A seed is planted. Carefully placed in the soil, lovingly watered and weeded, pruned and supported, a flower grows. Each flower on our farm is raised from youth to be ready at a moments notice for a important emotional mission. They proudly wait to be selected and packed into a box with a message of love, or hope or grief or joy. Flowers are sent to people we love, because we wish to express joy for their new job, house, or baby. They are sent to show we care about their sickness, injury or loss of loved one. Flowers are sent to encourage a friend to carry on in times of turmoil and they are sent just because we remember how important that person is to us and we just want them to know that we think of them from time to time. When we choose individual flowers on our farm, we tell them (yes, we really talk to your flowers!), ‘this is an important mission you have, travel proudly and be your best upon arrival.” We imaging our tears flowing, and smiles upon faces when a box of our flowers is opened. That is why it is important to us that our flowers we grown organically and they be grown on our farm where we can see every single bloom before it is packed for shipment. We are a small farm, we plant every seed ourselves, harvest every bloom by hand. We understand that personal messages of love and grief deserve personal attention. Yes, growing flowers is a fun way to make a living, but we also understand our job is important, we have a responsibility to those sending and receiving our flowers, their message is important and our flowers have a mission worthy of our loving attention. When walk our straight rows of flowers on our neat and tidy little farm, we see proud flowers growing strong in a healthy farm ecosystem waiting to be selected for your mission.
Every child knows the story behind a gift is just as important and the gift itself. That is why your children will tell you every detail of how they made that cute drawing of a butterfly. They will describe which crayons they used, where they drew it and how long it took. Kid’s know it is the history, the hard work, the thinking of the recipient that is the real value of a gift. As adults we can forget this and fall into the habit of buying faceless products from faceless stores and pass them off as gifts. Worse yet the ‘gifts’ we buy for others may be made on the backs of child laborers in developing countries or at the expense of our environment. Of all the gifts we give no other gift has as much emotional significance as flowers. We give them in love, in forgiveness, in gratitude and in grief. Then it would seem that if any gift must have a good story behind it’s creation, it would be flowers! Flowers are grown on lovingly tended farms with picturesque fields and happy workers harvesting the sunshine...right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Recently on a tour of Dutch tulip growing operations (notice I said’ operations’, not ‘farms’) the conditions in which they were grown was so deplorable and industrial, my cousin who was along to see the ‘beautiful fields of flowers’ swore to never buy a tulip again. And she is Dutch! The bulbs are soaked in toxic dips, put in crates shoulder to shoulder and grown in water (no soil!). Tens of thousands of crates are constantly moving slowly on conveyer belts from chiller to growing room to harvest to packaging. They never see the light of day, and are only handled by humans (poorly paid Polish immigrants) when they are pulled from the crates and placed in sleeves for sale. So why is this important? We don’t eat flowers, so who cares how they are grown? Remember the story behind the gift is important! Amazingly, the Dutch flower operations are considered state of the art compared to their South American and African counter parts where the health problems of the workers due to pesticide exposure have been well documented.
At California Organic Flowers we strive to bring the good story back to flowers. We are a small family farm in the Northern Sacramento Valley of California growing flowers outside in the fresh air. We are certified organic by the USDA and believe the best flowers are grown in a healthy farm ecosystem. Flowers that are grown outside have stronger stems, dark green foliage and rich colorful blooms, they are healthy, happy flowers. We work hard on our farm, but we have fun, take care of our bodies and always remember that the flowers we grow will end up on someone’s dining room table as a gift with a very happy story behind them!
Organic Summer Dahlias
Often at our local farmer’s market a customer will ask, “what is that pretty pink flower?”. “Oh, that is a dahlia”
we will answer. “How about that red flower?” “That is also a dahlia” we answer. “But they don’t look alike at all, how can they both be dahlias?” Amazingly over 50,000 named varieties of dahlias have been hybridized from the original three varieties that were found in the Mexico highlands by Spanish explorers. So beloved is the dahlia that it now is available in almost every color and shape imaginable. From the gigantic dinner plate dahlias to the orchid and pom pom varieties, dahlias offer an endless array of textures and colors. Dahlias are the quintessential summer flower, requiring lots of warmth and long summer days to coax their blooms to open. And the slightest hint of frost turns the plants into a pile of black mush, graphically displaying this plant’s preference for summer conditions.
