Growing Fruit for the Flowers
Rachel Brann, Foreston, MN
Even before I began farming, I had an interest in growing fruit crops, especially in college studying Horticulture. I never could pin down the details, and my interest came and went. When my fiancé, Eric, and I began searching for a farm of our own and thought about what all we could grow there, he was especially excited about pears and fruit. For me, I was most excited about growing cut flowers to sell locally. Through my first season both growing cut flowers and on our farm, I became more and more excited about the idea of a diversified orchard that could be used both for a cut flower crop as well as for the fruit the trees and shrubs produced.
This plan is not very scientific, and much more intuitive. For me, and for the future of our farm, it makes sense to make early investments that we can benefit from in the future. A lot of mentors were telling me that the first thing I should do for my cut flower business was to plant perennials, with the idea being that in a few seasons I would be kicking myself to not have planted them sooner. With that advice, some knowledge on planning an orchard, and the delight I felt as I imagined both the flowers and the fruit, I was sold!
As I did more research on orchard crops that would be suitable for our farm and for our goals, I looked at what would grow well on our land, what we would be interested in selling as fruit, and what had potential or is currently being sold widely as a cut flower crop. I thought about the ability to sell each fruit we considered as a blossoming branch, a fruited branch, and as the fruit itself. There are many fruits that are commonly grown for forced blossoming branches, like crabapple, pear, and prunus species. Some were clear choices for one crop, like pears, which Eric is very excited about selling as fruit but may not be as suitable to be grown for their branches, or seaberry, which I believe will make a great cut flower, but may not be something we can market as well as fruit. My hope is that the dual purpose potential for each fruit will allow us to be flexible in how we sell each crop. I especially believe in this idea when I think of how quickly florists and designer snap up unique product that is being grown locally, and I think many fruit crops can be a unique product to offer in the future.
This orchard will also extend my season as a cut flower grower, as I'll have the ability to force branches to flower as I prune each Spring. Even taking branches as they begin to blossom in the field will extend my season, which is currently quite sparse until June. Selling branches with immature fruit is also common, especially crab apples.
The idea is supported in part by research and schooling, but mostly curiosity. Maybe this sounds familiar to you? I certainly don't have all of the details in place and haven't gotten too far into planting and maintaining the orchard, but I hope that can fall into place over time. While I was in college studying horticulture, I took a fruit production and marketing course and got some practical knowledge, but have yet to gain much hands on experience. My research has been inspired by books like "The Flower Farmer" by Lynn Byczynski, and publications from ATTRA and Universities, as much as it has by what I see other flower growers selling to wholesalers and florists.
The first step we took last season was to plant our field into clover as a ground cover and to build fertility and organic matter. This spring we bought rootstock for pears, apples, and prunus species, and quite frankly, we did a terrible job of grafting! The scions we sought out to use with our rootstock were chosen both for their fruit as well as the look of their blossoms. Nevertheless, the rootstock are growing and I look forward to getting better at grafting over time. We also were given seaberries and clove currants, which are two crops I believe will be very suitable offerings as cut flowers for their flowers, fragrance, and unique fruit. The plans for the orchard will continue to evolve over time, but in the future I have plans for flowering almond, elderberry, serviceberry, hawthorn, and lots of crabapple.
It's an amazing opportunity to be able to explore the possibilities of using fruits for their flowers and branches along with growing their fruit, and it's something I know I'll learn a lot from. I have more questions than answers, and can only go by what I've learned so far. I welcome any input you may have on varieties to trial, or tips and tricks I should know sooner rather than later!
About the Author
Rachel Brann grows cut flowers on her farm, Pluck Flower Farm, in Foreston, MN. She sells her flowers direct to consumers through farmers markets and weddings, as well as wholesale to designers and florists. She believes family farms are essential to the health of rural communities and the country, and that farmers deserve to earn a living.
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