I’ve partnered up with Loblolly Farm for a flower series for the first half of 2019. For this episode, we’ll be talking about an untapped niche and bringing it to light. We’ll be talking about the cut flower business, and hopefully this episode would give you a lot of the information you need about growing flowers for your market, and setting up growing flowers on your farm.
Today’s Guest: Benny Pino
Benny Pino grows flowers at Abby Garden Floral (previously Loblolly Farms). Previously a vegetable grower, he and his wife Courtney have made the switch to exclusively growing flowers. While he heads the production in the field, Courtney is in charge of bouquet arrangements for any number of events, including weddings.
In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart
- Loblolly Farm (03:15)
- Cultivating flowers vs. cultivating vegetables (04:30)
- Specializing in flowers (07:00)
- Small scale growers into the flower industry (09:50)
- Demand and competition in cut flowers (14:00)
- The business plan behind exclusively growing flowers (22:00)
- Making a living on cut flowers in an acre (24:30)
- Having variety on the farm (39:00)
- Things to note when switching from vegetables to flowers (36:15)
- A week in a one-acre flower farm in the middle of summer (41:30)
- Weeds vs. flowers and weeds vs. vegetables (44:50)
- Infrastructure: the expensive and the inexpensive (47:00)
- Cut flower business: the curve ball (49:45)
- The 50-mile Bouquet by Debra Prinzing
- The Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein
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Diego: [00:00:00] What about growing something on your farm that you can't eat today? It's an episode all about something that will never make its way onto a dinner plate. It's all about raising and growing flowers. Coming up. Welcome to farm small farm smart. I'm your host Diego DIGEO. Today's episode of farm, small farm smart is brought to you by Paper Pot Co. Paper Pot Co. is a company that I own, and our goal is to make your job on the farm easier. Now, a lot of people associate using the paper pot transplanter with transplanting vegetables.
Did you also know that you can transplant flowers using the Paper Pot transplanter? Just like with vegetables, the paper pot transplanter is a great tool to save you time and a lot of bending over in the field when you're planting flowers. So as you listen to this upcoming episode and you're considering raising flowers, if you're thinking, Oh, that's a lot of transplanting. I don't want to do all that transplanting. I don't want my staff to do all that transplanting. And I want to bend over that much. Then look at the solution. To your flower transplanting problem, the paper pot transplanter available at paperpot.co.
As you've probably gathered from the information so far, this episode is all about cut flowers. And this is actually the first in a series of episodes about cut flowers because I've partnered with Loblolly farm to do a whole series. Going through the a, to Z of growing cut flowers for market growing, cut flowers on a small scale. Most of the episodes that I've done in the past in all about growing vegetables on a small scale, but in a lot of areas, there's a very profitable crop and an untapped need in growing cut flowers.
So I want to bring that niche to the light. Get more information out there about it and hopefully give you some more information so you can consider and look into, is there room in your market and on your farm to add cut flowers to the mix for the first episode in the series today, I'm joined by farmer Benny Pino of loblolly farm.
Benny's the main grower at loblolly farm. His wife, Courtney does a lot of the flower arranging side of things. So Benny spends a lot of time in his propagation area, in the field and learning about the cultivation of flowers in today's episode, we're going to talk about. Why flowers, what the opportunity, how big is it and why should you consider growing flowers on your farm and why it might be possible to make it really good living growing, just cut flowers on a small scale.
Here it is. I hope you enjoy it. The flower grower with Benny Pino. Benny, it's been a while. Since you been on the podcast, you were last on the podcast over a year ago with your wife, Courtney. And you all run a now flower farm, Loblolly farm at the time. I think you were producing some vegetables and now you're exclusively flowers for people that missed that interview and haven't heard of you. They don't follow you on Instagram. I am. Can you talk a little bit about who you are and what loblolly farm is and what it's about?
Benny Pino: [00:03:33] Sure. So Loblolly farm is located in Southern Maryland. We're actually in Charles County, near a town called Waldorf, and we have eight acres of available land. We cultivate about two this year. We did one last year and we're hopefully moving into too. we are covering everything with tarps. And so that takes a little time to open up new ground, but yeah, we're going to grow exclusively cut flowers, like you mentioned. And we're predominantly selling in farmer's markets to local florists to do weddings.