Dahlias have always been a wonderful garden flower, but have often frustrated the gardener who wants to bring their blooms in the house and arrange them in a vase. All too often the blooms will droop and die within a few hours. All sorts of advice is given to encourage the success of the cut flower dahlia, including burning the bottom of the stem or placing in boiling hot water. After years of trials we have developed a line of dahlias and a method of harvest which yields beautiful cut flower dahlias which confidently last 3-5 days in a vase. We find that time of harvest, quality of water, immediate chilling and careful harvest techniques all add to the success of our dahlias. We predominately grow water-lily and incurved cactus forms of dahlia because they work best for us and in our opinion are the most beautiful. We are also experimenting with informal decorative dahlias with huge blooms. We offer our dahlias on our website at www.CaliforniaOrganicFlowers.com as individual bouquets or in our 12 bunch Dahlia Party Pack which is perfect for decorating a summer party.
When you receive dahlias from California Organic Flowers, they will come with a packet of flower food. Adding flower food is optional but our tests have shown that it adds a day or two to the vase life of our dahlias. Flower food basically contains sugar to feed the flowers, an acidifier to help with the uptake of water and a biocide to control bacterial growth in the sugar rich solution. Some customers have had success with their own flower food concoctions of sugar, lemon juice or vinegar and a drop or two of bleach. Upon arrival simply remove your flowers from the box cut an inch of the bottom of the stems and place in a clean container with fresh water and flower food. With in a few hours your dahlias will puff up and shake off any of the crumpled look they they may have acquired during transit. As with all flowers they will last longer if kept in cool conditions (less than 70 degrees) and out of direct sunlight. Also, changing water every day or two will greatly increase vase life as it reduces the bacterial contamination which can clog flower stems. To view our beautiful Summer Dahlia Collection, go to our Organic Flower Calendar accessible from the home page of our website and look under ‘Summer/Fall Flowers’.
You would think with the plethora of advertisements for rose fertilizers and rose pest control compounds, that it would be impossible to grow roses in your garden organically. But worry not, roses are very hardy plants and given a chance to wean themselves of their dependency on chemicals, they will not only survive but will thrive and bloom with very little care. Roses have humble roots as a wild plant in many parts of the world. They are well adapted to protect themselves from bugs, disease, and of course herbivores.... hence the thorns. Some varieties of roses, particularly Hybrid Tea Roses, have become a little weaker due to extensive breeding work, but they will still thrive under organic cultivation.
Soil is the most important part of any organic system. So in order for your roses to thrive we need to give a fair amount of attention to your soil. If your roses are already planted and have been cultivated with chemicals, your soil is probably devoid of beneficial microorganisms as most chemicals are toxic to microorganisms. With already established plantings, add 2-3 inches of good organic compost mixed with one pound of alfalfa meal and one pound of cottonseed meal to the surface of the soil around each rose bush. Use only good quality compost, if it has bark or sticks in it, it is not compost. Look for compost that looks like coffee grounds and smells sweet like a forest floor. There are many composts out there that do more harm than good so buy from a reputable source. The alfalfa meal will add organic matter and growth compounds, and the cottonseed meal will add slow release nitrogen and is slightly acidic which roses love. If your soil is already naturally acidic (high rainfall areas of the Eastern US and pine forested areas) use canola seed meal instead of cottonseed meal, or just add some ground calcium with your cottonseed meal to buffer the acid. Now, believe it our not you are going to add this mix to your roses 2 or 3 times a year, and boy are they going to love it! The best time to top dress with this organic compost/fertilizer mix is in the spring before bloom and in the fall before the winter rains begin in earnest.
The good news, is that with healthy soil your roses will have very few pests. A healthy plant, like a healthy person, is not prone to diseases and is rarely sick. Since you are feeding your plants a good healthy organic meal they will be healthy and strong. What to do if your roses do get some pests? The most common rose pest are aphids. Oh yuck those nasty aphids! Now, what does everyone do when they see aphids on their roses? Well, they freak out and run around with pesticides and spray the leaves with high pressure hoses. My advice with aphids is simple. Do nothing. In fact be happy that you have aphids, because in an organic system pests attract beneficial insects (think lady bugs) which will voraciously eat up the aphids and then go on to other plants in your garden to find more pests. You see, you want pests in your garden. You want a healthy happy ecosystem doing all the work for you. Once you spray and kill the pests, the beneficial insects will leave and you are left with all the work! What about aphids spreading disease? Remember, you have healthy plants so they will fight off most diseases, just like a healthy person will survive a few mosquito bites. I know, it is a bit of paradigm shift to allow pests in your garden, but just watch, they will come and go and your roses will be no worse for the experience.
There are a zillion ways to prune roses and most methods work well depending on the look you want your rose bushes to have. The one thing I can add is that it helps tremendously to prune your roses so they have adequate air circulation. Fungal diseases breed in humidity, so remove any crossing branches and keep your bushes nice and open and airy.
So there you have it, feed your roses a good meal twice a year, let the bugs do their thing, and watch your roses thrive like never before. Watch as your spindly chemical dependent plants develop nice green foliage and bloom and grow like mad. And enjoy the natural system which takes care of itself, while you relax in a nice healthy garden and enjoy the show.
