A field of color

While the stars of the show here every week are the flowers, there are some show-stopping flowers that came out of the field this week. Colors, textures, sizes, smells, the whole gambit. What a beautiful week in flowers it has been. (I’m going to attempt to stay positive instead of complain endlessly about the excessive and annoying heat.)

You can see our flower field from the state route, and I must admit that I always try to look at it while driving by. (Other people must, too, because I hear a lot of vehicles hit the rumble strips. Maybe they’re just distracted by the excessively pale ghost, me, they see stalking the field. ha) The sunflowers feel like such happy sentinels. Chris decided to plant the 110 foot vertical bed that slopes up the hill in successions of sunflowers, and it’s quite picturesque. I especially like watching them track the movement of the sun throughout the day. I deeply love sunflowers, so my life improved a degree now that they are out in the field in full force.

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There are other relative newcomers to the field, including massive zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, snapdragons, salvia, statice, dara, scabiosa, and amaranth tassels. I harvested for the farmers’ market on Friday morning, and I went back out on Saturday morning and either I forgot to harvest certain rows of zinnias, or they are opening overnight. In other words, it’s like a scavenger hunt every time I’m in the field now - ‘what’s blooming today?’

Multiple times this week I got to do one of my favorite activities - take a bucket of water and a pair of clippers, and walk the field for flowers that I’m going to arrange that day. It is so fun to see what the field has for me, and which color/variety combinations draw my eye. Sometimes I go out to harvest with a clear idea of what I or the customer wants, but sometimes I just go with the flow, and those times are especially fun.

On the production side, we did get the beds solarized and the crop crop in on other beds. We’re waiting for less hot, dry days to till up our newest section of beds. They will go into production in 2020, resulting in a 100% plus increase in bed space in 4 years. I have probably already earmarked every inch of space in those beds with varieties I’m in love with right now, like statice and snapdragons and dahlias. We’ll see how I change my mind as the season progresses.

Until then, we’ll keep admiring what we have, while dreaming about the future.

Here’s what I can’t get over this week:

This cheerful rudbeckia bed.

This cheerful rudbeckia bed.

Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris Francis

This pink wall and just how many submissions we got for our first sunflower giveaway (one of the prizes pictured here.)

This pink wall and just how many submissions we got for our first sunflower giveaway (one of the prizes pictured here.)

We're having a heat wave

When I was a kid, if I had to stay home from school sick, I would often watch old movies my parents had taped off TV - like My Fair Lady or South Pacific. I have always retained a nostalgic fondness for classic movies, so my favorite two Christmas movies are White Christmas and Christmas In Connecticut.

It is from White Christmas that I learned the song, “Heat Wave”, the first line of which is very apropos this week: “We’re having a heat wave / A tropical heat wave / The temperature’s risin’ / It isn’t surprising / She certainly can can can”. Not that I can can-can, but it’s hot here. (Sidenote: I looked up the lyrics to this song today, and a lot went over my head as a kid - for the better. It’s not the cleanest song!)

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Did I mention that it’s really hot here? Like, sit in the shade after weeding for 30 minutes hot. Like, sweat through your clothes before 8 am at the farmers’ market hot. Like, I can taste the heat coming off of the pasture hot. You get the picture.

Thankfully, sunny, hot days are good for flowers that had a very wet and cloudy spring. Of course, the sunflowers jump up quickly, daily, right now. And, we have been enjoying the sunflowers that have joined us. I take pictures of them like they are fashion models, so I hope they are enjoying the attention. I have been surprised by the growth the pea tendrils, salvia, and newest plantings of zinnias have put on. The zinnias germinated on day 3, which is great. I was planning on fewer germinating than they did, so I’ll have to do some heavy thinning now as a result. An embarassment of zinnia riches, you may say.

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The pumpkins and gourds have also appreciated the turn in the weather. Chris and his dad had to put up fence panels to help corral their ambitious growth. At some point, mowing between the rows will become impossible and we will just hope for the best.

I have been enjoying the special orders that have been coming in recently. I also have had fun finding new places to photograph the bouquets, and then I inevitably tweak the arrangement and the picture is out of date. Oh well. Fun tip: always photograph your arrangements and/or look at them in the mirror before calling them finished. It does help to see holes/missteps.

While I’ve been busy weeding, harvesting and arranging, Chris has been prepping some beds that are getting ready to get solarized, or get planted with cover crops, or get planted with sunflowers or other fall products. This is very exciting to me, for several reasons. For one, these beds have been sopping wet all season. They are finally dry enough to work, which represents progress. For another, my type A personality likes having things figured out and finished, so I’m glad to move one step closer to that goal.

