|Posted on 28 December, 2017 at 14:35||comments (0)|
How to Ignore all Sensible Advice
In the run up to Christmas, there's always plenty to do, last minute shopping, presents to wrap, Christmas cake to decorate, seeds to sow. Of that little list, guess which one got done? Yes, it's the seed sowing. The Christmas cake is still bare and looks a bit like a very large mushroom, iced on the top half and maripan only from half way down the sides.
Any book, seed packet or expert will tell you to plant flower seeds in the Spring, starting around March, or waiting until the soil is nicely warm. They might also add that some can be attempted in September, but not a single resource will advise planting in late December. So why on earth was I planting cornflowers when I should have been turning icing into snow peaks and creating patterns with silver balls?
While growing flowers for sale for a number of years I've been watching and noting how nature does it. There is an unwritten law in flower farming that states the strongest plants are the ones that are self seeded, the ones that pop up in late spring and do so much better than the ones we carefully plant, cosset and nurture, protecting from winds and hailstones. The 'volunteers' just appear, grow away and flower beautifully. I usually find them in sheltered spots in late march, already with a few months growth behind them and unbothered by the cold and wet of a Scottish winter, so I'm working on imitating nature, to grow the earliest and strongest hardy flowers possible.
A carefully selected clutch of seeds were gathered, sown into seed compost and placed into the heated propogator. The criteria for the choice of seeds is
- those that will happily self seed outside - very hardy annuals such as godetia, cornflower, nigella
- tricky germinators that often take a long time to appear - orlaya, bells of Ireland, larkspur
- hardy perennials needing a period of cold - astrantia, delphinium, helenium
|Posted on 22 December, 2017 at 0:25||comments (0)|
|Posted on 22 November, 2017 at 8:55||comments (0)|
I’m in the process of reviewing our price list for the new season and grappling with the one of the trickiest tasks of the flower grower – what to charge!
Flower growing is my (more than) full time job. I don’t do it as a hobby, I don’t have another income to support it and need to make enough money from flower sales to live and to make my business properly sustainable. I’m committed to what we do and I’m willing to work hard, but it has to pay a living wage.
The overheads of a flower farm are significant, from the land, seeds and plants, fencing and equipment, to broadband, training, websites and transport. All of this needs to be factored into the price of a single flower or stem of foliage.
Some flowers and foliage are harder work than others, take up space for longer, or are more expensive to start off. This is reflected in the price per stem. Marigold seed is cheap, they grow easily, take little looking after and flower for a long period. Roses are expensive to buy, need specialist expertise, use prime space all year round, take years to become productive and are tricky to cut. Tree foliage takes little looking after, but is hard work to cut and collect and the land is in use all year round. Trees also take years to mature so that time of land in use without any payback also has to be factored in.
What do florists get from Mill Pond Flower Farm?
Quality flowers –every stem is checked, we don’t sell anything that we aren’t proud of
Huge variety – a great range of properly seasonal flowers and foliage, many unusual varieties and colours that aren’t commercially available.
No minimum order - if you want 3 stems of a flower and 37 stems of foliage that’s what you get!
Bespoke service – We provide tailored advice and guidance on the available flowers, how they can be used, how long they last, how they’ll behave, suggest alternatives and substitutes for familiar blooms. We get to know florists and what they like to use.
Cut to order – we go out into the field and cut specifically for the order that a florist places with us. Everything is cut to be at its best on the day it’s needed.
Reliability – we will take an order in advance and do our best to deliver it. If it’s not going to be possible, we’ll let you know well in advance. There will be no nasty surprises.
Stable Prices – our prices are set at the beginning of the year and don’t vary.
No hidden costs and no VAT
The alternative to buying locally grown flowers is to use a flower wholesaler, either ordering online or going in person to a flower market.
Understanding the wholesale flower market
When florists buy flowers from a wholesaler the price is set – it’s whatever the wholesaler paid at the auction, plus a percentage of their overheads and profit.
Most wholesalers are large companies and their prices don’t vary depending on location, so the price of a rose will be the same in London as it is in Glasgow.
The price of a single flower can vary dramatically from week to week depending on availability, demand and seasonality. If it’s a popular flower such as a café au lait dahlia at the height of wedding season the price can change by as much as 400% from day to day. Equally, if there’s a glut of cornflowers or sweet peas they’ll be sold off cheaply at a discount.
Imported flowers are priced by the stem but sold in bulk, in wraps of 25, 50 or 100 stems so although the quoted price is per stem, the florist has to be sure of using or selling every stem in the wrap to actually pay that price. Every stem unused or wasted raises the price per stem of the order.
Every wholesale order has VAT added and delivery or the price of collection - mileage plus florist time.
