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How Ranunculus Taught me the Art of Perseverance

Do you ever wish life had an undo button? I certainly wish I had the power to navigate a few clicks backwards when things go wrong on the farm. Alas, we are forced to live through our mistakes, learn from them, and find the strength to put those lessons into practice.

Right now, I am beginning to see if the changes I have made during fall planting are working. Ranunculus are at the top of this list because these fall planted gems are just starting to open up.

My flower farming career started with these amazing blooms which is one of the reasons why they remain my favorite. Three seasons into farming, they are the one flower that excites and motivates me to continue growing and improving year after year.

Pre-sprouting ranunculus corms.

My first year growing ranunculus was more than just a little cringeworthy. I took a flower farming course where I first discovered their existence. I quickly learned what I needed to do and got my hands on some corms. I followed the instructor's steps: soak in water, pre-sprout in trays, and plant after the first shoots appear. I started with 100 ranunculus corms in a small row in the high tunnel carved out between the hydroponic lettuce and tomatoes. I tucked them into the ground and started dreaming about the armloads of flowers to come.

The humble beginnings.

Well, my friends, there were no armloads of flowers to be had. My plants did not look like the ones in the tutorial or on Instagram. I maybe got 1 or 2 stems from each of those first plants, at least the few that suffered through my first attempt. I mean really, what I knew about growing flowers could have fit in a teaspoon. I was lucky to have gotten any stems and it was enough to get hooked! I fell in love with those first soft, peachy blooms and vowed to do better with the next planting.

The first of the marshmallow-like beauties in 2020. Aren't they dreamy?!

Fast forward to that fall, I pulled out the hydroponic systems, tilled the rock-hard ground, and dumped in yards of compost. With a new plan and a tiny bit of experience, I was feeling very on top of things with 800 corms in more colors and varieties. This time, I had the entire hoop house planted in what I anticipated would be a jungle of anemones and ranunculus. This time, it would be better.

The satisfaction of neatly planted rows.

Spring 2021 brought an exciting amount of blooms, but the stems were short, buds were small, and the foliage was yellow. Even so, I was pleasantly overwhelmed with the buckets and buckets of flowers growing out of the dirt. Yes, let’s be real for a second. I did not have soil at this point, merely dirt. This might sound like semantics but the lack of organic matter and soil biology quickly put me in my place. There is this idea that farmers grow plants, but that's not true at all. Our job is to care for the network of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, arthropods, and all the other soil life that does the work of growing plants. I had learned this in theory in the classroom. I had even taught it to my college students! However, there is nothing like trying something in real life to really learn it.

Little flowers trying so hard to make it.

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything like allowing time to pass and gaining more experience. As much as I wish life had a "undo" button, I remind myself that showing up every day is half the battle. I can't and won't get better if I don't keep trying. I spent that year absorbing the wisdom of more experienced farmers and learning to trust in the process and cycle of the seasons. I stopped tilling altogether, added oodles of compost, and made batch after batch of compost tea. Slowly but surely, the soil came to life and the tiny organisms stepped up and did some amazing work to grow way healthier plants than the year before.

Last year, I stepped it up to 1200 corms for my third try. This season was my worst year of anemones and my best year of ranunculus. I’m not sure that I did anything right with anemones, but the ranunculi were stellar with long stems, huge buds, and green foliage. The season wasn't perfect, but I finally got the explosion of color that I had been dreaming of. It is these incremental wins that keep me coming back. It would be so easy to hang up my farming hat when I think of all the struggles, but it is the thought (and the pictures!) of achieving that very first row packed with blooms that keeps me reaching for the seed catalog.

Floral explosion after 3 days without harvesting.

Here we are in present day, March 2023, and I’m optimistic about the abundance of flowers to come this year. I've continued to build the soil, experiment with spacing, and baby the heck out of my little lovelies! And when I say baby, I mean it. I tuck them in nightly under frost-protective blankets while I whisper sweet messages to encourage them to grow big and beautiful. Like a mother hen, I compulsively check the weather forecast and have deep anxiety when the temperature dips below 20 degrees. And wind? Let's not even talk about that.

It has taken me years to learn that everything grows differently in New Mexico. We do not have insanely fertile soil or copious amounts of water to work with like other parts of the US. It's okay though. I believe that we are better growers for it. We desert dwellers are curious and crafty and we'll always find a way to persevere. There is no such thing as “the right way” or "the best way". There is just finding a way.

This will be the year for my armload photo of ranuncs!

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