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Weddings, weather and whining in Kilkenny!

Well it’s been a whirlwind of a month….My plans for fantastical weekly blog updates complete with beautifully captured and uploaded images didn’t quite turn out the way I’d imagined. I read a lot of other blogs (okay, I did read a lot of other blogs when I had a life outside of work, must get back to that during the winter……) and always wondered why the writers didn’t update more often. Didn’t they realise that I wanted MORE. More info, more musings on daily life, more horror stories that make me feel better about my own parenting/business/people skills. Why don’t they just make a bit more time in the day to throw up a few words on the screen, it only takes a minute surely???

Then I started my own blog….And realisation came to the fore. It isn’t so simple….Firstly you have to have content that is a least moderately interesting, you need to make proper time (when the kids aren’t sticking their finger’s in your eyeballs or the flowers aren’t screaming for attention) to sit in front of the computer and then somehow coherently put words up on the screen (ink to paper is so much more poetic, don’t you think?). Today, thankfully is one such day. I like blogging, I always feel a little bit of a weight off when I write. Maybe it’s because the inner voice that’s been nagging me for weeks to blog has been appeased or maybe it’s because I get to ‘offload’ my thoughts and frustrations into the computer. Don’t therapists always eschew the virtues of writing and good mental health….??

So that’s the whining ‘poor me my life is so hard and I’m so busy’ moan out of the way. Don’t want to spend too much time on that topic because the reality is…..…

I LOVE MY JOB!!!

Why? Because apart from being obsessed with flowers, I love weddings! I love meeting couples, chatting with the brides about their ideas, hopes and yes, dreams for their day. I feel honoured that I get to have a little part in it all. The excitement, the creativity, the nerves, the little bit of magic that’s in the air when two people are about to commit to each other forever in pure love. There’s nothing like it. I love listening to what ideas brides have come up with and look through their images (thanks Pinterest!) of what they want to create for their wedding. I spend a crazy amount of time looking at bouquet styles, flower installations, vessels and ribbons (I spend an unnatural amount of time looking at ribbon, I’m obsessed) deciding what will work best with each wedding. When I’m up at the farm I’ll see a particular variety of flower that I know will be perfect for a particular bride so will give it extra special attention. Even though it is all consuming I love the wedding itself. Making bouquets and buttonholes, delivering them, arranging the flowers in the ceremony/reception rooms. There’s not much time for sleep during the crazy few days it takes to put wedding flowers together and if it wasn’t for my darling husband handing me drinks and snacks there’s wouldn’t be much food consumed either. I don’t care though, it’s worth it and I love it all.

Wedding pictures form some recent weddings in Kilkenny will follow when they arrive from the photographers….Can’t wait!

At to that topic that everyone talks about when there’s nothing to talk about unless you’re a farmer and then you’re obsessed… THE WEATHER! Come that time of the evening when the news is finished and silence falls over the house (pre-empted by Andy roaring HUSH DON’T YOU KNOW THE WEATHER IS ON!!!!). We watch and wait for Gerry or Evelyn or Andy’s favourite Jean (he’s mesmerized by her outfits...) to hopefully tell us it’s all going to be ok. The sun will shine, our flowers will grow and all will be well….Ha!

It’s not been the best summer, early on it was too dry followed then by weather that was too cold, too wet. But we still managed to grow flowers, lots of flowers. We could have had more though, many more. We were late getting a lot of our seedlings into the ground and the cool weather that followed meant that they just didn’t thrive. The came on SO slowly, they are almost ready now to be harvested and the frost is on its way. Knowing that just as these flowers have reached their best they could all be wiped out overnight is heart-breaking. We know that working with (okay at the mercy of) the weather is all part of the job, but still, a very frustrating part.

