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And we had a little rest.

 

 

Well we got to the end of the year! Though it was more a case of hauling ourselves across the finish line rather than reaching the end of the year having completed all our goals, ticked all the boxes and all round pat-on-the-backs…

However…

After a lovely rest and a think about everything we achieved over the last year I think I can now say that I am so happy with everything we did accomplish, have accepted what we didn’t and can’t wait to get stuck into the year ahead, roll on 2016!!!

The Christmas break was everything I wanted it to be. Lots of eating, sleeping and hanging out with Andy and the boys. Proper family time was something we didn’t have in ages so it was very welcome when it finally arrived. The boys were thrilled to have mam n dad around all day. We snuggled up on the couch and watched movies, played with their new toys and read stories. We gobbled chocolates and stayed in our pajamas all day – heaven! There were so many times during the year when I felt so guilty about my workload and not having enough time to spend with the boys as they would have liked so Christmas was my way of making it up to them. We went to my parent’s house Christmas day and apart form that we didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t want or need to. The weather was miserable and the roads were flooded so we lit a big fire every day and stayed put. I did have times where I’d think about the broken tunnel or the flooding in the field and the huge amount of work facing us in the year ahead. But I didn’t let it get to me, I put it out of my mind and ate another chocolate, life is too short to dwell and overthink.

Senan is now back at playschool and Harry is back to ‘big’ school tomorrow and I too am back to work. I learnt so much last year that I can implement in the coming year. Not just growing skills but life skills also. So many times during 2015 I became completely overwhelmed with everything, the tears flowed and the self-doubt crept in. So this year I’ve had a big think and come up with some resolutions of sorts, some guidelines for me to (hopefully) stick to…

I’m going to stop being so hard on myself and stop comparing myself to others – we are all on a journey, all at different stages.

Don’t try and do everything, make lists and prioritise, do what I can in a day and know when to stop for the day and even know when to take a day off!

I want to appreciate all we have achieved in the last year and know it will take many more to get where we want to be, one step at a time, not twenty!

Make some time for family and friends, far too often I say ‘sorry I’m busy, sorry I’m working’ my family and friends mean the world to me so I need to ask myself if I could finish a little earlier or just take some time out of my day for them.

Be happy and grateful. Everyday.

 

The highlights of the year (of which there were many!!!) were

Getting to walk through rows and rows of flowers on a sunny day, I had to pinch myself at times.

Harvesting flowers at sunrise and sunset, nothing short of magical.

Growing Bells of Ireland, dinnerplate Dahlias, mammoth Zinnias, Ranunculus and so many other flowers I had dreamed of having on my very own little flower farm.

Being chosen by brides to do their wedding flowers, such a happy, beautiful time, I felt honoured.

Watching my two beautiful boys playing and helping out with the flowers.

Learning something new every day!

 

I got back up to the farm this afternoon. I had to dig up some dahlias and cover some others. Job that should have been done last year but weren’t. At least we had a crazy mild winter so the tubers are still ok, but as there’s cold weather setting in I want to get them sorted as soon as I can. Last year I dug up all the dahlia tubers, cleaned and stored them. I stored some in sawdust and others in perlite and kept them in crates in the shed. This year I have hundreds more and don’t really have the crates or the space to store them all. So I’m digging up the big doubles and dinnerplates and anemone flowering (Café Au Lait, Diamond Jubilee, Pooh, Ice Crystal, Apricot Sunset and Blue Bayou) to store and the rest I’m experimenting on. I have a full row of dahlias that I grew from seed. They aren’t as big as the others and some are even ear marked for removal altogether so I don’t mind too much if some succumb to the cold. In order to try to protect them I’m covering them with a really thick layer of clippings. I cut down dead foliage from the annual and perennial beds and layered this over the dahlias….fingers crossed it works!

dahlias covered

It mightn't be the neatest..but if it works I'll have saved myself a lot of work protecting these dahlias.  Maybe next year I'll have a lovely low tunnel to put over them...or a least some spare frost cover!

