A Blooming Business: Woman grows fresh-cut flowers near Halstead

Josh and Carmen Becker stand in their flower garden in rural Halstead. The couple has been selling fresh flowers in Halstead, Newton and Wichita for three years.

HALSTEAD—Carmen Becker’s flower farm east of Halstead has types of flowers you’ve likely never heard of. In fact, it has types of flowers she herself had been unfamiliar with until recently.

“A lot of these I had never heard of,” she said.

She and her husband, Josh, are in the third growing season of their fresh cut flower business, A Bit of Earth. Their garden is filled with dozens of colorful flowers, like snapdragons, black-eyed Susans, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, statice, bright pink dianthus, plumelike celosia, amaranthus, ageratum and raspberry-like gomphrena.

Carmen said growing her own flowers allows her to sell some options that you won’t find at the average florist.

“Some of these summer flowers are flowers that don’t ship well or store in a cooler well, so that’s why a florist would not likely have zinnias or cosmos or some of that stuff,” she said.

These ageratum have a one-of-kind blue color, according to Carmen Becker.

One flower that Carmen called “the star of the show” was the lisianthus, which take more time and care to grow than most flowers.

“They’re really extra stunning,” she said. “They take an incredibly long time to grow, so I don’t even start them from seed.”

The wide variety of flowers Carmen grows means that she’s always got something in season between spring and fall. Some of her earlier spring flowers, like feverfew and Queen Anne’s lace, are now dying out, even as other plants are coming into their prime.

“I plant in the fall, so I have these three smaller beds here in the fall. That’s stuff that’s cold-hardy,” she said. “Then, I have early spring plants that’s cold-hardy, but not as hardy, so I have to cover it with row covers. Then, I plant three rotations of summer crops so you always have a nice fresh crop blooming.”

Recently, she’s been planting 180 sunflowers every week so she’ll have a continuous supply of them.

“Of course, you have some that get eaten by rabbits or die because it’s too hot,” she said. “Some you can’t pick because of insects. So I don’t get 180 sunflowers every week.”

Carmen said her flower garden has definitely gotten bigger each year. When she started, she had three long beds and four short ones. The next year she doubled her size and then this year she added another three long beds. She added that she has room to keep expanding the garden, depending on whether her sales dictate that.

Carmen sells her flowers at Halstead Market, Prairy Market in Newton and at the farmer’s market in Wichita at 21st and Ridge. She said she’s at the farmer’s market every Saturday between June and October.

“That’s where I like to take my really interesting, unique stuff, like those coxcomb, the brain-like ones,” she said, adding these are showstoppers when they get big.

Carmen sells her flowers either by the stem or as bouquets.

“At the farmer’s market, we do single stem, like a bouquet bar kind of style,” she said. “Then, we also bunch up little $5 or $10 bouquets that are wrapped in towels as a grab-and-go. Then, we also have done vases for $15, 20 or 25, so we have flowers for everybody.”

She also offers a bouquet subscription service with quite a few options available. Flower lovers can sign up to receive multiple bouquets over a two-month or four-month period, either monthly, weekly or biweekly. Carmen offers delivery to Halstead, Newton, Moundridge or the Wichita farmer’s market, or you can do pick up from her house.

She offers both bouquets and buckets, with buckets just being loose flowers that the purchaser arranges herself. She also just started offering DIY flower buckets for weddings.

She noted that while the subscription service may seem like a lot of money up front, when you break it down by bouquet, it’s just like what you’d expect for that number of individual bouquets.

Carmen also grows some herbs like dill, basil and fennel to fill out her arrangements. A new plant she’s experimenting with is shiso.

The Beckers’ four-legged flower assistant, Bella, gives a smile in the flower garden. Bella has a reputation for snacking on zinnias.

“I haven’t cut it yet, but you have to wait until there’s a little flower,” she said. “Then it gets woody enough that it’s not going to wilt on you.”

Carmen said she wasn’t quite sure how her flower-growing hobby took root, but she used to enjoy helping her mom grow flowers in the summer, she said, and now it’s become a business for her.

“It just started out as a small little idea and it bloomed into this, pun intended,” she said with a laugh.

Her original plan was to keep it basic, like selling some zinnias at the farmer’s market. However, after getting connected with a flower grower near Galva named Shelia Wedel, she was inspired to start her own cut-flower business. Wedel gave her advice on which flowers would be easy to grow and even gave Carmen a job in her greenhouse.

“She has a much bigger area and a much wider variety, so I could get ideas from her, as well,” she said. “That was really helpful.”

Carmen averages three or four hours working with her flowers each morning, getting an early start at 6:30 a.m. to avoid the heat.

“It’s going to get a little less as we get into the summer,” Carmen said. “The spring is always super busy because it’s more planting and more weeding.”

Earlier this year, the Beckers created a room in their barn with workstations for Carmen to arrange flowers at and they also installed a walk-in refrigerator to keep flowers fresh. She said this cooler was something her dad had bought at an auction years ago.
“He heard we were talking about having a room with a cooler, and he was like, ‘I think have a cooler somewhere out in the shed,” she said. “So we got it and felt very privileged.”

Her husband, Josh, also helps with some of the “grunt work” of the operation, like tilling the beds and helping set up at the farmer’s market.

The Beckers don’t spray any chemicals on their flowers, basically letting nature do its thing in their garden.

“We try to be sustainable with the ground,” Josh said.

For more information on A Bit of Earth, visit them online abitofearth.org, call 620-436-6222 or email abitofearth.19@gmail.com.

“I’m surprised at how well it’s turned out,” Carmen added. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started, or I didn’t have a goal in mind or what I was going to do, so it’s been a pleasant surprise that it’s worked out this well.”

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