If you haven’t already done so, please read the FFY Introduction.
September Farm Tasks Overview
Here’s a breakdown of what we’re covering in September:
- Slow Down
- Bulbs, Corms, Peonies
- Flower Pop-Up Bar
- Business & Taxes: Keeping up with bookkeeping
You guys, we made it to September! If you’re in the southern hemisphere, I hope you’re enjoying the excitement of spring but here in the northern hemisphere we entering into fall.
Personally, I’m of mixed emotions. This season has had many ups and downs for me. I’m feeling a bit of sadness for the things I did not accomplish but so much gratitude for the things we did do. I know the dreamer in me is ready to start scheming for next year, but I’m also taking this time to slow down. It’s not really a conscious choice, if I’m totally honest, I’m a bit run down from trying to keep up with the farm amidst a busy travel schedule.
I know from past experience that October into November will be intense on the farm with all the dahlia lifting and fall planting, so I’m allowing myself to coast into next month. I’m still taking flower orders but no more events and I want to enjoy every last bit of those beautiful dahlias before frost. As September closes out, I’m letting go of the remorse for things undone. I’ll let that energy settle and then direct it toward the busy fall season ahead.
While I haven’t ordered any dahlias yet, some growers are already starting to have their tuber sales. Be sure to check dahliaaddict.com for upcoming sales.
If you are ordering bulbs, corms, and bareroot peonies retail, fall is the time to do so! We’ll be having our own sale coming up and you received a code for 20% off in your inbox 🙂 Others I know that have sales are The Farmhouse Flower Farm, Bloomchick Flower Co, and The Flower Hat. If you have the ability to order wholesale, the Little Farmhouse Flowers currently has availability at wholesale prices.
While their sale is not until October, I wanted to call out Farmer Bailey Plugs. On Monday, October 2 at Noon ET/9am PT their site will be restocked with annual and perennial plugs for Spring 2024 shipping. While they don’t expect everything to sell out right away, I wanted to make sure it was on your radar if you plan to order from them. Directly from their site:
We don’t believe in stress-y, scarcity-driven marketing. We won’t hit capacity for the busiest part of the season on the first day of the restock, so don’t panic.
That said, some items will sell quickly. If you are keen to purchase perennials, do so as soon as possible on October 2. Some of these large, vernalized perennial plugs take 12-18 months to grow and aren’t easily or quickly restocked.
We’re sowing a few things for overwinter trials. In September, Agrostemma, Saponaria, and Feverfew.
Other than the dahlias and sunflowers, thing our slowing down. Our biggest focus for harvest are the dahlias, lisianthus, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, amaranth, grasses, and whatever else I can manage.
This portion was also in last month’s task list, but it’s important to call out for new folks, because this is a majority of what my life looks like during the fall, especially September:
For me, dahlias are a year-round plant. Right now, they are taking center stage and the majority of our efforts for the remainder of the season will be geared toward them. We harvest dahlias about every three days. This means that the blooms are always at the right stage and aren’t left to go to seed. Similarly, this ensures a steady supply of blooms because the plants are not putting energy into producing seeds.
Interestingly, Kristine Albrecht has explained that this is also super important for tuber production. Plants prioritize flowers and seeds, with only excess nutrients going into tuber production. She states, “Suppose a dahlia plant is not deadheaded, and its flowers go to seed. In that case, the seeds will consume the lion’s share of the nutrients, leaving little excess for tuber production.” For this reason, disbudding, cutting blooms regularly, and deadheading old blooms is important for robust tuber production.
Because tuber production is an important part of our business, both for our own production as well as our dahlia tuber sale, we not only keep them deadheaded, but we’re also focused on monitoring plant health throughout the season, culling anything suspicious. We also do periodic testing for dahlia virus, but we usually keep this reserved for the end of the season (as disease can be passed on after a positive test). You can purchase at-home tests for some of the more-common varieties from Agdia. Similarly, we’re culling anything that is displaying a decline in genetics, such as open centers, or varieties that were mixups (especially if it was one we ordered and cannot identify).
