Flower Mama is both a flower farm and a floral design business. From the blooms grown on our diversity rich, chemical- free farm, we provide seasonal, lush, textural designs to bring your vision to life. Our commitment to quality and careful attention to detail make our arrangements, and your special day, more memorable.
My interest in no-till farming really started about 5 years ago when I was managing a diverse 3-acre farm. For the first time ever, I used a walk behind roto-tiller to till the soil before planting. I will admit, there was a sense of power I felt but then quickly a feeling of dread accompanied that. Dread because I knew I just damaged a beautiful, perfect system and it felt wrong. There had to be a better way. I talked with my farm mentor at the time and he was skeptical to my desires. Could no-till really work? We couldn’t find any examples of successful no-till farming systems, but I knew in my heart it was possible. My mission to try no-till farming was stunted when I found out I was pregnant and suddenly needed to plan my life. Fast-forward to living in Davis and my son is 6 months old or so. I knew I needed to farm again and my mission to learn about no-till growing was re-sparked. I became aware of two farms pioneering this no-till farming movement. Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol is amazing as well as Bare Mtn Farm in Oregon. They both have been no-till farming for a number of years and have been sharing their methods through workshops, public speaking, YouTube videos, and blog posts. Thanks to their efforts and sharing their methods, I felt comfortable trying no-till farming on my own. This wasn’t easy and I’ve learned a lot. Heck, I’m still learning a lot! I’d love to share with you the bit that I do know to hopefully inspire you to start on a no-till growing journey.
This post is meant to provide a general overview of No-till growing touching on the Why and provide detailed descriptions of just How to do it.
Why? Why shouldn’t we till the soil?
Imagine a natural disaster… Mud slides, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, and tsunamis. Pick your favorite three and imagine all three happening simultaneously at the highest magnitude possible. Intense, right? Everything above ground would be obliterated. THAT is exactly what we are doing to the life under ground whenever we till the soil. I’m not kidding. Soil is full of life from fungal aggregates to bacterial colonies to macrobiotic life. There are communities and layers upon layers of life that have taken time to establish. When we till, we disrupt all of that. We kill all the life that was there. How ironic is it that we kill life in order to grow new life? This only scratches the surface, really. From carbon emissions and soil loss to creating hard pans and loss of organic matter, there are plenty of other reasons that should convince you not to till the soil. You can read about those more extensively in my other post, Why No-Till?
Now that I hopefully have you convinced to not till the soil, the next question is, how do we do it? How can we farm quality produce without fluffing up the soil? What are the methods?
There are several methods you can take and no, you do not have to till the soil first to get started on no-till growing. There is essentially one common factor between both methods that you have to keep in mind. The aim is to build up the soil! Know that this will happen over time, and little by little. If we want to regenerate the land, we have to start thinking 7 generations ahead.
To get started on no-till growing, one method is to do sheet mulching. This would mean laying down cardboard over your growing area. If you have grasses or weeds growing, the first step would be to mow that down. Cover with cardboard and then cover with a couple inches of compost and any amendments you need to add. You can find out which amendments are best to add from having a soil analysis done. I personally have added some amendments without doing a soil test first, and later had one done. The amendments I add are azomite/ volcanic rock dust, feather meal, and oyster shell. More on these in a bit. After you covered with compost and amendments, you’ll want to cover with straw mulch. Rice or wheat straw is fine as well as alfalfa, but do not use Hay due to weed seeds. After all this layering, you’ll want to wet it all down. Set up a sprinkler or time this project right before the rain. The water brings the organisms to life. You should be able to plant within a week after watering. Don’t worry if you have to cut through a little cardboard to plant or if you see the layers and it doesn’t feel incorporated. Know that you will be planting into your native soil. I know that seems scary, but just trust. You are just starting the process and it’ll only get better from here.
A note about the suggested amendments…
Azomite is key because it adds trace minerals. You only have to do one application every few years, apparently. Unlike the other amendments, which get added every time a new crop goes in. Oyster shell is used for calcium. Most soils are calcium deficient (The native clay soil I farm on was confirmed Ca and mineral deficient through a soil test). However, I recently learned that over time the oyster shell might lower the pH of your soil. A suggested alternative by several farmers was to try gypsum, which has naturally occurring sulfur in it that will not lower the pH of your soil. Again, a soil test is necessary to know whether you may want to lower your pH or not determining which amendment is best. Feather meal is great to add for nitrogen. Blood meal is another high source of nitrogen, and these can be added along with compost. A good 1-2 inches of compost is beneficial a couple times/year when getting started with no-till farming.
So you just learned about sheet mulching, but that isn’t the only way. There other method, which I prefer, is called occultation.
This is the method I used to get started. Mow down any cover crop, grasses and/or weeds. Apply compost and amendments and then cover with landscape fabric. Landscape fabric has become my favorite “tool” on the farm. It’s a woven plastic material that will let in water and air, but blocks sunlight. This is important because soil life needs air and moisture to thrive, but the weed seeds will sprout and the lack of sunlight will inhibit them from growing. While the sheet-mulching method is resource intensive, this method is time intensive. It takes 4-6 weeks for everything to be properly decomposed. However, when it’s finished, you have a beautiful clean and weed-free slate to start growing on. Also note that again, you will essentially be planting your transplants in your native soil. This may feel like you’re taking a huge gamble. For me, it did. You can read all about my humble beginnings starting with no-till growing in my post, My experimentation with Occultation.
I am also here to tell you that this experiment worked! I farm with heavy clay soil and even though I planted my transplants in the clay the first year, I still had some flowers that were 6 feet tall and thriving!
To continue no-till growing along your same beds after your plants are finished producing, there are a few ways you can approach this. The best way would be to take an intensive growing approach. This is what I learned at The Singing Frogs Farm workshop I took last spring. After they harvest a crop completely, they’ll take out the remainder of it by cutting the main stalk at soil level, leaving the roots in the soil, and haul that above material to the compost pile. Then, they’ll top dress the soil with compost, feather meal, and oyster shell amendments and then right away, they’ll plant new transplants in the space directly next to where the old crop was growing. The goodness behind this way is that the beneficial biology and rhizosphere from the old roots will transfer over to the new roots of the new transplants giving them the edge to succeed.
