What do Flower Farmers do in Winter?

There's no punchline to this! It must be said that a Farmer Florist in winter is a much more chilled out creature than one in Spring and Summer. I'm so lucky here in the Hawke's Bay to experience very mild winters. I often marvel at all the jobs I can get done in winter compared to my experience in England. Here I can still be planting out Perennials and Hardy Annuals like Nigella and Foxgloves. In England you would have been hard pushed to find me anywhere but in front of the fire with a cup of tea come the colder months. As for digging! Forget it! The ground would be unworkable. So what am I up to at the moment....

I've planted out all of my Sweet Pea Solstice variety. These were sown all the way back in April on Easter Monday. I like doing certain jobs on certain days of the year. I think I'll accumulate more of these as my experience grows. Some of my sweet peas are in the green house and some are outside in the vege garden keeping the brassicas company. The supports are all in place so I'm just sitting back and watching them grow at the moment. Interestingly they've survived a good few frosts. May and July seem to be the frostiest months here.

I've also started to harden up some of my February/March/April sown seeds. It's sounds a bit tough to 'harden up' your plants. I promise I don't line them up and shout at them to 'drink a glass of cement and harden up' (a favourite kiwi saying)! I merely pop them in a sunny spot on my veranda in the day and then move them closer to the house for protection at night. This gently accumulates them to the harsh reality of living outside the greenhouse. It also makes for a tough, sturdy little plant that will do it's very best for you. It's best not to skip this bit; if you've taken lots of trouble to nurture a seed to germinate you may as well take a bit of time to finish the job properly. If you're really dedicated you may like to gently stroke your seedlings back and forth. Sounds totally bonkers but it toughens them up too (I read it on the internet so it must be true...:-) Also, a little chat to pass the time of day is supposed to benefit our leafy friends too....well if it's good enough for Prince Charles!

The plants that are being hardened off at the moment include many varieties of scabiosa (I really think I could have direct sown these tough little cookies), sage clary, meadowsweet, ammi majus, foxgloves, nigella , honesty and yarrow. I also have some baby Icelandic poppies that have just germinated. I bring these inside at night time. I can't wait to grow these papery, blowsy beauties! I've got a few more in my green house that I'll harden off in a few days. Greenhouse Maintenance is quite the juggling act!

The other HUGE job for a Flower Farmer is to concentrate on adding nutrients back into the soil. If your garden has spent all summer feeding flowers to bloom for you then you will need to return the favour and add more nutrients back into the soil. I'm a big fan of chicken poo and I have an endless supply of it thanks to my eight little chickadees that pootle around the garden with me. When I clean out their coop I rake all the poo into a bucket and when it's full plonk it onto the garden. I also use some blood and bone in the Spring to get those roots fizzing with life.

If you want my biggest tip of all for managing a Cutting Garden it's this; mulch. Mulch everywhere you can. If you only do one thing then mulch. Why? Well, it'll cut down on the weeds and it'll keep moisture in and the worms will drag nutrients down into the soil. It might seem like a daunting task but it's well worth it. May was my mulching month. I still have a bit more to do because I had some self seeded Larkspurs that popped up which I want to re-home. Once I've done that I'll mulch the bed and leave it until Spring.

Of course the other massive job that will be consuming me this winter is Planning What to Grow; my favourite job of all. I already have a good idea of what this will be based on the successes and failures of last year. However, I always like to experiment with new plants and I really need a good Succession Plan for the coming season so that I spread my harvest from October-April. I like to have a shoebox for each month and I divide the seed packets according to when they need to be sown. After sowing I check when it next needs to be sown and pop it in the appropriate box. I'll blog about that in more detail next time. Enjoy finding that patch of sunshine in your garden and happy mulching!

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