A Day in the Life of a Peony Farmer

Farm life is the life for me! Especially during peony season. Join Florissa as we get a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of a peony farmer in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. With over 15 acres of beautiful peony blooms waiting to be picked, a day in the life starts very early! Accompanied by 50 crew members and a few furry friends, our day of picking peonies begins at 6 am while the air is still cool. Tasks are divided, and we start our peony-picking season before they burst into full bloom. These prized cut flowers will be shipped to floral wholesalers, local florists, and grocery stores.

Peonies are harvested by hand. Armed with sunscreen and water bottles, our team sets out into the field to make the harvest happen. If the weather is looking particularly wet, as it often does in B.C. in May, the crew comes ready in their rain gear, boots, hot coffee and doughnuts. It is a physically demanding job with a short timeline to complete – but our amazing team always makes it happen, rain or shine!

What else gets brought out into the field? A sharp knife for each person to cut peony stems, large wooden totes to collect the freshly cut flowers, a tractor to transport the peonies and often a portable speaker! The days are long, but a little 90’s throwback music helps the time go by.

In April, the deep mahogany red peony stems emerge from the ground, after their long winter slumber.  Early in May, the crew walked the fields, row by row, disbudding the growing stems. Our experienced team tackled the ocean of peony stems with excellent precision. Each flowering peony shoot will produce multiple buds. With skilled and careful hands, we gently remove the side buds so that these stems will put their energy into the main bud, making it grow bigger, to produce extra-large blooms. When the job is complete you come in from the field with the sticky peony sap covering your hands and the satisfaction of a task – well done. For a home gardener growing peonies to enjoy in a mixed border, the more fragrant and lush blooms the better. But when producing a cut flower crop, disbudding your peony field – elevates your blooms from others.

The stems being cut today are bound for the cut flower market. Today, our work will be made easier by the overcast weather. Staying on top of harvesting over 15 acres of peonies is a monumental challenge when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Too much rain makes the fields soggy and frustrating to wade through. A hard rain can mark blooms and wet foliage reduces the storage life of cut stems. On the other hand, too much sun and hot weather speed up the growth of peony blooms to the point where they can be difficult to harvest in time. It is beautiful to watch them open, but not when it means you’ve missed your short harvest window, and the peony is no longer saleable as a cut flower. Last night, the overnight temperatures stayed below 20 degrees Celsius, keeping the developing peony blooms at bay. This is a huge help for us!

We often get asked when is the perfect time to harvest a peony stem? When the bloom is at the ‘marshmallow stage’! Take note home gardeners – this is an excellent tip for anyone with peonies in their backyard. You’ll want to cut the stem close to the soil level, but only when the bud has coloured up and ever so slightly started to open and is soft and squishy to the touch (it feels like a marshmallow). If you gently squish the bud and it still feels hard like a marble, leave the stem for another few days and check again later. If you pick the stem too early, the bud will likely not open. When buds are picked at the right time, they will open and produce huge, fragrant blooms that will last for up to 2 weeks.  Remember when you are cutting stems, only cut the stems with the blooms.  Leave all the stalks with just foliage attached to the plant as the peony will need them to produce energy and nutrients that will be stored in the roots over winter to produce next year’s blooms. 

Altogether, we have over 60 different varieties of peonies in our fields. We have a selection of early, mid and late flowering varieties, which extends the harvest season. Each variety has its own unique colour, bloom size, flower form and fragrance.  This afternoon, we will finish harvesting ‘Duchesse de Nemours’, a beautiful white peony which is one of our earlier flowering varieties. We will prioritize the faster-to-open varieties, then move on to subsequent varieties such as Sarah Bernhardt which are usually slower to open. After harvesting through each row, we will start again at the beginning and do a second round of harvest on the same day. Even a matter of hours on a warm sunny day can develop a bud from rock hard to marshmallow – ready to pick.]

As farmers, we are out in the field too, with our crew, and check regularly on progress in the field.  Then it is to the processing area indoors to see that the lines are running smoothly, and quality check the sleeved bunches – before they are shipped. From those harvesting in the field to others running the bunching lines every day until this very intense harvest season is complete. A harvest this size would not be possible without the hard work, effort and dedication to quality – of our amazing crew.

We are so thankful that we get to share the beauty of this crop! Peonies are some of our favourite flowers and we feel fortunate to have access to cut flowers that are locally grown.  If you’re interested in purchasing cut flower peonies, check out your local florist, grocery or garden center or email mail@florissa.com and we can direct you to your nearest source. 

To learn more about peonies check out our blog on all things Peonies!

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