Another method, if you are not ready to transplant into the same bed right after one crop is finished, is to do occultation again and wait at least 4 weeks. This is a fast way to build soil tilth. If your plant material is not diseased, cut it at the base again leaving the roots in the soil and keep the plant material on the bed. If it is diseased, I would not leave the material on the bed and it’s questionable whether you should compost it. Once your plant material is on the bed, I would suggest stomping on it and even cutting it more into smaller pieces. If you have a mower that will take down large plant material that would be perfect to use here. After, sprinkle your amendments and add compost and cover with landscape fabric. Watering these beds a few times while you wait will speed the breakdown process. After a month, if it looks ready, you can plant into your new bed, raking aside any stalks that were a little too thick to break down.
Lastly, if there will be a considerable amount of time before you plant in the same bed again, you can plant a cover crop. After you cut your plants at the base leaving the roots in the soil, you could sprinkle cover crop seeds, cover with compost and water. Alternatively, you could do the occultation method and then sow your cover crop seeds after the decomposition.
Through sheet mulching and/or occultation, we allow the soil dwelling organisms to naturally incorporate additions on top of the soil when given a little time and moisture. Through using these methods, time and time again, the soil tilth will begin to build up beautifully, and your farm will thank you.
I hope this information provided is enough to get you started on your no-till journey! I understand if there may be some skepticism and so, I’ll try to answer any questions that arise. Feel free to drop a comment below or ask questions and as always, happy growing!
This is something that took me several years to actually figure out. Through trial and error (lots and lots of error), and learning from the right people, I've finally realized how to get those gorgeous spring blooms here in Northern California!
I'm in zone 9b so what I'm about to tell you applies to this particular climate, and maybe zone 8, so you'll have to apply your own knowledge to your particular zone.
Here's the secret to having gorgeous spring flowers:
You need to plant your spring flower transplants in the FALL, which means you need to sow your seeds in the SUMMER.
I know it feels so weird to be thinking about spring in the height of the summer when you are swamped with flowers to harvest, but as a farmer, we always have to be thinking a couple seasons ahead! As a good rule of thumb, the best time to order spring bulbs is right after they finish flowering. So generally, you want to be placing your orders for ranunculus, anemones, tulips, etc, in early May (and they'll get shipped in fall). So, order your seeds at the end of spring. Sow seeds near the end of summer for planting in fall.
If fall rolls around, and you've just started to think about spring, you're already too late. I'm sorry. I've done this year after year and have learned the hard way. I've sown spring seeds in fall and try to plant them out early in the new year, and they just suffer. The soil is too cold by this time and frost might kill them if not properly protected. With the short daylight hours, the plants don't grow as "beefy" as they should be and by the time March rolls around, they'll start sending up stems, but from a wimpy base. The stems will be short. The heat will come on fast and fry your wimpy spring flowers. It's pretty deflating. But don't worry, we just need to adjust our timing for success!
Here's the thing you need to realize: Spring flowers are COOL FLOWERS meaning they like to do the bulk of their growing during the winter. However, as transplants, they like warm soil (around 70 degrees) to get established in. If you sow your seeds in July or August, you should be ready to transplant your spring babies in late September or October. This year, I got all my spring plants in by mid-october. This is also an optimal time to plant bulbs.
Some plants do well directly sown, or scattered in the fall. I have had a lot of luck with larkspur and nigella this way. Bells of Ireland and sweet peas have re-sown themselves in the fall. In general though, direct seeding is such a gamble so I like to plan for having transplants.
Some cool flowers are so hardy, that they won't need protection from light frosts. This includes larkspur, stock, bachelors buttons, foxglove, sweet peas, ranunculus, and probably many more I'm not listing. I tend to error on the side of caution and cover everything anyways, with a light weight agribond/frost blanket. Where I farm, the winds come ripping through and that can be really damaging to plants. So, the agribond helps for diminishing the wind impact as well as keeping out rodents who will dig at my bulbs from above ground.
This year, it's almost March, and we've gotten a few harder frosts. Luckily, my plants have all been fine in their tunnels of agribond, but using plastic instead of frost blanket would help ensure their protection even more-so when frosts in the mid-20's are in the forecast. The time that spring plants are most susceptible to damage from frost is when they've started to send up stems and grow buds.
Growers in colder climates will also plant their spring flowers in the fall, to get a jump on the spring season, but instead of covering with agribond, they cover with plastic. They'll make low tunnels with plastic, and will need to vent these on warm days. For really hard frosts in a cold climate, they'll lay agribond over their plants within their plastic tunnels.
Overwintered Snapdragons, in February.
So that's it, growers. The trick to having gorgeous spring flowers is just all about timing, getting them planted in the fall, and then protecting them from frost as necessary.
There is a book out there that revolutionized this concept for me and really helped me get a grasp on how to grow beautiful spring flowers. That book is called Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Ziegler. You can find it HERE on her website, and I highly recommend it!
Hope this helps, friends! If you missed the optimal timing with spring flowers this year, there's always next year ;)
As I prepare to send out my new February newsletter, I've realized my last farming blog post was made in June! Eeek! So let me fill you in with what's been going on. It includes farm expansion, soil test results, and plans for this new year!
The first two years of my no-till growing venture were focused on 1/4th acre. I grew flowers on approximately 15 beds, all 3' wide by 70' long. Last spring, I planned on expanding the farm. Instead of tilling and growing on my expanded area right away, I decided to build up the soil as much as I could. This involved laying compost, amendments, and sowing a summer cover crop of cowpeas and buckwheat. This did quite well. When it was almost finished flowering, I mowed it down, left it on top of the soil and covered the whole area with landscape fabric. This method is called occultation, which I talk about more in previous blog posts.
When everything was properly decomposed, I lifted the fabric and realized the soil needed even more help. It was autumn, so I literally went around the City of Davis with a tarp scooping up leaf piles and bringing them to the farm. Several trips later, the new area was covered in leaves which not only mulched the soil (and soil should be covered at all times), but it will break down and add delicious minerals into the soil. The next step, happening this month, will be to cover the leaves with even more compost, and hope that it'll be sufficient to plant into come April!
Now this isn't the only expanded area. I have another section which I treated differently and not on purpose. Mainly because of limited time and resources. With this second section, I added compost and amendments over dried grass essentially and then seeded with a winter cover crop mix late September. I had to sprinkle it in for quite a while before any rain came in December. My watering's were not too consistent, and the grasses came up fierce, outcompeting the beans. I have super tall grass patches in that area, but I'm not worried. I'll mow and cover with landscape fabric this month knowing that the grass will still add composition to the soil. This area will also be ready to plant in come April!