All in all, we are trying to stay cool (freezing water bottles to have at the farmers’ market really helps) and keep the flowers happy.

Here’s what I can’t get over this week:

My favorite zinnias are here!

My favorite zinnias are here!

Here’s to another good week.

Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris

Nature inspired floral designs.

Nature inspired floral designs.

Welcome, summer

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It is officially summer now, and we are welcoming this new season with open arms. This year, we started attending the farmers’ market 6 weeks earlier than any previous year. There were a number of reasons for that decision, which aren’t overly interesting. What is more interesting is what we learned from showing up to the markets that much earlier.

First, I learned to appreciate peonies in a whole new way this year. It’s not just that they are beautiful flowers (which they are), it’s that they bloom in a time of year when I’m practically desperate for fresh flowers. Other people at the farmers’ markets seemed to feel the same way, as the peony arrangements didn’t stick around for long each week.

Second, I learned how much interest there is in opportunities to visit the flower farm. That was very gratifying to see, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered making everyone pull one weed as price of entry. We’ll be rolling out more details about the first field event of the season soon (sans weed pulling requirements).

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Third, I learned to appreciate the bounty of summer more. (I feel practically obligated to say this.) Production is not a steady, increasing line for us - there are ebbs and flows in the season depending on growing time, weather, and other field conditions. When you only sell at the farmers’ markets during the period where production is high and increasing, it just seems natural to have a big volume of product to sell. There were some hard weeks this spring - gap weeks between varieties blooming, or weeks when the 10+ inches of rain in May was felt very strongly. I have worried that these low production weeks would communicate the wrong message to customers, but a quick peek at our booth in the next few weeks will dispel any concerns about production, volume, or quantity.

Fourth, and finally, I learned how much I prefer the saturated and deep colors of summer to the pastels of spring. Pastels certainly have their place, but I don’t think that they will ever have my heart in the same way as bold, rich, vibrant colors will. The colors these last two weeks have been incredible.

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Okay, enough reflections. So, what have we been up to?

In the last two weeks, we have seen the first sunflowers bloom (hooray!!!), dahlia buds about to burst (that’s never happened this early in July!), and an epic storm rip through this previous Sunday. Thankfully, the storm damage was minimal. One zinnia and a few volunteer sunflowers are the worse for it, but everyone else will pull through fine. We have ended in what we are told is our permanent home at the farmers’ market (across from the gazebo, by the aisle to the parking lot). We have dealt with some nasty heat and humidity (the ‘the sweat is dripping off my face so much I can’t see out of my sunglasses’ kind). We are on pace with planting and managing the weeds for the moment (that is subject to change on a whim, if we’re unlucky). We likely won’t take time off on the 4th (in fact, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that Chris is off for extra weeding time). And, we’ll celebrate my birthday on Sunday (if anyone remembers - ha!)

Here’s what I can’t get over this week:

In a word - COLOR.

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Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris Francis

That middle school life

Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) about to open.

Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) about to open.

I don’t know about you, but middle school was not my golden era. In terms of the field’s progress, I think of June as the middle school month . The cuteness of spring and all of its new growth is gone, and the lanky-growth-spurt-stage is upon us. We are also just starting to see the beginning of the thousands of summer and fall blooms we will harvest. This definitely is work that rewards patience!

At the same time that we continue the cycle of plant - weed - water - repeat, we are also thinking about some new and exciting developments for the markets. I have several dozen eucalyptus plants growing under lights right now. They are going to get bumped up to their permanent homes tonight or tomorrow, and which point we’ll wait a little longer to let them settle in and then we will have eucalyptus plants for people to purchase at the farmer’s market. (That is assuming I don’t keep them all for myself.)

Chinese forget-me-nots breaking open in the field.

Chinese forget-me-nots breaking open in the field.

I have also started a dried flower operation in my garage, as drying flowers is my new obsession. I seem to be trying to dry everything. I’m hopeful that I will find some great additions to our dried flower stores to allow us to bring some unique and interesting creations to the farmers’ market later in the fall.

That’s about it for now. We’ll keep you updated with more news as things start showing their cheerful faces. Right now, rudbeckia, Chinese forget-me-nots, calendula, and bachelor buttons are leading the way.

Calendula about to bloom.

Calendula about to bloom.

