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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on growing specialty cut flowers?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about growing specialty cut flowers to sell at farmers’ markets. I understand you are especially interested in sunflowers and dried flowers. Please refer to the ATTRA publications Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing and Farmers’ Markets. These should help to answer your questions about growing and selling cut flowers.

If you are thinking about—or already started—growing specialty cut flowers, I want to highly recommend two books by Lynn Byczynski: The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers, and Market Farming Success. Both are well written and based on Lynn’s own experience as well as that of many other growers around the country. In the first book, she devotes 2 pages especially to sunflowers, and an entire 11-page section to dried flowers. The book also has a section on marketing flowers and it includes selling at farmers’ markets. You can find ordering information on the website

Listed below are two Extension publications on sunflowers. They are somewhat dated, but still have good information. I’ll add a few comments here based on my own experience as a farmers’ market grower. Sunflowers continue to be popular at farmers’ markets and among florists. New cultivars for cut flower growers are introduced every year. You can read about them in seed catalogs from companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seed, Harris Seed, and others that specialize in meeting the needs of market gardeners. The pollenless cultivars are now favored by most cut flower growers because they have a longer vase life and do not shed pollen. For the most part, the nonbranching types work best for me; the side shoots of the branching types have smaller flowers and less sturdy stems. My personal favorite, though, is ’Starburst Lemon Aura’, which is a branching type.

I plant the seeds about 9 inches apart in rows with 3 rows about 12 inches apart in permanent beds. Some growers space the plants much closer—as close as 4x4 inches, so you might want to experiment with this. Some growers direct seed outside, others start the plants indoors and set out transplants. From the nonbranching type, you will get one flower per plant, so to get continuous harvest, you will need to succession plant every week or two. You can direct seed about a week before the last frost in the spring. The last planting should be about 60 days before the first fall frost.

I cut the stems at about 36 inches, strip all but the top couple of leaves, and put them directly into water. Customers at the farmers’ market usually prefer open flowers, but if they are cut before the petals open, they will be less vulnerable to pest damage. The flowers will continue to open after they are cut.

At the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, dried flowers show up near the end of the season crafted into wreaths, swags, and garlic braids. Two books that have almost inspired me to try dried flowers are The Complete Book of Everlastings by Mark and Terry Silber, and Microwaved Pressed Flowers by Joanna Sheen. An Extension bulletin that details methods for drying flowers is referenced below.


Stevens, Alan B. et al. 1993. Commercial Specialty Cut Flower Production: Sunflowers. MF-1084. Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service. 8 p.

Schoellhorn, Rick et al. 2003. Specialty Cut Flower Production Guides for Florida: Sunflowers. ENH885. University of Florida IFAS Extension. 3 p.

Pertuit, Al. 1999. Drying Flowers. HGIC 1151. Clemson University Extension. 3 p.

Byczynski, Lynn. 1997, 2008. The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers. Chelsea Green Publishing. 270 p.

Byczynski, Lynn. Market Farming Success. Fairplain Publications, Lawrence, KS. 138 p.

Sheen, Joanna. 1998. Aurum Press Ltd. Microwaved Pressed Flowers: New Techniques for Brilliant Pressed Flowers. 112 p.

Silberman, Mark and Terry Silberman. 1987, 1992. The Complete Book of Everlastings: Growing, Drying, and Designing with Dried Flowers. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 218 p.



Permalink What information can you give me on organic greenhouse strawberry starts?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information
regarding organic greenhouse strawberry starts.

Many strawberry growers rely on starts that are certified disease free,
as strawberries tend to be a disease and pest magnet. However, as you
indicated you might be able to serve a niche to organic strawberry
growers in your region.

There was a study funded by the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education (SSARE) grant on the topic on producing organic
strawberry plugs. The link below is to the full report for this study,
in which the authors discuss methodology, fertilizer and potting mixes.
This should be a helpful guide for you to determine the types of
materials and methodology you will need to get started.
Title: Developing a system to produce organic plug transplants for organic strawberry production

A farmer in Virginia has developed a system without greenhouses that is
inexpensive. There is a report about the grower's costs, materials and
methods from the Vegetable Growers News available online: VIRGINIA GROWER DEVELOPS LOWER COST STRAWBERRY PLUG PRODUCTION SYSTEM Vegetable Growers News November-December 2000, Vol. 7, No. 6
By: Charlie O'Dell, Extension Horticulturist; Virginia Tech

In both of these cases the growers bought certified disease free runners
from a service in Canada that starts the runners. If you are interested
in producing organic runners, this will require significantly more
start-up and productions costs.

