Spring Farm Projects

After transitioning onto our land in Hurdle Mills last year, this year we are focused on really improving how we grow flowers. How? Better handling, better cultivation, and happier farmers. Building our hoop house last winter really helped us meet our goal of improved germination. This spring we are focusing on three new projects: irrigation, landscape fabric mulch, and refrigeration.

Early spring flowers with irrigation.
Early spring flowers with irrigation.

Irrigation: This isn’t something we can easily capture in a photo, but having drip irrigation has made a huge difference. Last year, we grew flowers relying only on the rain. This year, with some assistance from George at L’il Farm, we are using drip irrigation. Although it is still only spring, we have already noticed a difference. Our plants are growing taller and faster, which makes sense. If plants, like us, are mostly water and they don’t have enough water, they will be small and not as healthy.

Landscape Fabric: We have a huge problem with yellow nutsedge on our farm. This perennial weed grows back faster than we could possibly pull it out, and we were feeling discouraged and desperate. We needed a solution that would allow us to spend less time weeding and more time growing and selling flowers and building our house.

Zinnias, Celosia, Tomatoes, and many other plants growing in landscape fabric.
Zinnias, Celosia, Tomatoes, and many other plants growing in landscape fabric.

We decided to use woven landscape fabric as a mulch. Using a form that we made, we used a propane torch to burn holes in this durable material. We transplant into the holes, which we still have to weed once or twice, but the transplants quickly shade out the small opening in the mulch. And unlike traditional agricultural plastic, landscape fabric can be reused for many years. The landscape fabric also warms the soil in the bed, and combined with our irrigation, we have found this benefit to greatly increase the speed our plants are growing. We will definitely be using landscape fabric as much as possible in the future.

Using a torch and cardboard form to burn fabric. We have stopped using the foil, which isn't worth the trouble.
Using a torch and cardboard form to burn fabric. We have stopped using the foil.

And landscape fabric has increase our efficiency in another way, too: We found we weren’t planting at the density we thought we were. By standardizing our bed width and planting at the proper density, we have really increased the number of plants we can fit in each bed, meaning we need fewer beds for the same number of plants and greatly improving our efficiency.

"Chief" Celosia growing in landscape fabric.
“Chief” Celosia growing in landscape fabric.

Refrigeration: We have been told time and again that nothing will improve the quality of our flowers or our farm profitability as much as having a cooler. Having a cooler allows farmers to pick flowers at the perfect stage and store them for a couple of days until they can be sold, as opposed to picking them just before sale even if it isn’t the ideal stage of harvest. This reduces waste and improves quality.

With inspiration from our friends Lee and Dustin Pollard, who are opening a food truck and catering business called Lost Boys, we decided to buy a used commercial reach-in refrigerator. We found this fridge on Craigslist. It was in our budget and was a lot easier for us to deal with right now than such a big project as a walk-in. It will hold everything we need it to for the foreseeable future. After that, we expect we’ll be able to build the walk-in cooler that we will need, but while we’re building our house, it is simply too big of a project for us to take on.

Our new two-door reach-in commercial fridge.
Our new two-door reach-in commercial fridge.

We are so excited about everything we have going on here at Spring Forth Farm. Adding irrigation, landscape fabric, and a fridge will allow us to spend more time on other farm projects such as planting, harvesting, and soil improvement. With more flowers and more time, we can also increase our sales. We are excited to share that our flowers are now at Haven Salon in Hillsborough.

And we are slowly starting to work on one other project: Woody Perennials.

We know that offering a wide variety of perennials is one way we can set ourselves apart from other local farms. Adding these plants is a long-term project, but this year we were able to start with two, Chinese Snowball Viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum) and four colors of Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii). Since we have such wide open spaces on the farm, we also hope that these woody shrubs will act as windbreaks, helping reduce the force of the wind on our flowers.

It has been a busy and eventful spring on the farm and we are excited about where all of these new projects can lead.

Spring Forth Farm.
Spring Forth Farm.

Perennials, Revisited

This is an exciting weekend at Spring Forth Farm. We are doing flowers for our first weddings of the year, and we congratulate Brandon & Kelly and Hayley & Jay. (Look for photos of the wedding flowers sometime next week.) It isn’t too late to order fresh, seasonal Spring Forth Farm flowers for an event or wedding this season, but we are filling up. Please contact us if you are interested.

This past March, we wrote about our trip to Maryland and brought back a truckload of peonies, hydrangeas, and other perennials. We barely fit them all in the truck.

Our truck, overflowing with perennials for planting.
Our truck, overflowing with perennials for planting.

Now, they have been planted, taken root, leafed out, and to our delight they are blooming! Here is a photo update of this excitement on the farm.

We were most excited about the peonies.

Peony in bloom.
Peony in bloom.

We brought back fifty established plants, each one a mystery. We knew we had pink, white, and burgundy, but we had no idea how many of each, or which plant was which. With the stress of the late transplanting and without irrigation, about half of our peonies aborted the buds, but that means about half bloomed! We were so excited about these sweet-scented balls of color. Most of the ones that bloomed were pink, but we expect we have more burgundy and white that will bloom next year. We are learning so much as we grow this year, and the importance of irrigation for these crops really hit home this spring.

We also brought back hydrangeas, which are starting to grow flower heads, and curly willows. The willows have been growing in trays but we’ve started planting them and are really looking forward to this great crop. Here are before-and-after photos of the hydrangea, stored in our straw pile for planting in March, and now in May.

Here are the first of the rooted willow cuttings being planted out.

When it comes to plants, we get excited about different things, but we both like to experiment. Jonathan was particularly excited that we brought back two dozen eremurus roots, also called foxtail lily. These are sort of an experiment – we don’t know if they will survive the late summer rains – but we hope they do so we can offer these unique spires next year.

We are really excited about nurturing and growing these perennials on our farm and dream about adding many more varieties of perennials to the farm over the next few years.