Although the product of wholesalers and local growers is flowers or foliage, it's not really a like for like comparison. I do share information with other similar growers across the UK and take note of feedback on pricing from florists, as well as whether individual items sell well and the strength of demand is for particular varieities.
We have very good relationships with our wholesale customers and want to provide them with fabulous flowers and a great service, so that they keep on ordering and we can grow more gorgeous flowers. They are also small businesses and need to make a profit. I know that they work long hours, juggle lives and making a living, and also create the most beautiful arrangements with our flowers. They're generous and supportive in their praise and promotion of what we do.
And so, bearing all of that in mind, I’ll be updating our price list over the next few days. As with most elements of running a small business, it’s not a scientific exercise but one of balance - Does it feel right? Will it be OK? Can I live with it? – wish me luck!
|Posted on 5 September, 2017 at 0:25||comments (0)|
A few months ago, I was ridiculously busy, growing flowers, renovating a house, dyeing and selling ribbon. And while all of those things were great to do,I realised that I couldn't do them all. Thankfully the house renovation is in its final stages so that one could go on the 'never again' list (I may write another blog about that one). However, the rest of life was moving at such a pace that time off wasn't happening, and even after dropping a lot of the inessentials there was too much to fit into one day/week/month/life.
So, something had to change.
I'm a bit of an accidental businesswoman, but I'm very happy working for myself and get great satisfaction from paying my way from money I've grown or made. In my past working life I've done many things and always ended up managing people, not generally from choice but as part of my job role. From the age of twenty one, I've managed hospital wards, volunteers, nursing homes, organised teams and projects of all descriptions. It could have been quite straightforward to just take on employees and grow the business. But then I would have been a manager again, with other people doing the 'doing' - the bit I Iike best. I already have freelance support from lovely Anna which meant there was double the work done in the time, but although she willingly helped with ribbonmaking her heart is definitiely in flowers, and I also wanted to do the growing most of all.
When I said 'I'm going to sell the ribbonmaking business' the response was always 'How are you going to do that?' Good Question!
I did a bit of online searching on 'How to sell a business' and picked up a few tips but really most of the information was about multi-national conglomorations and although I have sent ribbon to the Netherlands, Denmark and Jersey, I didn't really fit into that bracket. I'd run the ribbonmaking business as part of Mill Pond Flower Farm, always intending to set up a more separate identity but had never found the time.
I asked myself what the business consisted of and came up with a list - equipment, stock, expertise, customers, the Heirloom Silk brand and goodwill/reputation. That's what I would be selling, a three year headstart for a small business.
It's always hard to put a value on your own worth and say 'Look I did this and it's worth something!' so I hesitated and deliberated. But in a braver moment, I wrote the previous blog and posted onto Instagram asking who might be interested in running their own artisan silk ribbon business. And the response was brilliant, from customers who were so supportive, and from people interested in the business. I was concerned about scams and timewasters and there were none, people can be just marvellous sometimes, so genuine and honest.
Last Sunday, I handed the business over to Anne and Lydia, who have already set about making it bigger and better, doing the things that needed to happen - giving it a website ( www.heirloomsilkribbons.com ) its own Instagram account and much better photos. It looks fantastic and orders are flooding in.
And I've had time to write a blog about it, dig up some potatoes for tea and ponder about how it was I managed to set up a business and sell it as a going concern. A bit of a suprise, but a real achievment.
|Posted on 20 July, 2017 at 15:10||comments (0)|
Heirloom Silk: Artisan Ribbonmaking Business for Sale
I have been making and selling natural dyed silk ribbon for the past two and a half years. It began as a request for silk ribbon from a bride and demand has grown steadily from florists and the general public. The business operates from a simple online shop, with a range of ribbon colours and widths available – customers order online and I pack and send the ribbons out by post.
The business has now grown to a size that needs more attention and time than I have available. My main business is growing and selling cut flowers and over the past few years both businesses have grown significantly, to a size that means I can’t do both comfortably. I want to make a really good job of everything I do and so I’ve decided to sell the ribbon business as it is today. I have a solid customer base and I’m keen to pass the business on to someone who will care about providing a good service to them, maintain the quality of natural dyeing and ribbonmaking, and also develop new lines and products. There is huge potential for growth and many ways that the business can be improved and expanded.
I would like to sell the investment that I have made into getting this business set up and viable, its profile and goodwill, plus stock and equipment. I’m aware that much of its value lies in the expertise I’ve developed in natural dyeing, cutting and processing of ribbon and a key part of the sale will include training and support (if required) for the person who wants to take it on and make the most of the opportunities this presents.