And we're using about a quarter of those flowers also in our own wedding design business. So Courtney mostly does the designing. I go with her on the wedding day or the event day. usually a Saturday. And so we did 40 weddings last year, and hopefully this year we'll be able to use a lot of the flowers that were growing on the barn in those weddings.
Diego: [00:04:33] And a lot of people listening to this, they are in the vege world. They're vege farmers growing at your scale, but vegetable crops, what are the big differences between flowers? In vege from a cultivation growing standpoint.
Benny Pino: [00:04:50] So yeah, that could take up the whole interview easily, but I would say that it's a little more technical and horticultural. And what I mean by that is there are a lot of subtle nuances in starting your seeds and the types of crops that you're growing.
I never considered perennial vegetables much when I was growing for market in that world. And now it's all about understanding what's a biennial. When is it going to flower? How quick is it going to flower? Because getting to market with that is a lot more tricky. Your days to maturity on flowers are extended considerably like 120 days when I first saw that. When I was getting into bars, I was like, how am I ever going to make a profit?
Because you look at a lot of other models in the veg world, and it's crank those days to maturity down as far as you can. And with flowers, it's like a curve ball. You've got to think. Okay. I am going to overwinter these, or I'm going to plant some perennials and the perennials will be the first things that flower in the spring. So there was a lot of going back to the books and learning a considerable amount to get myself aware of all the different possibilities. Flowers, I love it.
I love nerding out on this stuff and I feel like it's expanded my agricultural and horticultural knowledge considerably. Since I've gotten into it and I still have a lot to learn.
Diego: [00:06:25] Yeah. From visiting your farm, from talking to you, it's definitely a specialty. It's something that I think if you are going to go big into, even on a small scale, but if it's all you're doing flowers, like you really. Need to specialize. And that same specialization is probably there in the vege side. And maybe I'm just more familiar with it and take it for granted. But I feel like just hearing some of the new nuances that go along with flowers, like all the little tricks and things you have to do to get certain seeds to germinate it is more horticultural along the way.
When you compare say a vege farm to a livestock farmer. One other thing with vege farms is a lot of vege farms go the model of 80 20th down to, we're not going to have a bunch of crops and we're just going to focus on the quick turnover crops. With flowers, you can't do the same thing. Is flowers more of a variety game, or can you specialize in a certain thing on a small scale and still make it work?
Benny Pino: [00:07:31] So what a lot of veg growers who side hustle with flowers do is they focus on summer annuals and so that means the quintessential sunflower, zinnia, and those flowers are fairly plug and play. We grew those way back when we first started getting into flowers, that's what we started with.
And that's like the gateway, that's how you get to understand at least the generality of a for example, picking time, you get used to how you harvest when you harvest what you do in post-processing when you, grow those over annuals. And that's where I would say most people should start.
If you like, have never grown flowers at all, I would definitely start with summer annuals because they're very forgiving. And then they also have a much shorter turnaround time. But yes, for example, if you get into the details of the flower industry and you look up some stats in flora, culture really cut flowers is down towards the end of how much, in terms of millions, there are over the course of any given year.
The floral country industry is. In the U S right now around a $4.2 billion rate and a garden plants, bedding plants are over a million of that, where you look at cut flowers, and they're only about 374 million. you can get really into the details of growing for different market streams and make a lot of money in flowers going that way.
But you have to consider all the avenues and then make your choice if you want it. If you want to specialize in flowers, you want to really only grow them. Then I would say, it'd be good to take a step back and get a full lens picture of what the industry is like. And then choose what to go into.
Diego: [00:09:39] And to give people some perspective on what the industry and sector is like. What opportunity is there? Is there room for the two-acre flower farm in the $375 million market? Can you carve out a niche out of that, or is it dominated by imports and bigger players that really specialize in one thing that commodity growers?
Benny Pino: [00:10:03] Yeah. So that's a really big question. And I've spent a little time researching that recently and I feel like the answer is a resounding yes. In terms of there's opportunities. So the first thing you have to do is like you hinted at, look at the import market and we in the U S only grow about a quarter of the flowers that are consumed locally. So Columbia a long shot imports.
