FROM PADDOCK TO BLOOM
Last season being our first at our Stratford farm entailed a lot of set up as we slowly started turning our bare paddock into productive flower beds. Now going into our second season we're almost tripling our growing space and continuing our paddock to bloom expansion journey.
Laying the Groundwork
The prep-work for converting a bare paddock into workable beds, starts months before we plan to plant anything.
First we need to kill the grass and existing weeds, and as we're committed to growing with next to no use of chemicals + harmful sprays, the most effective way to do this on a large scale is to cover the the soil with tarps / black polythene. Over winter this mainly works to block the sunlight, while over summer the heat of the sun on the black also cooks the grass in the intense heat. If we leave the tarps down long enough the worms will start turning all the decomposing grass and weeds into glorious worm castings.
After a 3–6 months we take the tarps off, we dig out any dock-weed still clinging to life, and plough the ground into raised beds. Making our beds raised is a bit more labour intensive, but when it rains in Stratford it really buckets down, and after the first rain storm they quickly prove their worth, keeping our precious plants safe + dry. In subsequent years we will be predominately no–till, but after painstakingly broadforking bare–ground our very first season we conceded to the need of machinery to get things started.
Once our beds are formed we rake wheelbarrow & rake out a couple inches of locally sourced compost onto the beds.
We predominately grow a range of annuals, with almost all started from seed at our farm. We start the vast majority of our seeds in soil blocks and then transplant them out into the field.
Soil blocks are an alternative to traditional punnets & cell trays commonly used. While the soil blocks are a bit more labour intensive initially, we've found benefits in the end justify this extra effort. We find the soil-blocks help reduce our seedlings becoming root–bound & suffering from transplant shock when planting out. I recently wrote in depth about them here.
Once the little seeds have burst into life, and grown up a little they're ready to be planted out. As we use soil blocks we don't harden them off the traditional way, instead after planting we cover with woven Microklima cloth over wire hoops for a couple of weeks—this gives them partial shelter from wind, rain, and temperature extremes as they settle into their new home.
Immediately prior to planting we weedburn the row to eliminate the first flush of weed seeds freshly germinated on the beds. We skipped this step last season and immensely regretted it, this season we're back to it and already seeing improvements this winter. To also minimise weed pressure we mostly grow in weedmat with holes pre-burned into various grid spacings. The weedmat we use is thick & hardy and should last us many, many seasons.
Surprisingly irrigation is still very important even in the lush Taranaki. We use drip–tape as a very water efficient system to slowly and deeply water, minimising wastage and help minimize foliar diseases that overhead watering (and rain) can promote.
To help keep our plants happy & healthy we regularly foliar feed them with liquid seaweed + beneficial organisms.
After all the sweat, tears, stars aligning & much patience, eventually it's harvest time. We hand pick each bloom at their precise optimum in the morning or late evening when they're the most naturally hydrated. We harvest direct into clean buckets of water with diluted hydrating solution, leaving them to condition for at least few hours in our chiller, ready to be arranged & delivered.
It is very important to us to avoid using harsh chemicals at all costs, but in the very rare and only as a last resort we do use some conventional non-organic sprays when dealing with nightmare weeds or pest plagues. Also as Stratford is realistically not the ideal rose growing climate due to its wet + humid climate, we need to routinely spray our roses with conventional home-gardener sprays to protect against the inevitable black spot and rust. We're always refining what we grow trying to find the most suitable hardy flowers that will thrive in our climate + humidity.