With my new expanded areas, I now will be growing on 1/3rd acre and I will have 6 more rows to plant in! In fact, I just sent all my seeds to be started for me. The growers at Pacific Star Gardens in Woodland offers the service of starting seeds for other farmers, which is perfect for me because I do not have a greenhouse nor a good track record of starting seeds indoors. They let me mix varieties in their 216 cell trays which is awesome and the peace of mind that I will have guaranteed starts in spring is priceless. Now, if every single cell produced a healthy start (which never happens), but hypothetically, I would have 3,672 summer starts!
Another project happening this month is irrigation expansion for my new growing areas! I need to make some repairs to the pop up, add a header line, and new emitter lines down the length of my rows. I use netafim drip tube, which is sturdy and long lasting. Most landscapers use this stuff! I will have to talk with some irrigation specialists about how to make a cohesive system, and admittedly, I'm really not looking forward to doing this project! I tend to have a personal block towards building and constructing things, so I plan to solicit help on this one.
Now about that soil test I just did... My flower farming friend, Lisa Haas, graciously offered to come over and sample my soil with me using her fancy, in depth, soil testing kit! I took samples from both new areas I'm expanding to as well as from a row where cotton had grown last year. The goal is to get to the native soil, which for us in the Central Valley of CA, is heavy clay. I was eager to learn about it! and also admittedly, I have never done a soil test. I've planed too, I really did. Twice I had dug soil and then never followed through with mailing it to a lab. Not sure what my block was against that one. But regardless, we did a soil test!! Better now than never.
The results of each test (except cotton because we couldn't get a diluted enough sample) were a pH of 7.2 which is damn near perfect. pH is important to note because that affects the uptake of nutrients. I wouldn't matter if you had all the right constituents and minerals, if the pH was off, your plants wouldn't be able to use it. Next, in each sample, I found out my Nitrogen levels were off the charts high! The tests also showed that Phosphorus and Potassium were off the charts high! So, I'm set on my macro nutrients! The confusing part came when testing for Calcium and Sulfates which used a "turbidity" type of test for analysis. Both results were really, really light supposed to be compared to a grey scale. So either, they are off the charts high as well (lighter than the lightest reading indicating high levels), OR those nutrients are virtually non-existent. It was hard to find the answer to this question online, so I believe a future test of the leaves of plants will be able to tell me if they are in fact, getting calcium and sulfates. So the macro nutrients we're great. The Ca and sulfates are to be determined, and lastly, the micro nutrients were not looking so good. We tested for Magnesium, Manganese, and Ferric Iron. Both tests showed extremely low, practically non-existent amounts. These micro nutrients are actually pretty important, particularly magnesium, which is incorporated into each chlorophyll molecule and stimulates the uptake of phosphorus. And so the question is, while I have good phosphorus levels, is it actually available to my plants without the presence of Magnesium? See, a lot of these molecules work hand in hand and often times without one, plants loose the ability to use the other. So what does this mean in terms of remedies? The most common remedy for a magnesium deficient soil is to add limestone. However, limestone can alter the pH making the soil more basic. Other ways to add magnesium are through magnesium sulfate (which is soluble) or magnesium oxide (which is insoluble). I still have to research products and determine how much, and probably a combination, would be best. As far as the trace nutrients, it is recommended that those are used in foliar sprays. Azomite, which is volcanic post dust and an amendment I love, contains those trace minerals plus MUCH more and I have been adding it to my compost tea brewing system. So, I'll keep doing that!
Overall, I learned it's really insightful and empowering to tune into what is actually present or not in the soils we grow on. Soil health is so important to me. It's why I don't till. It's also why I add copious amounts of compost, and take that extra step and cost to mulch the soil. Through farming, I am consistently humbled by how much I don't know. I am also completely humbled to see how well plants have grown in heavy clay with no-till farming! I am going to keep learning and keep experimenting!! If you're a grower, I encourage you to do the same.
I get asked this question a lot, so I thought I’d make a post about it. It depends on how far back you go. I could let you know how I’ve grown flowers since I was a little girl. How my mom let me have my own garden space in all the houses we’ve lived in and let me have complete control over it. I could tell you how we would spend hours at the nursery oohing and ahhing over plants deciding which should come home with us and if we had enough space to plant them among our existing plants. These formative years have played in major role in why I grow flowers, as it’s something that has soothed my soul for as long as I can remember.
However, farming and gardening are completely different. How I landed into FARMING flowers was through bees.
Yep, that’s right. It was through our pollinator friends. I studied biology at a small liberal arts college in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and managed to land two internships during the summers of my undergrad BOTH in regards to studying native bee populations… one was through The Chicago Botanic Gardens and I was based in the prairies of Minnesota, and the other was through Oregon State University. It was both of these experiences that helped me land a summer research assistant position through UC Davis. The very next day after I graduated with my bachelors in Biology, I was driving my new leased Nissan Sentra out to California. I was doing it! This Wisconsin girl has always wanted to travel Westward, and this was my chance.
It’s safe to say that I became enamored with California right away. I was in Davis, which is a particularly charming town with an infamous farmers market, permaculture community, and beloved food Co-op. Artists are celebrated in Davis, biking is the preferred mode of transportation, and no one looked at me funny for wearing tie dye. It was safe to say, I felt home.
The pollinator research team I was a part of took me all over the county to various farms of all different sizes. We observed, counted, and took samples of native bees from farms that were huge, mono-crop, and conventional as well as from smaller, more diverse organic farms. This opened my eyes to farming in a whole new way. First off, I realized the bounty of crops that could be grown here and not just during the summer, but during the winter, too! Being from Wisconsin, my view of farming had been very limited to corn, soy, and dairy. I still remember the very first time I saw a pomegranate tree. It was full of flowers, and I was full of wonder. There are a lot of other crops I saw, and tasted for the first time. Persimmons, kumquats, jujubes, and loquats were some of those. Additionally, eating a FRESH PEACH off the tree for the first time was an ethereal experience. I had fallen in love with the idea of farming and growing all these amazing crops. I knew that when my research term was over a few months later that I would not be ready to go back to Wisconsin. So, the day came when my summer bee work was complete and I was desperate to learn farming.
