San Diego

Behind the Bloom at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad

Fifty-five acres of ranunculus are in bloom until Mother's Day

It is one of the most visible attractions in San Diego County.

A stunning display of intense color welcomes visitors to The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, where every spring, rows of Ranunculus flowers bloom across 55 acres.

In the early morning hours, before the crowds arrive, workers spread out in the fields, hand selecting flowers one by one, so people who can't see the Ranunculus in person, can still appreciate the flower's delicate, multi-layered petals.

"They're looking for stems that are long, that have no side branches and a big, fat bud with a little bit of color showing," said Fred Clarke, general manager of The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch. "They cut 10 - 12 stems, they tie them with a twist tie, they put them in a sleeve."

The bouquets are placed in water with an anti-bacterial solution to keep the stems open, so the flowers stay fresh as they're transported via air freight all over the United States.

While 60 seasonal workers are hired for the spring, a full-time staff of about 10 people will start preparing for next year's bloom right after Mother's Day, the last day the flower fields are open for the season.

Workers will first mow down the flowers, then stop irrigation, to allow about one million bulbs to form.

"Then a month later in July, we'll come out and we'll dig the bulbs out with a machine, a lot like a potato harvester," explained Clarke. "The bulbs are then sorted and selected. They're grated and dried. Then they're packaged for sale."

Soon after, the soil preparation begins. Workers will smooth down the ground, add compost, put in the irrigation system, then start the first planting in September for the following year.

The Ranunculus flowers are ideal for San Diego's mild winters.

But this season, workers had to deal with a problem they haven't seen in a while, a lot of rain.

"We get nervous when it's going to rain, so we try to time the sowing so we have 5 to 10 days of no rain," Clarke said. "But this year with the frequent rainfall we were having, we didn't have that option, so we did something unique."

Workers used a lightweight fabric, frequently used for frost protection, to cover the fields.

"What it does, it deflects the force of the raindrops, so it wouldn't disturb the seed in the seedbed, allowing the seed to germinate and grow normally," explained Clarke.

The ranch is also using a newly installed computerized controlled irrigation system that monitors the soil moisture, to save water.

"The pressure is on for us to deliver a beautifully germinated crop across all the different plantings," Clarke added.

The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch are one of the last remnants of agriculture in Carlsbad.

To protect the land from major commercial development, the family that owns the property, the Ecke family, reached an agreement with the City of Carlsbad years ago, stipulating their land would always be used for agriculture.

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