Here we are a three weeks into the new year. Lots of tomato starts up as well as a newer pansy variety (plentifall mix, trailing pansy) already seeded and sprouting. We’re waiting for our first plug delivery only 6 days away. Waiting for plugs to a nursery person is like Christmas to an 8 year old. All of the plans, orders and dreams made back in September of last year will begin coming to light this week. It’s like the nurseryman/nurserywoman experiences a rebirth every year at this time. A new chance to repopulate our local environment with another batch of amazing flowers.
First I need to make room for my flats and baskets in a clean greenhouse (the clean part took 2 days). Then start filling the flats for the incoming plugs. 25 pots to a flat 4 flats equal 100 plants. First shipment is 932 plants of trailing petunias. Also the same day an order of Begonias, Fuchsias and Lewisia. That’s 37 flats for the petunias alone.
Above are the first flats for the Calibrachoa’s. This is where an old dog learns a new trick. After filling this many flats with soil so that I can get the Cali’s off to a good start I realize that I am going to use 3 bales of $30 soil. That’s .096 cents per pot worth of soil.These bales are costing more and shrinking every year. It used to cost right around 5 cents to fill a pot. This is where the new trick part comes in.( I’m the old dog by the way)
Screw it, I’m going to plant directly into the baskets this year. I used to do it this way years ago but fell into the habit of starting in 3 1/2″ pots over the years and like a crappy bank I have stuck with it. Well I now have a nice local bank that I can put the money that I save on soil into. I emptied all of those pots into baskets and will plug directly into them.
This method will save some money but has some of it’s own problems. When you have a larger mass of soil it stays wet longer thereby giving those tender rooted cuttings more of a chance to rot. I will water in the baskets this week so that they will have a chance to settle in and let the top dry slightly. Then when I plant the plugs I can water in each basket lightly. This will help me control the dampness (I thinks that’s a word) in the top couple of inches of soil. I will incorporate a fungicide into the first watering to help stave off any fungal disease. Then it’s a matter of keeping the air moving constantly in the greenhouses. I use a box fan at each end blowing in opposite directions.
I have been guilty of saving money on heat and over the last couple of years I have paid for it by having my production slowed greatly. I am used to running the greenhouse temps at night between 50 and 55 degrees. After talking to the begonia expert at my supplier I plan to hold 60 to 65 this year. He says the begonias will jump out of the pots at 65. We’ll See.
Below are a few baskets I have done over the last couple of years. I lost pictures of hundreds of others. I will be refilling my media library this year as I produce more baskets. The first basket is a trailing Begonia, it is in the illumination series. This one and the apricot are my absolute best sellers. If I had the patience to hold on to them until they were in the shape this one is I’m sure I could get $25-$30 each.
These like more shade than sun and will keep blooming until into October.They are fairly easy to grow. If you keep them on the dry side and give them a systemic pesticide to keep the bugs down you can produce an awesome basket. These also like very good air circulation to keep them from rotting, and warm nighttime temps (65 degrees) to get them really growing fast.
The next on is a repeat from an earlier post. It is a combo Fuchsia with Bacopa and Lobelia.
Kind of hard to see because of the background.This basket has about $3.50 worth of plugs in it and is a sure seller. .I use 12″ plastic baskets with plastic hangers. I used to use the pulp baskets but they have gotten too costly for me. Plastic seems to produce a basket that is just as nice as the pulp pots.
Above are the combo of the Supertunias I mentioned in an earlier post, these are deceiving, as pretty as they look now these are the baskets that I mentioned that went to hell this year. I will be replacing as many as possible for customers that bought them and then had bad luck with them. Can you guess how many Supertunias I will be doing this coming year? If you guessed zero you win. Note the patio pots below the baskets.Those are mixes with geraniums and some other odds and ends like strawflower or yellow marigolds and Euphorbia.
Continuing with growing plants today. I mentioned that I get my first plugs of the year delivered in early January. This coming year those will be my begonia starts, both trailing and upright. I will get my fuchsia starts at the same time. We’ll do the fuchsias first. I end up selling fuchsias in different ways 3 1/2″ pots,combo baskets and straight fuchsia baskets. Since I use them in different ways I will plant all of them into 3 1/2″ pots as soon as I get them. This is a good time to pinch for the first time.Pinch out the center stem with the top couple of leaves. This break will cause two new branches to come off of the main stem. Once the plugs have grown into the 3 1/2″ pots and the roots are well established you can move the to your baskets. This is also a good time to pinch again. Find where your last pinch was and follow the two stems out to their ends,then go back down the branch a couple of sets of leaves and pinch there.The straight baskets can be all one variety or a mix. When I do a straight basket I will use 4 fuchsia starts to the basket. Fill the basket to the top with soil, water it in then make four holes with your finger. If the roots are starting to get rootbound you can loosen them up some. Plant the four plugs so the soil level of the plug ends up even or just below the soil in the basket. With a multi color basket I will usually put two plugs of different colors into the basket and sometimes I like to add a trailing lobelia to the center of the basket. This really perks it up if you use the trailing blue. In my combos I will mix two like fuchsias with a Bacopa and a trailing mixed lobelia. This is my best seller. I will pinch everything in the basket again once it is established and actively growing. If something starts to look rangy and you have a few weeks before your planned sale dates you can selectively pinch again. This works good in theory but I usually forget until it’s too late then kick myself and say I will remember next time. I don’t.
