Organic Broadcaster

Jennifer Nelson, Humble Pie Farm, cuts zinnia for a bouquet. Zinna is her top pick for an easy-to-grow flower for busy market farmers.  Photo by Mike Leck

These easy-care flowers offer burst of color to CSA boxes, market stands

By Jennifer Nelson, MOSES

At this year’s MOSES Conference workshop on growing and marketing flowers, many farmers asked about easy-to-grow flowers that would add value to a veggie CSA or farmers market stall. Realizing other farmers would like to know about those, too, I’ve compiled a list of easy-care, beautiful blooms to add to your mix.

Flowers add diversity to your crop rotation, and biomass to improve soil tilth. Plus, they attract the beneficial pollinators that make your veggies taste so delicious. Flowers in a vegetable rotation are a win for all. And, your CSA members and farmers market customers will appreciate the additional beauty along with their nourishing food.

Harvest and post-harvest handling are key to ensuring longevity and quality in all farm-grown products, especially flowers. Be sure to wash and sterilize your harvest tools and buckets before using.

Flowers do best if they are harvested during the cool of the day, either early morning or late evening. If possible, most flowers like to go into a cooler right after harvest to lose that field heat. Flowers that aren’t kept in coolers to reduce field heat will not last as long as those that are, with a few exceptions.

Zinnia – Who doesn’t love a bright, cheerful zinnia? There are many different varieties that are lovely, and so easy to grow. Benary’s giant mix will give you a mix of colors, and they tend to be more resistant to powdery mildew – one of the main problems that can arise with this accommodating bloom. Oklahoma or State Fair mix are also good choices. Zinnia is the exception to the “flowers in the cooler” rule. They like to stay no lower than 50 degrees or so, and only harvest when the petals are dry, or they literally melt.

Branching Sunflower – Soraya, Sonja, panache and chocolate are all varieties that will add that happy sunflower bloom to your field row in various colors and sizes. Branching sunflowers, like many flower plants that produce multiple blooms, need to be harvested frequently, or the plants will die quickly.

Calendula – Mow down calendula after harvesting the flowers, and it’ll come back with a second flush of blooms. It’s also a wonderful edible and medicinal plant to use fresh or dried. While most of the blooms won’t last more than a few days, some of newer varieties like Greenheart Orange and Princess Sapporo have longer vase life.

Tithonia – Also known as Mexican Sunflower, this beautiful branching flower has bright orange-red blooms. Beneficial birds and insects love the nectar of this sweet and colorful flower.

 

 

Dianthus – There are many perennial varieties of dianthus also known as Sweet William, as well as those grown as annuals. The annual with the longest stem length is the Amazon series, and these are commonly grown for cut flowers. The seed is very expensive, but they are vibrant, easy to grow and last a long time in a vase.

Giant Marigolds – These beauties are used in other cultures’ celebrations for good reason. The giant orange, yellow, and gold balls last a long time, and are a lovely addition to any summer bouquet. The foliage also lasts a long time, and serves as a great green filler for bouquets. Jedi Orange and Giant Yellow are reliable varieties.

Phlox – Perennial phlox is a wonderful cut flower that smells lovely, and lasts a long time in a vase.

 

 

 

Echinacea – While it can be challenging to germinate as it requires stratification, this tried and true, beautiful perennial lasts a very long time after cut. It’s also a great source of pollen for beneficial birds and insects.

 

 

Achillea – This lovely perennial is often the first to green up in spring. Also known as Yarrow, this sweet bloom is a great filler in mixed bouquets, and can hold its own in a lovely bunch, too. Colorado is an organic variety.

 

 

Rudebeckia – There are many varieties of this standard perennial commonly known as Black-Eyed Susan. Once a stand of this perennial is established, it mostly takes care of itself. The only threat can be powdery mildew, so plant away from other susceptible plants like zinnias.

 

Herbs – Bronze fennel, dill, basil, borage, catmint, chamomile, bee balm, hyssop, lavender, and sage all have beautiful flowers that can be put in bouquets, and smell delicious.

 

 

Don’t hesitate to get creative with your mixed bouquet fillers. Cover crops, woody bushes and tree fruit branches can all make great additions to mixed bouquets. Weeds like Persian cress and yellow dock can also add beautiful greenery to mixes for your CSA members.

Jennifer Nelson grows flowers for her Humble Pie Farm. She’s also a MOSES Organic Specialist.

For the audio recording of the flower workshop from the 2018 MOSES Conference, see mosesorganic.net.

From the May | June  2018 Issue

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