We are double checking labels and cataloging: photos as well as keeping notes of plant traits and characteristics. With over 250 varieties, it’s a massive undertaking, but photographing and cataloging dahlias is one of my favorite parts of the job. They will be so helpful come winter when I can start organizing it all and writing descriptions.
We’re also working through our second round of labeling. Each plant has a metal stake/label (I take a photo of this before photographing the actual flower). Before frost, I go through and label each plant again with flagging tape. This helps ensure against label mixups. The flagging tape is also great for color coding, since Matt and I both work with the dahlias. If I label a variety green, that means it it was true to variety and I would consider selling it (based on positive characteristics but depending on tuber production). Pink means to hold back from sale, whether I don’t feel there is enough or want to monitor the variety for longer. Orange is for any variety in a patch that was incorrect (whether a mistake on our end or one that was sent to us by mistake).
Bulbs, Corms, Peonies
While we are not fall planting yet, I’m closely monitoring these orders from the wholesaler for backordered items, substitutions, and/or cancellations (we order through Ball and Onings). This is not only important for our own production but also for our upcoming fall bulb sale.
So far, we’ve had zero issues with backordered items for ranunculus and anemones (in fact, they have all been delivered). However, there have been many reports from the wholesalers that bulb production was tricky this year due to the weather. Some bulbs have been delivered, some delivery dates have been pushed back, and others are simply on backorder.
If you order wholesale, it’s important to be on top of communication, because they’ll often sub items and you have to be prepared to tell them you don’t want the sub if it doesn’t work for your production (sometimes I find the subs are beautiful varieties but after further research they are super short).
Flower Pop-Up Bar
Something new we did this year was a pop-up flower bar, and if I am honest, I am surprised how much I enjoyed it! It not only was a success as far as sales, but also a fun way to connect with our local community. For this month’s post, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far to make this revenue stream a successful one for you business.
A location with a lot of foot traffic is key. Our last two pop-ups have been at a local clothing boutique (Dale’s) right in downtown La Crosse. La Crosse is about a 35 minute drive for us, but it is a much bigger city compared to my hometown. Although I have shopped at Dale’s for years, I was honestly shocked how many people stop in on a daily basis.
This is not something I thought would matter since we’re inside, but Dale told me it can definitely have an impact (and he was right). During one of our pop-ups, it stormed in the afternoon and there were definitely way less people that came in during that timeframe. It’s hard to control the weather, but it is something just to be aware of.
You want to hype people up for your event. I always send out a newsletter and post to social media (both you and the location you’re doing the pop-up at should do this . . . mutually beneficial). And this can be whatever/however is comfortable for you! If you’re not that into marketing, just be honest with your people. I literally asked folks to not let me stand alone awkwardly with a bunch of flowers 🙂
I was surprised how many people came down that get our weekly flowers or read our newsletter that I had not met in person. It was fun putting faces to names and connecting with folks who support our small farm. Even though it can feel out of my comfort zone prior to the event, in the moment I am reminded how important connection is and these have been moments of overwhelming positivity for me.
Flowers & Flower Display
Dahlia season is actually a really great time of year to do a pop-up. Dahlias need to be harvested either way, so for me, it felt less risky than bringing flowers that are typically only brought out of the cooler to order (like peonies or tulips). It’s not that I wouldn’t do a pop-up with those flowers, I just felt like the dahlias were less of a risk for my first one because they needed to be cut either way. I also felt like I could pack the display full for visual impact. I still used other blooms like lisianthus, sunflowers, zinnias, etc., but it was definitely heavy on dahlias (which are a real wow factor either way).
And you want visual impact! I believe in letting the flowers speak for themselves 🙂 We considered making a display but ended up getting this one from Amazon. I was worried it might be chintzy, but it was very sturdy and works well (it has wheels and easily collapses for transport). My only slight complaint is that the buckets are SO TALL. I ended up adding chicken wire balls for the bottom so that the flowers would have more height, but this also made the buckets hard to transport. We have this seminole peg system for transporting flowers (which I love) but the buckets were still a bit tippy (Matt plans on making some type of support for them when driving in the future).
