It’s Thanksgiving Eve, 5am. I’m wrapped up in a cozy blanket with our Christmas tree lights setting the room aglow. I decided on a faux tree this year despite my love for real trees and the experience of choosing one. I think in the back of my mind this was the simpler way to go after a beautiful, but stressful, season on the farm. This morning I’m diving into lessons I’ve learned in my first few years of flower farming.
Mother Nature is in Control
Here in Upstate NY Zone 5a the weather has many extremes. Everyone in this area jokes each year about the unpredictability of our climate. “Only in upstate NY will it be 25°F and snowing on May 2 and 80°F and scorching sun May 3.” Everyone posts about the “crazy” weather and extreme differences in temperature as if they are shocked each year, but that’s just how it’s been for as long as I can remember!
Our last frost date is generally around the third week of May. It’s always a busy week hardening off the seedlings outdoors and prepping the beds for transplant time. There’s a very fine line between the cool night temps that often dip below 50°F and the high daytime temps. As a farmer or home gardener, you have to time it right so you don’t shock, cook, or freeze the baby plants. This year was no different and the moment the nighttime temperatures were high enough to transplant the seedlings, the daytime temperatures shot up into the high 80s! May 22 had a low temp of 33°F (brrr) and May 26 was a high of 86°F.
The first three weeks after I transplanted thousands of seedlings, we had zero rain. For the first time in my life I was praying for rain, staring at the sky, watching potential rain clouds pass by without letting one drop fall. My drip irrigation system was set up, but it is fed by rainfall. We tried filling the tanks from our home water well, but you can only take so much before the well runs dry.
The clouds above finally heard me and boy, did they deliver. We had rain almost every single day in June and July. Downpours. I did not use my drip irrigation for the rest of the summer as everything was drowning. The dahlias started blooming a month later than planned due to lack of sunshine and wet conditions. I started panicking that the tubers underground would rot before I had a single bloom. The stress of the weather and less than ideal growing season so far put me in a bad head space. Everyday I woke up immediately stressing over the weather for the day. It took a toll on myself and my husband. Our slogan for the summer became a sarcastic “Farming is fun!”
August finally came and most everything had survived the swamp that was June and July. My café au laits started blooming and it reminded me why I do this. Their beauty is undefeated and they bring so much joy to everyone who sees them. Finally, my stress melted away and I was excited to get these blooms into your hands. Mother Nature: not so fast! Bring in a viscous storm to devastate exactly three streets, including the one Fleur Flower Farm lives on! Bring down huge trees & pummel the dahlias with golf ball sized hail.
I returned from a weekend away to a devastated farm that my husband was frantically trying to pick up the pieces of. After such a hard season so far, the storm defeated the farmer as well. I woke up on my birthday to rain, staring out at a mess of bruised flowers and broken stems.
before the storm^
after the storm^
After a few weeks of picking up the pieces of the farm, cutting down what wasn’t salvageable, and a few glasses of rosé, the flowers and the farmer bounced back. The dahlias bloomed prolifically and bouquets flew out the barn doors (actually the barn doesn’t have doors, but that sounds better). Always remember that the garden is resilient- a lot of what was destroyed in the storm started growing back within a week. The Apple of Peru had beautiful, bright green growth and usable stems before the end of the season. All dahlias were dead headed and guess what?! New blooms formed as they always do. The 5-6’ tall quinoa redhead broke it’s stakes and wasn’t salvageable- but guess what?! I hated the stuff! Thank you and goodbye to you, quinoa.
This may sound like a sad story, and believe me, there were some very sad girl days, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Mother Nature is in control. You cannot control the weather no matter how much you beg the sky to cooperate. You just have to learn how to weather the storm, literally and figuratively. In seasons to come, as hard as it may be, I knew I needed to do everything in my power to stay in a good head space. Flowers are supposed to bring joy and they are an escape from the day to day stresses. If you ever find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this anymore! Why do I do this?! I can’t possibly pick up this mess and continue the season,” take a day or two off from farming. Give yourself some grace and do something for you. Sit on the couch. Light a candle. Watch that show you’ve been wanting to start. Get a massage- you need one. Visit with friends. Go to brunch. Take a nap. The flowers aren’t going anywhere and you’ll be a happier, more productive, clear-headed farmer when you return.