“Triage” best describes our approach to farming—the term generally applies to the emergency room, where pressing problems like strokes and severed limbs take precedence over broken arms and wood ticks, which then take precedence over hangnails and runny noses. There’s a hierarchy of action that never is more evident than now on the farm here, just a week before the average last frost date, when the major early seeding takes place along with the biggest plug transplant, when the irrigation system has to be ready to water them and the suddenly burgeoning perennials, when the early woodies like lilac come to bloom and the last tulips are finishing and the weeds start coming so vigorously that they threaten to overtake the farm. It’s a bit of a panic.
Backing up a ways to my childhood, locals often made light of us dairy farmers because we never could really leave the farm—you milk in the morning, milk at night, and you don’t leave on vacation without ruining the business. In fact, to vary the routine an hour or two might lower herd production ten or twenty percent for a few days. Flower farming’s worse—cattle can at least feed and water themselves if there’s sustenance available, flowers can’t move on to the waterhole over the hill, and you harvest when they are ready or forget harvesting entirely. A lot of new growers think they can “manage” the farm, treat it like a project they can leave if they have the right plan, the right system, the right employees on hand, but mostly they’ll be mistaken. You can’t bully nature with your ideas. It’s a nice thought to imagine you take precedence over your business, but if your business is to be successful you need to serve its needs so it can serve you.
You need a triage hierarchy. Since it’s a business, harvest comes first, along with sales. Any business that has customers lined up at the register rather than taking care of them quickly risks loss of sales, and any business that runs out of product or has inferior product loses business, so cutting the flowers that have to be cut early is crucial, while species that are more forgiving, like sunflowers, can wait a bit.
Weather determines much of the farm’s action, so those tasks dependent on windless windows, like spraying, chemical come first if calm hours (or minutes—never days) allow, and necessary irrigation HAS TO take place for transplants or suffering plants NOW, not when it’s comfortable to you. If a storm is brewing and there’s tractor work to do that rain will set back, get ‘er done now instead of losing your window. Plant seeds or plugs before rain hits to take advantage of free water; rain is the best irrigating because it seals the ground nicely (though too much can also be a problem).
Because weeding can take place any time, regardless of weather, it comes last on the list of emergencies, though it may be the most important of the tasks. It has to be done, it cannot be placed on tomorrow’s agenda without suffering sometimes severe consequences. The most weedy areas come first, the species bolting (hopefully not yet blooming!) need to be removed immediately, while slow growing weeds can wait, but not too long.
You have to think of what the most costly INACTION is—if you wait, which will be the worst scenario? If you fail to harvest—zero dollars. If you fail to irrigate, stunted or ruined crops. If you fail to weed, years of frustration and more weeds. You may take the route I might have taken as an employee, blow it all off and go party or go on vacation—as an employee, you can get away with such a viewpoint, but as the owner, you will pay.