It's like close to 70% of the flowers that we see here. And all you have to do is think about the seasonality and Colombia and the days of the year that most people consume flowers here in the U S. And it's, the winter holidays. So you've got Christmas and Hanukkah and huge. If you look across the graph across time, they're like these like bunny ears, these really high outliers, which are mother's day and Valentine's day.
You can sell most of your cut flowers during that time of the year, if some way you're able to grow them and produce them during that time of the year. So if you had protected culture and you got heavy into that, you could, overnight the success in growing flowers, you would just have to have, a serious investment in, greenhouses and protected culture. So that being said, there are lots of other options.
There are, like, I already said the annual and garden plants. The ones that you find at nurseries most often a potted flowering plants are another sector. So you can grow things that, like bulbs that people buy so that they can put them out during Christmas time. Like amaryllis. You can grow those for those seasons as well. Those holidays you can grow, other specialty products like wreaths research, very popular that, just, in December that just passed, you can grow, herbacious perennial plants. And another category is even your starts.
So all of those categories that I just named actually in the U S are more generative than cut flowers across, the statistics that I found via the USDA. So you can look into each of those and a great place to kind of introduction to all of that's like very user friendly and a little more readable than, USDA statistics is this book called The 50-Mile Bouquet which is by, Debra Prinzing. And she does this really great job of touring the us and interviewing a lot of different successful florists and companies that have found creative ways of selling.
Mostly the cut flowers she interviews really a lot of different, individuals who are, like I said, selling starts and other things, but there's interviews with people who have started markets a really big place in the US is like Washington and Oregon. They have got a really booming cut flower industry out there. So if you get into this, I would definitely pick up her book and, maybe even visit those places where cut flowers are a real big thing.
Diego: [00:13:28] So with all those different niches there that people could plug into on a flower farm level, do you think the small farmer has opportunity to compete in those niches? Because one thing I think and, I don't want to say this is true, is You look at say farmer's markets and small farms they're selling CSA is they're selling at farmer's markets. There's a lot of vegetable producers, all competing, but I would like to think, and this might not be true, that if you overlaid that same area or that same market with small flower growers, there's a lot less.
So a lot less could mean more opportunity or it could also mean there's less for a reason. There's just not enough demand to support more. Are flowers, a sneaky way to bypass a crowded market like vege, or is it more competitive than we may see on the surface?
Benny Pino: [00:14:38] I have of two answers to that one, which is the macro look at the marketplace and from my reading, it's a growing industry. It's an industry that year over year has seen 5% increases, which is, it's also pretty resilient. You'd be surprised to see that, weddings, especially people don't restrict their spending during downturn years in flowers, which I found really surprising.
I noticed that there's an even 5% increase year over year and has been for quite a while in floral culture. And then on the anecdotal or a personal level, I went to market last year with Courtney and we sold out almost every single time we came to market with bouquets. And you know how I was talking about the annual flowers being a gateway that the same, I would say in terms of market, like bouquets are an easy, simple, straightforward way to try your hand at getting into cut flowers.
You can also do, like people will sell individual stems and bunches, but I find that a bouquet gives a value add that catches people's eyes and allows them to, drop some money quickly for an occasion. So people think about flowers in terms of, am I going somewhere later?
And even if you walk up to a lot of florists stands at a farmer's market. It'll say like, where are you going? there'll be like a posted question or, do you have that special occasion coming up as question that you could ask when someone comes up and they're like browsing, it's all about gifting flowers, the number one person who buys flowers is a woman buying for another woman.
So that really opened my eyes. You look for those individuals. And so we use those tricks and sold out almost every single time. I can't tell you what that would look like in a very large marketplace where let's say you read a farmer's market that has 40 plus vendors and you have a few other cut flower growers.
We never, had to compete against a lot of that, but I can attest that most markets in the DC area. And there's a lot of farmer's markets here. They don't have a lot of cut flower growers who are really killing it. Just go in and take a walk through your farmer's market and see how many producers there are that are doing cut flowers and what most people do.
We'll do a small little dinky thing. It's got 10 stems, maybe 15, and they're hit and miss, and they're not really arranged if you just upped your game from them and stood out it, flowers, the whole pilot high, and watch it fly tenant that you hear a lot from, veg producers.
