~Preface to the Second Edition~
One of the greatest pleasures of the farming life is the fact that there is always something new to learn. Nature is never static, so those of us who interact with her in the flower garden have to constantly change and adapt. Nor have all her secrets been revealed. The more we learn about the ecological web of the garden and farm, the more we recognize our own ignorance. Gardening, even for its most experienced practitioners, is a lifelong quest for knowledge. I have learned an immense amount about flowers since The Flower Farmer was first published in 1997. I have grown personally in my experience and knowledge, and the world of flowers has changed significantly, too. This new edition of The Flower Farmer is revised, expanded, and updated throughout to bring you the best and most current information about growing flowers for pleasure or income.
One of the most significant issues to emerge since the first edition of this book was published is the changing climate. After years of hedging and denying, scientists, business leaders, and legislators have finally accepted what we farmers have known for a long time: Earth’s climate is warming. Flower growers see the evidence of global warming in the early arrival of spring, long stretches of hot summer weather, and milder winters. Flowers that used to be guaranteed successes no longer are, while others that never succeeded before are now reliable performers. My own list of most profitable flowers has changed in the past decade, and that has been the case for many growers in other regions as well.
The most graphic illustration of the changing climate and its effects on horticulture is the National Arbor Day Foundation’s hardiness zone map, which was revised in 2006. Hardiness zones are based on average annual low temperatures, divided by ten-degree increments. The average low temperature in Zone 10 is 30 to 40°F (–1 to 4°C) and the average annual low temperature in Zone 3 is –40 to –30°F (–40 to –34°C). Compared to the 1990 USDA hardiness zone map, Zone 3 has shrunk to a small portion of the northernmost tier of states. Large portions of the United States have warmed at least one full hardiness zone. A few places have warmed two full zones.
Another big change since the first publication of The Flower Farmer is the enactment of the National Organic Program in 2002. In 1997, I subtitled the first edition of my book “An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers.” Back then, the word “organic” was an adjective that described environmentally safe growing practices. Now it’s an official USDA label, and those who want to use it for commercial purposes must be certified by a USDA accredited certifying agency. Nothing has changed in the production advice offered in this book; I still use the same organic practices I have always used, and I recommend them to new growers. But you don’t have to be a certified-organic grower to be a careful steward of the environment. You just have to approach growing flowers with an ecological perspective, to show respect and care for your soil, water, birds, fish, family, customers, and all the other creatures that are affected by your farming.
Perhaps the biggest change for me personally in the past decade has been season extension. When I started flower farming, I grew everything outside in the field, which gave me a harvest season of about four months a year. But then I discovered hoophouses and a few other clever ideas for producing flowers earlier and later than those in the field. Now I start selling in April and end at Thanksgiving, an eight-month season. The change has given me more income, but it’s also changed the quality of my life. Summer is less frenetic, because I don’t feel that every week is a make-or-break proposition for my flower business. Working outside in spring and fall, when the weather is cool, has renewed the sheer pleasure of growing flowers. Season extension has also given me the opportunity to be part of many joyous occasions in people’s lives, including Mother’s Day, graduations, and June weddings.
Markets have changed since the first edition of this book, too. It used to be that flower growers were breaking new ground when they sold at a farmers’ market or to local florists. Today that’s no longer the case. Plenty of people are growing and selling flowers locally in every part of the country. Now the bigger issue for new growers is learning to compete fairly with established growers and to expand the market for everyone.
Finally, flower breeders have made exciting progress during the past decade. New cultivars and even new species arrive on the gardening scene every year, and many of them turn out to be great cut flowers. The job of the flower farmer grows more interesting all the time.