Micro farming from the soil up
Yes you read that right, this farm is dedicated to peonies, sparkling wine and old world perfumed roses. How dreamy!
Crofters Fold (even the name is dreamy!) is an inspiring spot. Located in the heart of Granite country near Kyneton in the Macedon Ranges, farmers Danielle and Ashley farm holistically and chemical free. Their focus is on the soil, and they took their time getting to know their soil and their micro climate for crop suitability when they moved to the farm in 2012. This year marks their 2nd rose season. Aren’t they divine!
Crofters Fold is one of the founding farms of Consortium Botanicus – an artisan flower farming movement. Through this group, they, along with a ‘growing’ number of micro flower farmers across the country, are gaining momentum and attention among florists, stylists and the general public about flowers grown seasonally, holistically and chemical free.
With a dreamy Instagram account of life on a flower farm, plans for farm gate experiences, a Fellowship for Danielle to travel overseas to learn best-practice micro flower farming from floriculture change-makers like Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm and Rosebie Morton of The Real Flower Co. , oh and all the exciting things happening with Consortium Botanicus, there’s certainly a friendly buzz about Crofters Fold.
Here’s our chat with Danielle..
What do you grow and what volume?
We grow old world perfumed roses and peonies for the local cut-flower market. We have approximately 500 rose plants in over 25 varieties, mostly Hybrid Teas, in colour ranges from whites through apricots, café, peach to pinks, blush to cherise and deep red. We have 240 peonies in whites through to pinks.
What’s involved in cultivating roses and peonies?
Like all plants; water, enough dry heat, sunlight, weed-free, healthy soil and wind protection are key factors. We also have predatory fauna to consider such as cockatoos, kangaroos, rabbits, parrots, possums not to mention earwigs, aphids, whitefly, grasshoppers! The joys of flower farming.
Roses are known as ‘hardy’ plants, but it’s quite another matter to produce several repeat flushes over the season and for the blooms to be beautiful and disease-free with a good useable stem-length of at 40cm-plus! It’s quite a challenge and coming towards the end of our second season it’s something that we’re motivated to do well.
Our philosophical approach to farming roses is to grow them naturally with as little intervention as possible – none if possible other than feeding, watering, soil building and natural plant health enhancement. Every season is different, so we work with nature to keep the roses healthy and happy. Some of our tasks involve; weeding and more weeding, watering two-three times a week depending on the summer’s heat, feeding organic fertiliser as required, deadheading to remove spent blooms and to prevent and reduce disease/pest issues.
Also known to be hardy, peonies still require our attention. We weed and feed; they are heavy feeders. They don’t like wind and they like nutrient-rich soils. Late frost can burn the buds, so we watch out for that. We are blessed to be in a cool climate that allows them to overwinter and flower!
When are you in full bloom?
Our roses bloom from approximately November through to April (depending on how long the heat of the season stays).
Our peonies bloom for approximately three weeks in November; usually mid to late.
Do you sell to the industry or the public?
We sell wholesale by the bucket of 50 stems to anybody who cares about perfumed healthy flowers and that includes florists, stylists, event designers, DIY brides and grooms as well as direct to the public. We are happy to have people pre-order their Roses and Peonies and collect them from the farm by arrangement.
Connecting with people who want to know their farmers is part of the reward for working this hard.
Challenges of growing?
Like all farmed things, the challenges of growing relate to Mother Nature’s variability from season to season, year to year; frost, heat, wind, drought, flood, predators. You have to give up on nice nails and live with rose thorn in your hands too! 😉 More seriously, achieving consistent high-quality yield, naturally, is the challenge – but we’re up for it!
I have been awarded an International Specialised Skills Institute Fellowship to travel overseas next year, possibly to the UK, USA and/or Canada, to learn artisanal flower farming skills from some exemplar micro flower farmers.
In particular, I plan to use my Fellowship to observe best-practice harvesting skills to optimise yield while looking after the plant’s health; collaborative flower farm models, sustainable soil health management, as well as quality farm-gate experiences that could translate well for agritourism and agribusiness in Australia.
What’s your farming strategy?
Sitting 541m above sea level in the heart of the Macedon Ranges Granite Country, Crofters Fold is cool-climate terroir. After moving to the property in 2012, we took time to settle in and learn about our new soil (granitic), rainfall (medium) and micro climate (cool + frosty + hot + windy).
We farm holistically without harmful chemicals. This means we farm from the soil up; we aim to create and maintain healthy natural soil and from there we tend the plants as needs be. We chose roses and peonies and grapes because they suit the soil and climate; that way we’re not fighting an uphill battle to tame and interfere with nature. In our climate, all three plants will do well on their own but with our help they can do very well.
Why do you grow flowers?
When we bought the farm the Pinot Noir vines were already there so we knew that roses would be a good match. Historically, roses are planted at the end of vine rows to help indicate the health of the vines. Peonies grow in a cool climate too, so it was a bit of a no-brainer, especially because they are two of our most favourite flower varieties. Plus, my husband had tended 50-plus roses of his own in the past so he had some good basic rosarian skills to build on. Then, serendipitously, one day we were chatting with Sandy and Rob who have a micro flower farm in Trentham about a vision for collaborate flower farming and voila the rest is history!
What do you love about it?
The beauty and the perfume are the greatest rewards for our effort and time. I especially love seeing abundant roses sitting in buckets organised into colourways and then seeing them down the track looking amazing in wedding and event photos after the floral designers have worked their magic with them!
What do you find challenging about life as a flower farmer?
We’re only coming to the end of our second season, so the challenges are in finding our way into the market, building a reputation for quality, and helping educate our clients, brides and event folks that sourcing local and in-season flowers is a good option for many reasons primarily the environment and that paying farmers what they’re worth rather than haggling the lowest price that competes with imported unscented florals. These are the same basic challenges that are common across many farming sectors and to many small artisan businesses.
This year, for St Valentine’s Day alone, it was reported that more than 6.4 million Rose stems were flown into the country from Kenya, which equates to 1.25 million more than last year. That’s huge flower miles, chemicals and impact on our grass-root local economies. This is a challenge. We’d love to see turned around and that starts with more customers asking their flower sellers for locally-grown, bee-friendly flowers.
Do you have a favourite floral stylist/designer?
We love local, so we’d have to say Vanessa and Caris of Prunella in Kyneton and Arnie Way of Flowers In A Vase in Woodend. We’ve been very fortunate to have their support in our first seasons of farming roses and peonies. Our region is very fortunate to have such talent in its midst.
Internationally, via Instagram, there is a feast of floral beauty out there, isn’t there! We’re smitten with Katie Davis of Ponderosa and Thyme Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm. Dreamy and motivating imagery helps soothe weary bones when you’ve had a long week in the Rose and Peony paddock.
Crofters Fold Estate, Pipers Creek, just outside Kyneton in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges. www.croftersfold.com.au
Farmgate orders can be placed via email firstname.lastname@example.org or m. 0408797438.