A study in New Zealand looking for a commercially viable production
system for organic strawberry runners is discussed in a Horticulture
Society research paper. The researchers recommended the enhanced curtain
system as the most suitable for organic production systems based on
disease and pest problems, sanitation, and number of runners produced.
They described the curtain system, as "mother plants" that are grown on
benches, and runners are allowed to fall down off the benches. Runners
are harvested and propagated under mist to produce plug plants. The
enhanced curtain was similar, but the first two runners are potted into
growth substrate using PB3/4 bags and placed onto the bench next to the
mother plant.

In the study they make the following recommendations, for quality indoor
runner production under organic conditions:
• High level of sanitation such as UV resistant net curtaining (or
similar product) for insect proofing; white hydroponic plastic (or
similar product) for covering of the soil and keeping the tunnel house
• For the enhanced curtain system, PB5 bags or similar sized growing
containers for strawberry mother-plants with PB3/4 bags for potting the
first runners – alternatively a larger trough can be used for holding
both mother and first runner plants.
• Single shelving (from inert material for ease of cleaning) at 1-1.5 m
height for adopting a curtain system.
• Collection and re-cycling of drainage-water and/or adjusted irrigation
management, which reduces the risk of leaching.
• Hot compost (± vermicast) as the basic growth substrate, with the
option of adding a pro-biotic (such as Bokashi) for improved plant
• Constant pest and disease monitoring of runner plants is important to
maintain high quality standards.

Ed. G. Waite. 2006. Development of a Commercially Viable System for
Organic Strawberry Runner Production. Proc. Vth Int. Strawberry
Symposium. Acta Hort. International Society for Horticulture Science.

Charlie O'Dell. 2000. Virginia
Grower Develops Lower Cost Strawberry Plug Production System
Vegetable Growers News. November-December 2000, Vol. 7, No. 6

Cantliffe, D. et al. 2004. Developing a system to produce organic plug
transplants for organic strawberry production. Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education Project #GS02-013.



Permalink Can you recommend some resources for hoophouse and high tunnel production?


Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information on hoophouses and high tunnels for vegetable production.

Please see the ATTRA publications Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners, Organic Greenhouse Tomato Production, Compost Heated Greenhouses, Root Zone Heating for Greenhouse Crops, and Solar Greenhouses Resource List.

Please refer to the ATTRA publication that details high-tunnel and greenhouse information, titled “Season Extension Techniques for Market Gardeners.” This publication has detailed information on using high tunnels for season extension on your farm as well as rudimentary plans on constructing them in the appendices.

In your region, a hoop house would be most effective as a season extension tool in the winter, early spring, and late fall. Over wintering cool season crops, such as lettuce, radishes, and other greens, can be planted in there or you can extend your warm-season crops further into the late fall or earlier in the late spring/ early summer.

Generally hoop houses, or high tunnels, are simple unheated “greenhouse-like” structures that provide less control of environmental conditions than full greenhouses at substantially less cost. They are usually covered with a single layer of plastic and are ventilated only through roll-up sides. A typical high tunnel does not have a heating system, but it might be necessary in your climate.

Drip irrigation is often used in high tunnels. The production system may be in-ground culture, or pots can be placed on the ground or on benches. The hoops for the high tunnel are often placed approximately 4 feet apart. Many plans call for using 2” PVC for the hoops, which is a more economical alternative, but they tend to be less rigid and more susceptible in areas of high winds. A narrow width of the building lends itself well to roll-up-side ventilation (approximately 14 feet or so). Tunnels and greenhouses with vertical sides which rise up before curving provide better side to side ventilation and allow for better use of growing spaces along the edges inside. In order to have vertical sides, however, you must use fabricated pipe, or bend the pipe yourself.