Bombus vosnesenskii on vetch
By some luck or divine order, I got a job working for Toby Hastings at Free Spirit Farm. His was my favorite farm that we studied bees at. He grew the most gorgeous organic vegetables, flowers, fruit trees, and blackberries on 3 acres. Later, he added chickens to the mix. He gave me a chance with zero farming experience, and I learned how to harvest all of these crops with speed. I learned what quality looks like as his San Francisco restaurants accounts only accepted the absolute best. I would pick his brain about growing these crops at any chance I got, and I filled my belly with the freshest and tastiest food I’ve ever experienced. I also worked harder than I ever had in my life, but felt strong, healthy, and fulfilled in doing so.
Sun golds at Free Spirit Farm
It was my second season working for Toby when I had this Ah-hah moment. I could farm flowers I thought! I knew a lot of farmers struggled to make a decent living with growing vegetables, and I also knew that flowers were a luxury item and commanded a much higher price than vegetables. Plus, I have always been passionate about flowers! I thought my idea was brilliant, and when I get an idea, I go full force into making it happen. When I wasn’t harvesting for Toby, I was researching and dreaming of farming flowers. I bought The Flower Farmer book by Lynn Byczynski and signed up for The Specialty Cut Growers School, which took me up to Washington in the Spring of 2013 to learn from Diane Szukovathy, Dennis Westphall, Vivian Larson, and Joe Schmidt. This was incredibly eye opening, inspiring, and charged me in a way that I needed. When I returned, I got started. Through connections, I found a private piece of property to grow my flowers on in the same town as Free Spirit Farm, where I was still working. I set out to farm by spreading compost on the field, laying out irrigation, and starting seeds at my friends’ place in a dilapidated plastic hoop-house. I had grand plans of doing a flower subscription/weekly bouquet share while still working for Toby because I couldn’t afford not to have steady income. I would farm 8 hour days harvesting vegetables and then head over to my flower plot to farm another 2-3 hours before going home. My days were long, and if you are at all familiar with California central valley summers, my days were also brutal. I’ve never experienced such intense heat and nonetheless, working in it all day long. Somehow, this still didn’t deter me from farming. My bouquet subscription plan did not work out, but I did manage to have a standing order of 10 bouquets/week with the Davis Food Co-op. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into farming and it gave me back fulfillment, abundance, and a sense of purpose. Although I realized at the end of the season that I needed to explore different options for farming, I felt hooked on farming flowers not only as a job, but a way of life.
My first patch of zinnias
I’ve come a long way since this first go at flower farming. I’ve learned a lot and still am constantly learning. Mother Nature is the most humbling teacher, and I’m filled with stories of not only successes, but also epic failures. Though I have been gaining confidence of myself, as a farmer as the years go on, there was a HUGE learning curve in the beginning, not only to farming itself, but also to growing flowers in a completely different climate. Wisconsin zone 5b is vastly different from California zone 9b. I often reflect back to these earlier years of farming when I feel like things are particularly difficult. I remember how I just dove in, fearless and strong willed. I remember the joy I was gifted in return, and I know that I can keep going.
Have a look through these images to see my first go at flower farming in 2013. I’ve narrowed it down as best I could to 15 images. It’s a mixture of farm photos with some of the first bouquets I’ve made. As always, thanks for reading!
Hey there. I’m glad you’re here to read about this. It’s not always easy to share personal hardships, so I've been quiet lately. With 2017 coming to a close, I find myself doing a lot of reflecting and also ready to just let go and welcome in a new year with new possibilities. I feel that it is important to be open and transparent in the most authentic way that I can. It helps to talk about the challenging times because we’ve all gone through some; we’re not alone.
Do you remember what was happening in your life around the eclipse in August? It was quite profound for a lot of people I talked to, and indeed it was for me. It was also my Birthday (Aug 17th), which was just days before the solar eclipse on the 21st. Derek and I had quietly been struggling in our relationship for some time prior and I believe it was this merge of events that became the catalyst for me to let go of our relationship. We separated, and it was devastating to say the least. It was not from a loss of love, but rather a healthy decision. This actually made it feel more painful. In many ways, I’m still working through the tough emotions. Shame and guilt were some of the strongest in the beginning.
I ended up moving out of our family home soon after, and very gratefully landed at a friend’s house temporarily.
Daffodils, a symbol of New Beginnings, bloomed for me in September! That's 5 months early!!
I’m so very grateful for my farming community as it was Jay of Hearty Fork Farm and his wife, Catherine, who opened their home to me which then led to Nalin and I being welcomed into our current home in Winters. We now live with Jeremy/Farmer Shep and his girlfriend, Kim. I’ve been so humbled by the experience of generosity and feeling lifted up by my community. I’ve not only re-connected with friends, but I’ve been allowing myself more focused attention, which had been lost for a while. I’m so happy that I’ve signed up for a new women’s circle being held by Kirsten Elise. It’s been very empowering and transformative in the way I’ve been able to move through energy. It is also worth mentioning that I am very grateful for Derek and the support he’s provided so far with moving and transitioning despite going though such heartache. We are navigating our new paths now both as individuals and co-parents.
In the front yard of our new place making me a pie
Nalin has been adjusting along with us, and is doing well. We continue to allow him the space and support to feel his emotions and to know he is so well loved. He’s excited about “new house” as he calls our place, and even though there are tough moments, he is naturally happy day after day. It helps that he still has the home he was born at and grew up in while he’s with Derek. The flower farm is also still comforting and familiar, so he’s been able to adjust somewhat easefully to just “mama days” and just “daddio days”.
I've managed to execute 4 weddings since the separation. This photo was from my sister's wedding in Wisconsin.
And so, what does this all mean for my business? I’m at a crossroads where I could either do everything I am physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of to propel my business forward and sustain the life style and career that I love OR I could sink. Obviously, the latter is not an option for me. I’m heading into year three, and so very grateful to have been able grow this business slowly. I’ve been given the gift of being able to be present as a mother to Nalin without any childcare since birth, and also to not have that pressure of needing my business to provide for the family. For this, I truly thank Derek and I also thank all my friends and family who have supported me with flower purchases along the way! I thank some of my first wedding clients who believed in me to execute the flowers of their dreams, even when it was all so new. Because of the amazing support I’ve had along the way, I actually broke even the first year. I’m profiting a bit this year, and next year will be different. I need my business to fully sustain the life I have now.