For visual impact, I decided to concentrate colors for each bucket and then displaying them in a rainbow or ombre pattern. Fall ombre one was my favorite, but I unfortunately do not have a single photo of that one (much like weddings, I don’t have much for photos of the first either, some videos in story highlight here). People seemed to like the colors concentrated though. Even if they don’t buy flowers, I truly enjoyed seeing people connect with them (I cannot tell you how many people commented on the perfect symmetry in dahlias and seeing the color range of flowers . . . maybe this connection is that first spark).
Supplies & Logistics
You need to consider how you are going to run your pop-up bar. For ours, I decided that each flower would be sold by the stem with most things in the $2–3 range. When people came up I told them that they could either make their own bouquet OR they could tell me how much they wanted to spend, the color palette/vibe they were after, and I would make one for them.
For the DIYers, I assured them there was no wrong way to do it and to not be shy. I also told people not to worry about breaking a stem or flower (and that I, myself, broke multiple already that day). If something breaks, we just toss it (this is not a “you break it you buy it” type of scenario).
Instead of making up bouquets ahead of time, I liked just having flowers in the display by the stem. I think it cuts down on labor but also gives people a lot of freedom with their choices and how much they want to spend. I also think it was key in allowing people to feel comfortable. Many people did not feel like they could put together flowers and preferred that I do it (and they had fun watching or pointing out ones they liked).
Aside from the display itself, you’ll need a way to communicate prices. I just used these chalkboard stickers which have been super easy to re-use. You’ll also need supplies for wrapping bouquets. So, I had my normal kraft paper wraps, but I also brought ecowraps in case people were shopping or had other errands to run. So, I had ecowraps (and a bucket of water to soak the wraps), compostable doggy bags to wrap the eco wrap, rubber bands to secure the bouquets, kraft paper to wrap the entire bouquet, and twine to secure the wrap (the wraps have our stickers with our farm name and website). I also include compostable flower food. Snips and a bucket for flower scraps is also key.
I also brought farm swag (hats!) and business cards with a discount QR code to get people on our newsletter.
Finally, people need a way to pay! They could either pay in cash (so a purse with smaller bills is necessary) or with a card. Our online shop runs through Shopify, and they offer a card reader and point of sale option that can all be run through any mobile device.
As much as I want to be, I’m not a great salesperson, HA! I can talk flowers and talk to just about anyone, but selling myself is just not my strong suit. But Dale?! Dale is a master salesman. He constantly told customers about me, our farm, our flowers, and our story. Every person that came in he was sure to tell them all about us and I definitely think this made a big difference. If you can find a partner in a location who is also a great salesperson, this can be incredibly helpful (though, of course, you can certainly be your own salesperson). I found that we both hyped each other’s businesses up (for me, it’s easier to talk someone else up), so I think we both came out of it feeling it was mutually beneficial.
Business & Taxes
I originally removed this so as not to be redundant each month, but I’m thinking it’s important to keep it in:
Every month, I review our income and expenses and apply the profit first method (at least, that’s my goal). If you haven’t read the book, I highly suggest it, but basically for everything that comes in (revenue) you are making target allocation percentages for things like profit, owner’s comp, taxes, and expenses.
It’s actually recommended to do this twice a month, but I honestly consider it a win if I do it once and bonus twice. If those terms are foreign, that’s OK (they were for me too). He breaks it all down in a simple (and even entertaining) way. My only regret with this method is not starting it sooner. It’s given me more confidence as a business owner, especially as I do not come from an entrepreneurial family. If you’re not ready to dive on into the book, it’s important to understand your income and expenses. I don’t even use a fancy system like quickbooks, just a spreadsheet!
OK, my friend, that is IT for September. What do you think? Did you find some useful nuggets? Is there anything that’s unclear or you wish I would have covered?
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Have any questions or something you want to share with me or others? I know I say this ad nauseam, but I truly believe in the power of the collective and that we all have something unique and powerful to share, so please leave a question or share a comment below. We’re all better for it, and I thank you in advance!