6 October 2022

No Diggity

To quote Elizabeth Day’s popular podcast, How To Fail, “learning how to fail in life, actually means learning how to succeed better” and boy have we had some failures on the farm – as you’d expect with people figuring out how to grow flowers from scratch.

In first place this year has to be our 28 ‘no dig’ beds mishap. As you may know, we use the no dig method for our flower beds which avoids turning over the soil, preserving fungi and bacteria which helps promote biodiversity and sequesters carbon. By building beds on top of what’s already there we preserve this soil life and even feed it from above. This method involves putting a layer of biodegradable material like cardboard on top of the soil and then adding a layer of soil-feeding green waste on top. The cardboard then breaks down enough for the flowers’ roots to reach the soil below but remains intact enough to suppress weeds and grass.

We scaled this method this year and used it to create 28 13-metre beds on a new patch on our top field. We’d prepped this soil with a nutrient rich seed mix, allowed our mixed herd to graze the weeds and fertilise it (by pooping on it)and by spring it was finally ready to be planted on after giving it some time to ‘come back to life’, as it were. (Think of it as improving the gut health of the soil.) After a hell of a lot of cardboard and green waste, we make our no-dig beds and in a somewhat hasty move, not only did we not give the cardboard long enough to sufficiently breakdown, we also didn’t add enough green waste on top before we planted our seedlings out. This resulted in about 80% of those seedlings dying because they had nowhere to put down their roots. Anything that did manage to grow there, was about half the height we were expecting and too short to use in bouquets. 28 beds, 13 metres each. Told you it was a doozy.

Once the cardboard had broken down properly, we planted some tender annuals in those beds and thankfully, our sunflowers, zinnias and celosia did really well there. In the first image on the left you can see the roots of one of our sunflowers from that patch – notice the distinguishable layers of cardboard and then green waste and how the roots have broken through the cardboard to get to the nutrient-rich soil below. So those beds weren’t completely wasted but that patch was hard to look at for a while (it’s fine, we’re fine).

For balance, we did also have some really big wins this year. One of those was our dahlias. Previously we’d bought these from the auction and as a beautiful but typically short-lived flower, by the time they arrived with us after being cut and transported to our supplier and then transported again to us, they maybe had 2 days left in them. So we stopped buying them so as not to disappoint our customers. Growing them, however, is another story. We were hesitant at first in case their vase life wasn’t worth it but we chose pom pom varieties, as these tend to be more robust and their heads are slightly smaller so work better in our bouquets – and it was so worth it. Despite the fact we’d say about 5 out of the 9 varieties we planted weren’t what we ordered, they’re just the gift that keeps on giving. Our first dahlias bloomed in early July, we’re still picking them now and they’ll keep going until the first frost.

Zinnias were another favourite of ours that we just gave up importing because they’d often turn up brown and mushy. Zinnias are heat-loving flowers so they don’t want to be kept in a cooler, but when you import them, they go through a huge headquarters which is chilled for the purpose of keeping flowers as fresh as possible, unless you’re a zinnia. So by growing them ourselves, we can cut them in the morning, keep them in a bucket of water and add them to our bouquets as we go, sending them to the customer on the same day. They avoid getting chilled and instead they remain the bright, joyful flowers they are and our customers get to experience them as they should be. A great success in our eyes.

Another season almost done and another handful of lessons to take with us through to next year. We’re sure the next season will have its own fails and wins, which we’ll be sure to document on the way.

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