Also since the separation, I've planted nearly 1,000 spring plant starts and over 1,000 bulbs/corms with my best helper here. Farming continues no matter what!
It’s an exciting time and also a terrifying time for me. I’ve been doing what I can to learn and grow my business. I’ve met with small farms advisors to talk about moving forward and hiring. I’ve invested in Jessica Zimmerman’s Business Behind the Blooms course and that has been deeply helpful for realizing how I can attract the wedding clients I desire to work with. I’ve watched webinar after webinar after webinar of some of the leaders in the industry. I started listening to business podcasts. I’ve been updating my website little by little, and have a running list of goals I want to reach in January. I’m also so incredibly grateful that I’ve been chosen to win a Floret Scholarship, and am thrilled beyond words to dive into the course, which starts in January!
I hope me writing all this has given you a better sense of this path that I am on and has perhaps shed some light on the difficulty of this transition. It has been quite the emotional journey of heartache and loss, moving, still mothering my son and providing him support, farming, and maintaining my business all simultaneously. The point of this post is not to have your sympathy, but rather to connect and honestly share what I’ve been going through. My intention is to be my authentic self in the most genuine way that I can. I want to be transparent for my customers and followers along this journey. It may look like everything is absolutely perfect through the beautiful flowers on Instagram, but the truth is, we’re all human and we’re all going through life which sometimes presents us with challenges. I like to think of myself as a perennial optimist. I can always see the light even in the darkest of challenges. That’s how I know I’ll be okay.
We're all familiar with it. You buy a fresh, beautiful bunch of flowers from market, put them in a vase at home, and a couple days later the water starts turning mucky and the flowers begin to wilt. What's happening? Why? What are those little flower food packets they sell with bouquets at grocery stores? Are they worth it? How can I get my flowers to last longer? This post is all about answering these questions!
Flowers wilt and the water turns mucky because of bacteria on the stems/leaves. Most flower growers and designers know to strip the leaves off the part of the stem that's in water, but sometimes a few slip by. These leaves, and particularly hairy stems like zinnias and sunflowers, hold a lot of bacteria that not only make the water yucky, but can clog the pores of the stem preventing the flower from taking up water, thus, wilting.
Those flower food packets at grocery stores contain 3 main ingredients: a bactericide, an acid, and sugar. The bactericide helps keep the water clean, the acid allows flowers to take up water through their stems, and the sugar is a little food for the flowers. So, they are intended to keep the water clean and help your flowers last longer. They work and I'd say they are worth it. I personally use a solution like this every single time I harvest. I use Vita One Step floral solution from Vita Products. Their solution is organic, environmentally friendly, and biodegradable. The good news is there are home remedies you can make to help your flowers last longer. The recipe is: a drop of bleach and a splash of regular 7-UP soda. (You don't want to use Diet). Alternatively, you can use an actual squirt of lemon juice and a little sugar stirred in. The bleach doesn't harm the flowers, but I don't have actual amounts for you. All I can recommend is the tiniest drop of bleach and a small splash of the other stuff. It really doesn't take much!
Giving your flowers this solution, whether homemade or bought, will certainly increase the vase life of your blooms! There are, however, other common practices you should be doing (and if the the floral solution thing sounds like too much of a hassle, at least changing out the water a few times per week will help your flowers last) For starters, it should be common practice that when you get your bouquet home, re-cut the stems before placing it in water. Flower stems begin to close up 7 seconds out of water!! This is their way of surviving. So, the stems are probably closed from your transit home with them and a fresh cut will open their pores again. Make sure your vase is squeaky clean before putting your flowers in. This cannot be stressed enough, because again, bacteria! It's also a good idea to make sure your snippers are clean when cutting the stems. Lastly, keep your bouquet in a cool location out of direct sunlight. Growing flowers like sun, but fresh cut flowers do not.
It is also worth mentioning that some varieties of flowers just naturally have a longer vase life than others. Some flowers are known for their shorter vase life. Such flowers with a shorter vase life (of 4-5 days) are cosmos, sweet peas, and zinnias sometimes. Some flowers that last super long in a vase (often 2 weeks!) are lisianthus, feverfew, strawflower, bells of Ireland. Most flowers fall in the range of lasting a good, solid week. When I make bouquets for my home, I personally like to pick out the flowers that die first and continue to enjoy the rest of the bouquet.
I hope these tips will help your bouquets to last longer so you get to enjoy them more!
Do you know the feeling of coming upon something so incredibly beautiful that it stops you instantly in your tracks? You feel an overwhelming sense of happiness and joy, you may even start weeping. Know that feeling? I experienced that yesterday.
I recently returned from a 4 day camping trip and it was the longest I had been away from the farm since.. well, maybe December. Upon seeing the farm again, I was greeted with the most amazing blooms of all sorts that decided to open up while I was gone. The site was so beautiful that I literally danced as I was harvesting the flowers.
Because of this, I feel inspired to share with you what is growing and blooming at the farm right now. This post has lots of photos, so sit back and enjoy the slideshow...
This is nearly the last week of the larkspur. It bloomed solidly for a month, and now I have been hanging the smaller stems to dry for wreath making in the fall.
Statice, Blue Seas
Including Vegmo, Statice, Bells of Ireland, Yarrow, Larkspur, Scabiosa, and others.
Zinnias, Oklahoma Mix
Zinnias (and cosmos too) like to bloom early on short stems. The key is to continually cut them which causes the plant to want to grow bigger and stems to be longer. They are not dwarf; this is just the beginning!
Orange Benary's Giants beginning to bloom
I've been trying to follow sage advice from experienced flower farmers to succession plant sunflowers at least every other week for continual summer blooms!
Silver Drop Eucalyptus
One of my favorite foliages!
Rose Scented Geranium
Just starting to pop!
This variety is called "purity" and performs the best!
Sleeping bees in Cosmo Flower
Some male native bees spend their nights in flowers... it's pretty much the cutest!
More bees sleeping in Cosmos
Bells of Ireland
These were all self seeded volunteers!
First year planting and its already coming into bloom!
I've planted quadruple the amount of dahlias as last year and most have sprouted!
