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Summer 2020 Growing Summary

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

Every year, I do things just a bit different. Perhaps because I'm always interested in what happens when I change something. Discovery and data have a special pull over me. Sometime, though, that means I toss out a tried-and-true and go for something crazy. I try to keep myself in check in case I regret it, then I'm not regretting the entire crop plan :D As usual, this year held surprises, disappointment, and success.

Because they love are fall planted and need the cool to develop roots, the early-summer blooming Rudbeckia, Statice, Yarrow, and Strawflower are summarized under my Spring growing post.

When we pull Ranunculus, Anemones, Snaps, Dianthus, and Stock out of the high tunnel, we have to be extra careful what we plant in it's place. Even with shade cloth, the high tunnel can get extremely hot in the summer. Last year we tried Zinnias (they're heat lovers right??) but they got powdery mildew about a week after transplanting. It was a bit ridiculous. They simply could not get growing, much less thriving. Since Zinnias make up a huge chunk of our crop and we have limited space, our approach this year was to basically use the field space for zinnias and the high tunnel space for everything else. That's pretty much what we did :)

Besides the high tunnel and field space, we plant several hundred Lily bulbs in crates. They arrive in February and are planted then grown in our small greenhouse. Once temperatures start to rise in March (after the last frost), they get moved outside into whatever random spot that isn't in the way. We always have a growing gap between cool hardy annuals and summer annuals that falls right at Mother's Day. Our Lilly's come through for us in that gap every time. I was never a huge fan of Lilly's before but as soon as they came together with our other field grown goodies, I suddenly loved them. I think, given the the right companions in design, they're stunners. :)

Crate grown Lillies in Mother's Day bouquets

Besides Zinnias, we used field space for Dahlias and Lisianthus. Also using field space were cold flower perennials like Yarrow, Foxglove, and Perennial Scabiosa. Many of our Autumn planted cool flowers like Scabiosa, Strawflower, Statice, and Ammi bloomed through July. As they came out of the field, we planted more Zinnias in their place.

Bouquet of Lemon Basil, Rudbeckia, Lilly, and Lisianthus

We usually plant our Lisianthus pretty early in the year (January) but I had read of another flower farmer who plants in March so I gave it a try. I'm not sure if it was the later planting time or something more sinister, but our Lisianthus suffered badly from Fusarium wilt. We got roughly 1/4th of our usual harvest. The easiest cure is to crop rotate, which we definitely do, but this time, I've planted my Lisianthus in Autumn, and waaayyyyy on the other side of our 1/2 acre fields :) Finger's crossed!!

I also regret not having an extra tray of Zinnia's ready to go when I pulled the Lisianthus. I limped them along far too long when I should've just yanked them for a more productive plant. As a result, the precious growing space was all but wasted and profit from that space definitely lost. I've simply got to get my flower-plant emotion under control when it comes to yanking a crop :p

I usually grow Cinnamon Basil but this year I added both Mrs. Burns Lemon Basil (after reading rav reviews) and Dark Opal. Mrs. Burns has a much fresher green color but I didn't like how quickly it bolted. I prefer to use Basil in a very leafy form and I don't prefer the spiky flower/seed stalks. Cinnamon is still my favorite for it's structure and form. I sort of wish the color of Mrs. Basil could be combined with the leafiness of Cinnamon. Ah well. I sowed a second batch in late August of Dark Opal and was completely wowed by it! It paired beautifully with "brown" Lisianthus and purple Zinnias. All the varieties of Basil did very well in our high tunnel growing environment. They were planted on a 12"x12" spacing and pinched at 12 inches tall. I didn't use netting. They might have benefited from it but I have a feeling that harvesting would've been a pain since they have so many lateral branches growing every which-way. I'm glad I didn't bother.

Because of small space constraints, I often end up planting more than one plant in the same row. When I do this, I think about days-to-maturity or length of time they'll be growing, whether they need netting or not, etc. (It's a pain to try and net only half a row - no thank you. :) So at the end of the Basil row, I planted Gomphrena. They grew along at roughly the same time and neither were netted. They were also the same spacing. Easy-peasy. Where Basil enjoys the high tunnel, Gomphrena goes hog-wild, completely taking over and giving me more stems than I could ever use. By the end of the summer, they were suffering from a pretty bad invasion of army worms, but even then, I still had plenty of quality stems to use. I grew the Audrey White variety of Gomphrena. It has bigger more robust leaves that serve as a nice greenery in bouquets. Other Gomphrena colors are fun but with such small flowers, it's hard to justify allocating growing space for them.

