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Join Nicole and Julie of Old Truck Flower Farm as they discuss how to start your own backyard flower farm!
What You’ll Learn
- How to start a flower farm
- How to chose which flowers to grow
- How to market and sell flowers
Julie loves being creative, making things with her hands & getting them dirty. Her husband is her biggest supporter and is all about giving her help when a creative endeavor is pursued! Julie likes trying new skills and encourages others to not be afraid to just try something and see where it goes.
Old Truck Flower Farm is definitely a small scale farm compared to some, but you can grow A LOT of flowers in a small area, you squeeze in more than you ever dreamed! The farm is about 2.5 acres of land and is named after the old white ’64 Ford Pick-up Truck the family has had for about 10 years.
This summer Julie will be running the “2020: The Summer of Creativity” theme and Old Truck Farm will be offering a variety of classes from June through September to be held in their flower field. There will also be a farm to table dinner once a month with different menu’s and themes.
Julie and her husband enjoy the experiences they have on their farm as much as growing the flowers, and they would like to invite you to be a part of those experiences.
Resources & Links Mentioned
- Old Truck Flower Farm Website
- Old Truck Flower Farm Instagram Page
- Slow Flowers Podcast
- Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers
- Floret Flower Farm
- Lisa Ziegler – The Gardens Workshop
*Denotes affiliate links
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Welcome to the Backyard Bounty Podcast from HeritageAcresMarket.com when we talk about all things backyard poultry, beekeeping, gardening, sustainable living, and more. And now here's your host, Nicole.
Hello, and welcome to Backyard Bounty, where we aim to inspire and educate sharing practical information to help your homestead thrive. I'm your host Nicole, and today I'm joined by Julie of Old Truck Flower Farm and today we're going to talk about starting a flower farm. So Julie, thank you so much for sharing your time with me today.
Sure. Thanks for having me.
So can you tell me how you got started in flower farming?
Well, we moved out, we'll say to the country about seven years ago, and we had a big garden and it was all vegetables and I really got tired of fighting all the pests with vegetables and the flowers that I had growing were doing well. So in 2018 in January, I told my husband that we were going to grow all flowers. And because of that, we doubled the size of the garden area. And I just started researching about growing flowers. And that's how I got started.
Well, that seems reasonable enough. I mean, who wouldn't want to have, of course, a yard full of beautiful flowers and even better if you can turn a profit with them?
So I know that I've had a lot of people reach out and they have been really interested in having an episode on starting a flower garden or a cut flower garden or whatever you might want to call it. I think that there's a lot of interest in not only the aesthetics of it, but everybody's looking for ways to generate an income and support their family off of their land. So if somebody listening was interested in starting a flower garden, what's kind of the first step, the jumping off starting point on getting a flower garden started.
Sure. So I would tell them that the first thing to know is where you're located, what you're growing, what your region is I am in 6A-B, I think it fluctuates a little bit we're kind of right on the borderline there, which lets you know when you can plan things and when to expect your last frost or your for first frost in the fall. And that kind of lends to what flowers can grow when in your garden. So knowing that it's pretty basic and also your, what your soil is. The Extension Office can help you with that. I know ours, I can take a sample and they even have a tube, well ours did, had a little tube that you could bring out to your farm and stick it on the ground every so often and then take a mix of that back to them. And then they let you know what your soil is like and what you need to amend it with. And that's pretty helpful in getting your flowers growing well as in addition.
Yeah, we have a similar thing here. I'm actually a Master Gardener with our Extension Office. And there's a couple different ways that you can do it. But the one that I found most helpful for me, because we live in an area of a lot of clay and alkaline soil, which is pretty much just dead, there's not a lot going on in it. But we had these little vials that you could, like you mentioned, fill up, send it into the lab, and they send you out a report. And it was amazing. It said, you know, put this many pounds of this type of amendment and mix it together and then you'll have the best soil in the world. So they make it really easy to understand and it's I definitely recommend, no matter what anybody is growing to check out the Extension. It's a very good resource.
