Growing Seasonal and Sustainable Flowers at the Wegmans Organic Farm
07/12/2023 · Wegmans Organic Farm & Orchard
At our Wegmans Organic Farm and Orchard in Canandaigua, New York, we’re committed to growing organically, and that extends beyond the fruit and vegetables we grow to include the more than 22 varieties of flowers that make up our farm floral program.
Each year, the flowers grown at our organic farm are used to create our beautiful, sustainably grown Grower’s Choice Bouquets, sold in approximately 30 of our New York and Massachusetts stores. Our Wegmans Organic Farm and Orchard is the only certified organic grower in our store floral program, making the Grower’s Choice Bouquet unique in a number of ways. While most of the flowers and bouquets we sell in our floral shops come from far away, all 20 stems that make up these bouquets are grown right at our organic farm and arrive at participating stores within 24 hours of harvest. Because our flowers travel such a short distance, we’re able to offer unique varieties that thrive in our region and aren’t commonly found at other florists. Through our commitment to growing organically and avoiding the use of artificial pesticides, our farm floral program gives back to our farm by helping to develop healthy soil and providing a haven for our pollinator populations, an important component of every farm.
When it comes to designing and growing the Grower’s Choice Bouquet, nothing is left to chance. In fact, it all starts with a very intricate plan that begins with Organic Farm and Orchard Area Leader Jenna Iannucci, who works closely with our floral merchants to create the “ingredient list” for the bouquets.
“Once I have the color scheme from the merchant, selecting new cultivators is one of the best parts of the growing season. In the coldest, sleepiest months of the year, you get lost in the anticipation and limitless potential of cut flowers,” explains Jenna. “Colors, textures, shapes, height, drought tolerance, and productivity are all essential characteristics considered when selecting bouquet ingredients. Having the opportunity to explore new varieties each season and see the way they respond to the farm’s unique growing conditions and variables is pretty neat to witness and experience! Not everything goes to plan, but with every detour, comes knowledge and experience that is carried forward with you as a grower.”
This year, one of the focal flowers is dahlias, which are planted as tubers and bloom in a variety of shapes and colors. Because they are fragile, intricate blooms that don’t travel well over long distances, you don’t often find them in bouquets. The farm team grows a variety of perennials and annuals to build out the bouquet, including sunflowers, snapdragon, statice, sweet Annie, and shiso, to name a few. Growing so many different flower varieties is an excellent way to increase pollinator populations and create a healthy diversity of bees and insects, who do the important work of pollinating the flowers, along with our fruit and vegetable crops.
Once the ingredient list is set, the farm team maps out the growing plan for the season that will allow for 13 weeks of harvest from mid-July to October. For annuals, the growing season starts in March when the first seeds are sown in the high tunnels. The farm team uses succession planting, sowing seeds through the month of June to allow for the long harvest. In May and June, the beds in the annual fields are made and transplanting of the flowers from the high tunnels to the fields begins and continues throughout these two months. In addition to transplanting the flowers, the farm team plants red clover in the walkways of the annual flower beds to help manage weeds, while also adding nutrients back into the soil and reducing the need for tillage.
The perennial growing season starts in May, when the perennial fields are prepped with reusable landscape fabric to help control weeds and the perennial varieties start to return. Each year, the farm team continues to expand and evolve the floral program with a focus on increasing perennial planting. Not only does it eliminate the need to replant every year, but it also has positive impacts on the environment. The deep roots of the perennial plants enrich the soil and help prevent erosion. They also act as permanent ground cover, reducing the need for tillage that disrupts the soil structure, and helping to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
Starting in late-July, harvest begins, followed immediately by processing the flowers, which is done entirely by the farm floral team in the farm barn. To get the flowers ready for customers, the team cleans the stems, hydrates the flowers, and sorts them into piles by variety. They then select the 20 stems for the bouquet, and using a binder, trim the stems and tie the bouquets. The last step in the process is wrapping each bouquet in a new craft paper sleeve, which the team used for the first time in the 2022 season as part of it’s focus on sustainable packaging. The sleeve is 100 percent paper, with no additives or fillers, is recyclable and compostable, and takes the place of the two plastic sleeves previously used for wrapping the bouquets. Once wrapped, the bouquets are sent to participating Wegmans for our customers to enjoy!