And - breaking news - we have a really exciting new event to announce:

On Tuesday, September 17, 2019, we are hosting a flower arranging party at the Wine Cafe in Wilmington from 6-8 pm. We will harvest and prep our gorgeous, locally grown flowers, and then let you select the stems you want and help you arrange them. $35 will cover the flowers, arranging demonstration PLUS appetizers and your first glass of wine. This is a great deal, and I’m so excited to be able to share our flowers with you all. You can reserve your spot now by contacting the Wine Cafe. If there’s enough interest, we will open up a second night for wine and flowers. A perfect combination, right?!

The man, the beard, the legend. (Haha.)

The man, the beard, the legend. (Haha.)

Here’s what I can’t get over this week: We actually remembered to take a picture together this Father’s Day. I don’t actually know when the last picture of just the two of us was taken. (Eek.)

Bloomfully yours,

Katie and Chris

Back to normal

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This is an apt title for two reasons. First, with a break in May’s relentless pace of rain, we have settled back into a (more) normal farm routine. This is certainly something for which we are thankful (well, Katie is - Chris spends late into evening in the field and I don’t know exactly if he would use the word ‘thankful’ to describe how he feels about working after dark.) Second, I, personally, am back to normal after a unpleasant run-in with a migraine this week. (This is why this update, normally posted on Wednesday, is tardy this week.)

At some point this week, when I wasn’t comatose from the migraine, I realized that I must be a little superstitious, because every time I want to tell someone ‘the field is looking good’, I find myself turning around to find the nearest piece of wood to knock on. That said (with a pause as I knock on wood), I do think the field looks good right now compared to previous years. Last fall, we decided to solarize some beds where weeds were particularly problematic. (Solarizing is when you lay plastic across the bed and let the heat that accumulates over time essentially bake the soil to kill weed seeds and pathogens.) As we have uncovered some of these beds and gotten them in use this year, I am pleased with the results so far. We will keep solarizing the other beds as long as possible, which means until we need them for production.

One other fun step forward this week was that we now have ranunculus growing in our house. Quite a few of them, in fact. Ranunculus is a beautiful complicated bloom, reminiscent of a rose in its form, but more symmetrical, papery, and less overdone (that last descriptor is my opinion, of course). We decided to do a trial of them this year to see how they grow, hold up, and arrange. They are popular in design work, so I’m curious to see how well they grow. In the corm (tuber) stage, they look remarkably like little octopuses. I did not enjoy that fact as I helped to get them pre-sprouted, for your information.

We also have been joined on the farm this week by dozens upon dozens (perhaps into hundreds) of fall gourds, pumpkins, and what not. These are obviously still in the 1-2 true leaf stage, but boy howdy do they grow. Because I am the one who starts the small, finicky seeds indoors in the middle of winter, I am always a little scandalized by just how quickly these giant seeds emerge in the field. They are little monsters, and they grow like it, too.

Finally, the last remarkable thing that happened this week is that I watered the field. Save the best for last, right? While that sounds extremely mundane, it is notable in that I was desperate for the water to STOP last month, to the extent that I don’t believe I intentionally watered a single day in May. (This was only the second time I watered the field this year; I’m fuzzy on the exact date of the first watering, but I believe it was the end of April.) We’ve have 2 inches of rain this month so far, which is workable. I even let my seedlings that haven’t been transplanted yet enjoy the rain a couple of times this week. (My father-in-law tells me that rain water is better because it has nitrogen in it.)

We would be happy with another normal week for the one ahead, personally.

Here’s what I can’t get over this week:

Gorgeous larkspur joined the party this week.

Gorgeous larkspur joined the party this week.

Have a good one!

Bloomfully yours,

Katie (and Chris) Francis

 

Seeds, seeds, and more seeds

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It is a happy week when lots of seed, bulbs, and plants go into the ground. So, this last week has been happy in that regard! Overall, though, there are lots of things to be happy about in this last week.

For one, Chris has worked tirelessly in the windows of good weather to stay on top of planting and transplanting. So far, things are coming along nicely in the field, given the 10+ inches of rain we ended up with in the month of May. Unfortunately, the rain also waters the weeds, and so I have been on weeding duty. I almost married Chris all over again when I discovered the standing colinear hoe he ordered. It makes weeding between plants a dream, and it’s 4 inch blade more than makes up for any deficits in hand-eye coordination on my part. (There was a reason my 7th grade nickname on my basketball team was Butterfingers.)

Additionally, we are thrilled to have all but 10 of our dahlias up. I think I saw a few more thinking about emerging today. We are both very relieved that the excessive rain didn’t seem to cause them to rot in place after they were planted. I ordered some different varieties this year, some of which were short season, so I hope to see them take off soon.

