Fresh produce and flowers: these two have a lot of differences but there are some interesting parallels from the business side of things. Some items are regular and reliable — even with crazy weather conditions – appearing like clockwork at just about the same time every year and progressing though the harvest season in a consistent, even predictable way. Others are impossible to predict, particularly in the early spring when the weather is at its worst. Case in point: artichokes. Regardless of our history and experience with the crop, it seems every year artichokes have a way of turning the most seasoned buyer into a doe-eyed novice. The same is true of field cut daffodils and prognosticating the true start of the springtime flower season.
Like many springtime bulb crops, cut daffodils have a greenhouse season and a field season. And while the greenhouse product tends to be easier to predict, field daffodils are larger, hardier and, generally, more desirable. Rain (and the associated cloud cover), temperature (air and ground), plant stage and harvest conditions will all conspire to influence scheduled harvest days. And because the season is so short and the window of optimal harvest conditions so narrow, the available supply can go from feast to famine and back again in a matter of days.
Cut tulips, on the other hand, are far more reliable since most of the product sold in flower shops, farmers markets and grocery stores is greenhouse grown. What’s more, because greenhouse growers have greater protection against wild weather swings, these operations can be located in many more areas throughout the U..S and around the world. And while greenhouse production is certainly more energy intensive than field, some of that energy use is offset by the fact that greenhouse production tends to be much closer to the places the flowers are sold (thereby reducing the amount of energy required to transport the product to market).
Tulips and daffodils are cool climate plants that require a period of dormancy every year in order to produce a flower. For tulips this can be accomplished by storing bulbs in giant coolers until they are ready to be planted. Growers can also use this method to regulate the size of their crop — chilling larger or smaller amounts to match demand. This makes the ramp up in volume for holidays like Easter or Mother’s Day much easier to manage.
With both field and greenhouse flowers, springtime has a way of also creating spot opportunities – a few sunny days can also swing the pendulum in the “over supply” direction and it is not uncommon to see multiple bunch bargains at a fraction of the early or late season prices. The peak for springtime bulb flowers traditionally is in March. but the weather can move the harvest peak in either direction.
I’ve found a characteristic that both produce and floral folks share ,is a short emotional memory – by the time we roll around to next spring we will have forgotten about all the trucks we rerouted and all the purchase orders we cancelled. All we will remember is how much we look forward to that wonderful spring artichoke or beautiful bunch of field daffodils. Particularly with springtime flowers, it’s hard to stay mad at something so beautiful.