The second you cut a flower you’re ushering it onward toward death. Lack of water, too much heat, and entropy itself all work to move it along its path toward destruction. Your job is to slow that process, and you do it by shortening its time out of water and the time it spends in heat and light.
There should be a clock in your head speeding your work—ten minutes is about it on our farm before we know we’ve failed. Sure, you can forget a bunch of peonies and pick it up a couple hours later, and we’ve had people rescue discarded sunflowers from the dumpster after hours out of water, but for the most part, cut flowers need to get in water and out of the heat.
If you see wilted leaves on your flowers, you’ve waited too long. Give the stem a fresh cut immediately, get it into water and into a shady spot. Put it in the cooler—often the cold temperature inspires a stem to pull warmer water up through it.
You should quickly learn which species need to be cut first. Orlaya likes an early cut—it will rejuvenate after being cut when it’s hot, rising from fully limp to stiff in a few hours after being in a cooler, but it can’t help to let it wilt. Monarda, too, loses turgidity quickly, even though it lasts well—but it doesn’t like the heat of a parking lot at farmer’s market. Queen Anne’s Lace needs to be cut early; it too wilts in hot weather. Sturdier flowers like sunflowers can take up the last spot on the list as they are forgiving, but even they deteriorate so be quick, get them in water.
Another time bomb should be your cutting speed. If it takes you longer than a minute or two to harvestt a bunch of flowers, you’re cutting profits as well as blooms. Figure out your hourly wage and subtract it from the price of the flowers and you’ll see how quickly earnings diminish. Bunch cutters should whip through grass or alchemilla in thirty seconds, as there’s no need to slow down to determine quality.
It’s the deciding that lengthens most cutters’ process, because we almost all have the physical abilities to harvest and the mental acuity to determine quality. If you’re slow, take a little inward look into why it’s taking you so long, because it’s the steps you add between spotting a flower and cutting it that’s sucking up time. Don’t worry about getting it wrong—second guessing the initial decision doubles your time: DECIDE and commit. Don’t look down for the exact place to cut, feel for it. Grab the head of the flower with one hand, get that cutting instrument down in the canopy and your mind will give you the general area to cut and your flower-hand will feel when the scissors hit the stem. Use your whole body—the depth you reach into the canopy tells you the length of the stem, you don’t have to eye it and thereby slow yourself down.
Desperation fueled our frantic pace from the start—we had to make a profit or get real jobs, so we understood the phrase “time is money”. In a short season climate, we have 120 growing days, 180 market days, to make a living—we have the winter to relax, we have afternoons in the summer to recuperate (it’s too hot to cut flowers, but also too hot to work after noon) Maybe Warren Zevon said it best when he sang: “I can sleep when I’m dead.” Why dawdle?