At Season's End
Lessons learned from my first year as a Flower Farmer
By JISKA HEALY
It’s the start of November. End of the season and the perfect time for me to start writing about the season ahead. It has been quite a while since I wrote a blog and I have to say that it will probably take some time getting back into the swing of things. For anyone visiting this page for the first time I will quickly introduce myself: My name is Jiska Healy and I live on a mountain close to the town of Tralee in Ireland. Earlier this year I started a little venture called Yesca’s Flowers together with my husband Maurice and my father Paul. I am from the Netherlands originally and I have always loved flowers. I spent my time growing and buying them all throughout my teenage and student years.
I have always preferred ‘cottage style’ locally grown flowers and soon figured out that I could not really find what I was looking for in my local shop. The flowers that I could find were usually imported and/or treated with a lot of chemicals to make them last longer. Whereas I am usually very careful with the chemicals I allow into my house. ‘That could be done differently’, I thought. Around that time my husband and I purchased a house on 1.5 acre site close to Tralee. We called it Healy’s Homestead and reserved about 0.5 acre to do something with in the near future.
So after quite some deliberation and encouragement from good friends and family (‘just go for it!’), and the help and advice of a fellow local flower farmer (a thousand times thanks Maura!), I bought a few bucketloads of specialty tulip and daffodil bulbs in the fall of 2017 and started selling flowers the following April on farmer’s markets. Yesca’s Flowers was born.
“I have always preferred ‘cottage style’ locally grown flowers”
And what a season it has been. I soon found out that being a flower farmer isn’t just meandering down the flower fields and looking pretty making bunches on a Saturday morning when people are queuing up to buy your product. Being a flower farmer means long days; dealing with garden pests you can’t just easily get rid of; bills and paperwork (a lot of it); socialising, networking and making new friends; many happy costumers and a few unhappy ones no matter what you do; weeks and weekends spent working; meandering down the fields; harvesting at warp speed; delivering that one bunch late at night for a respected customer; weather that seldom seems to be cooperating; making the most beautiful bouquets; working on the website; keeping up the web shop; putting weekly updates on Instagram and Facebook; totally neglecting one’s own garden (whoops) and perhaps the household too (double whoops); Selling out one market day and then selling out again all the weeks after that (awesome!); not being able to keep up with demand; thinking and dreaming of expanding and how to tackle next year’s bounty.
And then all of a sudden the season is at its end. The last flowers to go were the Dahlias. I was fully convinced I could get another week’s worth out of them but last Monday we had a good night of frost and unfortunately the plants turned black overnight. No more Friday and Saturday markets and a bit more time to get focused on what to do next year. This last year I only managed to grow on 500 m2 approx. I am now preparing the full half acre (a little over 2000m2) for flower production. There are ideas for adding perennials to the mix, mixing up the annuals and adding shrubs and trees for foliage. We also want to incorporate a clever sustainable rainwater harvesting system that my dad came up with. To battle slugs and other garden pests we are going to use ducks and chickens. Throughout the whole farming experience I want to stay true to my first principles: chemical free, naturally grown, bee-friendly, seasonal flowers.
All in all, I think we did really well this first year and with next years expansion I hope to be able to bring flowers to a lot more people, restaurants, hotels and stores. For now, we have next year’s spring bulbs in our web shop and I will be keeping you up to date with regular blog posts about flower farming and my life here at the farm. Feel free to write down your comments below. I would love to see how you experienced Yesca’s Flowers this last year.