While up there I did have a ‘moment’ I saw my broken tunnel, I thought about the trays of Ranunculus plugs waiting to go into said tunnel, I saw the waterlogged areas and the tons and tons of weeds that needed to be sorted before Spring and just for a moment felt overwhelmed...until…I remembered the resolutions I made only a few hours earlier!! (I wrote the first part of this blog this morning) and quickly pulled myself together, made a mental list, prioritised and got on with my work. While securing some of the frost cover that had come loose in the wind I spied my Hesperis doing really well and squealed with delight as I thought about the year ahead, the flowers I would have and suddenly there was no place else I wanted to be and nothing else I wanted to be doing. Roll on 2016….x

 

snug hesperis

Snug Hesperis, looking good :)

 

thumbs up

 

Looking forward to the year ahead!

Swings and roundabouts

Up and down, round and round, forwards then backwards…….Running a business is never easy, running a business you’re passionate about is so so difficult because you become so emotionally involved.

A couple of months ago I had one fab day.  The skies were clear and the wind was elsewhere, perfect weather for finally getting the plastic up on the tunnel.  Ended up being just me at the farm that day so I had two choices…wait for another day like today or get on with it. I got on with it.  The tunnel is about 70 feet long so I knew it wouldn’t be easy doing it on my own.  But I tried and the plastic was so heavy I couldn’t get it over the frame.  Then I got mad.  Very mad. I just wanted it done!!  So anger propelled me and I grunted and shouted and after pulling every muscle in my body I got the plastic over and buried.  I felt very pleased with myself.  For the first time in ages I felt strong (had been spending most of my time in the office or studio), it was good to know ‘I still had it’.  The next day I filled a row in tunnel with loads of poppy plugs I had in the greenhouse, thrilled at finally getting these little beauties in the ground.  Last year I grew them in pots as we didn’t have a tunnel up, so was nice to see the progress we’d made.

Then a great big storm came and blew the whole bloody lot down.  We had gone up the day before to make sure it was secure so when Andy came down from the farm to tell me the tunnel was destroyed I didn’t want to believe him.  But he was right.  Funnily enough (tho I wasn’t actually laughing) it was the frame that had collapsed the plastic had remained tucked in the ground.  At lease I got that right….Unfortunately when the frame came apart it ripped through sections of the plastic.  The weather has been so bad since we haven’t been able to take the mess apart so we don’t know if we can salvage it.  For now there’s the collapsed frame with its blanket of plastic. 

I’m just hoping my little poppies will be ok in there until we can rebuild their home.  I am definitely feeling deflated.  But not giving up!  I learnt a long time ago to never take what the weather does personally.  It is far more powerful than me.  I just have to work alongside it as best I can.

Plus, we still have loads of flowers to come! We planted thousands of bulbs last month, have hundreds and hundreds of biennials snuggled under frost cover and have loads of perennials which will be flowering in early summer.  I’ve also got hundreds of both ranunculus and anemone corm in plug trays.  They should have been planted in the tunnel but they weren’t ready in time, luckily for them! So lots to look forward to – Just need to get through the winter first.

And....when the tunnel goes back up......I think I'll leave it to the experts next time....!

Biennial time

Biennials are an essential part of our catalogue of flowers here on the farm. They provide us with flowers early in the year and fill the gap between spring bulbs and summer flowers. We wouldn’t be without them!

They are called biennials as they take two years to grow and produce flowers. They like to grow their leaves in the first year and then after experiencing the cold temperatures of winter (called vernalisation) they are ready to start flowering in late spring with some continuing right into the summer. This year we harvested our first stems (wallflower) on the 22nd April and we harvested our last (sweet william) on the 22nd of July. We sow the seeds in August and transplant them out the following month. This gives them time to put out roots and leaves and be ready for the winter ahead.

 

Last year we bought all or biennial seeds from Ben at Higgledy Garden. He does a good package of biennial seed which makes it really easy to order. He always includes a lovely hand written note and I find the quality of his seeds really good. The only variety I wasn’t overly keen on was his Icelandic poppies. (Icelandic poppies are biennial as opposed to other poppy varieties which are annual and perennial) They came in a mix pack of reds and oranges. They were pretty but the flowers were small and I didn’t end up using them.  