Yeah, exactly. And I got a report exactly like we were talking about and it was still a little confusing to me. And so I just gave them a call. And they are so great about talking to you about it and explaining it a little better if you are confused. So I definitely recommend that as well.
Yeah, I'm sure the reports probably vary a little bit from agency to agency. But yeah, definitely, definitely a good resource. So when I picture a flower farm, I guess I kind of imagine like that big tulip farm that's in Washington or something. But I imagine that you can work in a smaller space, of course, as well. How much land do you have? And what do you think is a good starting point for somebody that wants to do this to earn a little bit of money?
So we live on two and a half acres, but our flowers grow on probably, I don't know, somewhere between an eighth of an acre and a quarter of an acre.
Maybe that? Yeah, my husband might say it's not that we cram. We cram a lot in a small little area and the beauty of growing flowers for production, you know to sell, is so whatever the packet says, you know, grow 12 inches apart, probably I grow it six inches apart or nine inches apart, I definitely grow it closer together than what you normally would if you were just growing based on what the packets say. And so because of that you get a lot more in a small area. And my aisles are strategic, I put down landscape fabric in order to minimize the weeds as well. And when I do that, I have holes burnt in the landscape fabric, so I know exactly where to plant each of the flowers and I have nine inches apart or 12 inches apart six inches apart. So it just depends on the flower but generally it's a lot smaller or closer together than you would normally think.
Sure. So since you are planting these flowers close together other than your zone, like how do you pick which flowers that you want? I imagine that you want to have a variety of shapes and colors, and is it just kind of what you like or in what will grow in that area? Or do you have any other recommendations on what to grow?
I think it's some mix of that of what you definitely want to grow what you like, because if you're growing things just to sell, I think you're gonna probably get burned out on it. I mean, that would be my opinion. But I grow things I like so I'm not sure. But I would think you want that and if you're going to be selling at a farmers market, then you definitely want a mix. And there are various types of flowers like you want to focal flower, you want filler and you want different colors. So you mix them together. If you are selling to florists than that sometimes can look different because they want certain flowers that they're going to use. They might not use Zinnia quite as often but they might want lots of Dahlias. So depending on what your market is going to be might lead you in one direction or the other as far as what type of flower you're going to grow.
Sure, that makes sense. So, you mentioned that you like them all, but I have to ask which ones are your favorite?
I knew you would ask that!
I thought I should have an answer. That's challenging because as the season goes on different flowers bloom along the way. And so I really love Zinnia because I can get so many different colors of them. And when I take them to the farmers market or have them in bouquets, people just love them. They're also one of the easiest flowers to grow. So if people were getting started Sunflowers and Zinnia are typical flowers that you would start with that you can grow in mass and there's just so many varieties that you can start with but so I love Zinnia because of all the flowers, but Dahlias, People love dahlias and they there really is a variety of them and when they finally bloom, because they just take a little longer to get established. They probably start blooming later in July, based on planting them after the last frost, which for us is around Mother's Day generally, so you have to wait a little longer for him. But once they start producing, they can grow so many flowers on one plant and they're just beautiful. So I like Dahlias, too.
I have to say those are probably my two favorites as well.
Also a really fun flowers Strawflower.
I don't know if you've ever grown Strawflower?
This is gonna be my first year I just got some seeds from Baker's Creek for Strawflowers.
Yeah. So they're pretty fun as well because when they grow, they almost feel like they're already dried. It's very entertaining for people. When you touch the petals on the flower, they're crispy...
...and then they dry just like that. So they're great for drying and making arrangements or reason that kind of thing.
Oh, that makes me even more excited for them to grow.
There's a lot of different colors of those two and growing more of them this year, every year. I think I'm not going to grow as many of those and then I order seeds and it's kind of crazy town because I order som many seeds.