The flowers evolved to attract us. They evolved to attract pollinators. And so they already have a huge one up in that they can show off. And so if you arrange them to have a big, abundant-looking display like that, we sold out almost every time from day one. I think the other trick was that we priced it at $10. So people will park very easily with that $10 and you'll, I think you'll be impressed if you give it a go.
Diego: [00:18:21] So what I'm hearing is there's a chance to go in and disrupt a market. If you're strategic about it because there maybe isn't as many producers and maybe the producers aren't as savvy. That's painting with very broad strokes, but I look at it, I don't know a lot of young, exclusive flower growers and I've tried to find them and I've tried to look. And when I go to my local farmer's markets, it's old school flower growers that have carnations and flowers that they've painted and they wrap them in the colored cellophane.
I don't know that appeals to the more sophisticated customer, the younger customer. And they're definitely not young people at the booths.
Benny Pino: [00:19:07] Yeah. I really do that. There's an opportunity in terms of updating your flower scene and our experience was that we did elevate things a little bit. We thought about our presentation and how we wrapped things. We tried to stick a little more to something that looked like it was recyclable and eco-friendly and use paper products.
And I think that made a difference for sure. And I would say a lot of it was funny. A lot of people started growing flowers and selling them when they noticed that we were selling out each week and. They would just grow, have 10 bouquets at their checkout and they would sell a number of them. But it was like, they weren't really trying. I don't know where the mentality comes from. I don't know why people think that they're not a serious product that people are willing to spend on, but I read some market research growing for market and across the nation, if you look at farmer's markets, the number one selling item, across not just number of sales, but, take home, Hey, is tomatoes. And then right after that is flowers. I don't get it. It's like one of the industry's best kept secrets.
Diego: [00:20:36] And this is all stuff, now, if we go back in time and forget what you know now and everything that you've learned, when you all initially decided to do flowers, what was the business plan? Where was the market going to be and what were you going to want to grow? Because where I want to follow up with that is.
How did that play out? How did it change? So if we go back to day one, ignoring what you did, ignoring what you know now, what was the initial plan based on assumptions then?
Benny Pino: [00:21:07] It was pretty much always bouquets and going to farmer's markets. That's where we sold most of our vege. And so we just naturally segued into that. I would change significantly over time is that we had so much success with weddings. So our predominant income stream is doing design with flowers, and then, putting them in weddings. So that's a whole other discussion and honestly, Courtney would be much better suited to speak about it, but from the floriculture agricultural standpoint, you value add the most to a flower when you sell it in an event and even more so at a wedding.
So I can take a stem of say a Dahlia and sell it at the farmer's market for, at the absolute, most like a dollar or $2, you bring that same Dolly of stem and sell it via a wedding. And then you put it in a variety bouquet, that Dahlia's stems were six, eight, $10.
That was like an aha moment. And we said, why don't we do two things, one make more money per stem, circulating those flowers through weddings. But then the other big thing is that we can value add, make our weddings so much more robust and interesting and run the gamut with color and supplement with overabundance to wow our brides and then have a lot more material visually so to speak, to grab a hold of a marketplace and stand out.
Diego: [00:22:55] If you strip away the design chunk of the business. Say you just sold cut flowers. I know that business is profitable. Is it enough to make a living on in your area on an acre?
Benny Pino: [00:23:13] I will caveat this by saying that we're still pretty new to it, but from a pretty objective standpoint, if you look at a bed of say zinnias, one of our most popular flower and you do the math per square foot versus some of the best vegges out there, absolutely. It competes. Not only does it compete, but dollar for dollar that you can produce more. And so I feel like while this is a very, under-researched market space in terms of small, sustainable ag, I feel like, I've stepped into very interesting place where I'm going to start researching the details of that and report back, hopefully over the next few years as to, what the nitty gritty are of each of those crops.
And, I've got a lot of w there's any, as for example, they're very exciting, mate. They're very productive and. I feel like you could very easily hit the numbers that John Martin and Curtis, all those guys that, have these videos circulating about how much you can make off of a one acre farm. I feel like flowers could easily do that.