This year I’m trying out a seed company I have not tried before. I want to try out as many as I can so I can compare price and most especially, quality. Chiltern seeds have an excellent range of seeds so bought my biennials from them.

The biennials that I bought and sowed this year are:

Hesperis matronalis, purple and white. Hesperis comes in two colours purple and white. ( Earlier this year my van broke down while I was attempting to go for a hike in the Blackstairs mountain and on the long walk back to somewhere Andy would find me I spotted pink Hesperis – it almost made up for the breakdown – but as far as I know you can’t purchase the seed). Hesperis are fantastic. As long as I’m a grower I’ll sow these every year. They’re not stunning nor have any exotic features. But, they are a great cottage style flower, give really good stem length, and flower in abundance for months. Their stems are bursting with tonnes of small flowers and they make fantastic fillers for bouquets.

Foxgloves  (Digitalis) are another staple here on the farm. They come in an array of sizes and colours. Last year I grew the purple (Digitalis purpurea) and white (Digitalis purpurea var. Alba) and was happy with them. They have huge stems and flowered for months from the end of May. This year I want more colours and some shorter stems as last years’ were so tall they just didn’t work in smaller bouquets, plus they were a pain to transport, they kept falling over! You have to be careful also about keeping them upright in the right location as they always bend towards the sun and before you know it you end up with bent, twisted and often unusable stems. This year I’m growing four varieties. D. purpurea var. Alba, the common white one that I grew last year. D. purpurea ‘Dwarf Vanilla’, I know the colour and size will work well for me. D. purpurea ‘Pam’s Choice’, this is a tall variety, its bells are white with maroon centres, can’t wait to see it flower! D. purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’, tall with stunning pink/peachy flowers, another I can’t wait to see!

Sweet William. (Dianthus barbatus). There are many varieties of Dianthus, but it is the barbatus ones that are the biennials. Some of them could be described a short lived perennials, I treat them all as biennials, ripping out and replacing the old plants every autumn. These are truly an old – fashioned cottage style plant, but with many uses! Anyone who buys them from me often has fond memories of them and I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t like them. They are so lovely in big bunches on their own or put through bouquets.   They are easy to harvest and have good vase life. Last year I grew D. ‘Auricula Eyed’ D. ‘Blackjack’ and ‘Alba’ which came in the biennial mix from Higgledy Garden. I was very late getting the seed sown (they fell down behind the seed box and I didn’t find them until September, ha!) so I had no choice but to over winter the tiny seedlings in the greenhouse and plant them out in the spring. They did eventually produce flowers towards the end of June but apart from ‘Blackjack’ (love the colour!!) I didn’t get great stem length or quantity. This year I decided to try some different varieties. Dianthus barbatus Amazon Rose Magic’, really looking forward to these, they have white flowers which turn to light then dark pink, giving a lovely mixed flower head. D. b. ‘Noverna Clown’, like ‘Amazon Rose Magic’ it starts out white then turns to pink/salmon/violet. I must be a sucker for flowers that show off! Though ‘Noverna Clown’ do not require vernalisation, I am planting them with the others as I want to keep them all together. D. b. ‘Sooty’ has dark stems and flowers and D. b. x chinensis ‘Kensington Mix’ have double – headed flowers in a mix of colours.

Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri, formerly known as Cheiranthus cheiri). I only grew a small amount of these last year (‘Cloth of Gold’ variety) and even though I didn’t get great stem length (the plugs did get very stressed before they went into the ground) I did use them a lot as they were lovely mixed in with bouquets of tulips. This year I’m growing Erysimum cheiri ‘Ivory white’, white flowers are essential for me, E. cheiri ‘Ruby Gem’, a really deep red that I know will work well with my tulips, E. cheiri ‘Giant Pink’, these can grow to 60cms and have beautiful deep pink flowers, E. cheiri F1 Hybrid ‘Sunset Apricot’ and ‘Sunset Dark Purple’ are more compact plants but I know I’m going to love the colours.

