishap we rented a tiller. With the help of my partner in crime (husband) a total of ten rows were tilled with grass walking paths in-between. This created about a fourth of an acre of farmable rows.
Once the challenge of the tilled rows was over come I moved onto my next challenge- drainage ditches. The field I was farming was in the flood plain and many parts of the field had bad drainage issues. My solution was to create ditches on both sides of the newly tilled rows. Which meant hand digging ditches row after row on both sides. This took weeks and required nothing but a pair of gloves and a tough shovel. This is the second time I almost gave up before I ever even started to grow. A fews week of long days and endless pity parties about what I had got myself into I had the rows ready for planting.
To be continued….