Diego: [00:24:29] With flowers on a small scale, and let's just stick with cut flowers. Not any of the other selling starts or potted plants or landscape plants but cut flowers. You're not going to play the game that the mega producers would be. You're not going to grow one primary crop and sell it to a wholesaler or somebody like that. To make a business on a small-scale work. Growing cut flowers. You have to find the higher value market streams or is there opportunity or scale to sell to some of the cool I'll say bigger company buyers out there?
Benny Pino: [00:25:11] I have done some market research in that respect too, in terms of florists. So you can, you can go two ways that I've researched and one is. Bouquets on a very high, like intense around and crank them so that you can sell them to say grocers. And then the other one that I am leaning towards a little bit more so is to sell to florists. And what I think you really need to do is do some market research.
Get out there. And find what people don't have access to. So the way that most florists get their flowers is we already talked about Colombia and these importers, and there's an ebb and flow to that. It was a seasonality. So sometimes you can get a dahlia and other times of the year you can't. And what we found were people telling us that there are a lot of gaps.
There are a lot of opportunities for you to produce a one that we've heard a lot of as greens. And so can you take a perennial, like ninebark, that is a bushing perennial herbacious, and you cut from that, say a third, maybe a quarter of it stems a year.
You could easily cover an acre with just a few plants like that. And you would sell out. If it's anything like it is here in the DMV or the DC area, you�d probably find a lot of demand for those. There are some plants that are difficult to ship. They fall apart. Dalia is one of them.
And I can't tell you how many times we opened up a box that we've ordered from a wholesaler and we literally can't use the product. We just have to throw it away. And so it's a crap shoot. What you're going to get, whether the colors are going to come in correctly, as a local producer of flowers, you have a huge one up.
Just the same way that they say don't get your lettue from California, if you live over here, you, if you want it to have some shelf life it's even more so with flowers, they get, they're very delicate. They get beat up very easily and it's very hard to color match. So if you can show your local buyers that you have XYZ product and presented in person and cut it and the next day bring it to them.
You�re value adding on a scale that will really catch their eye and to really answer your question, yes, you could just grow, say five or six things. There are some local growers who just grow snapdragons for example, and they've almost entirely made their living on growing snapdragons and that's not year round, they have some protected culture, but for the most part grow just during the warmer season and make their living entirely on snapdragons.
Diego: [00:28:18] That's not the route you're currently going down. You are selling to the wedding market through the design section of the business. You sell bouquets. Does that in a way, necessitate or dictate that you have to have variety on the farm to mix up the bouquets, to have flowers consistently over a long period of time?
Benny Pino: [00:28:45] The way is for us right now, or at least when we started was, summer annuals. We'll give you about four to five months and you do want to have variety in there. You do want to have 15 to 20 different kinds of flowers. And then within them, you want to think color. And so you're going to expand that out to have, say three to four different colors within those varieties.
You can grow mixes. Also, if you want to make that a little easier on yourself, if you're just going to grow from bouquets and you're just going to slap them together and catch people's eye and without. Having to sell to another market stream like we are, for example, with the wedding flowers, you can paint with broad strokes and think variety mixes to get your colors in there. And then just grow like I was saying 15 or so, and then you have a pretty solid foundation. That's going to give you four to five months or so just sell. But then if you really want to get serious about flowers, you start to look at your shoulder seasons.
You start to branch out into growing cooler weather flowers. And one thing I've learned over the last few years is that really you can take flowers and divide them almost exactly down the middle with your annuals, at least. And you can say there are cool annuals. And there are heat-loving annuals, and the way you treat both those flowers is not the same.
And I love the cool weather flowers because they have all these like superpowers. Like they can basically sit out there and laugh at a frost. And the first couple of times I did that, I almost had a freaking heart attack because how much time and effort is it to plant a whole bed of something just to have it like at annihilated by frost.
I've seen it happen with tomatoes so many times. So the cool weather flowers allow you to branch out into a spring and they give you the ability to circumvent that really long day to maturity problem that you see when you look at flowers. At first, you're like, Oh my gosh, 120 days, I'm never going to get to market with this darn thing.
And so really with the cold flowers or plant them in the fall and then they over winter. And then they're like the first thing that pop up in the spring. So the day maturity thing, it becomes like almost ambiguous there. It's what am I, how do I even think about this? But, so that's one, the cool weather's and there's the perennials.
