Flower Farming

Fresh Well Water

On a typically hot summer day in the Central Valley, fresh water is poring out of a pipe the size of a fire-hose. It is cool, clear and almost sparkling in the sun. It shoots out and down in a smooth curve, splashing and rushing and flows in into a dirt ditch. The water is coming from a large electric motor bolted on top of a water pump. that sits on top of a deep water well, The whole thing is the size of a small beer keg. It makes a very industrious humming sound.

After the water hits the dirt, it travels through the main ditch. We are able to control the water with dams that direct it down the proper row of plants. We use old metal stop signs & yield signs to dam the water. These metal signs save lots of shoveling dirt. The puddle of water looks dark and muddy as it quietly spreads out in the row of  plants.

In the summer my father would germinate plants from seeds in a glass-house or “hot-house” on the Kearney Blvd property. After the plants took root they would be transferred to the lath house. This building had a slatted sun roof made from 1-1/2 inch wood laths spaced the width of a lath apart. The partial shade cast by the laths cut the sun’s rays and the  lowered the heat from the Fresno summer sun down to what the plants need to grow.

After a few days, the plants grew up in the lath house and they were ready to be planted in long rows in the field. Sometimes (not always thank goodness) it became my job to stoop over and walk down each row of chrysanthemums breaking off the top of each plant. They were about 4 inches high.  This made plant sprout up three or four stems instead of just one. This way we could get a larger bunch of blooms, later when they grew up and flowered.  This was back-breaking work. It’s not much fun walking along, bent over in the blazing Fresno summer sun.  I didn’t appreciate it! But I did it for my Dad. The rows were long, about as long as a short city block and there were many rows.  Whew, time for a cool drink from the irrigation water.

In those days we grew chrysanthemums, Zinnias, Straw-flowers. We grew Dahlias for resale to other florist’s in town. We grew corn, tomatoes, asparagus and grapes for the table.

Fresno is a reclaimed desert and in the winter it can freeze some nights. The cold air can burn the flowers and make the blooms turn brown. Of of course this can run the crop. To prevent this my dad would listen to the weather report on his radio. If it was predicted to freeze or get really cold that night we could prevent damage to the crops by irrigating the rows, odd this may seem. The underground water is a relatively warm 65°F. This is a lot warmer than the freezing air at 32° fahrenheit. This warms the cold air which is settling on the ground and keeps the plants from freezing.

Near the end of fall or or at the start of winter when the rows of flowers had grown up and bloomed, sometimes the radio would warn us about a probable freeze that night.  If it was going to be a bad freeze we used the trick of irrigating the flowers. If it was going to be a bad freeze, then we had to pick the flowers . . . all the flowers. We took a hook knife (sometimes called a linoleum knife) in the right hand and bend over and wrap your left arm around a bunch of flowers holding them tightly to keep the flowers from hitting you in the face and  with a few pulling-jerky motions you cut off the stems near the ground and put them in a wheelbarrow. We then took them someplace to store them out of the cold.

That some place was actually a walk-in cold storage box that was used to keep cut flowers cool in the summer. In the winter it had a new duty – keep the cut flowers warm.

We sold the flowers in the Peters’ Flower Shop on Kearney Blvd.Peters Flower Shop

There was a phone booth on the corner that was put in by the phone company. We furnished the electricity and the pone company paid us a small percent of the money spent by the callers. We used to joke that a husband would call home and if he was in the dog hose ten he would order flowers from the flower shop.

 Next – Home made skate boards

(c) John A Peters 2016

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