October On The Farm

There’s much to do on a flower farm in the fall, and this season in particular is shaping up to be a busy one for my small but dispersed operation. We’re still harvesting and selling summer crops and it feels hard to cut the season short unnecessarily, but there are fall transplants itching to get into the ground. What’s a girl to do? Such is the life of farming on limited space.

My three little fields are each less than 20 minutes apart, but located in three distinct microclimates. I’m not sure where else but the Bay Area this could occur. My main field sits on rented land in a little frost pocket in Sebastopol. In previous years I’d grown all my summer dahlias there, where they flourished but succumbed to incredibly early fall frosts. I’ll never forget the season when it frosted on October 9th, and I arrived the next day to an 80 degree afternoon and a field full of frost-nipped dahlias, browning and increasingly displaying their damage as the day went on. The season ended shockingly early, but it prompted me to jump into a thorough fall farm cleanup like I’d never before accomplished. A blessing and a curse, that frost.

This year is a different story all together for my dahlias. As I prepare to dig up and move out of my Sebastopol field in order to consolidate my business on less land, I decided to plant the dahlias in my backyard field in North Petaluma. It sits high on a sunny little field, where nighttime temperatures won’t begin to really plummet until December. I planted them in hoop houses covered in plastic. This not only helped to fast-track their growth since I planted them about a month late (in late June rather than May as usual), but will also hopefully keep them going later into the fall, filling my farm stand with their popular blooms when people are desperate to hang onto summer color.

I’m happy the plan worked out, but it’s caused me to scramble to fit my fall-planted spring-blooming annuals into a tight calendar. Ranunculus is a big spring crop for me, and I usually plant the dormant corms straight into the ground. This year with the dahlias in their place for another precious month, I’m pre-sprouting them in cell trays instead, buying myself three weeks of time where both crops can be happily growing.

Whoever said production agriculture isn’t creative, wasn’t fighting to grow 2 different crops in Sonoma County on a field barely big enough for one.