Gomphrena spilling out of the high tunnel

Another variety that went hog-wild in our high tunnel was Celosia. I scooped up some Texas Sherbert Mix and Texas Vintage Mix from Floret. Bred by the Arnosky's, rock-star flower farmers from Central Texas that were almost the first flower-farmers ever, they were amazingly prolific and beautiful in so many fluffy shades. I did prefer the Sherbert over the Vintage and hope I can score some more seeds for Summer 2021. I regret not saving seed but at the height of field clean up at the end of the season, it just never got done. The Celosia was almost taller than me at 5 1/2 ft tall. The stalks, when I finally pulled them out, were the diameter of a small tree. Insane!

Right next to the Celosia, we planted a row of Amaranthus, both Hot Biscuits and Red Spike. They grew well, reaching over 4 feet tall and gave us several nice harvests but were quickly over taken by worms. Amaranthus is often a trap crop, for both beetles and worms, and I half expected this. Given that there's so few options to plant in the high tunnel, I was okay giving space to a plant that would keep pests occupied and away from other prettier, more useful crops. I had read of widespread beetle damage other farmers were experiencing but it wasn't until we pulled up the Amaranthus that we had pest damage on any of our other plants. I'm still deciding what to do for next year. I'd like to use the space for more than just a trap crop but I also don't want the high tunnel full of pests (we don't spray nasty bug stuff around here, partly because our water table is really high and we don't want to pollute our natural waterways and because we have toddlers that manage to get into everything and we don't want to poison them :) I am toying with the idea of trying Dahlia's in the high tunnel again (our first attempt two years ago was a big fail) and moving the Amaranthus out to the field - it still draws the pests as a trap crop but with open-air exposure, our large and friendly bird population usually help us keep it under control resulting in a much more useful harvest :)

There's literally never enough space for Zinnias. We plant them on a 9"x9" spacing, pinch and net and they do great. Usually around mid-August they start struggling with powdery mildrew but some nice heavy mid-summer rains washed the mildew away and kept the plants producing through September. (Unfortunately, those same mid-August rains rotted our Dahlias) We particularly like the Queen series and planted Queen Red, Blush, and Orange. I think this coming year we'll take Lime out of the rotation, the Red and Blush are so much more useful in color combinations. We also like the smaller Oklahoma series, Yellow, Salmon, and White are our favorites. I might add Carmine this coming year. They are smaller than the average Zinnia but I love their button look and I think it's beautiful in designs. We use to grow the Benary Mix but with such a small space, we always ended up with random handfuls of different colors so now we grow Coral, Pink, Wine, and Yellow in more concentrated sections. I think this coming summer, I'll actually cut down on the number of Queen Lime Red (my favorite) for more single color groupings.

Sunflower Medley for Market

My biggest regret of the season is Sunflowers. For some reason, I wasn't feeling the Sunflower love and only allocated a very small space for them toward the end of the season. When they bloomed, though, I started hitting myself. They were gorgeous and I could've easily grown five times as many. [face palm] My current crop plan for Summer 2021 fixes this craziness, ha!

In it's second year, our high tunnel Eucalyptus cranked out an enormous amount of stems. We also grew perennial mountain mint and herbs that helped us frame and support our summer Zinnias. After our Strawflower bit the dust (see our Spring summary), I impulsed purchased some Pastel Gomphrena from Floret. They started blooming right as Autumn arrived and paired wonderfully with the first of our Dahlias and the last of the Celosia.

As usual, the Dahlia's were stunning but we struggled again this year. We made the mistake of planting them in mushroom compost which retains water. Usually in the summer this is a good thing but we had an unseasonably wet period with high temperatures and lost many of our tubers, they simply steamed to death in the hot wet soil, even mounded up for good drainage. The Dahlia secret-sauce eludes us but we plan to keep trying!

Along with all these flowers, we had a lovely flushes of Clematis, Roses, Heirloom Chrysanthemums (grown in the High Tunnel), and Scented Geraniums that we used on occasion for lovely celebrations. We don't produce enough of these flowers for Subscription or Market bouquets but they're so lovely, we keep a few tucked away and are always delighted to use them for special moments.

I have some special posts lined up specifically about growing in our High Tunnel and my crop planning approach. After restraining myself for several years, I've decided to just nerd out in my blog posts about flowers and hope that someone is interested (and not overwhelmed!) by all the wonderful, fascinating intricacies of how we run our flower farm! :)

Happy Growing!

Sarah Jo

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