10'x10' demo @Portland Home and Garden Show
If you are doing to sell the fuchsias in 3 1/2″ pots you can plan on pinching three times or more. Begonias are kind of tricky. They like warm night temps and require some extra day length. They don’t like wet soil and like air movement to keep them from starting to rot. Fuchsia have several problems in growing but it helps a lot if ou can keep good air flow around them. Aphids love fuchsias. This is usually the first place I will see them in the greenhouse for the year. The first thing you will see is what looks like little white aphid skins. They are. I’m not an expert in aphids but this seems to be one step in their growth pattern. The next way you will see them they will be a nice fat green bug with the biggest being the size of the head or a pin or slightly larger. They really like the soft fleshy underside of the newer leaves. You will find hundreds of babies around them SQUISH THEM ALL. Then get a pesticide like Bayer’s Rose care with systemic Pesticide. Use about one teaspoon to 3 or 4 3 1/2″pots and a light tablespoon for 12″ baskets. I apply this systemic to the whole flat trying to keep it away from the base of the plant then water in the whole flat. As this product gets into the plants system the aphids will get it into their system from sucking it out of the plant. If you see aphids the first thing you do though is SQUISH THEM ALL with your fingers, then do the pesticide. There is also a magic product out there called Marathon. I think the patent may have run out so there are cheaper varieties of it too. Check with a greenhouse supply place for it. This product gets sprinkled over the soil in each pot and works the same way. It is touted to last several months, It seem to last about a month and a half for me. That means you have to apply it at least twice before you sell your plants.
The begonia is kind of a picky plant. It’s probably best to hold off on these for now. There are plenty of things you can grow from plugs and seed without having all the problems. Don’t discount them completely though, when something is harder to grow you can usually get a premium price for it.
Wish I hadn’t lost most of my pictures when my computer crashed, I had some nice ones of my geraniums. Geraniums is one of the easiest plants to grow for market. You get the plugs put them into 4″ pots stick them in a corner somewhere fertilize and water them and before you know it they are ready to sell. This is one of the most problem free plants that I grow. I don’t know why more people don’t grow them for market. If you keep the dead leaves picked off and fertilize once a month they seem to take care of themselves. At the Friday market I do there is only one other person selling Zonal Geraniums. At the much bigger Saturday market there are only 4 or 5 selling them and 3 of those are nurseries that sell at market.
Make sure that you do Zonal Geraniums. The seed type geranium isn’t as showy and the person that does Gerans. on a regular basis knows the difference. You can order Geranium cuttings from any broker or Park Seed Wholesale usually in units of 50 or 100. I plant mine around the end of Feb. or early March. They have few pests and like to grow on the dry side. You can sell these in 4″ pots or combos. I like to mix mine in 12″ patio pots with Euphorbia Diamond Frost and some blue lobelia. This makes a nice 4th of July pot. The lobelia does seem to get a little ugly if they are in the hot sun so let the customer know that they may want to cut it back or rip it out when it starts to go downhill. By late summer the geranium and diamond frost will have completely filled in the pot and they won’t miss the lobelia.
The end of January is the time to start tomato seeds if you plan on selling gallon tomatoes. This gives you a chance to get them up to a good size and also start cooling them down. Sometimes I do get the itch too soon and start planting tomatoes in the end of December, last year I had some really nice bushy plants though by the time the weather co-operated and it was time to sell them. I even shifted some of them up into 3 gallon pots and sold them for up to $10.My goal is to have my gallon tomatoes outside (protected from frost) for a week or two before taking them to market. First they go into a cool house.I have a couple of houses that are only heated to around 35 degrees so that’s where the gallons go until they go outside. If you don’t have that luxury you can section off the greenhouse so that you have a cool area at the back. I’ve found that when I section my house off with the cooler end at the back it is usually 10 degrees or so cooler than the front heated part. I loke to wait until mid march or so to start some of my other veggie starts. I always plant my Zucchini and other squashes too early and find that the seeds I start in mid april start and grow much faster. I just can’t help myself.