Spring is a lovely time on the farm. The cold winter rains have quenched our fall plantings of ranunculus, anemone, narcissus, tulips, dutch iris and freesia for many months and now they
are ready to explode with color with the first warmth of the new year. Spring in California is like spring in most of the country, in that it is fickle and sometimes greets us with a sunny smile and at other times sends us scurrying for warm soup. Most of our spring flowers require a long cool (but not cold) period of wet weather to slowly develop their roots and foliage to prepare for warm weather blooming. Like a magicians wand, the warm spring sun encourages the plants to extend their stems and open their buds and reveal the hidden colors that have been hidden in green foliage all winter. As if mother nature knows we need bright colors after the sense dulling colors of winter, spring flowers tend to posses the brightest, purest color of all the year’s flowers.
Ranunculus is a member of the buttercup family which come in a rainbow of brilliant primary colors. Bright red, rich orange, sunny yellow and pure pink radiate from a multi-layered bloom of petals so delicate they look like crepe paper. The delicate petals are deceiving though as ranunculus are very long lasting once cut and arranged in a vase. We grow a lovely ranunculus that is deep dark red and has a wonderfully subtle rose fragrance. In fact, many times, ranunculus is confused with roses because their shape and fragrance is so similar.
Narcissus is the latin name for the genus of all flowers commonly known as daffodils. But, when the name narcissus is used it usually refers to the little fragrant winter flowers more specifically known as tazzetta narcissus. The most common tazzetta narcissus are the beautiful, but somewhat offensive smelling ‘paper whites’. Since ‘paper whites’ have a ‘some love it, some hate it’ scent, we focus on growing the yellow and cream tazzettas which have a lovely fragrance reminiscent of spring hyacinths. Narcissus is best displayed in small clear or silver vases and are perfect for the bedroom or bathroom. I just love the idea of someone in the frigid North East receiving a box of super fragrant Narcissus. Imagine the joyous look on their face when they open the box and are greeted with a blast of that sweet, spicy, earthy fragrance of Narcissus. The perfect cure for the winter doldrums!
Anemone is so beloved on our farm. This lovely member of the buttercup family continues to grow and bloom even when cold rain is falling and the temperatures are struggling to reach 45 degrees. And the colors are so enchanting! The deepest darkest royal purple, dark fire engine red, bright florescent pink, rich merlot and pure white. We ship our anemone ‘in bud’ so that the delicate blooms will not get damaged during shipment. When they arrive they will take 2-3 days to open in a warm room ( they will open very slowly if your house is less than 60 degrees...burrr!). When anemone open they provide you with a dazzling show! Anemone is one of the only flowers that will actually grow in the vase getting taller every day (tulips will also do this). Be sure to add water to anemone every day because they drink LOTS of water, sometimes they will empty the vase every day. But they are very forgiving, if they do run out of water and get a bit wilted, just re-cut the stems and put them back in water and they will perk right up.
Tulips are a flower that everyone knows. Native to Central Asia and made popular by the Dutch, tulips are wonderfully simple in form and perfect in contemporary settings. We like to grow the taller more elegant ‘French’ tulips. The Dutch prefer to call them single late tulips and are a bit perplexed as to how the French were able to get their country’s name on
a Dutch bred tulip! But whatever the name, they have magnificent large blooms with long willowy stems that will announce ‘spring’ to all that are graced by their presence. Tulips will move and grow in a vase creating an ever changing display. Expect tulips to grow in length by 50% during their life in a vase.
Dutch Iris are very popular with our customers at the Chico Farmer’s Market as well as on our website. We sell them in ‘pencil stage’ with just a tip of color showing at the top of the stem. Over the course of several days, the tip enlarges and then unfolds into a dramatic orchid like bloom. Many times a second bloom follows the first creating a long lived display. We grow the classic dark blue iris as well as yellow, and our favorite ‘eye of the tiger’ which has a bronze tongue with royal purple petals and a yellow highlighted throat.... very exotic!
The winner of the award for best fragrance in a spring flower must belong to Freesia. I describe the fragrance as apricot jam with a touch of black pepper. It is a gentle pleasant fragrance which everyone (even the fragrance sensitive folks) seem to enjoy. We only grow bright yellow freesia called ‘dukaat’ because in addition to a having a lovely color, it is
the most fragrant of all the varieties. Freesias have many buds on each stem which bloom in succession creating a
long lasting display.
Spring flowers love cool spring weather and loath the onset of summer. Generally they are only available during February, March and April before the hot days have arrived. So enjoy them while you can, they are Mother Nature’s way of rewarding you for enduring the long grey winter! www.californiaorgnanicflowers.com