25 Jul 2022

Q and A with a Maine Flower Farmer

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Jen and Scott, and their children Violette and Chloe Joray grow flowers at Eastern River Farm in Pittston, Maine. What follows are the Joray’s answers about growing flowers in Maine.

What is your favorite part about growing flowers in Maine?

I love that Maine is a shorter growing season which helps a farmer rest (haha, that doesn’t really happen!) and a cooler temperature for much of the overall season than many other states. I adore the spring and fall, because the cooler weather and warm sun makes outdoor time heavenly.

What advice do you have for customers to display and ‘extend’ the vase life of farm-grown, fresh-cut bouquets?

Flowers and foliage wilt when they can no longer drink through their stem. Cutting the dead or dirty stem ends after two-to-three days will refresh them.

Clean your vessel so well you would drink out of it, add a couple teaspoons of sugar, which keeps flowers colored and opening, add a drop or two of bleach to keep the water free of bacteria, which can clog the stems.

When you trim the ends, do it under a stream of water, which fills the cut end with water rather than air, helping stems uptake even more fresh water. Lastly, keep flower arrangements shaded and cool.

How did you learn to grow flowers, and design arrangements—such as bouquets, and wreaths, or other décor?

I learned through trial by fire! We planted hundreds of varieties of flowers and foliage our first three years, and observed how they behaved.  Every season I learn more about each variety. Learning how to grow well is endless!

Do you have a favorite flower to grow that is especially rewarding?

Yes! Strawflowers are my favorite. They look nearly identical fresh and dried, grow in dozens of shades, have a myriad of interest at all stages of growth, continue to mature after being cut (even days later!), and can be used in every application where flowers belong.

For example, in bouquets, wreaths, and flower crowns, on corsages, etc. They can be wired, the heads can be snipped off and used in Christmas ornaments, and they are fabulous for pollinators. Their centers explode when they go to seed, and the seed can be harvested and dried to grow another batch the following season.

What is a flower that might be overlooked, but is a staple in your cut flower gardens or arrangements?

Yarrow is our staple. Yarrow is achillea millefolium, or thousand leaf, and is native to the northern hemisphere. It is a forgiving plant to grow, coming in many colors and shades within those palettes. The seed can be saved and will come back true to the color the plant was when you saved the seed, regardless of other yarrow colors around.

If you could go back in time to when you first began your business, what might you do different (if anything)?

I would not have purchased so many dahlias our first year! We were terrible at growing them early on and wasted the investment. Once we learned how to grow them, we began to build our supply up slowly, which I wish we had done in the beginning!

Any exciting trends or business developments that you hope Maine flower farms and florists will see in the next 10 years?

I hope to see more flower farmers succeed at long-term regenerative farming, using no harmful chemicals to control pests and diseases rather than the short-term “rewards” of using these.

We do not spray any harmful chemicals, but instead focus on health soil and beneficials like insects, fungi and birds of prey, along with natural amendments. We spend more money on these high-level inputs, which in turn bolsters our land’s health for the long-haul. We have lost crops to pests and diseases, however, we would rather rip them out and start again or just not grow that particular crop, than to compromise on land health. This includes invasive species.

It is very difficult to rid one’s land of these non-native plants and animals. However, spraying or even painting on harmful chemicals will eventually contaminate waterways and kill our native species, along with the non-native ones. We have to be smart and take the time to learn from people in the proper fields with extensive knowledge on the subjects they’ve studied and researched for decades to get the most thoughtful angle, and have to use good judgement and exercise patience.

In the end, I always ask myself, “Will this benefit only me, or will this be beneficial for all future generations ahead?” If my answer is the long-term health and longevity of nature, then I have my answer. It is not often the one I want to hear, but it is the one by which we live each day and for which we strive towards and work hard to achieve.