Early summer is a busy time for growers, but Greg and Mariah Anderson have more than a little extra work. They just finished planting 6,000 mums, which is about half of what they’ll grow this year.
The Anderson’s venture into growing mums started about eight years ago when a neighbor needed some and they were able to devote some space to growing them. To minimize the workload, Greg and Mariah selected self-shaping varieties that didn’t require pinching. The first year, they grew 300 mums.
“We start them from two inch rooted cuttings,” said Greg. “About 80 percent of what we grow are single color planted in 9-inch pots, and about 500 solid and tricolors are planted in larger 12-inch pots. We have about five or six tri-color varieties this year.”
Mariah says she did a lot of research when they first started growing mums. “Some of our growers supply good information on consumer trends, so I based it on that for the first couple of years,” she said. “Over the years, we’ve taken good notes in fall when customers are buying mums. Yellow seems to be the most popular color, so we put a lot of emphasis on the yellow family. Within that color family, we’ll grow about 25 to 35 yellow varieties.”
Mariah said they pride themselves in a diverse selection of mums that are different from what customers can purchase at big box stores. “We try to find unique varieties,” she said. “Daisy mums and bicolors within the yellow family are popular.”
At the end of the year, Mariah spends a lot of time reviewing the notes she has taken throughout the season. “I take a lot of notes to find the best selections for the growing environment here in Clinton, Illinois,” she said. “I’ll try a variety for about two years, and if it after the second year it doesn’t grow well for us, we eliminate it from our mum program.”
Consumers often ask if mums will survive winter and bloom the following year, and their questions are answered honestly. Mariah says most customers purchase mums as a seasonal annual and don’t expect them to survive winter and bloom the following year. “The more we talk with and educate our customers, the more come back and tell us their mums came back, and they return and buy more,” she said. “It can get overwhelming but we spend a lot of time talking with customers so they can learn how to care for mums. We want them to be happy and not just buy something that’s going to die on their porch.”
Greg noted that mum season is from mid/late August to early October, and tells customers that mums planted in the ground before the middle of September have a better chance of survival. One aspect of growing that Greg believes helps mums return year after year is growing them outside. “We grow them all outside so they’re accustomed to the environment,” he said. “There isn’t the stress of coming out of the greenhouse and then going into the ground.”
After success with mums, the Anderson family expanded their operation to include vegetables. “When we first started growing mums, we both worked off the farm,” said Mariah. “As we grew, our name got out and I spent a lot of time with social media and brand awareness for our business. We kept increasing the mum sales, and Greg decided to quit his full-time job and stay on the farm.”
Triple M Farms: Mariah’s Mums and More operates a 70-share CSA and sells branded produce to a local grocery store. They also sell produce in town, where CSA members pick up shares, as well as directly from the farm.
Mariah says one thing they learned the first year of operating a CSA is that food waste is an issue among CSAs in general because not everyone likes the selections included each week. “We try to customize the CSA,” she said. “With a lot of the CSAs in our area, you get what’s in the box that week, but we give people a list of seven to 10 options. So if they don’t like beets, they can get more greens. Our CSA members have been very vocal and want us to keep it that way.”
To maintain an efficient and accurate order list each week, Mariah uses CSA management software to track customers’ selections. “We send an update every Sunday, and give them the option to change what’s in their basket,” she explained. “I get a notification about what they want this week, then we can print the labels and have those ready. We prepackage the shares in a reusable grocery bag – it’s a quick, speedy process. We’ve learned that people are in a hurry and we want to keep it simple and efficient. Their bag is labeled and all they have to do is pick it up and go.”
Greg grows most vegetables on black plastic, and finds that it provides good weed control. Some crops, including tomatoes and cucumbers, are grown both outside and in a high tunnel Greg noted that fruit grown indoors is much cleaner. He plants seven or eight successions of sweet corn in multiple varieties to offer a selection for customers. “The last one can be a challenge,” said Greg. “It’ll be planted around July 1. It can be good late season sweet corn, and the store in town will take it as long as we have it available.”
In addition to vegetables, the farm offers cut flowers, and Mariah says they are becoming more popular among brides who want to come to the farm to select their own flowers for arrangements. The flowers are grown near the road, which attracts customers who can pay one price and cut a bucket of flowers.
Mariah says she didn’t realize the impact of social media until she talked with customers who were watching the progress of mums on Facebook. “I went out every week and took a picture with a yardstick next to the mums,” she said, describing the ‘Watch Them Grow Wednesday’ postings on Facebook. “They could see the progression of the mums through the season. I still do that, and now I’ve added the vegetables.
Several years ago, Mariah worked with two other farms to create the Dewitt County Farm Crawl. “This will be the third season for it,” she said, adding that last year’s event drew more than 1,000 people. “Last year we had a tractor show, and the Clinton FFA came out and did some Ag in the Classroom activities. We sold mums, which was the big draw for our farm. This year, the Dewitt County Farm Bureau will be conducting a tractor drive. Everyone was in a fall mood, and it was a great opportunity to highlight three small farms in our county.”
Visit Triple M Farms: Mariah’s Mums on line at www.mariahsmums.com .