Reducing Plastic Use On Your Flower Farm
As we try to be more conscious stewards of the earth and of our land, we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint by limiting our use of plastic whenever possible.
As flower farmers don’t think we’re quite at the place where we can eliminate plastic entirely - there are some items that just don’t have a good alternative or replacement yet (such as drip line). And so much of what we do involves plastic. Whether it’s irrigation, season extension with tunnels and greenhouses, packaging, seed starting, and so much more, there’s a lot of plastic in our livelihood.
We cannot escape plastic. However, there is a lot that we can do to eliminate the majority of our plastic waste on our flower farm. Here are a couple things that we have done that may inspire you:
1. Buying High Quality, Sturdy Equipment and Supplies
We’ve been growing flowers for a while, but we have been gardening long before that and have gone through a lot of gardening equipment - hoses, sprayer heads and watering wands, trugs and buckets and rakes and shovels and watering cans and everything else that you use in a garden or flower farm.
The main lesson that we’ve learned is that you pay for what you get. A cheap shovel is going to end up rusting and breaking a couple years down the road. An inexpensive hose is going to end up kinking, tearing, and you’re going to be throwing it away very quickly. Flimsy gardening trugs are going to end up having handles break off or holes forming in the bottoms.
It’s best to invest in quality tools and instruments.
After all, if this is your trade and passion, why would you not invest in good equipment?
There’s also the benefit that high quality equipment and tools make your life so much easier.
High quality hoses slide out easily and can be hauled around much more easily than a cheap hose. A high quality Dutch hoe is going to last you longer than a cheapo aluminum one. A wooden handled garden spade is going to last you so much longer than a plastic one that is going to end up breaking on you.
And every replacement that you buy contributes to more plastic waste through shipping and packaging and being displayed at the retailer.
We buy our tools from Gardener’s Supply (and no, we don’t make any money off of this - just the satisfaction that we are sending a good company referrals) . We have purchased a lot of their tools including the Dutch hoe, the dibber, and the half-moon hoe and have been very happy with the quality and durability and performance of their tools.
This also goes for farming-specific items - particularly drip line, landscape fabric and frost cloth that can easily cause plastic waste to quickly pile up. Higher quality, more durable items don’t need replacing and will help you to use less plastic in the long run .
2. Eco-Friendly Packaging
When we send our flowers out into the world, we try and keep things as eco-friendly as possible.
First of all, we try not to use sleeves on our flowers whenever possible. Traditionally we bunch our flowers together with rubber bands, and since we sell a lot to florists, we don’t bother with sleeves.
If you’re selling retail bunches or at the farmer’s market, a good option would be the Kraft paper sleeves from A-ROO that are made out of recycled materials and is biodegradable. There are also other biodegradable options like bark and biodegradable plastics out there.
You can also start up a reusable container program, especially if you have repeat customers at a farmer’s market or CSA subscriptions - have two sets of mason jars so you can swap out one set for the other each week and your customers can return their containers. It’s actually rather endearing to see people do this - they’ll bring you clean and washed jars every week and get so excited to be part of the eco-friendly practice.
When it comes to florists too, we try and reuse the plastic Proconas that come from the wholesalers that their flowers are shipped in. A lot of florists will just have masses of Proconas sitting around, so you can just swap out a Procona of flowers for a clean empty one from them. Although not technically plastic free, it is reusing plastic that is already in existence and giving it a very long life (Proconas can last for years if taken care of).
3. Plastic Free (Or Reduced Plastic) Seed Starting
There is a lot of plastic in seed starting too. Trays, cell trays and plug formers, humidity domes all are generally made out of plastic.
The biggest way we’ve found to reduce plastic from seed starting is frankly to use the highest quality (but still made out of plastic) trays and plug inserts. We bought the cheap ones in the beginning - the thin, skinny ones that would crack and flex and break after less than a few months of using them.
From a financial perspective, we wised up - choosing instead to go with the sturdier trays and plug inserts that have now lasted us four years of intensive, year-round seed starting.
Although we did choose trays made out of plastic, these are very durable and will last for another four years or so, and will allow us to start and grow out thousands of seedlings and transplants. Not bad!
On the other hand, if you want to completely plastic-free in your seed starting operation, there are other options available.
The first is soil blocking - made famous and customized for seed starting for small crops by Elliott Coleman which can completely eliminate the use of cell inserts - and trays too if you can use a wooden flat instead of a plastic tray.
Although we have used soil blocks extensively in the past, and I find they work well for starting large amounts of hardy annuals when space under lights is at a premium, I much prefer cell trays - they produce much more predictable plugs and are far easier to keep watered, especially in hot weather, so just make sure you know what you are getting into with soil blocking.
You can also use small terra cotta pots for starting seeds - they are completely plastic free of course, and can be reused again and again for decades. The main downside of course is that they are a more significant investment and don’t store as easily as plastic cell trays - but they are quite sturdy and make for a very nice transplant.
Whatever you do, stay away from the compressed peat pellets and coconut coir pods - I’ve never seen good healthy transplants come out of them, and they are unnecessarily spendy. You’d be better off making soil blocks if that’s the case.
We can’t totally eliminate plastic from our lives
and as flower farmers we can’t really seem to get away from it entirely, but there are ways that we definitely can reduce our plastic use and also reclaim and recycle items that might otherwise be piling up in landfills or litter around the world.
I’d like to think that we are doing our little part here on our flower farm and that this inspires you to also do the same. It may not make a gigantic difference, but it does make a little difference.