175. Floret Flower Farm | Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Seasonal Blooms | Erin Benzakein | Skagit Valley, WA

Well, I couldn’t be more honored then to introduce todays guest who won’t need much of an introduction at all because she has been mentioned by many of my guest for her inspiration, her incredibly informative blog and now her new book coming out! She follows my passion for flowers and has written the book she wishes was there when she started out called Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Seasonal Blooms which was recommended by Jean Martin Fortier when I recently interviewed him who wrote a blurb for it so…

If you would like a chance to win a copy of Erin’s Book just enter a comment with your favorite take-away from this episode or a kind word for Erin in the show notes page on the Organic Gardener Podcast Page and then make sure you sign up for our email list so when I announce the winner you’re notified that your comment won! Contest Ends March 14, 2017!

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden

Tell us a little about yourself.

I have a two acre flower farm its called Floret about an hour north of Seattle.

What we’re known for is squeezing a ton of flowers into a really tiny space and we grow more like 4-5 acres in our two small little acres here.

Alright, well were probably excited to hear about how your pulling that off!

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Well my parents, my dad was an avid gardener so I definitely grew up around nature… but when I was little, tiny like as far back as I can remember I would dig up weeds and plant them in long straight rows … my mom remembers I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet I would always ask for a a little plot of land which I never got! I grew up in the suburbs and I would plant little weeds in straight rows it was almost like I knew what my destiny was gonna be back then …

I bet a lot of listeners have memories of picking weeds and maybe not putting them in straight rows… but like picking a dandelion and putting it in the ground to grow…

How did you learn how to garden organically was your dad that way?

When we were, my kids were born, I started paying more and more attention, when I was pregnant ~ what I was putting in my body and then I had heard about pesticides and started eating organically and that whole world opened up and when I started growing my first garden at my house

  • my own vegetables
  • planted an orchard
  • got chickens and
  • did all those things

I knew I didn’t want to use any chemicals and started researching and learning all I could… so I read Eliot Coleman’s book

Eliott Coleman’s book

NewOrganicGrower

The New Organic Gardener by Eliot Coleman

It was more of a farming book and applied those things to my vegetable garden ….  As the flowers took over my life I just kept applying those organic prinicipals to everything I was growing… because I didn’t want to be

  • surrounded by chemicals and 
  • babies playing in the mud I’m not gonna
  • spray chemcials in  my yard

From the beginning really in my own personal garden always… been organic…

So do you want to tell us how you got flowers?

So we left the city …I grew up in the suburbs then in Seattle, I was a city kid

Chris and Erin Benzakein Floret Flower Farm

a city kid who’s always longing to live in the country so when my husband Chris and I got married and we had our daughter

Olora

I had this really deep …. a strong calling … we have to get out of the city … and we need to go now! …  and go put down roots somewhere!  We looked for a little over a year but we

couldn’t afford until we discovered the Skagit Valley… this beautiful place we now call home and we bought a house with an acre…

  • tilled up a garden
  • planted an orchard
  • got chickens
  • wanted to have an homestead

which is hysterical now, I’m like totally lazy in some ways and I can’t imagine slaughtering my own chickens and all that… I had this idealistic…

it sounds dreamy right…

it totally does and it’s disgusting when you actually do it …. we tried

so the more we tried…. I wanted all these things

  • heriloom orchard

and

  • heirloom chickens

I tried all these different ideas out for maybe a way I could be growing things and be home with my kids and also bring in some income … and flowers really … after a lot of trial and error and testing out a bunch of ideas …  it was when I saw how someone reacted …

Why Flowers

I delivered a bundle of sweet peas a $5 jar of flowers to this woman and I handed them to her and she smelled them and she just started bawling and telling me all these memories and I had childhood memories associated with sweet peas and then I started crying  … right there standing on her doorstep and we’re both bawling and I knew this is what I am supposed to do!

These little tiny blooms had so much power… I wasn’t even aware of that and so I came home

  • tore out the vegetables
  • tore up the orchard gave it away
  • got rid of most of the chickens and
  • planted as many flowers as I could pack into my backyard
  • more and more and bigger
  • took over the neighbors back field 

and it grew from there

“So you took over the neighbors backyard, that’s an interesting way to expand…  so you’re renting or leasing?”

We are leasing.. Our house is on 1 acre … maybe a 1/6 of an acre so it’s like a very large garden off our back porch…  there’s 2 acre field that borders our back property it was a

  • horse pasture
  • became a soccer field

and then one day my neighbors lawn maker broke down and he was angry and frustrated and his kids weren’t playing on the soccer field… and I ran out there with a bunch of cash begged him to let me rent it … and he said yes, and I caught him at the right moment…

I started tilling up that field and planting more flowers so in total we’re only growing 2 acres of flowers…

So my next question is then how did find your market if your kind of far from town…. where do you see things and  how did you get that part?

