Sustainable Flowers – from Seed to Compost
When we started Lark Farm, environmental sustainability was one of our core values. But what exactly would that mean, and how could we achieve it?
We began with some basic things – drip irrigation to reduce water use, durable products like irrigation hose rather than short-lived irrigation tape, composting all of our plant waste and weeds at the farm, and never using chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
We also implemented other practices. For example, wherever we can we use inputs that will end their useful life as compost (back to the soil!) and when we can’t find a suitable natural solution, we re-use products that were otherwise destined for the landfill. This includes growing seedlings in soil blocks rather than plastic pots, re-using nursery trays and re-purposing used dog food bags as tray liners, using kraft paper, twine, and a stamp for our logo rather than plastic wrapping and stickers, working with twine and willow to build wreaths rather than using wire and plastic-based glues, and building our own wooden growing crates out of recycled wood.
We make all of our own compost on the farm and through a partnership with local Kombucha maker Good Spirit, we add their brewing waste to our compost pile. We recently started making leaf mould (decomposed leaves) and this spring we were able to use it to replace most of the peat that we formerly used in our soil block mix. We have made an effort to improve soil health by reducing tillage. We have covered almost half of the aisles between our beds in a thick wood chip mulch made onsite from trees that died after a fire on the farm three years ago. This has reduced the need to dig weeds and also, we hope, improved the soil life between (and within) our beds. We added solar panels to our house in the city and that helps to offset our use of electricity for seedling lights and for our walk-in cooler for fresh flower storage. We are drying more flowers to be able to offer a local alternative to imported fresh flowers in the cold months.
We are happy with these choices even though some of them definitely make for longer days! But the reality is there continue to be trade-offs. We use a tractor to complete some farm chores, including the making and moving of large quantities of compost and chipping trees. And we do use plastic. We use heavy landscape fabric on some beds to help manage weeds and maintain moisture, insect netting to protect the most vulnerable plants from pests, and horizontal plastic netting to support large beds of plants that tend to flop! We have two hoophouses covered in poly to extend our growing season. We cultivate around our beds as part of a long-term campaign to control Canada thistle. We continue to dig our soil to get rid of dandelions and sow thistle. We drive to the farm and to deliver our flowers. At times it can feel overwhelming and even disheartening when I realise how much more there is to do.
So I have to remind myself that our flowers are grown in local soil with local water. And I consider all the life that is supported in the garden - a myriad of insect species, including monarch butterflies, songbirds, and birds of prey - and all the life in the soil. I try to remember that each of our small acts, stacked one upon the other, builds toward a more sustainable growing operation. When I see that so many others are doing the same, whether they are growers or supporters of sustainable growers, I feel motivated to keep on making the small changes that we can, however imperfect and however many more are needed. And I trust that we are moving in the right direction, re-thinking and improving every year.