What if I told you you could get flowers earlier? Yes its true and if you can add in a easy to build structure to be the first in your area to have dahlias would you ? Getting the first blooms of the season will not only set you apart from other farmers in our area but will give you a head start and will significantly pay off in the long run. Those early spring weddings demand blooms and your local floral designers are having to order wholesale . If you can provide those blooms locally and give them the opportunity to purchase local instead of wholesale, why not!!
If you are like me your list of tasks is a mile long come spring and you find yourself waiting on weather to actually be able to tackle some of those. Building caterpillar tunnels will allow you to start getting stuff out of the greenhouse , free up some space to start more seeds and give you a jump start on that long list of to do’s. My greenhouse and seed starting space is limited so the earlier I can get stuff out to start more the better. As I go in to my second year I am pushing this even further than my first year and learning that things are more tolerant than what the back of your seeds packet says.
The little bit of protection from a caterpillar tunnel will allow you direct seed those heat loving annuals sooner and will heat up the soil enough to germinate things that typically wouldn’t germinate . Take it form me though who learned the hard way , direct seed the bed , lay out your drip line before you put up your hoops!! Working around the hoops and weaving drip line though them can be done but is much easier to do it before the hoops are up.
So depending on where you live obviously when you can plant out and the type of hoop you build varies. I live in a pretty mild climate in compared to most parts of the US so I am able to plant out much earlier. We rarely get below freezing and if we do it is only for short periods of time. We typically have very light snow fall as well so the structure itself doesn’t have to be very serious. If you live in a climate that gets freezing ground and a great deal of snow pack this might get trickier. I think as far as the hoops structure materials conduit is the best to make the hoops out of but it can get spendy. I have found that alternating the hoops with PVC has worked great and provides enough stability for our area.
I wanted to give you an idea of when I planted out sunflowers last year in compared to this year and what works in my area and zone 8b .
So our last frost date historically is around mothers day . I planted these out a whole month before our last frost date giving me blooms a month earlier using caterpillar tunnels .
Dahlias do take much longer and hotter temps to flower. Typically dahlias do not bloom until mid to late July. Planting them in tunnels gave them a jump start and gave me blooms much earlier.
So this year I planted sunflowers much earlier than last and so far they are doing great. This particular succession was planted in an unheated high tunnel but do the same as a caterpillar tunnel they are just easier to get in and out of!!
I do not have blooms yet on these sunflowers yet but my goal was to have blooms by April 17th. I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen but am happy to know that they did great through some pretty cold temps!! Knowing that I can start a heat loving summer flower like sunflowers in February is exciting and enjoy pushing the envelope to get earlier blooms .
Farming really is unique to everyone and each and everyone’s specific situation and location plays a huge part in what will work for them . The more and more you trial and error things on your land the better you get an understanding on what will work for you .
until next time,