Cut Flower Farming & Bees
Successful cut flower farmers know that nature has provided them with the perfect helper, the bee. Because of their constant movement, bees expand the genetic pool of crops by delivering pollen from plants that are not in direct proximity. Bees ensure that flowers will reproduce and can add significantly to the crop’s quality and yield. Honey bees are becoming an endangered species.
For the commercial cut flower farm it is advisable to have the soil tested prior to planting. Most flowers will thrive in well-drained and nutrient-rich soil. It is also recommended to plant in raised beds as it increases the sunlight’s efficiency and allows for better drainage which, in turn, can lead to larger crops and earlier harvests. Typically, plants are started as transplants and planted by hand although mechanical options are available for planting. An irrigation system is necessary. Cut flower farmers often use a drip tape under plastic which irrigates from below the plant to simplify watering and fertilizer additions.
When to harvest depends largely on the flower. Many flowers should be cut as soon as pollen is spotted while others, like the sunflower, should not be harvested until the flower opens. Harvesting should be done in the morning hours after the dew is gone but before the sun gets too hot. Dead flowers and leaves should be removed immediately to prevent gray mold. Cut flowers should be placed into water and kept chilled until ready for sale.
Florists make up the largest market and usually prefer to buy locally grown flowers. About 65 percent of cut flowers are sold to florists. Supermarkets are the second largest purchaser of cut flowers at 18 percent of all sales. Street vendors, chain stores and convenience shops may also be in the market for fresh cut flowers. Cut flower farmers sometimes sell their own at roadside stands, farmers markets, pick-your-own sales and farmer cooperatives if they’re available locally.
Flowers reproduce when the pollen from male plant organs (anthers) come in contact with female organs (stigmas). Pollen is transferred by the wind and by insects such as bees. Cut flower farms often have bee hives around the flower beds to assist with pollination. Many flowers are adapted to bee pollination and have mechanisms in their structure that release pollen when a bee lands on the flower. As the pollen-covered bee moves on to the next flower it delivers and pollinates the neighboring plants.
Honey bees are the preferred pollinating insect for cut flower farmers. Honey bees are highly efficient pollinators and their colonies can be easily transported around the farm to the flower beds that need the bees’ help the most. As opposed to other pollinating insects, bees have what is known as flower fidelity. Bees will only collect from one type of flower at a time. Pheromone sprays are available that can be used on crops to attract bees.