Thankfully the flowers in the first field that were planted in May and early June thrived and gave us super harvests, many of them still preforming really well. The lessons for next year – Get seedlings in early. Plant less of each variety so we don’t get overwhelmed by crazy volumes of plugs. Succession sow. And for me personally - get over my need to control everything, have some faith and confidence in my seeds and soil and do more direct seeding. Yes, next year we’ll get it right….or at least get better.

What it means to grow naturally and sustainably

Recently a customer asked me what it means when we say ‘ Our flowers are grown naturally and sustainably'.

I get the feeling that they were thinking 'What difference does it make if they are organic or not, if they are not going to be eaten'. It made me realise that people often only associate organic methods with food production and don’t understand the value of all farming/growing being organic.

 

Note : I would like to state that while we grow organically, our use of the word 'organic' is limited as we are not certified organic (for reasons I will explain later) so instead we use the words 'natural' and 'sustainable'.

 

Firstly, natural farming methods aren't all about the end product. That would be a little selfish of us humans. Yes, naturally/organically grown foods/flowers are much better for our health but they are also better for the whole Earth.

 

If at Soah we didn't grow our flowers in a natural and sustainable way, then when I present you with a bunch of our freshly picked flowers I could hand them to you and say :

“Here are your lovely flowers, producing these resulted in the poisoning of unknown numbers of slugs, hedgehogs and birds (who both inevitably end up eating the poisoned slugs) along with a number of bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. It also used litres of peat moss, taken from Irish bog land (it takes hundreds of years to produce a tiny layer of peat moss). It resulted in a variety of toxic chemicals being pumped into the soil which will remain there for countless years to come and the kids got really sick when they accidentally came into contact with these chemicals.”

 

Still want those flowers?

 

I hope this helps you understand why we grow the way we do. How we do it is by using organic products and methods. We use compost that has been man made (from natural sources) and not extracted from bogs. The food we feed our plants with comes from natural sources and is chemical free. We do not use pesticides and herbicides.

 

The only downside to working in this way is that everything is more expensive. This makes our flowers a little more expensive. But the positives far out way the negatives. By spending a little more on our supplies, and you, the customer paying a little more for your flowers means you are not only helping to look after the beautiful Earth we already have, but also protecting it for future generations to come.

 

The reason why we are not certified organic is because we do not fulfil all the criteria necessary for certification : The land we rent was not organic at the time of renting. The majority of the seeds and plant stock we buy in are not organic. There is a limited variety of organic flower seeds available and as we want to grow everything we possible can, only choosing organic seed is not an option for us.

In the future we may seek to become fully organically certified. In the meantime we will continue to produce flowers in the most natural and sustainable ways possible.

Ammi to Xanthemum

I haven’t blogged in a while. Am a bit annoyed with myself as the plan was once I started, to keep it up. But then the workload went crazy and my computer was non-existent. It was utterly frustrating but also a tad embarrassing not having a home computer. It was a real struggle trying to keep up with office work. I could send an email on my phone and google something if I needed but anytime I needed to do ‘real work’ I had to head off into town to use my dad’s office.   So you can imagine how often that happened……

So now a quick catch up on what’s been happening.

I had a great idea during the winter months while I was planning the year ahead – to grow as many varieties as possible in order to trial lots of different flowers to see which ones suited our farm and our style of floristry best. Reads like a really great idea doesn’t it?

And so I ordered tons of seeds, and then some more. Everything I could get my hands on from Ammi to Xanthemum and everything in between. I quickly filled up the greenhouse with seed trays upon seed trays. Then came the marathon task of pricking them all out. I was up at 6 in the morning doing it, I was doing it at 12 o’clock at night in the living room (the lighting in our shed isn’t very good), Saturday nights and lazy Sunday mornings disappeared in a whirl of seedling preparations and more seed sowing and the constant scribble of updated notes and ‘to-dos’ being crossed out and replaced.

Then we ran out of space. We filled the first field and couldn’t get the second ready in time. A problem all too common with newbie growers. The grass had to be topped, the soil ploughed and rotovated. Compost had to be delivered, plastic needed to be laid. All of which required planning, money and time (the last two of which we were seriously lacking!!)

