To be perfectly honest, I’ve had enough of flower farming. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, this summer I will focus on growing edibles. Part of the reason is the astronomically high price of fresh produce in New Zealand these days. Buying all our veggies is getting too expensive. Growing your own definitely helps to put food on the table, due to the ever-rising cost of living, which seems to be a problem everywhere, not just in NZ.
But there’s a little bit more to my move away from flower farming than simply that. Last summer was the worst I can ever remember. Temperatures were chilly and Auckland was affected by cyclones and floods. It really hurt me as I wanted to have a flower farm on our front lawn and invite customers to take a tour of the garden with me and choose their own flowers, which I would arrange for them. We get very strong winds here (southerlies being perhaps the worst of them) and they completely destroyed my sunflowers and dahlias. Even when conditions improved, they never bounced back and looked quite the same again. On the other hand, the potager didn’t fare quite as badly and you can read about my mixed success growing edibles last summer here.
Being brutally honest (and I’m sorry if this upsets or offends some gardeners), I’ve gone off growing dahlias. I plan to look after what I have, but I won’t buy any more tubers from now on and I really mean it. Despite being swept away with dahlia mania like a lot of passionate flower gardeners all over the world, I was always in two minds about them, as you can see from my blog post which sets out what I think are the pros and cons of growing them. My most serious concern is that dahlias are prone to developing a bacterial disease called gall. Once the ground is contaminated, it can take years to cleanse the soil and sometimes it can’t be completely eradicated. The situation is so serious that the NZ government actually placed a ban on imported tubers this year in an attempt to control the spread of the disease. The other thing that has killed all the joy of growing dahlias for me is the stressful process for ordering dahlias nowadays and how it has caused consumers to behave. It is a fact of life that demand sometimes exceeds supply and some people miss out. But this does not justify customers being abusive towards suppliers, which sadly often happens. I know all about this because I have gotten to know many dahlia suppliers well over the years and have even become good friends with some of them. There used to be a list of reputable dahlia suppliers in New Zealand in a dahlia group I belong to on Facebook, which the admin created and pinned to the top of the page. But that list is long gone, probably because all of the dahlia suppliers in NZ have at some point had their reputation publicly trashed for some reason or other (selection, price of tubers and shipping, quality, mislabels, gall, missing out due to limited stock etc) as well as being abused privately so there is apparently no such thing as a reputable dahlia supplier in this country anymore. I have received many requests from people wanting to purchase dahlias from me via Instagram. Yet these varieties were originally purchased from the very NZ suppliers that people have publicly humiliated on social media! I think people need to cut NZ dahlia suppliers some slack. They are doing the best they can under very challenging circumstances and that includes having to grow their own stock this year due to the government’s ban on imported tubers. This is much more labour intensive than simply importing and on-selling tubers. I feel so sorry for one flower farmer that I’m actually going to send them some of my extras once I’ve divided my tubers. I’m certainly not going to sell them to the public and have my name dragged through the mud which I have seen happen to so many dahlia suppliers in recent times who I’ve never had any issues with.
Even before the government’s ban on imported tubers this year, the process of importing tubers isn’t easy and from what I understand from talking to a major bulbs supplier in NZ, there are only a couple of Dutch suppliers that are prepared to ship to NZ as our market is so small. Customers need to bear in mind that when you import tubers from overseas, you have to buy in bulk. You can’t just purchase one of each variety as you would for a home garden. When suppliers on-sell tubers, they are usually sold individually, especially now that dahlias are in shorter supply. Many growers lost a lot or nearly all of their stock due to the floods and cyclones last summer. A lot of people have been complaining about the high cost of shipping, but it’s not the suppliers’ fault that postage and courier is so expensive in NZ. They are simply passing on costs they incur in sending out orders. It isn’t exactly fun and games for them either. In turn, dahlia suppliers have to pay extortionate international shipping which has risen considerably since the pandemic due to rising fuel prices. Suppliers also have to pay for tests carried out by MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries), who check that any imported plant material is safe and doesn’t carry any pests and diseases. This explains why tuber prices have risen a lot in recent times and it really aggravates me when people complain so much without understanding all of this.
If you want to start growing your own food (which I highly encourage because the price of fresh produce has reached an all-time high), remember that even a small potager can be extremely productive as you don’t need a lot of room. You definitely don’t need a lifestyle block, but if you have one, that’s great. It is possible to be nearly or completely self-sufficient on a suburban or small section and many people have done so, including ourselves in the past. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re looking to feed your family, not the entire nation!
But having surplus isn’t necessarily such a bad thing as tinned and frozen goods have increased in price, too. Tinned beetroot, a favourite in NZ as people like to put it on hamburgers, was even unavailable on the shelves at supermarkets in autumn due to the poor summer. For a long time, bags of English spinach were unavailable. People used to laugh at homesteaders for bottling and preserving their harvests as it’s a very old-fashioned thing to do, but it’s not funny anymore and is actually a really good idea. Last season has shown that we can’t always rely on the supermarket supplying us with produce as growers may not be able to produce it in the first place if weather conditions are terrible.
For incentive, here are current prices of some common veggies at Countdown, one of the large supermarket chains in NZ. I am not joking nor am I lying. I’m not even merely exaggerating. You’re welcome to check on the website (feel free to do so even if you live overseas). These were the prices in the early morning on Friday 13 October 2023. They are not organic either. If that’s important to you, expect to pay even more!
Another idea is to look into having your own chickens so you have a fresh supply of eggs at home. This is something that Cheryl, a lady I met in a gardening group does. She lives in a nearby suburb and told me that the council permits you to keep up to five chickens. That was many years ago, so I don’t know if things have changed since then. She visited me once to swap seeds and brought some free-range eggs from her garden. They were lovely, but it seemed like a lot of work on top of maintaining a large garden and at that time, eggs were plentiful and not that expensive. But things have changed since then. Eggs have become astronomically expensive and for a long time, they were scarce or even unavailable during the transition period when the government was phasing out the sale of caged eggs. A dozen eggs costs over $10 these days. Cheryl is laughing all the way to the bank and I told her that she could smugly tell me “I told you so!”. Because I haven’t considered keeping chickens, I can’t offer any advice, but I’m sure there are plenty of homesteading blogs and YouTube videos you could read and watch if this is something that you wish to look into.