Ask any flower farmer what is the most common misconception they hear about their business and nine times out of ten it will be “your fields must look so beautiful when they are all in full bloom.” 

The thought of a field of billowing flowers? Well, that’s enough to make a flower farmer cry. Flowers blown fully open are flowers that are not going to harvest, store, or ship well – and are certainly not going to last long in the vase for the customers who buy them. A flower blown open is a flower sale blown. 

For any flower grower worth their salt, the worry of being able to harvest their flowers at the right time i.e. before, and in some cases, long before they fully open, is what can keep them up at night. The romantic notion that flower farmers waft about with a basket over their arm skipping between rows of flowers as the sun sets gently beyond the horizon could not be further from the truth. 

One delicate stem at a time

Completely at the mercy of Mother Nature, there is no such thing as a “scheduled” harvest. No year is ever the same and once it starts, no day is ever the same. Some years harvesting the same size crop may take over a month. In others, every single stem needs to be pulled in ten days or less. And, while farmers of other arable crops have the luxury of using machinery to help bring in their harvests, flower farmers are required to do this carefully by hand, one delicate stem at a time. And when I use the word crop, I’m talking tens of thousands of stems.

Tiny Hearts

One person who knows this better than anyone is Jenny Elliott. Along with her husband Luke, she is the flower-whispering founder and owner of Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake, NY. What began as an idea and one acre of borrowed land has morphed over the last decade into a thriving 25-acre organic flower farm, boasting four greenhouses, a flower shop in nearby Hillsdale, NY and, as of 2021, a Bulbadome. (A what you may ask? Hold on, we’ll get to that in a bit!) Offering farm-fresh flowers, arrangements, dahlia tubers, CSA subscriptions, workshops, event floristry, and dried flowers, there is nothing floral, seasonal, and farm-to-vase grown that Tiny Hearts does not offer. 

It is through the combination of Jenny and Luke’s back-breaking hard work and ingenuity that the farm has grown to be the phenomenal success that it has become. It is the mothership for flower lovers for miles around. Wholesalers, florists, brides looking for either DIY flower buckets or a la carte arrangements for their weddings, or just flower-loving individuals, be it for holidays, celebrations or gifts, we all flock to their door for our flowery needs. 

I first discovered Tiny Hearts during the pandemic, when faced with a suddenly empty calendar of cancelled weddings and events, Jenny pivoted to an overnight CSA model to sell all her long-planted bulbs that inconveniently hadn’t got the memo that the world had shut down. Her tulips lightened a lot of dark days for many of us.

Tulips to the rescue

It was also her tulips that led to the aforementioned Bulbadome. Farmers grow what customers want. And Jenny’s customers want tulips. Lots of tulips. Which is great. Until you have to harvest them. Harvesting field-grown tulips by lifting each stem with the bulb intact from our less than slip-like soil here in the Northeast is back-breaking. 

But that wasn’t the only problem. As Jenny explains, “It was the timing of the harvesting that was a huge issue for us. We’d get a sudden run of warm sunny days in early May and the entire crop of 30,000 tulips would start bursting open at once. We just could not keep up. While it is possible to dry store tulips, especially when pulled with the bulb intact, we would have such a glut of them. The cooler can only fit so many, and then we would be done. Stems were getting left in the field. We were losing a big chunk of our crop. And what many people don’t appreciate is that every bulb is expensive and is one-and-done. The bulbs cannot be reused the following year. Our tulips, while wildly popular, were not proving to be as financially viable as we needed.”

Manipulating tulips

While most of us would feel deflated, if not defeated, by this, Jenny decided to find a solution. In her mind if you could force other spring bulbs inside, manipulating their flowering through light and temperature control, surely you could do the same to control the harvest time of tulips?  Never one to let the wariness of others deflect her from a mission, in the fall of 2021 she ordered 10,000 bulbs to give it a go. Fortuitously, at the same time a spot became available on The Tulip Workshop, a course run by tulip-growing experts Linda D’Arco of Little Farmhouse Flowers in upstate New York and Emily Von Trapp of Von Trap Flowers in Vermont.

To put this in simplified layman’s terms, the bulbs need to be planted in crates in the fall and then put into cold storage at around 40 degrees for a set amount of time. They are then held in a cooler to hold back their flowering. A few weeks before the flowers are needed, the grower can bring the quantities required into a greenhouse where, by again controlling the temperature, the bulbs can be brought to harvest point in a manageable way. No more of the naught-to ninety overnight stresses as with the field-grown tulips. This process also allows growers to speed up the whole growing process and be able to offer locally-grown fresh flowers in the depths of our New England winter. All that was missing for Jenny and Luke was a cool, dark storage space to chill the bulbs. 

The Bulbadome

As luck would have it, there was the perfect structure for this right alongside their farm operation in Copake. Having started out life as a greenhouse, thanks to the DIY efforts of previous owners, it had been converted into a mushroom-growing facility that ticked all their boxes. It was dark, insulated, and had concrete floors. Best of all, it was for sale. 

It did not take Luke long to convert this structure into the perfect Bulbadome. Connecting a 50-foot greenhouse to one end created a seamless, efficient growing space where racks of crates could be easily wheeled about and tulips harvested from table-top height. From the initial 10,000 bulbs in 2021, this year they are already harvesting the 80,000 tulips that went into the Bulbadome last November.  

Jenny claims they still have much to learn from the data gather every year on how temperature control and holding times can be tweaked to make their harvest management even more accurate. At the same time, they are discovering there are some varieties that even with the inherent harvest vagaries, remain better field grown. With each harvest comes greater knowledge and greater enthusiasm to continue the farm’s tulip-growing journey.

Those of you who have read this column before will know there is nothing I like to bang on about more than the importance of sourcing local seasonal flowers. So, the fact that we have Jenny and Luke on our doorsteps with the dedication, ingenuity and knowledge to be able to provide us with these almost all year around is truly a cause for celebration. And what better way to celebrate? My advice would be to get yourselves over to their shop in Hillsdale pronto and enjoy these beautiful flowers for yourself. •

For more information visit The Tiny Hearts Flower Shop online at, or in person at 2643 NY State Route 23 in Hillsdale, NY. Winter hours: Thursday to Saturday 10am to 4pm.