If you've ever dreamt of quitting your day job and moving to the country to grow flowers, you should know Mara Tyler from The Farm at Oxford. (And maybe you already do!)
Five years ago, Tyler—an ecommerce and digital marketing professional of nearly 20 years—and her family packed up their life in California and moved across the country to Pennsylvania. They eventually settled on a 12-acre farm in Chester County, and Tyler, who had always grown flowers, decided to try farming them. Just last year, she finally left her marketing career to farm full-time.
The Farm at Oxford specializes in growing peonies, dahlias, roses, spring bulbs and companion perennials. They also now have a mini-retail shop online, where you can purchase plant starts, select dahlia tubers and even Tyler's business expertise, both as a marketer and a flower farmer.
Tyler's willingness to share what's she learned, and her candidness about the ups (having their biggest year for bouquet shares and getting into retail spots like Terrain) and downs (3,000 daffodils that never bloomed and dahlias that were the wrong color!) of farming are also on her wonderful Instagram account. In the lull before her spring season started up, she was gracious enough to answer a few of our gardening questions.
WHEN DOES YOUR SPRING SEASON REALLY GET GOING?
Spring starts for us technically when things start to bloom in our fields. However, since we started our mini-retail shop, we're lucky enough to be able to pull in blooms from local greenhouses around us who winter grow. That way our customers can still have blooms even when we don't, and we are supporting small farms around us.
For our own season, we plant all of our spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and allium back in fall months...so we expect to see those bloom in April and May. We also start seeds in our small greenhouse and plant them out in the field in March and April for summer blooms. The first seeds we tend to start are things such as stock (matthiola), snapdragons, campanula, feverfew and other goodies that are necessities for our spring bouquets.
WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON STARTING SEEDS INDOORS FOR YOUR AVERAGE HOME GARDENER (I.E., ANYONE WHO'S NOT A FLOWER FARMER)? IS IT WORTH ALL THE EFFORT?
The average home gardener probably doesn't want to start too many seeds indoors, because the plants can quickly be ready to go outside and you may not be prepared. We use lights set very close to the seedlings, and humidity domes for some varieties, to help them germinate. The benefit for us of starting them indoors (or in a small greenhouse) is that they can be ready to go out sooner, which means we can be cutting from them sooner than if we had to wait for the outdoor temperatures to be ready. Once they go outside, sometimes we cover them out in the field so that they can go out earlier than the average gardener would put them out. For us it's all about the early blooms!
For a home gardener wanting to start some veggie seeds or similar indoors, I would recommend waiting longer than we would to start the seeds, because they [probably] don't have the setup to take care of the plants the way we do. I'd advise starting them about 4 weeks before they plan to put them outside, and to keep fluorescent or LED lights on them. (Sunlight in a window is not enough.)