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Longfellow resident plants more than 10,000 seedlings and tubers

Posted on 28 May 2018 by calvin

By WILL ASHENMACHER
Molly Gaeckle might be the only Longfellow resident for whom spring came early.

When her neighbors were shoveling out from 15 inches of snow, Gaeckle, 30, was watering and misting some 10,000 seedlings in the basement of her home in the 3800 block of 42nd Ave.

Photo right: Molly Gaeckle harvests snapdragons from her garden plot. The wire over the top encourages straight stem growth. (Photo by Tom Schmidt)

Those seedlings, which Gaeckle planted in late February, will eventually be moved to an 8,000 square-foot outdoor plot a block away from Gaeckle’s home. In time, they’ll become the bouquets she sells to subscribers to Northerly Flora, her community supported agriculture (CSA) flower program.

Gaeckle, who has lived in Longfellow for three years, became interested in food and agriculture when she traveled to New Zealand, Germany, Argentina and Chile during and after college.

“My parents actually laugh knowing that I am doing this now because growing up, they had a big flower and vegetable garden and I would have a lot of teenage angst because they’d make me do chores,” Gaeckle said with a laugh.

Photo left: Molly Gaeckle holds an armload of China Aster she gathered from her plot in the 3900 block of 42nd Ave. S. (Photo by Tom Schmidt)

Gaeckle, who was a horticulture minor at the University of Minnesota, thought vegetables might not work for a novice grower in an urban setting, so she looked to flowers instead.

“People are on board for local food, and now, there’s growing demand for local flowers,” she said. “I thought it was something I could do myself and on a small scale. In this area, there aren’t many flower growers, so I thought it was a niche I could get into.”

Gaeckle estimates she grows 40 distinct varieties of flowers. All but lisianthus, a delicate variety she ordered in seedling form, and dahlias, which are planted directly as a bulb-like tuber, begin in her basement.

“We can’t grow some of the things they grow in California, but really it’s surprising how much we can grow, and that’s been amazing for me to learn,” Gaeckle said.

Photo right: Molly Gaeckle estimates she’s growing about 40 different kinds of flowers, mostly annuals, for Northerly Flora, her community supported agriculture program. (Photo by Tom Schmidt)

This year, Northerly Flora sold out with 70 subscribers. Last year, it had 40.

Karina Hill is in her second year as a subscriber to the Northerly Flora. “I love flowers, and I would love to be able to grow lots of flowers in my own yard and cut my own fresh bouquets, but I am not quite there yet,” she said.

“(Molly) grows a really wide variety of flowers, and the fact that they are locally grown is very important to me.”

Jess Hopeman, another second-year Northerly Flora client, called her weekly bouquet “an infusion of happy.”
“I love anything that can be local, and this ended up being the best thing I did for myself last year, bar none,” she said.

Gaeckle has expanded Northerly Flora to include a satellite plot in Seward, which will bring her growing space up to a total of about a quarter of an acre. She’s also selling flowers on Tuesday nights at the Mill City Farmer’s Market. She does occasional events—including her own Sept. 22 wedding—but isn’t sure how much a focus they will be in the future.

“What I want is to build a sustainable business,” she said. “I want to feel proud of what I’m doing, and I want it to make a positive impact on people. What that looks like, I don’t know, but I’m excited to see where it goes.”
And yes, even after all the work she puts into Northerly Flora, she still likes flowers.

“I keep liking them more and more as I learn more about them,” she said.

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