So if you do start them all from seeds, do you have like a greenhouse or are most of them direct sow, and how does that look?
Yeah, that's a good question. So I've found this to be true for a lot of flower farmers, their greenhouse is their basement. So in our basements, we have shelves with grow lights, and that's where I start a lot of my seeds down there. Also in my garage. So those two places. I have a hoop house which is not really a greenhouse, it doesn't have a door on it. You have to lift the sides up to go in and out. But I have not mastered the hoop house. That's a work in progress. I tend to fry things because it gets so hot. You don't think so one day it was 20 degrees outside and I went in and the hoop house was up to 100 degrees.
I just have a hard time adjusting to that. So I have it but I don't use it to start flowers because I'd probably just killed them out there. So I have a lot more control in my basement. But it's pretty easy to do that if you have the right materials. I also start mine using soil blocks, which are nice because you don't have a lot of plastic to throw away once you get the hang of making those are pretty easy and they can be pretty quick and then they just go straight in the ground. It's nice.
So this sounds like a lot of work. Is this something that you do on your own? Or do you employ the help of your family or your friends or how does that look?
My husband "volunteers"...
Oh my goodness!
Because he's not actually employed or that would imply I give him money for what he does.
He gets dinner and clean clothes right?
It's a happy way with fresh flowers. The first year it was just me and my husband helping me. But he has a full time job. He's a firefighter, paramedic and so...
Oh, I'm a retired firefighter paramedic.
Are you really? Awesome. He's pretty busy right now.
But he helps on his days off, which is great. So he does a lot of the moving things around building things for me while I'm busy weeding and planting and that kind of thing. And then last year, so we live in a college town and Dennison University is here and they have a program for interns that they receive a stipend from a probably an endowment of some kind that's at the school. So last year, I had one intern who worked 30 hours a week, all of June and July and she lived on campus, and she got paid through that stipend, because I don't have the money to pay, I'm too small. And she was fabulous. So if Abigail's listening, way to go Abigail, and then I had another intern who worked 15 hours a week, and she helped me at the farmers market. And she also did some photography for me. And she's still working on a small project for me even through the school year. So that was really helpful last year. This year, I feel like I'm going to be back on my own because the schools are all closed or have been closed early. And so I'm probably not going to find an intern now. So it'll be back to me and my husband, and we're looking at kind of doing things a little different in the flowers this year and having more events as opposed to picking as many flowers and selling them. It's more about getting people to come to the farm and enjoy being in the flowers as opposed to taking the flowers out and trying to sell them.
And how do you plan on doing that?
Yeah, so last year at the end of the year, I had really wanted to have a farm to table dinner in the middle of the flowers.
Oh, how fun!
Yeah. If you go back to last September on Instagram, if you look up Old Truck Flower Farm on Instagram, we held our first farm to table dinner. And we have a grassy area down between two different growing areas. And we have lights there and my husband built some tables. And we had about 30 or so people and a local chef came and he cooked and we served it there in the middle of the flowers. And we really loved doing that. And so this year, our plan was, we'll see if that plays out, but having a farm to table dinner once a month instead of just one time. And each one would have kind of a different theme. And we are also offering workshops in the flowers where, and we're thinking maybe just for flowers, but we're all about creativity, my husband and I. And so we have found local artists who do different type things. And so we have somebody that's going to teach hand lettering, do a hand lettering workshop. We have somebody who's going to teach an embroidery workshop, a florist who's going to do a bouquet workshop and that kind of thing. So we're going to have a couple of those each month as well.
Yeah, sounds really exciting, and from a business standpoint, a really good way to diversify your flowers as well.
And we've just found that people like being in the flowers. You know, you'd like to get a bouquet, but it's something different about just sitting in the middle of it. We did rent out the space for one event as well and they could just stay out and when the moon comes out, it's just so nice to let them you know, enjoy yourself out there and take your time and we you know, we don't care when you're done. It'll turn the lights off and it's all good. So it was fun.
