Have you got what it takes to be a serious flower farmer? Not a gardener, but an actual ‘I do this for a living’ kind of person. Liz Cardella does. Liz is pretty much a one-woman business when it comes to Collie Flower Farm in Woodstock, IL.
What has Liz got that perhaps you don’t?
1 – A John Deere!
Let’s start with a John Deere tractor. Yep, Liz got a John Deere tractor a few years ago. I would say that was when Liz arrived. It was when she said she was in the flower farming business for the long haul. (Let the bad puns begin.)
2 – Carpentry Skills
What else does she have that you don’t? She has 20-plus years of experience as a carpenter. Liz was a carpenter in a down-turned economy in 2008 who then took her gardening skills to a new level. She also repurposed her carpentry skills to build what she needed for her ‘growing’ (sorry, pun intended again) business. She built hoop houses by bending chain link fence rails on a special jig and screwed them together. She built drying racks that could be used as shelves in the winter. Mike had lust in his eyes when he saw those drying racks. He thought I didn’t see that, but I did. I’ll get over it.
3 – Ingenuity
Here’s a cool one. (Another bad pun, sorry.) It’s a pseudo-air conditioning unit for the trailer. Take one cooler, one small fan, a piece of PVC, and some gallon jugs of ice. That’s enough to get her flowers to florists and the Barrington Farmer’s Market without heat damage. Liz has a link to instructions for a smaller version on her Pinterest site.
4 – Focus
Long days. Lots of them. Days filled with heat, constant physical labor, and sometimes a head-to-toe mosquito suit. There isn’t time for anything else. Its rumored she cooks all of her meals in the winter and doesn’t clean her house till gardening season is over. And for someone who does the most to extend the gardening season, that is a long time. Liz can plant batches of Oriental lilies in the hoop house at intervals and harvest through November. .
5 – Business Acumen
Liz has to grow what florists and farmer’s market customers want, not what makes her garden pretty. It’s not about design at all. It’s about mass production. She can grow unique daffodils the florist can’t easily get. When the daffodils are done, she can put landscape fabric on top and plant crate-fulls of canna lilies on top. She can bring budding peonies into the walk-in cooler and sell them four weeks later when they are now harder to come by and sell for more. Liz’s business smarts have to be as strong as she is.
6 – Land
Liz farms about 1 1/2 acres of her 4 acres, and has also started farming on another property. Rows and rows of plants to tend and harvest. You can see here how she is using rounded conduit and netting for plant supports. They can be covered with frost fabric or plastic as a season extender too. Always function over form.
So are ya ready? I’m not. I certainly gained a new appreciation for what it really takes, as did the other members of Central States Dahlia Society who visited. I want Liz’s business when all she does is snip snip here and snip snip there, artfully placing the beautiful blooms in an overflowing basket. I just may have to wait a bit.