To first understand why farmers should adopt a no-till agricultural practice, it is first necessary to understand tillage and it’s harmful effects. So allow me to explain. Tillage is any type of disturbance of the soil, most commonly done by tractors, by stirring and over-turning the soil. This is done to make the soil more workable in the short term, to “fluff” up the soil and make it easier for planting. Even though farmers have been tilling their soils for over a century, and have managed to feed a growing population successfully, it has not been done without harmful effects. Some of the harmful effects include killing all soil life including worms, snakes, lizards, and much more, compaction of the soil creating a hard pan, increased risk of disease pressure, increased erosion, soil runoff, decreased water infiltration, destroyed soil aggregates, soil loss, and decreased soil organic matter. The list is daunting. The USDA released a statement in a 2010 article titled “Farming in the 21st Century; a practical approach to Soil Health” saying, “ Tilling the soil is the equivalent of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, and forest fire occurring simultaneously to the world of soil organisms. …Simply stated, tillage is bad for the soil.” This is huge, and it’s true! Imagine a natural disaster wiping out your state. Millions of people would die and it would take a lot of time for you to re-establish yourself and your communities again. This is what soil organisms go through every season.
I want to talk a little about soil organic matter (SOM) as well because tillage has been depleting this over the years and it is the reason we will not be able to farm for much longer with conventional tillage methods. Soil organic matter, from Wikipedia, “is the organic matter component of soil, consisting of plant and animal residues at various stages of decomposition, cells and tissues of soil organisms, and substances synthesized bysoilorganisms.” It is essentially what makes up a healthy soil. Before ploughing and conventional tillage methods were introduced, America’s soils had roughly 6-10% SOM in them. Today, after only a century, our soils have 1-3% SOM. We literally do not have another century left to farm the way we are farming. We’ve raped our soils dry and there is almost nothing left.
The bright side is, soil has the ability to repair itself with a little help on our part. This is where no-till farming becomes critical. Soil organic matter contains carbon. It is necessary for healthy soils that carbon is stored there. Right now, there is too much carbon being stored in the atmosphere causing global warming. The very act of tillage causes carbon and nitrates get volitalized out of the soil, combine with oxygen, and become stored as greenhouse gases. Carbon and nitrogen are the two things a farmer needs most in their soil, and we have already lost 2/3rds of carbon in the soil globally to the atmosphere. By adopting a no-till farming strategy, one can begin to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it back in the soil. In fact, agriculture is one of the largest and cheapest ways that we could mitigate the effects of global warming. According to Dr. Rattan Lal, Ohio State Soil Scientist, “A mere 2 percentage point increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere.”
I had the opportunity to take a workshop by a couple leaders in this no-till farming movement; Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol have been no-till farming for the past 7 years. They have built their soil organic matter up from 2.4% in 2007-2008 to 8% - 11% from 2013 – 2017 with Carbon being 4.6% - 6.5% where it was previously 1.4%. What they have also found from not tilling is that there is no erosion from their fields and no leaching of nitrates. Their farm has the capacity to hold water more efficiently. They only water their crops about 20 minutes every 5 days. This is incredible! For every 1% SOM increase, an acre of farm has the capacity to hold over 18,000 gallons of water in the top 12 inches. Not only is water stored more efficiently in the soil, but the crops utilize it better which is why they can water so infrequently. Due to balanced, healthy soils, they rarely have to worry about disease or pest issues. The diversity on their farm also helps with that, namely their native hedgerows. They also have very minimal weed pressure. When a farmer works with the soil, the soil gives back. Their veggies are chalk full of nutrients whereas nutrients are lost in conventional tillage farm systems. We are nearing a health crisis because we are all nutrient deficient. Nutrients come from healthy soils and when our soils have been depleted to almost nothing, even in organic systems because of tillage, it is no wonder we are all nutrient deficient.
Singing Frogs Farm has a 3-step philosophy for better soil management, which is also synonymous with what the USDA recommends. 1. Disturb the soil as little as possible. (That’s easy- don’t till!) 2. Keep a diversity of living plants in the ground as often as possible. 3. Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
Keeping the soil covered, whether with living plants, mulch, or landscape fabric is critical. This allows the top several inches of soil to be welcoming for soil dwelling organisms. Soil is suffering when it is exposed, dry, and cracked. You can think of soil as the “skin of the earth." It’s living and breathing. Much like our own skin, we need to keep it replenished with quality moisturizer, and generally covered especially from the sun. Otherwise, our skin becomes dry, cracked, and unhealthy.
Singing Frogs Farms takes an intensive approach to their no till agricultural practice. On their 3 acres of land, they grow a variety of veggies and can get 5-6 crop harvests per season from one bed. As soon as one crop is finishing, they cut it at soil level, leaving the roots in the soil, and compost the above ground plant material. Leaving the roots in the soil is important because it is not only feeding a myriad of soil organisms, but a beneficial rhizosphere surrounds the roots. The farmers aim to plant new transplants the very same day as the old crop is cut out because the biology from the root structure of the previous plant will migrate to the brand new, smaller root structure of the new transplants thus giving the transplants that extra edge to grow big and healthy. Singing Frogs Farmers also intercrop and companion plant a lot of their veggies so that maximum soil coverage can be achieved with living plants. They grow lettuces in-between onions and in-between tomatoes, for example. The tomatoes and onions which are slower growing crops will take longer to fill out and shade the soil, so the lettuces which are faster and leafier, help to shade the soil quicker and bonus- the farmer gets several harvests and more money out of the crop bed.
The Singing Frogs farmers do amend their beds, sometimes, before the next planting. Their amendments include organic oyster shell for Calcium, organic slow release feather meal for nitrogen, and organic compost that contains more phosphorus and potassium. However, they do not add compost all the time. Since their soil tilth is so good, they may not need more compost in between plantings of lower feeder type crops. In general, their compost use has decreased dramatically since taking a no-till approach. When a farmer takes care of the soil and amends it properly, less is needed; so, no-till farming can save money on inputs.
Singing Frogs Farm employee, Nina, applying feather meal after a layer of oyster shell. Next will be a generous 1/2 inch amount of compost.