So really, I would suggest people pick up, a book by Floret. It's called the cut flower garden and. If you go on her website, she also has a really excellent blog and she now has a seed company. And, you can fall in love with flowers through Floret because she has impeccable media, her pictures are like jaw dropping and her flower farm�
She grows into Skagit Valley Outlaw Washington and their soil is just remarkable. And so every little seedling she throws in the ground turns into this glorious work. So what you do is you tour the seasons in her book and you can see that from spring, summer, autumn, winter, she's got different suggestions of what to harvest during those times of year.
And. So that's one of the ways that you can understand how broad the flower world is, how obsessed people across history have been in cultivating all of these different varieties that thrive at different times of year and basically at that point, the sky's the limit. Like I probably will spend the rest of my life learning about all of the different, varieties.
They have all these shows where people compete, so yeah, you can broaden your season that way and then broaden your market stream, as you, you get more expertise.
Diego: [00:32:51] What's your USDA climate zone?
Benny Pino: [00:32:54] We�re in 7. I think we're in between A and B.
Diego: [00:32:56] So zone seven, what's the earliest you can go to market with a nice bouquet?
Benny Pino: [00:33:03] That's a moving target for me. It's a question that I ask myself all the time. And as of right now, May is my target this year. And I hope if future to make it April, that would be, April would be protected culture. And May is getting good at cool weather flowers and June is with your warm weather flowers.
Diego: [00:33:32] Okay. So that's somewhat parallels veg. there's obviously parallels more than maybe the warmer vege crops. you can definitely get a lot of edge out earlier than that. One thing I'm thinking is say somebody listening to this and they are a competent vegetable grower. They don't have a problem growing crops. They understand the aspect of growing vegetables, soil, managing weeds, all that type of stuff, but they feel like their market is crowded. They're not getting as much for their vegetables as they would like to.
And they're hearing you talk about flowers and they're considering looking at flowers or switching over to flowers. If they were to sit down in front of you, what would be the things that you'd want to ping them about or bring to their attention before they made a shift from vege to flowers?
Benny Pino: [00:34:31] First of all, I'd say be confident. I think that sometimes when I describe flowers, I get so excited and I talk about how much there is to learn. And I think a beginner might find that a little daunting. The truth is there's still crops, just like the veg are.
And if you have experienced growing beds, you know how to manage like the, the big topics like soil and irrigation and post-harvest and things like that. You're already pretty well-suited to get going. And you will have a successful year with most flowers as long as just do a bit of preliminary research and decide on a market stream. My big question would be to them. What do you want to get into? So let's just say it's bouquets, I would say, try and give yourself, a little wiggle room and say five.
You're going to have five to six months where you're going to produce. You�ll have five to six months when you get started that you can feel pretty confident in that you'll have a bouquet worthy, flower production field. And then as the years go on, that will slowly creep out and you'll know, expand that production cycle and you'll get to seven, eight months, maybe even nine when you're really good then.
And then it becomes a game of how much are you willing to invest in protecting culture? All of the big, learning curves in terms of veg production, your infrastructure and your, soil working and things like that. If you've got that nailed down, you can pretty much jump into the deep end with flowers and get started on that five to six month cycle.
Diego: [00:36:24] And I guess a way to, really dabble in this, if you're curious is to do that, what you're saying is an add on business, start selling bouquets while you sell veg. And that, most people who are growing vege have some extra land that way you're not really shooting yourself in the foot. You're not killing off vege to go to flowers before giving it a shot.
You can sell it in parallel. See how you like growing them, get your experience, see how you like doing all the post-harvest process, which is easier after having seen you do it, but it is different. And it seems like an easy, relatively easy add-on for some vege farms. If they're curious about going down this route deeper.
Benny Pino: [00:37:14] Yeah. I want to point out that the post-harvest, I didn't quite realize this at first, if you've got a walk in cooler, you've already gotten most of what you need.
Some people don't even have a walk-in cooler, you can process flowers just by bringing them in the field. There's a few of them that you might want to, like Basil for example, will wilt pretty easily. You don't see are the ends of the stems. So there's a little bit of care there, but honestly, I had to take most of my post-harvest stuff from the veg world and either give it away or use it for some other function because I wasn't doing any of that stuff anymore.