It sounds really magical and I like that. In my head anyways, it sounds really, really neat. And then I just imagine, you know, all the different smells of the flowers and all the different colors. And it sounds like a really peaceful and relaxing experience too.
What we're going to do this year, because I'm not very good at using the hoop house. without burning the plants, we're gonna take off the ends of the hoop house, so it will still be covered with plastic. And we're going to hang lights in there. And we're going to use that space in case the weather's bad or we just need the indoor space. And depending on how things go with the virus, which you know, by now, we may or may not know what that looks like, but we might have the space open for people who just want to go somewhere pretty and have a dinner by themselves. So we would just have it ready for them and they can bring their dinner and like have a picnic out there.
Because that would be safe distance for everybody. Maybe by the time everybody's hearing this, we're all back to normal, but somehow I doubt it.
I sure hope so. So, yeah, well, I guess if I had to practice social distancing, doing so in a flower garden would be just about the best place to do that.
That's it. Yeah. You know, even if we don't have to do that, and you just want time in the flowers, that's, that would be pretty fun. So we're excited about possibly doing that as well.
Yeah. Well, hopefully that goes well. And I would imagine that it would be popular, I would totally be there.
Come on over.
So back to the other side of it. You mentioned selling the flowers at the farmers market and maybe working with a florist. What are some other ways that you can sell the flowers? And then going off of that, I wonder, what do you do with any extras that you have that you're not able to sell?
Yes. So the first year that we had the flower form, we went to three different farmers markets, they were all smaller farmers markets because I really had no idea how many flowers I'd be growing and it's pretty amazing how many flowers you continue to have. You pick them and then two days later you think, "Did I pick any flowers?" because they're so productive. But we went to three markets and I would come home sometimes, you know, you need to take a lot for it to look good when you're at the market and because they were not really busy markets. I just tended to bring home a lot of flowers and not know what to do with them. So the first year I had a lot of flowers that I felt like went to waste. So last year, we changed that up a little bit. And the first year I really didn't know any florists, I wasn't connected. We were just getting our feet wet in this whole flower farming situation. So last year, we picked the one market that we felt was our best market and we really focused on that. So we went to that once a week and I think people got used seeing us there and so they sold a lot more instead of trying to split up into three markets and staying busy every night of the week it felt like, which was good. And then also I connected with a couple florists which was nice. Some florists buy in bunches and some florists will come and there's one florist who is super great and she would show up and walk through the garden and say I want 10 of those. I want 20 of those and go through, tell us everything she wanted. And then she went back to her van and waited for us to pick everything before. And really that was the best way for us to sell flowers.
Because, we're picking exactly what somebody wants as opposed to making a lot of bouquets and then sometimes coming home with those bouquets. But our adjustment this year, once we went to the market the next day, my husband made this cart that I can pull out to the end of our driveway and we put a tent up and so the morning after the market I would pull all the flowers I had leftover. And sometimes if I had sold more of something, I would pick some more. And those are all at the end of our driveway under that tent. So that's blocked from the sun. And it was really just an honor system situation where we had a box out there and just trusted that people would take their change or leave their money in there. And it worked out pretty good. It was fun to see people stopped it into the driveway and looking through all the flowers and picking what they wanted. So that was kind of our follow up. So we didn't, you know, just waste those flowers at the end. So that worked out well also. So we'll probably do that again this year.
And so do you live in an area that gets a lot of traffic. So like for me, I know a lot of people do that with with eggs and things but I don't have anybody that lives around me.
I actually live in a neighborhood that each lot is about two and a half acres. And so there's a lot of families that live up our way and pass by. But I also think in this year, it will build up that people learn about you. And then they know to come out there and find where the flowers are. You know, we put a lot of pictures on Instagram and let people know they're out there. So I think there are quite a few small scale flower farmers around here, which has been fun to get to know them. And quite a few of them have like a booth or whatever that's at the end of their driveways, even when they're out. And people learn about it. Eventually, people just come on purpose for the flowers. So it's not just that they accidentally pass by, but it takes patience to get to that point.