In my previous blog posts, I talked about Occultation and using that method as a no-till practice. This is a great method to use if you are claiming new growing area (which I was) or if you do not have transplants ready to go in after removing the top part of your old crop. Occultation (covering an area with landscape fabric), however, is not as ideal once a farmer has been practicing no till for a little while just because it is time intensive. It takes at least a month, generally longer, for the bed to be plant-able. During this waiting time, you could be harvesting another crop if you had transplants ready to go in. In addition to occultation, another way a farmer can claim new area or get a jump-start on no-till farming is to do the lasagna layering with sheet mulching. Whether you have bare soil to start, cover crop, or weeds, you can lay down cardboard or thick straw, amendments and compost on top, and then another thick layer of mulch. This method is great for building up your soil quickly but it is very resource intensive. Some farmers may think they need to first break up their soil through tillage to get a jumpstart on a no-tillage system, but this is simply not the case. It is also not necessary to break up clay soils. I am working with heavy clay soil, and clay holds a lot of amazing micronutrients. It's a great foundation for plant roots to have access to, so the goal should be to farm on top of the clay by building the organic matter up in a no-till system.
Now, I’m sure your wondering why more farmers are not taking this no-till approach! Well, several are around the country. They’re just quieter about it because they’re too busy farming. Also, it takes a community to really implement a change especially when it’s a very drastic change from the way we have been doing things for over a century. If you’re a farmer, I encourage you to try no-till farming! It is labor intensive, and would be a lot easier to hop on your tractor, so I also encourage you to set aside your tillage equipment to not be tempted! If you are a citizen concerned about the state of our soils, our food system, and/or global warming, I encourage you to have a conversation about this matter with your farmers. Let your farmers know you are interested in purchasing food from no-till farms. Find more no-till farmers and support them! Be vocal about this! I have such high respect for Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm for speaking publicly, time after time, about their no-till practice and being completely transparent about it.
According to Paul Kaiser, “We do not need one person farming 100 acres; we need 100 people farming one acre of land.”
The future of food is looking pretty grim unless we can repair our soils now. No-till farming will increase soil organic matter, soil organisms, store carbon, save water, reduce runoff and erosion, reduce weed pressure, reduce disease and pest issues, and help make food nutrient rich again. It’s a no brainer that we need to be farming this way.
For more information on this topic, you can watch Paul and Elizabeth’s latest presentation, here on YouTube, from the Northeast Organic Farming Association Conference earlier this year. They speak on this topic including their farm more in depth, and in an eloquent way!
You can also download and print the USDA’s full review on Soil Health (a .PDF format). Copy and paste this title in Google to find it: “Farming in the 21st Century; a practical approach to Soil Health.”
With a lot of farmer friends planning on farming with a baby these days, I figured a post like this could be really helpful. I'm going to list some of my must have materials to make your farming experience with a little one go a lot smoother.
First, my most used and indispensable item:
The Ergo Baby Carrier
There are many types of carriers, I'm not saying the Ergo is the best (I haven't tried them all), but I do know that it's really easy to assemble unlike a wrap. Note that your baby, depending on size, should not go into the Ergo or similar type carrier prior to 3 months old, unless they have the infant insert. But, the infant insert gets really hot, so I've had momma's tell me they prefer a rolled up towel under baby's bottom with the Ergo carriers. The easiest way I've been able to farm and keep my little guy, Nalin, happy is by having him in the carrier on my back! This frees my hands to do whatever, and he LOVES being carried. As an almost 2 year old, he's getting pretty heavy now, but these carriers last!
A stroller, perhaps
Some babies do not like to be worn. They rather be pushed. If that's the case, a stroller may be your most used baby item at the farm. Make sure your pathways are wide enough for the stroller and I suggest getting a BOB stroller with a fixed front wheel. They have thicker wheels for rougher terrain and the fixed front wheel will ensure the stroller doesn't have a mind of it's own when going over bumps.
You probably have one already. Not only is it useful for caring your stuff, but baby can take a nap in there. You can line it with a nice padded blanket for cushion and put baby down when she/he is tired. You could lay a white sheet over the top if shady spots are limited. This brings me to my next point...
This is critical for a wee-one. If you don't have natural shady spots near where you are farming, then consider a pop up tent or one of those half dome tent shelters to create shade.
Hats and sunscreen
Find a good UV protection sunhat for your little one. Nalin never had a problem wearing hats, and I think that's because he saw me in a similar sunhat. Be the good example! and sunscreen... obviously this should be a no brainer. One thing I want to caution on is that many commercial sunscreen products have chemicals in them. Our skin, being the largest organ of our body, directly ingests these chemicals. I've been making my own sunscreen with all natural products and have had great success with it myself and on Nalin. I will post a blog with the DIY recipe this spring.
Snacks, snacks, snacks
This can't be emphasized enough! Mostly for toddlers. Babies, after 6 months are relatively bold with eating just about everything you give them. However, toddlers can be particular and they can also eat like teenagers. Pack a variety or snacks and in more quantity than you think you'll need. Oh, and water! You can always eat the snacks your baby refuses. Win, win.
Forget the toys.
Your babies favorite toys at home will not be his favorite toys on the farm. You might just loose them, so don't even bring them. Instead, bring mini versions of whatever you're using that day. They aspire to be just like you and they want to copy you! If you're planting, give him a mini kid sized trowel. If your harvesting, give you little one a small bucket or a basket to put things in. I give Nalin a small bucket of water and some flower stems I don't plan on using while I'm harvesting. As he's gotten older, I've been able to hand him stems as I harvest and ask him to put them in mama's bucket. He's usually happy to help! Include your little ones as they get older. They will be your best farm hands in the future.
A sandbox or water table
We have these things at home, so I don't have them at the farm but Nalin could spend hours in a sandbox or standing up at a water table and playing. Water play is especially really nice in the summer when it's hot. Think about setting these up in the shade near your farm to keep your little one occupied.
Plan naps at the farm
I would purposely take Nalin to the farm around his nap time. If I could get him to sleep on the farm, I could have 1-2 hours to hustle and get work done! He used to sleep in a pack-n-play in the shade. I didn't suggest this earlier because they're bulky and awkward to move, set up, and take down constantly. A wagon works much nicer, but also here is a secret: when it got really hot out, I'd let him sleep in his carseat with the car running and AC on and soft music. I plugged the baby monitor into the car and could hear when he woke up. He was always cool and comfortable. I never had any problems except that it is totally not ideal to leave your car idling. So, I don't recommend this for obvious reasons, but it worked. This year I have a half dome tent shelter that I will set up for naps.