What To Do With Flowers?

The first couple of years, it was figuring out what do I want to with flowers?

  • Did I want to do weddings?
  • I did a weekly flower subscription
  • I tried a lot of different things …
  • people weren’t really biting

I was really really struggling to sell the flowers the first 2-3 years I couldn’t figure out how to sell them, I could figure out how to grow the flowers but I getting people to take them was a whole other story

I figured out how to grow them

I was interviewing this woman for a farming article I was writing she was talking about being the face of my business.

I’m naturally very shy, and naturally introverted she said instead of doing a logo  and the business name that I actually

  • hire a photographer
  • put on a cute outfit
  • take pictures of me holding the flowers

I was like Omg are you kidding me, no way am I gonna do that… but I was desperate, and nobody would by my stuff and everybody was a little bit panicked when I walked into a flower shop I was  a little aggressive with my

Buy local

nobody cared about local what I didn’t realize what they really cared about was our story, as an artisan maker what they care about is

  • why you do it
  • who you are

Market your story

So I changed out all my marketing material and added pictures of my family and i working with the flowers and it all changed since I haven’t really had to sell anyone… I just tell our story and people totally connect with it…

So where do you sell them then at florists or farmer’s markets or I thought you sold to a CSA?

  • we sell to 24 Whole Food Stores throughout the Pacific NW
  • boxes to the largest CSA in the country full circle farm and our spring blooms they ship to
  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • California
  • all over
  • local florists
  • local wedding of florists

they go a ton of places I would say natural grocery foods like whole foods have been our biggest customers from day one.

What’s the weather like in the Skagit Valley, I would think Valentines, Mothers’s Day in the Rocky Mountains

  • we’re more mild for sure
  • we have a very wet cool spring
  • daffodils just poking out of the soil….
  • over the years more and more hoop houses so now we have
  • 11 hoop houses – 2 of which are heated

haven’t forced things out of seasons just extended our season

Season

Mid March we’ll be picking anemones through oct nov kind of when we close the farm down…

at least from field and farm work

Tell us about something that grew well last year or last season…

Dahlia’s are always a huge beautiful crop for us so last year we had over 7000 plants in the field! I am kind of crazy I like to plant in rainbow order so for the photos…

So it went form burgundy all the way to red to raspberry all the way to white…

Probably biggest and best dahlia season to date…

The feeling of standing in the middle of that beauty it’s hard to even catch your breath…

So is it true your husband takes most of the pictures?

Photography Magic

Yep taught ourselves photography … the ones that look overhead…those are the ones I shoot

unless it’s a picture of our entire family where we bring a photographer in… he does all the pictures for

  • our shop
  • for our website…
  • he really has quite a talent

Are there any tips and tricks you want to share they’re so beautiful…

we usually

Evening Glow

we have really beautiful light

we don’t use any special stuff we don’t to a ton of editing… occasionally we have clone out a blue port-o-potty out in the background because they’re so annoying and ugly ~ we ask the berry picking guys  please move that….

there’s a bright blue one in the back field …

there’s very little editing we do…

Magic Light Hour

  • last hour before daylight
  • all of a sudden everything starts to glow
  • sparkly and twinkly

either shooting in the early morning when the sun is rising or in the evening when the sun is setting that’s what is giving that stunning glow and then we try to put the sun behind the subject

If I’m standing and Chris is shooting me with a bouquet of flowers I try to stand with sun behind me so it’s throwing it’s light through the blooms and behind me and so it’s creating that magical glowing quality…

Well they are stunning and gorgeous and A lot of it is the flowers your growing, the bulk of them it is… all together…

it does’ it goes on forever… the berry fields behind us there’s rows and rows and … a lot of people thing they’re ours but it’s just the farms around us… we’re this little postage farm in the middle of all these gigantic farms all around us.

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

This year our biggest farm goal

We have a small seed company that we started last year… we’re bringing in seeds from all my favorite breeders all over the world

all of my favorite cut varieties mentioned in the book….

ones the … 

Resurrecting the sweet pea

We have seeds from the best sweet pea seed sin the world

growing them out on the farm

10000 little seedlings in the greenhouse

We’re going whole hog to growing our own seed

importing is getting harder

due to drought in California and New Zealand

growing out some other varieties … dip our toe into that world….

we have our own seed line

take our own

I love the way you said we’re gonna dip our toe into that world… and that’s where Skype dropped the call…

I saw that you have that little blog post you wrote that has the pictures

Floret Seeds

We have our own seed line ….