Sure. No, that makes sense in just like anything, you know, word of mouth travels, and then a lot of repeat customers, I would assume.
Yeah, it's just patience in that or you have to be a real go getter. To start getting out there and planning where you're going to sell everything and how you're going to sell them. I know there is also I can't remember the name of it right now. But say the day after the farmers market, if we had a lot of flowers leftover and my flowers, you know, I feed them, I treat them before I put them out there. So they last a good week or more. And that makes you feel good when people come back and say "Your flowers, you know, finally yesterday, I had to throw them out. But they'd been there for a week and they looked great." So you know, you have a day later, and they still look great. And finding a place to take them like a nursing home, or women's shelter or anything like that. There's lots of places where you could take your flowers afterwards, instead of letting them sit, which is kind of what I did the first year not knowing what to do.
No, that's a really good idea. And that way you can spread joy with them.
So I imagined that the market everywhere is going to be different. And so it's probably not a hard and fast rule for everybody. But would you say that this is something that most people could at least earn some level of supplement income or maybe go so far as to earn the majority of their income and be able to, you know, support their family or where do you think flower farming falls in that scale?
For us, my flower farm pays for itself with a little extra to do new things like last year, I was able to buy the hoop house, but we live off my husband's income and we'd be starving, right now.
But, that being said, if you wanted to, you can make an income off of it. But I would say that you're going to make more money working with florists and or becoming a farmer florist which there are a lot of flower farmer florists that do both grow it and do weddings and special events. I do some of that, but mostly I'm growing the flowers, that's what I like to do. So if you wanted to go that direction and you'd have more luck making more money, I think. If you had the right farmers market as well, we have a farmers market on Saturday that is a fabulous farmers market. And it's packed every Saturday morning, however, it's already full and they already have a couple flower farmers and so I'm you know, I don't really get my foot in the door there and I don't really try because they're already established there, but we also have one on Tuesday evenings in the same community. So that's the one I go to, the Tuesday evening one and I'm the only flower farmer there and so it's kind of my niche on Tuesdays. So finding the right farmers market, I think they sell out on Saturday morning. So if you find a place like that, that doesn't have flower farmer in it, and you can do pretty well there you know, I guess there's no guarantee, and everybody says "You gotta give it a while", you know the next year as you establish yourself, people expect to see you and you will sell more after your first year, you might sell out at the beginning people might be all about it. But also don't be discouraged if it takes a little while to get established.
I know that here it's it's kind of a desert-ish area. So there's not a whole lot of people that grow flowers at that scale. I'm sure you could, but it's I think it's just a little bit more challenging here. But over the summer, I went to Washington State and I went to the Pike Place Market there and they had a couple big flower stands and I was just amazed out of all of the seafood and handmade goods and honeys and everything else, those flowers just flew off the shelves. It was so fun to see! Everybody had flowers.
Yeah, they're just so happy. You know, flowers really do bring a lot of joy to people they do they make a difference when they're in your house. And I think people know that. So that's also A great selling point.
Yeah, one of the best jobs I ever had was delivering flowers. And oh my gosh, just you knock on the door and you have this big thing of flowers. And most of the time unless it's, you know, like the ex boyfriend that's trying to get back or whatever. Most the time people are happy.
Yes, they are. I was listening to another podcast. There's lots of podcasts out there as well about growing flowers and flower farming and that I was listening to one today. I think it was "Slow Flowers", which is also great. That's a great community, for finding out about flower farming, and what's going on in that community. But anyway, she was talking about how great it was to deliver flowers. That was the thing that she really loved. Like my husband and I really love having people here and like sharing that experience with them here in the flowers. And I could really understand what she was talking about that she felt that way when she was delivering the flowers. So very similar what you were saying.