Tomorrow we will cover some of the things like succulents, cactus and some indoor plants that are easy and free to start like Angel Wing Begonias.
We’ll talk about growing today. What do you want to grow? How much room do you have? Have you got a greenhouse or are you going to start your plants in your garage, or on top of your refrigerator ? How many market days do would you like to attend? Do you want to start early in the season or wait until it warms up a bit? How much room do you have to spread your starts out once they are ready to be shifted up? Do you have a place to hang baskets? Should you even grow baskets?
Lets start with something easy. One plant that is looked down upon by other vendors is the lowly Marigold. Great there is your first opportunity. Everything nowadays is about new plants. The trailing petunias and all of their counterparts, the fancy cutting grown patented plants that you have to pay someone else to start for you. And you do have to pay them. These patented varieties are protected by the plug industry by surprise on site inspection. When you sign up with a broker you agree to not propagate any of their plants from your own cuttings. It took me 15 years in the nursery business before the first plant inspector showed up but when they did I was clean and not growing anything except what I had bought from them. If I had they could have basically black-balled me and my nursery from ever being able to order patented plugs again.
Okay back to Marigolds. I order my seed from Park Seed Wholesale at least a month before planting time. I start my Marigolds in start early March. I start some plugs as early as early January. I take a 10″x20″ planting flat that usually holds the pots and line the bottom with plastic or newspaper fill it full of my good planting mix, Sunshine #4, water the flat in until its damp for the first couple of inches then spread the seed around the top of the flat. I try to cover the soil with a pretty good layer of seed, not so much that the seed is stacked up on top of the other seed but close. After I have a layer without a bunch of empty spots in it I cover the seed with a quarter inch of soil and gently water it in again. Cover the flat with plastic and put it in the hot bed that we discussed before. As soon as they sprout take the plastic off and move them to the cool end of the bed. After two weeks you can move the flat onto a bench and watch them grow. When they are big enough to transplant I take the flat and start ripping the nicely rooted plants out of the flat and shift them up to 3 1/2″ pots. I put one per pot but you could use two. My 17″ square flats hold 25 pots so I might get 6 full flats of 3 1/2″ plants from that one open flat of starts. I sell mine at market at two for a buck. They cost me about 15 cents to produce which nets me 35 cents times 25 per flat times six flats times probably 5 crops out of the one quarter ounce of seed. I’ll let you do the math. The thing about these plants though is not the profit but the fact that everyone can relate to the Marigold., usually from their past. They also serve as great color at the front of my stall and they don’t take up a lot of room while starting, growing or selling. Another nice thing is that folks rarely buy one plant at a time. It’s usually at least 4 or 6 and often the whole flat.
Before Planting Day
We just mentioned room to grow. How do you plan to grow. Greenhouse or some other shelter. I highly recommend a good quality greenhouse with benches for growing. I would recommend that though as I sell what I consider to be an above average quality Greenhouse Kit. If you haven’t got one go to.stevesgreenhouses.com/and you can look at mine.Yes they are ups shippable. Some folks will start enough plugs/liners and seeds to fill up their greenhouse,don’t do that. You have to remember that they are going to take up at least 3 times as much bench space once you shift them up into their finishes pots Four six packs of tomato starts will fill up one whole 17″x17′” flat. That is a standard sized flat. There are two the 10″x20″ ,that is the size most of your plugs will come in but I like the 17″ square because it holds 25 31/2″ pots and 16 4″ pots. This will hold true for almost anything you do from seed. I do my veggie starts in 4″ pots. That way I can take a half of a flat of several different varieties of veggies and not have a whole flat of just acorn squash.
After Planting,full house
If you are going to sell the fancy cutting grown plants,I sell thousands of them, plan your space ahead. Do you have room to plant them all in 3 1/2″ pots 25 to a flat or should you plant some or most of them right into your 12″ basket? I prefer to get their root system up to a better size than the plug by putting them in 3 1/2″ then shifting them to the baskets about two months before I plan on selling them. That gives you a chance to pinch them once or twice in the pot and still have time to pinch once in the basket. By the way with the new trailing plants pinch them until they scream. The more you pinch the bushier they get, but you do have to stop pinching things like the wave petunias a month before you plan on selling them. Although the newest calibrachoa/ mini trailing petunias are better at branching and don’t need quite as much pinching. Nothing is more frustrating than moving a flat of plants just so you can put another flat in it’s place. Now you have to find a place for the flat you just moved. Have enough space. Buy a bigger/another greenhouse. yay
This is getting long more on plants tomorrow. I’m just going with what I know. I plan on covering most of the plants I do each year.