Flower Farm – Summer Report for 2023-’24

It’s just after 7:30am and I’ve just come inside inspecting the dahlia’s in my flower breeding program. Every morning and evening I visit the plants to see if anything has flowered for the first time and harvest any ripe seed pods there may be. The growing area is about 5m x 5m and there are only about 250 dahlia’s this year. Next year the breeding program will expand to include the seedlings I grew in 2023 as well as about a thousand seedlings I plan to raise in 2024.

I am excited because I will be sowing my own seed, rather than sourcing it from someone else. I will sow seed from several of the best seedlings I have raised and improving on those to develop new cultivars. So far there are only about 3 seedlings that are eye-catching. The rest are nice but not amazing.

As an experiment, I have also selected one of the ‘reject’ dahlias that flower breeders would discard as it has deformed flowers, lacks symmetry and has poor coloring. I have sown about 100 seeds from this plant despite it being late in the season and near Autumn. I want to see what flowers result from a reject, a flower with poor genetics. This is to satisfy a curiosity I have about genetics and a hunch that our current beliefs that genetics are “the basic building blocks of life” is not quite accurate. I’ve seen many examples that suggest this is not the case and so I am conducting an experiment to test an alternate theory.

From among the more promising seedlings is an apricot / yellow daisy-type that has pendulous flowers. I’ve nicknamed this one ‘Sorrow” ( pictured above ) for the time being and plan to develop a breeding line using seed from this plant. Flowers are long lasting and it’s quite a stand out from the rest. I plan to sow seed from it each year and develop a cultivar. I’m not sure what I will get but the aim is to create ‘breeding lines’ to develop certain traits.

In this case, seedlings with pendulous flowers, perhaps with larger blooms.

Other than intentional breeding of dahlia’s, I’m also letting the bees pollinate flowers and see what happens. This ‘wild mix’ of dahlia’s could produce anything, tall or short, big blooms or small and of any color. It’s truly random.

I’ve started harvesting seed and have actually begun selling packets of seed to help fund the flower farm. I sold my first packet the other day. I sell it under the name of ‘bee and beneficial insect mix’ as it’s good for people who want to add forage plants in the garden for insects.

Later on I will sell seed from specific cultivars but for now am offering a bee mixture to begin with. That’s the state of the breeding program. Let’s talk about the cut flower trials of commercial varieties.

The dahlia tubers I purchased from plant catalogues was a disaster. Only about 50% of them actually sprouted and grew. My aim was to grow about 100 varieties this years, try them as cut flowers and select the best to propagate from. With such low numbers my plan has been set back a year and I will have to try again next growing season.

The whole experience was eye opening and I plan to write to the suppliers and report the low yields. I’ve grown a lot of plants over the years but it seems that dahlia growers are selling teeny, tiny pieces of tubers that may or may not be viable for top dollar. I plan to write a buyers guide to dahlia’s to prevent gardeners from falling into the same trap; a trap that cost me about $800 AUD in losses.

My experience has prompted me to sell dahlia tubers, when I have them available, by weight. Just like seed. By pricing tubers by weight, customers will know how much bulk they are buying and not be subject to little finger sized pieces that I received by mail order.

Of the 6 nurseries I sourced from, only 2 offered anything decent. One of the best suppliers was the hardware store where I could select fist-sized tubers and see what I was buying. Niche dahlia farms failed the test and one of Australia’s most well known bulb farms provided dried out tubers that needed to be soaked for 48 hours to revive them.

This year I will source tubers from growers at the dahlia society, ask for fist-sized tubers when buying online and breed my own. Lesson learned.

Other than dahlia’s, I grew a trial batch of about 200 lilliums and they were a smashing success compared. Taking up a fraction of the footprint of dahlia’s, the lilliums flowered exceptionally well. I pollinated them and am waiting on the seed to ripen. So in a year of two I will have my own varieties. Lilliums are easy to grow and propagate a number of ways. I will be offering them in the flower catalogue for sale when I have assessed the flowers I bred.

Gladioli was the 3rd crop I grew. While I flowered them, I was less than impressed with them as a cut flower. There were a number of problems that told me to keep them for personal enjoyment and not grow them commercially. Not until I have refrigeration at least.

Aside from dahlia’s, lilliums and gladdy’s, I grew a trial crop of feverfew as a cut flower. What a winner! It outlasts everything in terms of vase life and flowers hold for 2 weeks! They produce large sprays of tiny daisies and are a perfect ‘filler flower’ in a bunch. They grow easily and can be mass produced. It’s a flower not many flower farmers grow which is mind boggling.

Okay, I think that’s about it. We’re mid-season and there will be more news to report when we’re wrapping up the growing season for Winter. With the fallure ( and expense ) of commercial dahlia’s this year, it has motivated me to breed my own varieties and grow them from seed instead of sourcing from other growers. I think I will specialize in breeding flowers and selling off surplus as flower bunches rather than focus on being a cut flower grower.

Breeding your own flowers is much more fun and a magical experience so I think I will concentrate my efforts there in future. And create some floral art in my spare time.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to read the report I wrote at the start of the growing season, click here.

P.s. If you’d like a packet of of dahlia seed, click here.

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