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Another very happy thing this week has been the standout bloom of the month of May/beginning of June: peonies. They are fantastic this year. I don’t know if I just never paid close attention to them in previous years, but they are truly out of this world, and that’s to say nothing of their fragrance. We are one year away from harvesting our plants in mass, and so we saved a few blooms to see what they will be like. Let’s just say next spring should be a good time.

Finally, we had a good time at the farmers’ market this last Saturday. Selling out of all of our fresh product helps, of course. Since the field has not burst into bloom in full force yet, it’s just nice to get established, see returning customers, and help introduce more people to the joys of locally grown, seasonal flowers. Plus, there’s some really good coffee vendors at the market, and I have to support other small, locally owned businesses, right?

Here’s to a week ahead of more sun, more planting, and fewer weeds (that last one won’t happen, but one can hope).

In case you’re curious, here’s what I can’t get over this week:

Locally grown and designed June flowers - this was so much fun to do. And I love the asparagus fern in there.

Locally grown and designed June flowers - this was so much fun to do. And I love the asparagus fern in there.

Yours in flowers,

Katie (and Chris)

Waiting on June

The first flowers from the field! Friday, May 24, 2019

The first flowers from the field! Friday, May 24, 2019

If you are a fan of country music, you will recognize the title of this post as a country song that Chris is fond of singing. It also happens to be a very accurate indication of our current mood.

We are looking forward to the month of June and, with it, hopefully sunny skies, less rain, and even more blooms fresh from the field.

Right now, we have been enjoying the very first of the flowers we harvest, including peonies (our first year - we have been waiting for these for awhile now, as they take years to produce), bachelor buttons, and baby’s breath plus assorted greens.

In other words, the fun is just getting started.

I have been trying to look for silver linings in all of these rain clouds (we are at approximately 10” of rain for the month). Here’s what I have found:

  • I have only had to go out and water the field once. That frees up time to do other things.

  • I have gotten the opportunity to germinate test somethings inside and see how they do. This is always good information to have for future years.

  • I have gotten to play (design) with dried flowers we cut from the field last year. I have acquired a newfound appreciation for strawflower and consequently went and planted more.

  • I have found it laughably easy to weed. You can pull taproots out by hand right now, and I’ve gotten some real winners (a foot long root, for instance). It does give me great satisfaction to clear grass from the beds. If you’ve ever weeded, you’ll know that grass is the worst.

So, it certainly hasn’t been all (literal) doom and gloom. Waiting isn’t really my strong suit, so having to wait wait wait to do everything that we want to do in the field is difficult. But it won’t kill me.

This week, we are crossing our fingers to get a couple of all-day planting sessions in. We will see!

Until then, here’s what I can’t get over this week:

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Fresh cut flowers from the field! The peonies! The colors! Oh, and, the smell!

See below for our first arrangement out of the field for 2019.

Yours in flowers,

Katie and Chris

Locally grown and designed sympathy flowers.

Locally grown and designed sympathy flowers.

To market, to market

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It’s been another week, and another several inches of rain. I had hoped we would have gone into a planting frenzy by now, but the farm has recorded 7.18” of rain for May so far this month. That’s a lot of rain, in case you didn’t know.

Thankfully, my survey of the field this morning found that everything is doing okay given how wet it is out there. (For those of you familiar with The Little Blue Truck books, it called to mind the “muck and mire” that ensnares the dump truck.) Weeding tap roots is nice in this weather, so that’s a silver lining to all of these rain clouds.

We were able to get the dahlias in the ground last week, and one is already up. (YAY) This is a hopeful signs, as dahlias don’t want a lot of water after they are planted (gulp). I am crossing my fingers that they pull through for us.

We were able to direct seed and transplant into the field some this week, so it wasn’t a total planting loss. (The corn and bean farmers, though, that’s a whole other story. Yikes yikes yikes. My heart goes out to them. It’s a bleak and desperate situation.)

One happy thing on the horizon is the first farmers’ market of the season this Saturday, May 25th in downtown Kankakee from 8 am - 12 pm. We will have a limited number of flowers, flowers in pots, and dried arrangements. I am looking forward to the energy and excitement of this farmers’ market; it really is a great event and it will be nice to interact with customers rather than sit around and wring our hands at the weather forecast. (Not that we every actually sit around, but you get the idea.)

In the meantime, we will plant when we can, weed when we can, and pray that everything dries out.

Send us any dry, warm weather that you can!

Here’s what I can’t get over this week:

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How many of these (Chinese Forget Me Nots) self-seeded from last year. There are so many, which isn’t surprising if you know how many seeds they put out. I’m just going to let them do their thing and enjoy the result!

Yours in flowers,

Katie (and Chris)