Friends of Farming
San Diego County
“At the Flower Fields we harvest flowers, tubers, and tourists,” Says Michael Anthony Mellano, Vice President of Production at Mellano and Co., the company that manages The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch in Carlsbad, one of Southern California’s most visible agritourism sites.
The Flower Fields sits just off the I-5 freeway in Carlsbad, and for 60 years during the months of March, April, and May the farm’s primary crop, Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers, has put on a dazzling spring color show for the thousands of tourists and millions of commuters who visit or pass by the fields on their way up and down the freeway.
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch was an idea born of a friendship and partnership between three local families making their living growing flowers. In 1965, Edwin Frazee, who learned the art of ranunculus and gladiolus cultivation from his father, moved his flower operation to the current site of the Flower Fields in Carlsbad. The land was then, and still is, owned by the Ecke Family of Encinitas who were previously using the ground to cultivate poinsettia. Paul Ecke Jr. and Edwin Frazee became good friends, and when Edwin retired in 1993 Paul Jr. convinced him to stay on as a consultant to a new grower that would continue growing the ranunculus on the land. The Mellanos were growing their own flowers nearby in Oceanside, and Paul Jr. partnered with Mellano and Co. to manage the production of the ranunculus at the Flower Fields.
Paul Jr. had a vision for the land to be farmed long into the future, but could see the writing on the wall in a rapidly urbanizing landscape. Field grown agriculture was becoming increasingly difficult, and Paul Jr. saw tourism as a way to bring the public closer to agriculture and diversify the farm’s income. “Farming in an urban environment is a very costly endeavor, so the profitability of the project is dependent on two major income streams and one minor: the cut flowers, the tourists that enjoy the fields and spend the day walking around flowers, then the tubers that are left over after we’ve harvested the cut flowers off the plants. The tubers are the minor crop,” explains Mellano.
Thirteen colors of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus are still grown on 50 acres at the ranch. Cut flowers are harvested two to three times a week between March and May, dependent on the weather. The cut flowers – over 6 million stems a year - go into flower shops and supermarkets across the US and into Canada. Some are sold to visitors to the Fields through the Armstrong Garden Center that is located on site.
Following the harvest of the flowers, the plant is maintained for a time in the ground while it is still green. “During that time the plant is photosynthesizing and building tuber mass. We’ll keep it going until the plant naturally goes dormant and shuts down. We cut the water off as it enters that state,” explains Mellano. The upper part of the plant eventually browns and disintegrates and workers use a modified potato digging machine to shave the top inch or two of soil off the bed. That layer of soil contains the plant tubers, or bulbs, which are sold through the garden center to visitors and through an online store, www.easytogrowbulbs.com.
“There are several reasons why we harvest the tubers,” explains Mellano. “First, we are selling the tubers. Second, if we were to leave the tubers in the field, those would next season sprout and create another bigger plant with more flowers, but they are not as controllable. It would be difficult to get flowers from early February through Mother’s Day. Plus, you run the risk of accumulating viruses and diseases that would build up in the crop.”
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is continuing to look for new ways to enhance the experience of visitors to the farm. “We’re trying to keep the experience fresh and new,” says Mellano. Thus, the North Forty. “This is a new project, distinctly separate from the Flower Fields though it shares the same site and will be operated by the same people.” The North Forty, currently in development and slated for an opening of April 2017, will be a demonstration farm. “The objective there is to more directly engage the public in edible crops. We will be growing a variety of some new things and some old things that we think consumers and the public would like to see coming out of our local environment, and get them out on the farm to see these things growing. We’ll have blueberries, olives, a patch of coffee; really new exploratory crops. A small area of hops, a small vineyard as well. On site there will be a microbrewery and winery with tastings, an olive oil company…it will have a permanent farmers’ market atmosphere, with local products, and a culinary center teaching people how to cook using the grown products. It should be a really dynamic project and really exciting for people to come visit.”
Friends of Farming San Diego County 1670 E. Valley Parkway, Escondido, CA 92027 760-745-3023 Casey@sdfarmbureau.org