  • 100 varieties of seed
  • dahlia tubers
  • bulbs from holland our favorite varieties…
  • 2nd year doing that
  • expanding

certain varieties that we can’t get our hands on or there is a world shortage that’s why

falling out of favor and the seed breeders are going to drop the lines that’s why we’re  trying to catch up and  speed to grow out these varieties

hold those genetics save them for extinction…

Normally in the field when you grow them for cut flowers you hardly ever see any color in the field… if the flower field full of color you know there’s a problem the farmer hasn’t sold their product …

  • mostly green
  • have to let the flowers blow out and be pollinated and set seed instead of harvesting
  • certainly isolation distances…
  • sweet peas don’t need a ton of separation between 10 and 15 feet some need like sweet peas
  • 300 feet and some need a quarter of a mile
  • trying to find that information
  • getting in touch of info
  • there’s tons of info on vegetables…
  • around seed saving for flowers specifically
  • working on this and kind of pioneering

to gather information and make it available for others….

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

Dinner Plate Dahlias

This year we grew, we normally grow dinner plate dahlias… the big beautiful fat, ones that are great for flower arranging so here in Washington, they get damaged growing outside so we grow them in a greenhouse and we devoted a huge amount of our greenhouse space to dinner plate dahlias

The cut flower crop was spectacular, but the problem was when we went to dig those tubers normally you get 7,5,10 tubers because the greenhouses were so hot and humid the tubers were awful…

So we know know if we want to grow them for tubers and to save more tubers out of them don’t plant them in the hoop houses …. so that was a hard lesson learned we lost a good 25% of our tubers that were planted in the hoop houses to rot…

Did you still get to harvest the flowers…

So we didn’t get to increase our stock… so for us knowing as much as we do as flowers that was a pretty big failure… but every year we blow it on a lot of levels… that’s where you learn the most but they are the most painful mistakes and the hardest to learn but it’s part of gardening and growing…

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Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

I hate weeding, I absolutely despise it ….and I procrastinate like crazy …

and that just makes it worse?

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

Harvesting Dahlias

My favorite thing is harvesting especially at dusk when nobody’s around  the tractors are kind of in the background just strolling thru the field picking that’s pretty amazing…

So how many flowers do you harvest a day? I was listening to the Martha Stewart interview and you were talking about harvesting 1000s of flowers …. that seemed my big goal a couple of years ago when I first started my podcast was to plant 750 sunflowers was my challenge for myself and that seemed huge and I realized if I was gonna sell sunflowers I would have to grow like 750 a week for like 12 weeks…

We’re harvesting full tilt 3 1/2 days a week and we are fast too…

on average when we’re picking dahlias…

we’re picking between 400-500 bunches of 5 stems

that’s like an average dahlia harvest during peak season….

Sunflower Harvest

We haven’t been growing sunflowers in the last couple of years because they take so much space but the last time we did sunflowers we did about 35,000 that year…

OM Goodness… in your little two acres?

we turn and burn so when something’s done we till it in and replant the beds. So we

try to get as crops as we possibly can…

So I always try to get my sunflowers in by April 22nd by Earth Day…When do you start?

Normally I go right about our last frost about the 25th of April and then plant them about every single week until about mid July with the fast flowering sunflowers to get them to bloom before the fall frost…

I guess you’re not as worried about them going to seed… I mean I pretty much decided  that I’m just sticking with sunflowers for bird feed… there was a day I was dreaming about being a cut flower farmer but I don’t think I have what it takes… maybe if IDK if we did it full time all the time more together then I do… it sure looks beautiful but IDK…

What is the best gardening advice you have  ever received?

NEVER CUT CORNERS

Well you reap what you sow or you get back what you put in

I hear this year in and year out… if I never cut corners if I don’t compare a bed with enough compost and fertilizer …. something that’s stressed and I plant it anyway…  any time I try to get away with something … it always bites me in the but anyway… I have never been able to pull one over on nature …

Really the more generous you can be and do things…

do your best the more your rewarded the more I cut corners… at least for me… it never works out…

I think that’s great advice and you certainly know what you’re doing… and certainly a main theme on my show has been soil health and so I’m sure what your saying if you don’t put ht e best compost and try to get that bed up to the best it can be … what about pests do you have problems with pests? that’s been a big challenge my listeners the two biggest things are time and then pests are their biggest challenges …

Pest trouble

  • Earwigs
  • Slugs

So here earwigs and slugs are really big pests for us… we’re not plagued with Japanese beetles which is amazing but the slugs get in an and ruin all your crops and baby plants… and then the

ear wigs come out and night and bite  big holes in all our flowers so there’s the product it’s

  • certified organic
  • safe for pets

called Sluggo plus

Sluggo

I buy it by the big ole bag

Miracle Solution

That’s my miracle solution for both of those…

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

I’d say my little Japanese wedding hoe,

  • angled
  • super sharp

I hate to hoe

I want it to be really fast…

IDK my husband makes weeding seem so easy… he’s usually on top of it, I feel like we don’t get a lot of weeds at our place… where do you get the most weeds? Between your rows???

