Peony Flower Insurance for Early Market Blooms-the High Tunnel

2008 Annual Report for FNC07-683

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $5,985.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:

Peony Flower Insurance for Early Market Blooms-the High Tunnel

Summary

WORK ACTIVITIES
This year the funds were quickly absorbed with site preparation and purchasing the high tunnel. The price of the high tunnel increased one thousand dollars from May until August 2008…(unfortunately the latter is when it was purchased).

The wet spring provided the perfect opportunity to witness the drainage of our field. Twice with the heavy rains the peonies were covered by water for several days. About 1/3 of the peonies were lost. After seeking professional guidance, Don Schuster, Osage RC&D project coordinator, NRCS, USDA and Mark Abney, soil scientists, NRCS core tested the soil and recommended re-addressing field drainage and especially in the high tunnel area. Larry Walters who runs a very experienced excavation company added 4-6” of soil to the high tunnel area and dragged a swale to create faster run off and aeration. This was finished the week of October 6th-10th 2008.

I had two men erect the high tunnel; a neighbor shot the elevation and placement of the corners and lots of drive by encouragement and curiosity by the community. The cost of labor was higher than anticipated, as was the cost of lumber and piping for irrigation in the high tunnel.

The building of the high tunnel created quite an interest in the neighborhood. One neighbor expressed vicious dissatisfaction with the placement of the high tunnel. The personal emotional cost of dealing with this aspect of the project was not anticipated. Several meetings with the mayor reassured me that the high tunnel was within the community guidelines and rules. In small towns, maliciousness and other unpleasantnesses of a few tend to steal energy from the positive goal.

I plan to continue offering information and tours of the flower beds and high tunnel as neighbors ask. My plan is to walk my talk by personal example and education.

RESULTS
– The high tunnel is built
– I have learned having a soil test is not as important as a soil core test in making the site selection.
– From interacting with participants at the Missouri State Workshop for Commercial Flower Growers, I’ve learned a lot of new information and insight into the use and functionality of high tunnels. I have made new contacts to help me with assembly of the high tunnel. I now look forward with great anticipation and expectation that my choice to build a high tunnel will be a successful endeavor.
– Dr. Alan Stevens continues to offer advice, guidance and information on improving the business part of the project as well as the growing part. Since my goal is to broker peony flowers, this demonstration garden is only a small part of my success…my growers will make this business successful. Now I need to grow peony growers.

WORK PLAN FOR 2009
Let me explain that before this year is over, the high tunnel will be erected. Electricity and water will be placed inside the tunnel. No plastic will be placed over the bows until after the second growing season for the peonies. This will save the plastic from unnecessary UVA damage and allow the peonies to mature without supplemental watering.

2009 will be a year of maturation for the peonies. Weed control will be a major challenge as it was for 2008. In a pro-active start for the high tunnel, I used clear plastic to solarize the area to germinate the seeds and kill them before building the high tunnel. Prevention with herbicides, pre-emergents and mulching is also planned. My goal is NOT to allow weeds to get established in the high tunnel.

Peonies are planted and now will mature for the next two years. No additional work other than weed control and fall maintenance including fertilizing will be needed until early spring/late winter 2011.

OUTREACH
This project was inspiring to a project specialist, Marilyn Odneal, at Missouri State University. She asked me to speak at her Cut Flower Growers Workshop, September 30, 2008. The attendance for the all day affair was approximately 25 growers. I also spoke at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, Missouri in November 2008. I am not sure of the attendance but 50 is my guess.

As an unanticipated honor, Ms. Odneal asked me to write an article about my experiences concerning the high tunnel erection for her winter newsletter. I have not received a copy yet, but hope it met the needs of the readers.

During 2009 I will continue with my Grower Classes. I am open to any forum that will help my growers and myself be better peony producers, and also to develop more growers for Paeonia Select.

With the endorsement of the Betterment Committee of Lowry City, I would like to host a community morning to explore the processing center, gardens and high tunnel. Possibly mini-classes on planting peonies and care would be appropriate. The ideal time for this will be while the peonies are blooming but after our harvest. This is only in the initial stages of planning.