So we ended up with thousands of seedlings going nowhere fast. They were quickly filling up their plug trays and getting hungry. They needed to be fed. One by one. We made up big trays of organic liquid feed and gave each plug tray a long soak. Thankfully this worked and though not entirely happy, the seedlings were at least okay for the meantime.

But there were so many, everywhere! Little seedlings, big plants, all around the yard at the house and up at the farm, so many varieties all wanting different things. I became more that a little overwhelmed trying to keep up with it all. Endless planting, weeding, harvesting, cursing over lost stock - seedlings that were too late going into the ground never picked up, no water supply meant many were so stressed they didn’t recover.

So many lessons learnt the hard way. I’m grateful though for each one. I’ve amassed so much new information, learnt so much about flower farming and most importantly my own limits and what I can actually achieve when I need to.

My catchphrase for the season is ‘next year…..’ Next year most definitely will be better….Ha!

Flowers for sale!

We eat, sleep and breathe flowers. The hours are long and the weather is temperamental. Some little seeds grow, others die. It’s all worth it tho, every bit of it, when we see the end result…Our flowers heading off into the world.

I absolutely love selling flowers at the market. I get to meet such a great mix of people with their different stories. Some buy flowers for themselves, others as a gift. It just makes me so happy that these people chose us to buy their booms. Thank you.

Not everyone can make it to the Thursday market, so….

We are thrilled that our little bouquets are now in stock at The Little Green Grocer, Parliament St. Kilkenny.

a

The pretty shop window at The Little Green Grocer.

 

b

Bouquets of Iris, Hesperis, Allium and Lupin.

What’s growing on

We are in full propagating mode here at Soah and I LOVE it.

These days when the alarm goes off at 6am, you’d think I’d be stuck to the bed longing for more snooze time, but no, I actually can’t wait to start the day! Why? Because the first thing I do (with mug of tea in hand) is to go into the greenhouse to see what’s happening. I get so excited every time a new batch of seed germinates, evening squealing with delight when a particular favourite pops up.

We sow most of our seeds into single block seed trays on a bed of peat free compost (which we buy from Fruit Hill Farm). Then we sit them onto our propagating bench. And wait.

a

The propagating bench full of happy, cosy seeds that have just woken up (and some that are desperately waiting to be pricked out….)

My brother helped us to  construct our propagating last February and it has proved invaluable.   With it we are able to start sowing seeds early in March.  It is made from sheets of plywood with a 6 inch high frame around it. The legs are made from fence posts.  We lined the bottom of the table with styrofoam for insulation and covered this is thick plastic.  We then put in a layer of horticultural sand, laid heated cable and covered with another layer of sand.  A lovely toasty warm bed for little seeds to start on.

b

The building of the bench, completed just before dark.

Once the little seedlings have their first true leaves they are pricked out into 77 or 96 cell plug trays – we use these for all our annuals and some of our perennials.  Some perennials that are very fast growing will go straight into 9cm pots.  These are then positioned on the floor of the greenhouse and their spot on the heated bench quickly taken by a new batch of seeds.

c

Some of the many rows of seedlings in the greenhouse. When they are fully rooted we’ll harden them off and plant them on the farm.

Some of the seedings I’ve pricked out lately…(some of these have now moved onto the farm) Ammi majus/visnaga, Zinnias, Carnation ‘Suberb’, Godetia, Salvia, Malope, Helichrysun, Nigella, Calendula, Agastache, Tithonia, Snapdragons and tons of Dahlias.

On the bench we have Chrysanthemum ‘Rainbow’, Cleome, Gypsophila, Bells of Ireland, Rudebeckia ‘Marmalade’, Ageratum, Ammobium, Statice sunburst ‘Apricot’ and ‘Soft Pastels’, more Dahlias, more Zinnias….

Looking forward to a very flowery summer :)