If you're interested and would like more information please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
CLOSING DATE 15 August 2017
|Posted on 4 April, 2016 at 15:50||comments (1)|
In the past week the Spring flowers have begun to bloom. Bulb planting is my least favourite job so it's just lovely to see them come up and show themselves off so beautifully. There follows a pictorial celebration
Wild Plum Blossom
Jewel and pastel anemones
Muscari with a background of poppy leaves
Yellow Parrot Tulips
Double Dazzle Tulips
And finally, I give you Narcissus Ice King
|Posted on 18 March, 2016 at 16:15||comments (0)|
We have a lot of slugs here at Mill Pond Flower Farm, lift any stone or move a piece of wood and there are slugs. Do a bit of digging and slug eggs will be uncovered, cream coloured and shiny, waiting for the right conditions to start to develop. They're everywhere, in nooks and crannies and sometimes just sat there on the grass.
And yet, we have very little slug damage with hosta leaves pristine, delphiniums shooting forth unbothered. When we have gardening visitors one of the most predictable questions is about slug problems, particularly as we mostly have heavy clay soil. So it's really made me think about slugs and whether they're really as bad as they're made out to be.
A bit of light research uncovered a whole load of information about slugs. There are 30 different slug varieties in the gardens of the UK but the good news is that only 4 of those varieties are likely to damage garden plants. The bad news is that those 4 varieties are the most prolific! To identify which sort of slugs you have, see the handy identification page at http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-facts/bad-slugs
There are many more fascinating slug facts:
Slug blood is green
In favourable conditions a slug can live for up to 6 years
A slug smells with its body
Slugs routinely lose and regrow their teeth
For those who can't get enough of slug facts go to http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-facts/facts
Knowing a bit more about slugs has made me approach them in a different way, I'm more willing to live alongside them and have developed a few strategies to reduce the negative impacts:
- Leave plenty of rotting vegetation around the place. Although this is the opposite to the generally given advice, many of the slugs will only attack heathy plant material when there is less of their preferred rotten diet available. So I strip the leaves from the lower stems of flowers when cutting them and leave them where they lie. Not that tidy, but it does save work in collecting them together and composting and also gives the slugs a delicious meal.
- Watch out for any even slight damage to seedlings and young plants. They are thoroughly cleaned before use, and then I do regular checks of seed trays and remove any slugs immediately. They don't have to be big to decimate a tray of seedlings.
- Plant out a few test seedlings to check the slug load of the ground. If they're immediatley nibbled a beer trap can often reduce the number of slugs until the plants are big enough to get going. Beer traps do attract slugs who throw themselves in and drown though the resultant brew is pretty disgusting.
- Do a slug patrol in the early evening. Slugs tend to climb up the plastic of the polytunnel as it cools and can be easily picked off and ,moved away.
- Maintain a balanced environment. We garden organically, have an extremely large pond with hundreds of frogs and toads, plus birds of many varieties. They MUST eat millions of slugs every year.
|Posted on 9 February, 2016 at 16:30||comments (0)|
It's the beginning of the flower growing season and I've been resisting planting since November, promising myself that the plants will thank me for it and do better if I wait. It's been a struggle but at last the first seed sowing day arrived, with early annuals and perennials now carefully tucked up in the propagator.
Since starting growing flowers for sale I've been slowly refining seed ordering, care and planting, trying to be more efficient, frugal and successful. All the advice says to keep seeds in the fridge but I can never manage that - too many seeds, the fridge is not big enough and I'd be taking them out all the time to look at them. I keep them in a plastic box sorted into perennials, biennials, hardy annuals and half hardy annuals, all nicely kept together with elastic bands, except when I'm sorting through checking that I have enough, reminding myself what the year is going to bring while a storm rages outside.
Fresh seed is best and I've found that the seed I save from my own plants generally germinates the best. However, one of the problems with selling cut flowers is that often there aren't any left to go to seed, or the weather is too wet for collecting it the end of the season. Saved seed is a small proportion of the whole, but those little brown envelopes are very much prized, and the ones sent by or swapped with other very generous growers even more so. However, there's still plenty of scope for buying lots of lovely new seed too and my ordering schedule is as follows:
November/December - Annuals and Perennials - for Spring sowing
May - Biennials - for June/July sowing
August - Annuals and Perennials - for late August/September sowing
Anytime - that lovely new seed I just can't resist!
Some seeds are sown every month except December and January, working through the year to make sure that there are flowers at all times except the depths of winter.
Where to get seed?
There are lots of options and more coming along all the time. In some ways it would be great to get all the seed you need from a single company but then that would mean only one seed catalogue and much less fun. It's easy to get carried away, order too many or end up with duplicates but I'm trying hard to be disciplined! In no particular order, this year I'll be using seed from:
Higgledy Garden - the delightful and very informative Mr Higgs sells a good range of cutting garden seeds. They have very reliable germination for me and an entertaining growing guide is always available online.
