[Market-farming] Cut flowers and heat

Shawnee Flowerfarmer farmingflowers at hotmail.com
Fri Aug 3 21:17:12 EDT 2007


Shawnee thank you for the info. Next question, how do you handle heat? My flowers are cut in the morning and put in water with floralife then placed in the refrig which is set to 45F, Yesterday at the farmers market the temp was 96F and even though the flowers were under the tent and in water they were looking sad by the end of the day.
Yup, heat is the worst thing, and I wish that I had good news.  I also struggled with wilting bouquets after a couple of hours in the market....and hated seeing customers tote around my wilting bouquets while they shopped.  I have used tents and kept the flowers shaded, but the reflected heat from pavement or sod hurts them too.  I've put ice in the water also.  I wished for a refrigerated truck.  I crossed my fingers.  
That certain sort of customer waits until the last half hour of the market and then offers a vastly reduced price to buy the wilted bouquets.  Usually, I refused and took them home to turn into eggs. (the bouquets, not the customers.)  (Fed the leftover bouquets to the chickens on the idea that feeding the chickens at least salvaged some value from the flowers instead of having a customer buy-even at a low price- a substandard product which would reflect poorly on my efforts)
Once, a sweet Hispanic grandmother helper, grabbed the wilted bouquets from the chicken feed crate and, lectured in rapid Spanglish that the bouquets were fine.  Before I could intervene, she had put the flowers back up for sale....and! sold them!  She was pleased, but I was dismayed because I knew that somebody had bought flowers that would not last very long and then could blame my market stand for low quality.
So heat is a fraught issue.  I always try to have the plants well hydrated before cutting-that helps.  Some flowers are more touchy than others and knowing which ones is a matter of experience and research ...  Ammi majus-Bishop's weed-rehydrates well, as does castor bean, larkspur etc.  Sunflowers do vary considerably...  Giant Alliums will hydrate  well if you make a very small slit in the hollow stem just under the flower head.  The slit allows air pressure to equalize and keeps the stems from popping back out of the water.   (Drumstick alliums, very cheap bulbs and can be planted this fall,  included in a bouquet are an instant sale) 
The trick of sealing poppy stems with a flame does work...the poppies will last 4-5 days if you burn the stems immediately upon cutting.  Yes, everyone will think that you've lost your mind when they see you firing up a propane torch to the flower.  But you have lost your mind anyway if you are in this business, so forge ahead.
Verbena bonarensis stands almost any treatment that you give it.  A late summer bouquet made with spirea nipponica foliage-bridal wreath-lots of verbena and some cosmos can look lush...long lasting too which is what you want your customers to comment on and return for.
My best sales are always made when I think outside the box.....when every stand had a bunch of sunflowers, zinnias, cleome, or celosia , my mixed bouquets usually outsell because they are unique.  Look around your landscaping and hedgerows for fillers...hosta leaves make the bouquet stand out.  A lucky vendor with land near a wetland sold great bunches of equisetum-horsetail-all season at the Evanston market.  (Cityfolk are starved for nature)  (I planted some equisetum directly and have never been without it since.)   Got curly willow trees?  Cut branches, strip off the leaves, and include in the bouquet.  (No curly willow trees?  Plant some immediately)  Canna lilies planted somewhere?  The leaves are wonderful-and don't wilt quickly.  (Check out floral design publications for cool ideas)
So my best advice for coping with the heat is, get creative and do an end run around the inevitable weather. Don't worry about hot market days; make your bouquets from plants that shrug it off. Cooler days are coming, but in the meantime, there is still money to be made..  Sometimes, the zinnias and sunflowers will hang their pretty heads.  Cut branches of habanero peppers instead.  That pepper is so hot that it's handier as an ornamental anyway. 
Once, in a fit of aggravation, I made bouquets of the wretched bad boy thistle and sold them all.  (I made a sign that said, "Bad Boy Bouquets!")  One customer bought three because she intended to give them to her boss whose personality, she told me, was just like the plant. 
A refrigerated truck would be nice though, wouldn't it?
Shawnee, still befuddled by the General Public, in zone 5.
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