Since we started farming together in 2015, my father and I have had many obstacles to overcome, the biggest being the weather. We currently grow in the cold climate of Zone 3b, but as our environment warms due to climate change, we are moving into a Zone 4a. Spring has been delayed the past few seasons by rain, cold temperatures, and even snow in May (just 2 days ago!). Frost can sometimes come as late as June, and as early as mid September. This leaves us with a growing window of three months, which is about half of what other flower farmers throughout the country might experience for the length of their outdoor season. I get countless requests for flowers in May and October, but since I never know what Mother Nature has in store, I have to turn these requests down. Wholesale is only mid June to the end of September, and weddings can not be taken until July!
Reggie and I realized that we had to find a solution to extend our season if we were going to continue growing annuals with the ability to have succession plantings through the spring and summer. The answer was a greenhouse. I had heard of grants being given to farmers in my area through the USDA of New Hampshire, more specifically for the department to run a survey for growers trying to get a longer season (conducted since 2010). Last spring we headed down to Orford, NH to meet with a rep that would help us better understand receiving a grant. She graciously helped with all the paperwork, making the process so much simpler. A week later, she came to survey the area where we planned to put up our greenhouse, checked our soil conditions (glacial runoff), and talked to us about ways we could improve on habitats for wildlife and pollinators to help us have a better chance at a bigger grant. We installed blue bird houses in the field and introduced honey bees from White Mountain Apiary that will be tended to during the 2017 season. A month after our paperwork was filed, we received the news that we had been granted the funds to build our first greenhouse. I called this news the game changer!
The plan was to have the greenhouse up by last fall, but as chances would have it the warm days of September had us too busy. This being our first greenhouse, we decided to put out the extra cost of having someone build it for us. We called Ledgewood Farms to see their availability in helping us, and we set the tentative time for construction in April. Sure enough the snow melted and the weather cleared long enough on April 22nd for the greenhouse to be built—thats right, they put it up in a day! The following week our construction guy, Bill, came and put polycarbonate on the south facing end wall instead of plywood. This will allow more sun to enter and warm the house. Once everything was done the USDA came and we passed inspection with flying colors!
The greenhouse is now tilled and planted with hundreds of dahlia tubers, and by the end of this month they will be joined by our trials of Lisianthus and Eucalyptus. In the fall, I plan to plant a few thousand specialty tulips, anemones, and hyacinth for early spring blooms.
I would like to give a special thank you to all the farmers that let us come tour their greenhouses, the guys at Ledgewood for being quick and accurate, our buddy Bill for helping us with yet another construction project, and all our CSA members that enabled us to have funds for the extra cost of building and materials so early in the season. For these reasons we are able to grow our business in the right direction and have 2-3 months of season extension. By this time next year we will have bouquets just in time for Mothers Day!
Stay tuned on Friday morning for the second part in our "Growing Momentum" series! I will be talking about this spring’s exciting publications, our website, and last years photo shoots! It is going to be a good one so don't miss out!