Learning to grow and savor what you produce is what makes farming a lifestyle not just a living. (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011), from husband and wife team Michael and Audrey Levatino, provide a working example of how to live sustainable lives while protecting the land. In this excerpt from the sixth chapter, titled “The Flower Garden”, the authors tell of the steps necessary in planning a cutting garden.
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Start Your Own a Cutting Garden
Important elements of a successful cutting garden include row planting with wide pathways; a drip irrigation system; woven landscape fabric; and support netting.
Row Planting and Wide Pathways
Because irrigation is so important, rows are the best method for farming flowers. And it’s just as important to maintain weed-free, wide pathways. Flowers can grow into very large plants that spill out of the sides of your rows and make it difficult to maneuver and cut the flowers. We maintain four- to five-foot rows where possible. We cover the ground with cardboard and a thick layer of wood chips in the pathways to keep weeds at bay.
By far the most important element is the drip irrigation system, without which we could not feasibly provide water for the eight long rows of flowers in our halfacre cutting garden. Not only does the drip irrigation allow us to turn on the water and proceed with other tasks, it delivers that water right at ground level, allowing it to soak slowly into the soil, going where the plants need it most, right to their roots. This system prevents waste of water from evaporation and over watering, and also prevents diseases encouraged by the excessive moisture of overhead watering, such as powdery mildew. It’s best to buy a kit from an irrigation supplier.
Drip irrigation is relatively easy to install and disassemble.
Not all growers use landscape fabric on their rows. Landscape fabric is a heavy black woven polypropylene fabric that allows water to percolate through to the plants. It is available in several thicknesses, lengths, and widths. We find it essential to weed control because we self-seed and set out our own tiny transplants. The landscape fabric allows these baby plants to grow without being overtaken by the hardy and abundant weed population. Through experience we’ve learned that weeding around baby flower plants leads to as many flowers being destroyed as weeds. We do not have landscape fabric down in our perennial and bulb/tuber beds. We also do not use landscape fabric for our giant sunflowers. The sunflower is one plant that grows quickly and strongly enough to outpace the weeds. We do end up with a lot of weeding to do once the sunflowers have established themselves.
An important distinction to make is that between landscape paper and landscape fabric. Our first two years we used landscape paper, and it worked fine. Unfortunately, it only lasted one season. The paper disintegrated and tore, making it impossible to pull it up and save it for another season’s use. While not our biggest expense, the landscape paper is not cheap. Also, we had spent several hours marking out the flower hole placement and then burning a small hole for each plant with a small propane torch. Yes, thousands of holes. From another local farmer and friend of ours, we learned that a local landscape company sold landscape fabric—the actual synthetic woven material—and that is what we put down this year. We plan to pull it up and store it over the winter and reuse it again next year. After cultivating and composting our beds, we lay out our drip tape and then spread the landscape fabric on top, fastening the sides with landscape fabric pins (sometimes called staples). Not only does the fabric allow our new flowers a chance to grow, it provides weed protection throughout the summer. On either side of our rows we construct paths by laying down cardboard and covering this with wood chips, mulch, or straw. With this method we have managed to squelch the majority of our weed problems, which allows us to focus our time and attention on our plants.
Strong wind and heavy rain can quickly destroy a crop of tall flowers by bending and breaking their stems. We use support netting in our long rows of flowers to help prevent this type of damage. Support netting also helps keep the plants growing in an upright habit when their blooms become heavy. Support netting is a plastic mesh with approximately four-inch square openings. It is often sold as a trellising material and comes in different lengths and widths. It is easily cut to fit any size bed, and is sturdy enough to store and reuse season after season.
Support netting is available through gardening catalogs and garden supply stores. Prepare your bed—apply compost and landscape paper or mulch, lay drip hose, and plant — then erect your support netting. You will need posts or stakes that are tall enough to match the flowers’ growth, and sturdy enough to hold the netting in place during severe weather — rebar works well. Place posts at the four corners of the bed, and then every six feet or so along the sides of the bed. A fter cutting your netting to the proper width and length, slip each edge corner over its post on one end of the bed and unroll the netting along the row, slipping a netting square over each post as you come to it. Lower the entire row of netting to the level of the plants by sliding it down the posts. As your flowers grow they will grow up through the mesh and you can raise the mesh to support the stems. Some tall flowers need two levels of support netting. You’ll want to put the netting in before the plants grow too tall. Not all flowers need support netting. Often the seed catalog or packet will supply information about netting or staking. Our single stem sunflowers never need staking as their stems are the size of a small tree.
Read more:Growing Flowers for a Cutting Garden
Reprinted with permission from The Joy of Hobby Farming by Michael and Audrey Levatino and published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2011. Buy this book from our store: The Joy of Hobby Farming.