In the coming weeks we’ll notice a crispness to the air and an obvious decline in temperature in central Missouri. The time of year for hot chocolate, warm scarves, and tall boots is here, and fall is already in full swing at Strawberry Hill Farms.
With around 4,500 hardy garden mums, several kinds of ornamental gourds and squash, and wide variety of pumpkins growing on their family owned and operated farm, Steven and Amy Sapp are prepared for this season.
The couple begins the mum growing process in early June, when the cuttings arrive in plug flats. The cuttings are then planted into the pot they will call home during the next several weeks of growth and placed side by side on tables outdoors where they will stay until the middle of July. When the mums’ foliage begins to fill out and start to touch one another on the tables, they are moved and spaced accordingly on weed barriers on the ground. The new spacing allows the sun to reach the entire plant, and the barriers keep weeds from interfering with the growth of the mum.
“They need to be spread out, so that way they have room to make nice mounds,” Amy Sapp said.
Strawberry Hill Nursery
A drip system applies water and fertilizer to the several hundred mums. This investment is a must for the Sapp family, as it saves them hours worth of hand watering each individual plant. The fertilizer is dispersed through a dosing pump system, which allows the plant to be fertilized every time it is watered. A time-release fertilizer is also used, but is placed in the pot with the soil during the planting time.
“It’s important especially on a year like this year, where you have lots of rain and you don’t get to water them as often,” Steven Sapp said. “Then you’re actually still fertilizing them because you have some time release in there.”
Strawberry Hill begins selling the 20 to 25 varieties of mums after the plants reach peak growth.. They are retailed based on their staggered bloom rate, usually beginning in mid-September and continuing through early October.
“With mums you actually have different bloom dates, so we try to stagger them, so we have maybe five different stages of yellow,” Steven said.
In addition to their mum crop this fall, they also have several kinds of ornamental gourds and squash and a wide variety of pumpkins for sale. Some are grown on their property in creek bottoms, however the past two years have been a challenge due to the high amounts of water and moisture that came with the rainy, humid days of summer.
“Years like we’ve had the last two years, it’s better to grow on a hill or somewhere where it’s up out of the water,” Steven said. “We did have it flood twice, and even in the middle of those floods it was just too wet. We had a lot of fungus issues, problems, weeds, and that sort of thing. They all grow better with a lot of moisture.”
Although the wet summers made pumpkin growth difficult, that did not stop the Sapp’s from continuing their pumpkin business. Instead, they supplemented from outside sources to keep their customer base satisfied. The different assortments of pumpkins and other decorative items are being sold now through the end of October.
“Usually we shut down at Halloween because it’s really hard to sell a pumpkin after Halloween,” Steven said. “It’s kind of like Christmas decorations in January.”
While the fall season brings in plenty of business, the couple’s main market is during the spring of the year. From mid-March to mid-June, the 26 greenhouses that take up about two acres on the family’s farm are filled with bedding plants and hanging baskets. The spring business requires Steven and Amy to hire around 20 employees, while the fall only takes the couple and one or two other hired-hands.
Floriculture runs deep in the family’s roots, as Strawberry Hill Farms was started by Steven’s parents, Gary and Joyce, in 1980. It only took a few vegetable and tomato plants under a lean-to at the back of their house, before the neighbors were sparked with interest and wanted to buy. Eventually, Joyce added flowers to sell and the business really began to grow.
“They tried a lot of different things,” Amy said. “They tried a u-pick strawberry operation, which is why it’s called Strawberry Hill, but that was very short lived”.
In 2009, Steven and Amy bought the operation from his parents and have been running the family business ever since.