During the summer and fall is when the North Fork is its busiest. But when the weather gets cold, that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack it up for businesses. We are getting a behind the scenes look at what different farms are doing during the off season to keep their businesses running.
For flower farmers, there’s nothing off about the off season. At the Jamesport Greenhouses, where Blooms by Ollie does its winter work, the colder months means planting the seedlings. On a particularly blustery day in February, they showed me what a typical winter’s day looks like. It starts with a check on the warm greenhouses.
The clear sliding door opens to a whoosh of warmth (how far away is spring again?). Inside, thoughts of snow and ice melt away as a blanket of lush greenery changes the season. Pops of red, pink and dark red flowers are just starting to open up fill either side of the narrow aisle. Big leafy plants and long stalky stems poke their way into the air, reaching up for the sunlight coming through the clear roof. A rush of warm air surrounds all who enter. I can’t help but think to myself that this is where I would spend all my time when the gray winter days make me forget what summer is like.
The upkeep of these greenhouses is immense. First, there’s weeding. “We have to weed them every week,” owner Leanna Powers told me. “They always find their way.” Then there’s the chopping.
“We come in and chop everything all the way down to the pot,” she continued. “I hate to do it. You have to chop it all back and that makes it grow back even fuller for the spring. It’ll probably get cut back two, maybe three times before it actually gets sold.”
There’s also the planting. This week, it was all about pansies. And it’s done with a machine worthy of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: A black seedling tray gets filled with soft soil through a shaking motion, then from there, staff members work with ease to perfectly place baby plants in each square. It moves down the conveyor belt and is showered three times with water before a label is placed in each square.
For Backyard Blooms, a smaller roadside stand in Riverhead, the winter months include just as much work for owner Kim Barnes. “We begin sowing seeds that require an earlier start to get blooms by the summer,” she said. “We also make a pretty detailed seed sowing schedule so we know which seed we have to start and when.” It’s mostly about planning, as she is most active in the summer months when her outdoor plot can grow the most flowers.
“A typical winter day includes planning the garden,” she said. “We continuously care for the seeds until they are ready to go out into the field in early spring after we are sure we won’t get any more frost. This is the exciting time with all of the anticipation for the beautiful blooms for the upcoming season.”
After I leave the Blooms by Ollie greenhouses, I’m quickly transported right back into February. The only solace is the thought of the flower stands and greenhouses that will be open and thriving in a few months.