High tunnels are commonly sold in units of 48 or 98 feet long, but they can be ordered in any length. The cost of a 14-by 96 foot unit of single poly, roll-up sides and including end-walls and doors, and drip tape is about $2000-$3000, depending on the construction materials.

A great on-line resource for constructing and utilizing high-tunnels is If you have internet access I highly recommend giving this website a look. This excellent on-line resource has three different plans on how to build simple hoop houses as well as cultural information on growing certain vegetables and fruits in them. It seems to be the best, comprehensive, and farmer-friendly resource about high tunnels on the internet.

Recommended High Tunnels Books

The Hoophouse Handbook, by Lynn Byczynski, 2003, 60 pages
Growing for Market
PO Box 3747
Lawrence KS 66046

High Tunnels, by Ted Blomgren, Tracy Frisch, and Steve Moore, May 2007
Published by the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
106 High Point Center, Suite 300
Colchester, VT 05446
Phone: (802) 656-5459.

Recommended High Tunnels Suppliers

Haygrove Tunnels USA
116 Trail Road North
Elizabethtown, PA 17022
Toll-Free Telephone: 866-HAYGROVE

1440 Field of Dreams Way
Dyersville, IA 52040
Toll-Free Fax 1-800-457-8887

Recommended Irrigation Suppliers

Call for a catalog. Pennsylvania company.

190 Sanhedrin Circle
Willits, CA 95490

Vegetable Growing Books

Grubinger, Vernon. 1999. Sustainable Vegetable Production from Start-up to Market. Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service. Ithaca, NY.
NRAES Cooperative Extension
PO Box 4557
Ithaca, New York 14852-4557
Phone: (607) 255-7654

Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long. Eliot Coleman. Chelsea Green, 1992, second edition 1999.
Chelsea Green Publishing
85 North Main Street, Suite 120
White River Jct., Vermont 05001.


How to build a high tunnel. Amanda Ferguson. Department of Horticulture, University of Kentucky.

Hoop House Construction for New Mexico: 12-ft. x 40-ft. Hoop House. Del Jimenez, Ron Walser and Reynaldo Torres. New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.



Permalink What are some resources for farm educational programs?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on starting a farm school. Below are several farm educational resources.

Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Curriculum

Making the Farm Connection: Farm-to-School Farm Visit Manual

Sustainable Agriculture Resources and Programs for K–12 Youth

Referenced below are some recent articles related to hosting interns on your farm for educational purposes.

Two other curricula that may be of interest to you are The Vashon Island Curriculum (2000) developed by Mary Robinson (1) of Tilth Producers of Washington and a section of Frank Traina and Susan Darley-Hill’s Perspectives in Bioregional Education (1995).(2) Both these curricula are heavily oriented toward developing environmental awareness.


1) Mary Robinson
Vashon Island Growers Assn. (VIGA)
P.O. Box 2894
Vashon WA 98070

2) Frank Traina
Sunrock Farm
103 Gibson Lane
Wilder, KY 41076-9703


Benjamin, Joan. 2008. Sustainable Agriculture Resources and Programs for K–12 Youth. August update of 2006 SARE initiative. 16 p.

Byczynski, Lynn. 2007. Are your internships legal? Growing for Market. September. p. 13–15

Byczynski, Lynn. 2007. Exploring the legal and ethical issues of interships. Growing for Market. October. p. 14–15.

CAFF. [no date]. Making the Farm Connection: Farm-to-School Farm Visit Manual. Introductory page. pdf 677 kb.

Powell, Maude et al. 2007. Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farm Internship Curriculum and Handbook.

Volheim, Erin. 2008. Outlawing Farming Internships. In Good Tilth. July–August. p. 12, 14–15.



Permalink What are some resources for energy audit tools and checksheets?


Answer: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has contracted with GDS Associates to create about 13 energy self-assessment tools for farms. They can be found at

These calculators are still undergoing some revisions, but they are well done, under the supervision of Scott Sanford at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They will eventually appear on the NRCS websites and I would expect them to become well-known and even standard.

Companies like EnSave have their own tools and checklists, but these tend to be proprietary.

Our publication "Farm Energy Calculators: Tools for Saving Money on the Farm" provides links to a couple dozen other calculators.

This kind of information is somewhat scattered and inconsistent, and there are important regional variations. But I hope these will be some helpful starting points.



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