So you free up a huge amount of time, not having to worry about post-harvest processing it. It becomes a little bit more about bunching and sorting, but again, that's like something you have to do with veggies anyways. So there's. I feel like I don't want to say that there's no post-harvest, but it gets truncated by them like 80%, which, it is eaten up a little bit more by the fact that when you go out to the field, you are cutting for longer.
You don't have a root Digger to come along and pull everything up real quick. You don't have a quick cut greens harvester that you can just zip along the crop, the top of the bed. You do spend more time in field in terms of harvest and that can deal a little bit of a bear.
If you don't schedule yourself. Correctly or break it up, but, still overall time, I would say you not having to wash root vegetables at the end of the day saves you way more time. I can say that very like accurately, I think from having transitioned from the veg world into this.
Diego: [00:39:08] For example, walk people through what a week might look like on a one-acre flower farm in the middle of the summer. How onerous is the workload? How many hours are you putting on? Just in terms of say the field work and preparing for market, let's not count the wedding work because I see that as that's a side business.
Benny Pino: [00:39:29] The way I break out my week. Is I think about the nursery first. And so it's all about, I start seeds on a weekly basis and you want to really, nail that game down cause flower seeds can be very tedious and difficult to work with, but I'm not going to get too much into that. It's just, you spend save four to six hours on a Monday doing that and getting all your seed started and then you grab a hold of your transplants.
And hopefully you've got a systematized way of transplanting. Be it a paper pot, or a water wheel, something like that. And you get out there and you drop those. Hopefully you've got weather's cooperating and on say that same Monday or Tuesday, you basically should finish up your transplanting. And then by the time you get around to Wednesday, you should be harvesting. So you really want to have�on any farm, like no gaps, you need to be, you need to be constantly, in production.
So you're going to get out there and you're going to cut from almost, you're like half of your fields, half of your beds. And that becomes the largest task. That's. Can take up, say that Wednesday and either into a Thursday as well, or, you're staggering and you're going into a Wednesday and say a Saturday cut.
The thing about flowers is they'll keep for almost universally from five to seven days. No problem and that'll give you enough time to get to market. And then when those people bring that home, they should get another five to seven days in base at home. That's where you're walking cooler is going to help and you're going to cut without having to worry too much about, what day of the week that is.
And then on Friday, Saturday, they you're going to essentially do like field work. I'll prep beds. I'll turn things over. I'll get out there and I would suggest people use. A flail mower or something on the soar to knock down your crops because flowers can get pretty big. A lot of people would do like a hand clear with veg. I think that's a little crazy, but anyways, you clear out your fields and then you get them ready to plant again on Monday.
Diego: [00:41:43] When you compare some of the potential problems or maybe more labor-intensive processes on a veggie farm harvesting and washing of product that's obviously out. On the washing side, one area that a lot of veg producers spend a lot of time managing is weed pressure, weeds versus flowers. How does that compare to weeds versus vegetables?
Benny Pino: [00:42:12] I find that it varies a lot. There are some flowers, the state flower here is Rebeccia. And I feel like it grows so well that there's no weed that can beat it. But at the same time, you also grow things that are a lot more fragile in the flower world than most veg. It's almost a little more akin to say, trying to take on a specialty cut green or a carrot.
I wouldn't say it's as onerous as a carrot, you definitely want to give your flowers a clean bed almost every time. And I honestly simplified it almost entirely down to using tarps a lot. And I find, and that if you can get your perennial weeds situation under control, your annual weeds�I use transplants, and so transplants give you a pretty good leg up in terms of being ahead of the weed pressure.
And then once, if you're planting intensively, you're ahead of the weeds out there and the flowers will cover them out and they'll be fine. Honestly, I think it's more about like, how good is your cultivation game in general? I didn't have to change things very much. I didn't have to like, develop a whole new system from going from veg to flowers. It's more like how clean is your bed and how systematized is your cultivation practices?