Honesty (Lunaria annua). I grow these for the shiny seed pods they produce after flowers though last year I did use some of the flowers in bouquets. The flowers are similar to Hesperis but with slightly more delicate petals. Germination from seed can be poor so best to sow plenty! Each plant does produce quite a few stems/branches, last year I planted out less than 20 plants and got about 3 armloads of pod laden stems this week.

Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule). I have spent a ridiculous amount of time drooling over pictures of giant Iceland poppies (thanks to the amazing Floret!!) I really couldn’t wait to grow them myself. I think that’s why I was so disappointed with this years’ ones, I was expecting a much grander show than I got. This time I took my time ordering the varieties. I sowed seeds from Papaver nudicaule ‘Wind Song F2’ (big flower heads in pastels) and F1 Hybrid ‘Champagne’ bubbles (really big flower heads in bright colours) that I bought from Chiltern Seeds and P. n. ‘Deluxe Mix’ (huge flower heads in mixed colours) that I bought from Seedaholic. I was especially looking forward to harvesting armloads of ‘Champagne bubbles’ as Floret raves about them so was utterly disappointed when I got zero germination WHY??!!! At least the others behaved and I have a 3 trays of plugs almost ready to head to the tunnel.

*****************

I’m currently just getting the last of my biennials into the ground here on the farm. I’m a little late…was hoping to have them well settled in by the first frost which is due any day now. The plugs that are going into the ground are strong and healthy though so hopefully they will put out some roots and get settled into the ground quickly. I started all of our biennial seeds in seeds trays and then transplanted them into 77 and 96 cell plug trays. I use the 77’s for more shallow rooting plants that I want to grow into plugs quickly. They take less compost, making them cheaper and quicker to produce. I just have to keep a close eye on them that they don’t fill the plug and get hungry without me realising.   From experience it’s never good to allow plugs to get stressed as sometimes they never recover. I use the 96’s for anything that has a taproot and/or grows very rapidly and doesn’t particularly like being transplanted. They are perfect for our poppy seeds.

I buy all my seed trays from Fruit Hill Farm in Co. Cork. Their trays are not cheap but are super sturdy and will last for years. I hate buying anything that ends up in the bin after one season. I was able to buy push out plates for the trays with are invaluable. You sit the plug tray on it a push down and it lifts all the plugs up in the tray, fantastic! It’s less stress on the baby plants and makes transplanting much faster. I only use peat free compost in our nursery. It is more expensive but you honestly can’t put a price on peatland conservation. I buy this also from Fruit Hill Farm. It has fantastic texture (the first time I tried it I couldn’t stop running my hands through it and expected everyone else to do same) and the seeds and seedlings love it.  

I’m planning on covering all the rows of biennials with frost cover once I have done a round of weeding (I don’t want to have to life it again until next spring) and the overall weed growth has stopped. Using frost cover isn’t essential as the biennials are hardy, but I prefer to use it as it keeps them a little snugger over the winter as it protects against frost and wind and gives them an extra head start next year.

I’m definitely feeling a lot more organised than last year. Back then we had only just signed the lease on the land and were in a big hurry to get plants into the ground. It had taken longer than planned to get the lease and get the ground organised so we were pretty stressed. The biennials had long outgrown their plug trays (while waiting to get into the ground) and I had potted them all on into liners (9cm square pots). This cost us a lot in compost and time, it takes a lot longer to plant hundreds of liners than plugs!! Also last year we didn’t get to put down any weed suppressant which greatly added to our workload this spring as the beds started filling up with weeds. I remember saying to Andy not to worry, that next year we’dbe more organised, and for once we were! Ahhhh progress :-)

honesty seed

Collected seed from harvested Honesty seed pods.  I have the rest of the pods stored to use in my floristry work.

 

 

 

redone rows

 

Rows of baby seedlings tucked into prepared ground through a layer of mypex (weed suppressent).

 

 

 

frost cover

Some of last years' seedlings snuggled under frost cover.

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.