We grow our annuals using many organic methods all tied together by Integrated Pest Management (IPM). These methods include using disinfectants on our greenhouse benches, using beneficial insects to control pests, using heat and humidity controls in our greenhouses to cut down on diseases and monitoring our plant growth closely.
All of our growing considerations begin with the soil, or media. We use a sterile mix containing peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and coir. We choose the mix with coir for the favorable root environment it creates. We also like the coir mix because it uses a by-product of another industry that would otherwise be wasted. Yes, you have to click on the coir link to find out more.
For our fall mums, we are using a compost based potting mix from the Moo-Doo company in Middlebury, Vt. The main ingredient is composted cow manure and they also add composted bark mulch. The compost base provides many slow release nutrients to the mum crop as the season progresses.
Once we choose our growing media, we decide on the types of containers and pots. There are hundreds of choices for pot sizes, colors, shapes, thickness, durability, cell size, depth and cost. We grow mainly in 4 packs, 4½ inch pots, 5 inch pots and larger decorative containers. We grow our bedding plants mainly in 4-packs. Why do we use 4-packs instead of 6-packs? After planting our own gardens with transplants grown in 4-packs and 6-packs, we found the 4-pack plants are larger with better root systems and healthier foliage.
The larger the plants, the stronger their growth and better their survival rate in the garden or window box. It takes fewer plants to fill an area when those plants are larger and better growers. So even though it seems like you are paying for fewer plants, those plants will go much farther in the garden. This is especially true with vegetable crops.
Our hanging basket plants are grown in everything from an 8″ plastic hanger to an 18″ moss hanger. We look for ways to enhance the health and longevity of our hanging baskets once our customers take them home. One way is to plant the correct number of plants in the pot. For example, we plant 4 geraniums in a 10″ pot. Others may plant 5 or 6 per pot as they try to decrease the time from planting to sale. The problem is that those plants will crowd each other and the customer ends up with a tired or dead hanging basket. Our 4 plants per pot will take a few extra weeks to reach maturity, but the plants will be healthier and more vigorous, resulting in a better hanger for our customers.
We add slow release fertilizer tablets to all of our hangers. This helps by providing a small supply of nutrients to the plants long after the customer takes them home. We do suggest you feed your hanging baskets every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer.
Another new innovation is the addition of a wetting agent to our hangers. These products increase the water holding capacity of the soil. Wetting agents also promote even water distribution and less “shrinkage” of the soil. Have you ever had a hanging basket in which you pour water in the top and suddenly it runs out the bottom? Water always finds the path or least resistance. Since the soil shrank in the pot, it pulled away from the inside edge of the pot. Now the water just runs to the side and down the pot leaving nothing for the plant roots. By adding a wetting agent, the soil can bounce back from shrinkage like this and the water you pour on the hanging basket will actually soak in and be used by the plant.
Gaining in popularity are our moss baskets. They range in size from a 10″ to an 18″. We buy the wire frames and the moss and assemble them here on the farm. It is quite an involved process including wetting the moss, lining the frames, filling with soil, planting the plants in the top and sometimes around the sides and then cleaning up the mess. The advantages of moss, depending on your tastes, are its cottage garden beauty, strong wire frames and large area for planting (even in the sides of the basket). The disadvantages, depending on your tastes, are the weight of the baskets, the loose moss falling out on the floor and the cost.
Our summer sales consist of larger finished annuals in decorative pots. These can be used as container plantings on your porch or deck, or as a mass of color to fill a spot in the garden. We grow these with an eye to longevity. We incorporate wetting agents, slow release fertilizer and healthy transplants.