At Petalon, we’re big fans of Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How To Fail. In this social media-saturated world, it’s easy to think everyone else is ‘living their best life’ (don’t you just hate that phrase?) and we’re somehow falling behind. This podcast is a refreshing look at all the things the people we would deem ‘successful’ get wrong and why, actually, in the end it helped them get it right. In June we took a massive leap of faith and moved to Cornwall to start growing our own flowers. It’s been a huge learning curve, with plenty of mistakes, as well as victories, along the way. So in true How To Fail style, we thought we’d lay out our failures so far and what we’ve learned from them.
In order to encourage our seedlings to germinate, we use our extra-long, homemade propagation bench. This uses an underfloor heating element under some sand, with thermostat control. This actually works brilliantly, as our first seeds germinated their socks off, but as soon as the seedlings’ roots touched the sand, they got scorched and we burnt a lot of them. Mice also had a good crack at the others. We need high volumes of single varieties so that we can have enough for the Petalon bouquets, so losing so many was a little disheartening. But, we have learned not to have the thermostat so high next time and to keep the sand a little wetter, to stop scorching. We can also do a spring sowing to try and make up the numbers, so all is not lost!
We need a lot of water over a large area and the water needs to be able to be turned off and on in various areas at various times. This can affect water pressure everywhere, including the house, it would seem. So when we laid the irrigation in the polytunnels, the water in the kitchen tap was a mere dribble. Or if we wanted to soak the beds in the polytunnel, we had to shut off the water in the greenhouse – the whole thing became a logistical nightmare. Cue the 10,000 litre water tank. Turns out, a coiled water pipe is a lethal weapon and after just recovering from his burns (from a bonfire gone wrong) James broke his nose trying to lay the water pipe (or cobra, if you ask him). We now have water in the house, each barn (which are in various states of disrepair but now all have water and power), irrigation for all 3 outdoor planting areas, irrigation for both polytunnels and the greenhouse. From this success (apart from the broken nose – James is okay!), swiftly came another failure when we left the irrigation on too long in the polytunnels and turned it into a swamp. The anemones and ranunculus we have just planted are prone to rot, so we’re hoping we’ve salvaged some of these, but we certainly won’t be making that mistake again.
Netting flowers provides support and encourages them to grow straight. We now know that we didn’t do this soon enough for the first chrysanthemums we planted. As a result, we had some really wiggly stems that made them almost impossible to put into a bouquet without snapping. Our Tom Parr chrysanthemum is beautiful, but it stopped growing at 20cm. As we need something to be 40cm at the very least, we can’t use these in the Petalon bouquets, so we won’t be growing these again. Slugs decimated our Myss Goldie chrysanthemums so we’ve now laid wide borders of waterproof membrane around the beds so slugs can’t come straight off the field and enjoy their lunch.
Planning our numbers
Last week we cut some stems of our Allouise Salmon chrysanthemums from the field. Although this was exciting, we have to think about long-term plans and numbers. If we wanted to use one of these in one of our bouquets for a whole week, we had less than half the amount we’d need this time. Our mistake here was we were too optimistic with our maths, which we based on having 3 usable stems/flowers from each plant. In reality, it doesn’t really work like that, as they don’t bloom at the same time. And if we only have half the amount of stems we need for a week’s worth of bouquets, we can hardly tell our customers, ‘hey, some bouquets have one of our field grown flowers in, others don’t!’ So then what do we do with the usable flowers we have, if there aren’t enough? We certainly don’t want them going to waste – minimising wastage is exactly why we got in to this game. For this year, we are sending to friends and family who have provided the love and support we’ve needed to get to this point, but long term, we’re looking at providing a slightly different product of just farm grown flowers, which means a whole new offering for our customers, as well as eliminating wastage. From the 6 varieties of chrysanthemums we trialed, there are 3 we’ll grown again. We can now use cuttings from this stock to plant enough to make sure we have the amount of blooms we need at once next time.
Crows flew in and ate/chucked a load of our pre-sprouted anemone and ranunculus corns around. We now keep the doors shut. A simple but vital lesson.Back to blog