WEEDS

In our beds too … you guys are probably more dry …

But we’re consistently moist, a little bit of heat and moisture and everything germinates… we use a lot of landscape fabric to keep weeds down in our pathways and also for our growing beds and

burn holes in the fabric so we can plant through it…

But weeds are a constant problem because everything is so moist everything wants to grow….

Incorporating food into bouquets

I usually ask about a favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden, IDK do you have a favorite flower arrangement??

One of my favorite things to do is to incorporate food into bouquets

  • little current tomatoes
  • pear tomatoes
  • and herbs that have gone to seed
  • green beans on the stem… they looks so cool when they are tumbling out of the side

most people who don’t even notice flowers but when you have the unripe raspberries that is a great conversation starter….

A favorite internet resource besides your amazing website which is a great resource…

website that I stalk the most

a grower in England

Sarah Raven

she has the most informative website with so many resources

  • videos and
  • articles she’s written

I feel like I could spend weeks on there… not even get to the bottom of it,

  • photography is stunning
  • everything she says to do it works
  • go to source for information and inspirations…

Speaking of resources I saw on your website you have that gorgeous garden journal is that new this year too? What a year for you!

Floret Garden Journal and Daily Planner 2017 Cultivating Beauty

I love it it’s what I wanted to have for myself, it’s what we feel is the perfect garden journal, next year we’ll have a pocket for plant tags…

I just love it!

A favorite reading material-book, mag etc you can recommend?

My new favorite books

The flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar

Ariella Chezar

floral designer in NY and she is the loveliest person…

The Flower Workshop: Lessons in Arranging Blooms, Branches, Fruits, and Foraged Materials

one of the most beautiful books I have ever had and I collect books and it feels like

your heart gets ripped out and stomped on in the best way…

  • it is so stunning!
  • so many flower arrangements!
  • such great stories!

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

I would say that at least what I have found and this goes across any industry…

Sharing Your Story

  • being yourself
  • being the face of your business
  • really we want to hide behind the product that we make or
  • hide behind the flowers
  • hide behind the produce

You can step out from behind what our’e creating and actually show up so that customers can get to know you and why your doing what your doing

across the board

most connecting ultimately sets you apart

most successful are the ones that share their story….

Are you a millennial?

IDK I was born in 1980.

Another Rockstar Millennial! The Millennial I get to interview are the best! My step-daughter was born in 1980 and she’s one of the hardest working people I ever met both of my step-daughters are and they both are amazing hard workers!

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

DROP the CHEMICALS!

Well, I feel like we at home … home gardeners can actually make the biggest difference by

DROP the CHEMICALS!

  • stop using chemicals in your soil!
  • start feeding your soil!
  • growing more beautiful things!
  • food for the pollinators!
  • an environment for your grand children!
  • creating these little oasis’s in our own backyards…

That was beautiful …. That’s a big part of my husband and my mission is to help people grow their own little organic oasis, he worries so much bout is there gonna be a planet for our future generations… I feel like I am blessed because I get to talk with my guests and listeners I ‘m a little more optimistic….

Right!

I just think that is perfect!

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

My favorite own motto don’t worry about making mistakes … just get your hands in there and get dirty…  you’ll learn the most by making mistakes and so often what doesn’t work is what ends up teaching you the most so just get in there and try and don’t worry about killing plants because you’re gonna kill a lot of them… so just make peace with that from the beginning…

Thanks so much for coming on and sharing your journey and being so eloquent!

How do we connect with you?

FloretFarmWebsite

So you can go to our website Floret Flowers

big ole blog full of all kinds of info…

erinandbook

there’s a little button that says book

Amazon’s got it

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden

signed copies in our shop

amazonUK

hopefully there’s something there you can learn!

If you would like a chance to win a copy of Erin’s Book just enter a comment with your favorite take-away from this episode or a kind word for Erin in the show notes page on the Organic Gardener Podcast Page and then make sure you sign up for our email list so when I announce the winner you’re notified that your comment won! Contest Ends March 14, 2017!

The Organic Gardener Podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

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