Prepping Soil for a Flower Farm 101
It’s January 2nd, 2018: Approximately four months before I start a cut flower operation for real life profit and pleasure. Seemingly I have a ton of time to lay under the covers and daydream about flowers (the dahlias! the cactus zinnias! the David Austins!)…. My eyes glaze over as I fantasize over ALL THE PEACH TONES. There’s a legit ridic frigid blizzard outside my front window. It’s negative 3. And in the back of my head, I know it’s going to be here sooner than I could conceivably imagine. It being: Soil prep season.
So I’ve started thinking about soil and compost and amendments and budgets. And I need to start making some concrete plans and decisions, like NOW. Before March pulls around in all it’s climate-changed 60 degree glory and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! Everyone in Buffalo says winter lasts til the end of May but I refuse to listen. Maybe it will. But you can never be too careful or prepped in this climate-crazed world, I promise.
Since 2012 I’ve been teaching people how to grow their own food – in their gardens and, more recently, online in this blog. My focus has mostly been on educating people about the Soil Food Web and permaculture gardening techniques that can be used to nurture and build the Soil Food Web in their edible gardens. As I move into the world of flower farming, I absolutely plan on assuming the same permaculture techniques to grow my flowers!
Turns out, the techniques for building fertile soil and prepping/maintaining a flower farm is incredibly similar to organic vegetable and herb farms.
This post is for those who want to start a cut flower garden using only organic methods that are honest and respectful of our planet. And honestly, this post is also my process of helping myself plan for the brand new flower farm I will be starting this spring! Affiliate links are present in this post, which means if you click on something and buy it, I’ll get like 4 cents – I’d never recommend something to you that I wouldn’t use myself!
Highly Recommended Posts on the Soil Food Web and Permaculture Techniques for All Gardens:
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED – This is what I will do to prep soil on the flower farm:
1. Send in SOIL SAMPLES
Send a sample of your soil to determine what nutrients (and sometimes, chemical contaminants) you’re working with. Use Google to find a local Cooperative Extension to mail in samples. Typically each sample will cost $20-25 and will come with a full contaminant and macro/micronutrient report.
2. Source LOCAL COMPOST + Make My Own Compost Going Forward
Compost is the absolute best amendment you can add to your farm, whether you’re growing vegetables or flowers. It is a Soil Food Web inoculant! You will need to determine the yardage of compost needed to cover 1-3 inches of your garden beds. This is a helpful compost calculating tool. Compost should be trucked and dumped from a local, reliable source, so factor dumping costs into your budget. Use Google to find a local landscape supply company or farm that supplies compost – and always ask other farmers/gardeners in your area for advice on where to locate a good source. Remember: Not all compost is created equal – read here!
Once you have compost on your site, it should be wheelbarrowed and shoveled over all the beds and either double-dug or tilled in, depending on the size of your plot. I am staunchly against tilling; however, when first starting a large farm, it may be necessary to use machinery to break up hardpan soil and incorporate compost into the top layer.
3. Amend with ALFALFA MEAL
An incredible, 100% natural fertilizer made entirely of ground alfalfa cover crop. I use this fertilizer not only because it provides a balanced diet of macronutrients (NPK 3-2-2), but it is incredibly lightweight and requires very little in the fields. Apply on top of compost before aerating.
4. Amend with KELP MEAL
Another incredible, 100% natural fertilizer sustainable harvested from seaweed and provides an array of micro minerals and amino acids. I use this during soil prep with Alfalfa Meal and Compost.
5. Inoculate the Soil Food Web with MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI
- Mycorrhizal Fungi is an absolutely essential piece of the Soil Food Web that must be present in our farms and gardens for healthy, nutrient-dense plants! I use Mycorrhizal Fungi during planting by dipping root balls of transplants into the MF mixture.
6. MULCH Soil After Planting
- You may need to lay mulch in phases depending on your budget, but sourcing a local leaf mulch and applying it after transplanting your crops will add an immense amount of organic matter to your garden beds. I am considering even laying a bit of mulch underneath landscaping fabric. Over time, the mulch will break down into a rich humus and provide food for Soil Food Web microbes and earthworms.
Wherever you source your compost might be a good place to order mulch and have it trucked in. I recommend starting with 1 inch of mulch spread across all beds. Even a little bit goes a long way. Read this Post for a Section on the Importance of Mulching.
7. Plant COVER CROPS Throughout the Farm
Cover Cropping is a Permaculture technique, and THE tried and true way of naturally fertilizing and adding organic matter to your farm. Cover cropping will vastly increase your soil biodiversity and feed a range of microbes while also providing a living mulch. When chopped down (“chop n drop”), cover crops will break down and add tons of nutrients to the soil, including nitrogen that has been fixed from the atmosphere (legume cover crops).
I plan on cover cropping my flower farm with crops that grow beautiful flowers and so can be used in bouquets and arrangements! I will most likely plant entire rows of cover crops to enrich the soil for more 2019 flower plantings. I will also interplant cover crops with cut flowers in blocks of 3-4 feet long so I can be sure that the soil in every single farm bed is being cared for.
Also Important: TOOLS of the Trade
- Quality over Quantity!!! That is my very basic motto for farm tools. Invest in well-made, long-lasting tools and your job will be easier and save you money over time. See below for my favorite tools and supplies I will be using on my flower farm.
Also Really Super Important: BOOKS to Keep You Learning
There is no better way to learn something than to do it, I wholeheartedly believe that. It’s only once you’ve done something a few times though, when books start to really make sense. Especially farming books. The books I show below have completely changed the way I view gardening, and the way I garden. I highly recommend purchasing them or checking them out of the library and taking notes!