Seeds of Distinction - some unusual varieties, I'm trying Penstemon Chocolate Drop this season.
Kings Seeds - offer a service for allotment and gardening societies and are very competitively priced. Great range of sweet peas.
Owls Acre - sweet pea specialists who also sell winter varieites.
Suffolk Herbs - herb specialists, my Hop seeds have come from Suffolk Herbs.
Chitern Seeds - many different varieties, plus shrub and tree seeds. My germination challenges often come from Chiltern, when enthusiasm and optimism delivers seeds with a warning that they can take up to 2 years to germinate!
Moles Seeds - as well as a comprehensive catalogue, Moles are working with Flowers from the Farm to provide specialist cut flower varieties that we can't get elsewhere. Thank you!
Thompson and Morgan - a few additional special varieties
Lidl - they were next to the checkout and only 25p a packet, what can I say...
Johnny's Selected Seeds - a gift from a lovely overseas flower-mad friend
I did cheat slightly in the seed sowing schedule by breaking into a packet a few weeks ago to prepare it for sowing. I'm giving Hops a go this year and they need to be chilled before sowing, so they were spread on wet kitchen paper, put in a plastic bag and tucked into the firdge for a month before being sown into seed compost today. There's a very clear guide to growing Hops written by Alys Fowler that I'm carefully following http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jan/17/hops-as-garden-plant-alys-fowler and it seems to be working. Two of the seeds had already started sprouting in the fridge (see picture above) and I remain convinced we'll be draped in hoppage by the end of the summer, all from teeny seeds - beer anyone??
|Posted on 20 January, 2016 at 16:30||comments (0)|
- Plant in the late summer/early autumn to allow seedlings to fill out over the winter ready for planting out
- Pot on more than once - a bigger plant will be able to fight off competition more easily and will be quicker to establish. Again, late summer/autumn sowing allow plants to grow but mean they can be planted out before the heat of the summer (heat + summer = artistic licence).
- Remove every single sign of perennial weeds from the soil. Painstaking work and can only be done by hand, but it makes a huge difference.
- Don't plant weeds - this my seem obvious but is worth the reminder. That tiny weed seedling in the pot may look harmless but get it out or it'll grow too, and faster by far than anything you actually want to grow.
- Feed your plants - regular liquid feed, compost or manure gives healthy plants, healthy plants fight off bugs and disease and give lots of flowers.
- Avoid landscape fabric - I used this for 2 years thinking it would save weeding time. However, the docks pushed their way through the holes right next to the plants and were impossible to remove, it was hard to apply manure, harboured slugs and bugs and became a total mess. Bigger plants, closer together and a juducious use of the hoe is a less frustrating and more effective strategy.
- Keep plants in groups, in narrow beds for ease of cutting and management.
|Posted on 6 January, 2016 at 11:50||comments (0)|
Flower farmers are always looking forwards, even before the first frost blackens the dahlias we’re planting bulbs for the Spring and piling up seed catalogues ready for the next season. It would be easy to just keep on moving onwards but it’s important to find some time to reflect on how things have gone and look for learning points that can inform and improve growing in the next year.
I was asked recently how I approcahed reviews so I thought I'd share it here - this is what I do:
• Refer to my notes of growing, weather, sales, good and not so good events, what's flowering when. I keep a notebook every year with a double pge for each week and scribble notes most days. The notebook lives down the side of the sofa so that when I flop down at the end of a busy day i can just reach over and catch up without moving. The blank pages tend to be when things have really whizzed away and I haven't had time to complete it, so even the gaps tell a story.
• Get my accounts up to date and look at income from particular varieties, what sold well, what was an expensive outlay, income versus expenditure. I admit to being very poor at keeping accounts up to date and it's always the last thing on my To Do list. Once it's done I find it really interesting though so should relly be more diligent.
• Review my diary for the season, look for any busy/quiet times, pinch points, business gained or missed and the reasons for this
• Collate feedback from customers – or send out a feedback form - I use mostly use email to communicate with customers so it's quite straightforward to gather information.
• Review social media posts to find what has been well received (favourites/likes), created comment, and recorded – social media can provide a very different record of the year in posts and pictures and it varies depending on the platform that's used. I find I post more of the day to day on Twitter so will more likely have info on disasters, challenges and irritations than on Facebook or Instagram.
• Get together with others and discuss shared challenges and successes and what made them - email and online chats are great, #britishflowers Twitter hour is fabulous, but there's nothng quite like a group of flower farmers in a room talking seeds!
While I'm reviewing it’s easy to think ‘oh that was good’ or ‘hmmm, not sure that worked’ but the most important element to look at it is WHY it was that way, was there anything that might have made it different, would another approach have made things better or worse? When trying to repeat a success or improve on a challenge if I can figure out the WHY, I'm well on my way!