I think a lot of those service industries where if you make the customers happy, it makes you happy. And and then everybody's happy.
So one of the challenges that I think I would face if I was starting a flower farm is I'm not a very creative person. I'm very black and white, as you probably... I would imagine your husband's probably similar. You're very analytical, very black and white, not a whole lot of creativity. So I feel like that that would be definitely a pain point for me. I mean, have you had any struggles with creativity? Or are you a creative person?
So actually, my husband and I love being creative. So over the last few years, we've tried to be really intentional about spending time being creative, and that has been so much fun in the garden. It's a kind of a joke in my family that I was a math major, because I don't remember any of it. But when we designed the garden, we had a friend across the street that year, take a drone picture from above. And it was so fun to look at the garden because most flower farms are these long straight lines of whatever you're growing. And we kind of did that I don't know, a feather look to it. And I think that was just my math background coming out somehow. But it was fun to do something creative with the way we lay the field or the garden out instead of just your typical garden. Now, it is a little hard to work around sometimes. But it makes me so happy that it's okay. We just do what we do. We spend a lot of time being creative and trying to think of what people would like when they come out there. What would we want when we go there, and that's been fun. There's so many flowers to pick from. It's hard not to be creative. Honestly.
It kind of inspires that, I assume.
Exactly. Yeah, yeah, one thing I wanted to mention is if you're interested in starting a small scale flower farm or a big flower farm, either way, there are some resources that are really great that helped me and one of them is the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
I would highly suggest joining that group. They have a Facebook page and the experienced flower farmers answer everybody's questions. They have a conference each year I've been to one of those and that was really educational. They're just very supportive. They have lots of things to help you out. And then you can find other things from there. There's lots of flower farmers who give online classes, but you can find that out through that association as well. So that would be something I would recommend.
Do you have any other resources or books or websites or otherwise that kind of helped you learn and would help other people learn?
Well, I took a class through Florette Flower Farm. It was online. And that was great. It can be a little pricey. So if you don't have the money understand, I saved up for two years I think for for that. But there's another lady Lisa Ziegler. It might be Zyglar. I'm not sure how she says her last name, but she has a website called "The Gardener's Workshop". And she also has classes and there's like sections, you know, you can do beginner and advanced and so you can just start with one part. And I've heard that it's really a great class as well, but she has a lot of things to offer for beginning flower farmers. And I know so here in July, it might seem like a weird time to start a flower farm. However, there's lots of flowers that you plant in the fall, cool flowers, they're called and she has a book called "Cool Flowers" that I would suggest getting, Lisa Ziegler does. You start the flowers, you plant them in the fall, and then they establish their root system and then they bloom earlier in the spring. And so now it's not a bad time to start thinking about a flower farm.
Sure. It's never too late to start.
No, I think those are really good resources. And then, as usual, I'll put those in the show notes so that people listening can find that without having to Google ferociously while listening.
Well, Julie, thank you so much for taking the time today to teach me about flower farming. I feel like I've definitely learned a lot. But where can I learn more about you and your flower farm?
Sure. So we are on Instagram at Old Truck Flower Farm. And we have a website, which is just OldTruckFlowerFarm.com, which has you know, what we're growing and also what activities we have going on at the flower farm or on Facebook at the Old Truck Flower Farm.
Perfect. All right. Well, thank you so much, Julie.
Thanks for having me!
Of course! And to my wonderful listeners, thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. If you'd like to support the show, we now have merchandise available in our shop. You can find the link to that in the show notes. We'll see you again next week.
Thank you for listening the Backyard Bounty Podcast by HeritageAcresMarket.com. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. If you have a question you'd like us to answer on the show. please email us at ask at HeritageAcresMarket.com. Also find us on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at Heritage Acres Market. All the links mentioned in this podcast will be included in the description. See you again next week.
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