Know that it will take you twice as long to get tasks done.
I figured this out pretty early on. A lot of farmers know, roughly, how much time it takes them to harvest a particular crop, pack for CSA, or plant a row, etc. Now, realize that with a baby or toddler in tow, these same tasks will literally take you twice as long. You have to be okay with that and to set realistic expectations for yourself. Be easy on yourself. You are farming AND parenting. Each is hard in its own right, and you are or will be doing both. Have fun with it, stay positive, and always remember- your baby comes first!
Winter is a wonderful time for reflections as the pace of farming slows down dramatically. Here in CA, I find winter is merging into spring now. My to-do list is ever growing and somewhere in-between sowing spring seeds and planning the beds for summer flowers, I realized I hadn't sat down to write my reflections on my first year flower farming exclusively with a one year old on my back. So here it goes.
Farming is my favorite type of experimentation. There are MANY ways, tips, and tricks that farmers use and methods of farming can all be so uniquely different. I took it upon myself to grow flowers the most ecological way possible. To me, that means, no pesticides or using anything that is not-organic and will harm soil life. Not tilling the soil is another HUGE importance to me. Adding layers upon layers of compost, organic matter, and organic amendments also are important. Farming according to a biodynamic planner... this is something that I would love to learn more about, but basically, I time my farming activities (particularly seeding and transplanting) in accordance with the greater universe. Within these guidelines and bringing my son to the farm 90% of the time, I learned quite a few lessons. Here are some of them:
Nalin enjoying a summer peach snack on the farm
Your child must always come first, always.
This is something I knew already heading into this endeavor. However, it is much, much easier to know it than to actually practice it. Picture heading to the farm with the agenda to harvest 5 buckets of flowers with your baby in tow. Oh, and it's already 80 degrees out. 5 buckets doesn't sound like much, many of times I needed to harvest more than that, but 5 buckets can translate to 250 - 400 stems of flowers, snipped and stripped of their leaves. You may have HUSTLE on your mind like I have, but your kiddo needs constant attention. As you work, your kiddo is walking over flower beds, crushing newly planted babies to get to you. He starts hanging on you and it's hard for you to move down the row efficiently without him falling over. So, you put him in a carrier on your back. Now you feel like supermom except your back wants to fall off. One bucket picked. Oh now your kiddo needs a snack... See what I'm trying to get you to picture here? Being a mother is HARD. Farming is HARD. Now combine the two and it's easy to see that stress and anxiety levels can rise. This really comes down to a practice of mindfulness. Being fully aware, attentive, and present with not only your needs, but your child's truly takes practice. Luckily, kids give us plenty of opportunities to practice. They always need our love and often our attention too. I found it best to get work done and keep him happy by setting him up with toys or miniature versions of what I use so he can copy me. Including him by asking him to put flower stems in a bucket. Giving him his own mini bucket of flowers to play with, and always checking in letting him know I see him, that he's doing a good job, and that whatever he has is really cool. There have been plenty of days where I couldn't finish the work, because he needed to come home. That is okay. He comes first!
Just a few members of The Sacramento Flower Collective
Find support and accept help
This is key. It's easy to feel like you're alone when you're farming alone, but the truth is there is probably other farmers nearby that are feeling the same way. Reach out, network, and connect. It is so good to share your successes, failures, and ideas with other like-minded folks. Similarly, it is necessary to find support if you have a kiddo. I have a hard time asking for anyone other than my partner to babysit because well, I'm determined to do it all, but setting the ego aside and accepting help has been one of the best things for everyone's well being.
Bells of Ireland that self sowed in fall. They are now healthy and huge for spring!
Sow seeds in late summer for robust spring plants
Timing, timing, timing. Only so much of farming is using good intuition. The rest, is timing. In order to farm (essentially) year round, I need to plan effectively for spring crops. Spring flowers, otherwise known as cool flowers or hardy annuals, like to grow during the cooler months until they burst with blooms when the temps warm up in spring. If you miss planting them in fall (which is best) you have another opportunity in early spring. This is what I'm going for now. I have two rows of spring annuals that were transplanted by Feb and I'm hoping they perform well before temps rise too high (which in the central valley of CA, comes pretty fast). Lisa Mason Ziegler's book, Cool Flowers, has been indispensable for this type of knowledge.
Gopher mound evidence next to my dahlia tubers that were lunch.
I need to combat gophers
This was a tough lesson for me to come to terms with. I knew when there were gophers on the farm because of their holes, mounds, and plants they've left dead by snacking on the roots. The two farmers directly next to me were actively trapping them (live) so I didn't think I needed to do anything. After all, we are co-existing so I tried to have compassion for the creatures as they are hungry, too. If any of you have not dealt with gophers before, know that their population increases exponentially each season. My farm is small at 1/4th acre and I grow so much diversity that I never have a ton of one particular crop. It's very easy for them to eat and destroy an entire crop, one that I spent MONTHS to grow and nurture. As they have exploded on my farm wreaking havoc, It is clear to me that I need to take more drastic measures to de-populating them which includes trapping, and I'm not so excited about that.
Marigolds at their peak
No-till farming WORKS
The soil I am working with is heavy clay soil. It doesn't drain well and compacts easily. The good thing with clay soil is that it holds a lot of minerals. My efforts are to build up good soil tilth ON TOP of the clay instead of breaking it up. My first season of keeping plant matter on the beds, composting, and mulching with straw yielded me a whopping 2 inches of nice top-soil (sense my sarcasm?). Usually plants roots go down way deeper than 2 inches, so this meant I would be planting into clay. I was still determined not to affect the soil life and structure already in place, so I just transplanted all my babies into the clay. It was a huge leap of faith, and I'm here to tell you it worked. Some plants grew 3-4 feet tall! Others, like marigolds, grew tall and then fell over. I'm not sure if it was just because they were top heavy, or their roots stayed shallow, or a combination, but I know I should plan to stake marigolds this season. I was, overall, extremely pleased. The soil tilth will only get better and better from here on.
These are just a few of my most valuable lessons thus far. There are things I will do differently going into this next season but there are also things that will remain the same because experiments worked! If you're a farmer or farming parent, I would love to hear some of the things you learned! Comments welcomed below.
Thanks for reading.
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