Diego: [00:43:42] And when do you think about setting up, say a flower farm. This is a point that you made to me when we were communicating before the show of comparing, say startup expenses of vege to flowers. If I glance around in my mind, flower, farm versus veg farm. The obvious is you're not going to have the whole wash station infrastructure that you'd have to have on a veg farm on a flower farm. Are there other differences that would make, say, setting up a flower, farm, less expensive, and there may be things that a flower farm would have to have that a veg farm wouldn't have that could make it more expensive.
Benny Pino: [00:44:23] I've thought about this question a lot in terms of what's the minimum amount that you could spend to start a small-scale farm like this. And honestly, all I did was get rid of equipment. When I transitioned from veg into flower, there's like buckets, for example, become like more of a thing. Percona buckets, I can't advocate for them enough. They are a pretty straightforward square, but it's tapered a little bit.
So that it's, getting wired towards the top and has handles on either side that are built into the bucket and they. They just hold way more stems than say your five gallon. So I would really suggest people if they're going to get into a serious production model with flowers, they go towards Percona buckets. But honestly, I didn't have to buy anything new or extra. And the only thing that really stood out to me was the flail mower.
Because, in terms of turning your beds over, there's more organic material so you want to think about how to handle that. And the flail mower is actually an investment I'm going to make this year. I haven't used it yet. But from all the research I've done, it looks like it will be the perfect tool and that's about it.
I honestly�Oh, and then there's one other big thing I would say is transportation. So one of the limitations. With flowers is that you can't put them in a box and stack them. If you can do that when you ship them. When you go to the wholesaler, that's that they have them in buckets, but then they'll put them into boxes to ship them. Or like they'll arrive directly from say Columbia in a box, but then there's like a ton of packaging and all sorts of tricks that you have to do to keep them from expiring.
Really when you're bringing them as a small-scale grower to sell them, you can't stack them unless you build shelving in your transport vehicle or in your walk-in cooler. That's something that I would have people think about. You're like square footage of your walk-in cooler. Isn't going to go nearly as far then, like when you're producing vegetables and you can just stack them in boxes as high as you want.
Diego: [00:46:51] So all in, I think this episode makes the case that small-scale farming of flowers cut flowers specifically is a viable business. Do you agree with that statement? Like you can make a living doing this. Obviously, there's the nuance of, you have to be a business savvy and all that type of stuff, but a well-run cut flower farm on an acre. That's going to make sense.
Benny Pino: [00:47:21] I wouldn't just go as far as to say it's a viable business, I would say that it's the curve ball. I would say that, I heard. And analogy recently that, if you want to get into an Ivy league school, you should, go into fencing. You should specialize and learn how to fence because no one does that, and it's a way to pad your resume so that you get in without a whole lot of effort that this is�As far as my experience has shown me in the last three years, it's a very easy way. If you already know how to farm, to pad your resume to increase your offerings. And honestly, it'd be one it's just exclusively do flowers. You probably would make a tidy little living.
Diego: [00:48:11] Yeah, and this is going to be the first episode in a whole series of episodes that we're going to do in the first half of 2019 with both yourself and your wife, Courtney talking everything flowers.
So people, if people are interested in this, they can stay too. And there'll be more ahead in the coming months. And if people want to learn more from you, you do offer advice, consulting for people that want to. Get in touch with you. If they have questions about the flower business or want to get some advice, where would you send them?
Benny Pino: [00:48:42] We have a website that has contact information on it. It's www dot loblolly dot far, or you can type in loblolly organic farm.com. And then we're also at loblolly farm on Instagram. You can just shoot us a message that way, or you can always email me. I'm at, Benny at loblolly dot
Diego: [00:49:11] there. You have it. The flower grower, Benny Pino of loblolly farm. What'd you think of this episode? What do you think of the idea of growing cut flowers? Do you want to hear more about this? Let me know. Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up on Instagram at Diego footer. Be sure to check out everything that Benny's doing on his farm at loblolly farm, which I've linked to in the show notes for this episode.
And for those of you who do want to hear more or about growing flowers, stay tuned over the next few months because I'll be doing an ongoing series with both Benny and his wife, Courtney, who you didn't hear today, but you will in a future episode talking all about. Cut flowers and everything that they've done to build the market and build a farm around growing them at loblolly farm.
That's all for this one. Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.
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