peonies

ure Peonies is a fragrant and beautiful workplace. (Elisa Claassen/Lynden Tribune)

Pure Peonies selling blooms nationally — 100,000 in eight weeks

EVERSON — Not far from Nooksack Valley High School, 100,000 colorful blooms peek from covered hoop houses and fields throughout the growing season. A small display garden is in full bloom and not only can locals purchase peonies on site, but wholesale florists have been placing orders nationally.

There is more than meets the eye and more than one business at 2949 E. Badger Rd. While the perennials of Pure Peonies catch attention from the road, deep down in the soil is the work of the other business: Biochar Supreme/Black Owl Biochar. The biochar is actually also in two applications: agricultural and environmental remediation.

First things first, the peonies. Pure Peonies came about when owners Jim Wright and Renel  Anderson made a move into the countryside in the fall of 2010. They looked for property initially to grow food for themselves. The former stockbroker, Renel, and former engineer, Jim, who had worked on the Olympic Village in Vancouver, B.C., made a move from Lake Whatcom. The property was too large for just their own healthy vegetables, and research indicated a need in the marketplace for peonies. Renel had remembered seeing only one pink peony plant in Vancouver while living there.

“Peonies are the easiest thing to grow outside of dandelions,” Renel said. Yet to improve the growth of any plant, it’s necessary to look at its perferred pH and work with it. Most local soil is acidic while peonies prefer neutral soil.

 

Pure Peonies

What makes a winner? For a peony, it is being aware of whether the flower will be for a landscape or cut for an arrangement as well as the bloom time, color, and the different shapes and fragrances.

Before Mother’s Day, the big day in the floral industry, a multitude of orders flood in: 1,000 peonies needed in an hour. A lot of work and the crew did it this year. “Everyone helped,” Renel said.

Renel, who has to be careful with chemicals health-wise for herself, integrated that concern into their business: no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.

At this point, they send cut flowers to Canada, but not plants. While they pictured selling primarily to brides in Vancouver, the large blossoms actually ship via Federal Express overnight  throughout the United States to every state with wholesale customers including New York City and Florida (where it is too hot to grow peonies).

Peonies need 800 hours of freezing cold to go into dormancy and the help of ants in order to open. By using a hoop house whose sides can open, this operation’s peonies open several weeks early. While peonies could bloom continuously in the southern hemisphere, the northern hemisphere is another matter. Blooms start the end of April and continue for six weeks with the aid of a collection of early to late-blooming varieties.

Top sellers are Myrtle Gentry, a blush white full of fragrance, and Lois’ Choice, a tri-color with soft pink, yellow and coral. While there are 6,700 recognized varieties of peonies by the American Peony Society, Pure Peonies has 227 of them among its 15,000 plants. Each plant optimally produces 8 to 10 blooms.

Renel pulls a pink flower named Joker from a tub. As it opens, she pulls another bloom near it, and it lightens. Typical growth of a peony plant is 24 inches.  

While larger operations would use fungicides, Pure Peonies focuses on proper feeding of the plants. That way, florists handling flowers don’t have to worry about having rashes from contaminants.

“We’ve optimized what we can do,” she said, speaking of both of the businesses. In 2017, a national company agreed to buy their whole field’s production for the year. While it seemed upfront to be a good solution, the company reneged and didn’t pay. The resulting legal debt is still in progress. Since then, they have downsized staff, but hire more seasonally.

Biochar Supreme/Black Owl Biochar

Jim and Renel developed their version of biochar, a stable solid rich in carbon. It is estimated that 60 percent of the soil’s organic carbon has been depleted by plowing and tilling, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and causing deficits of organic matter in soil.

Biochar Supreme now is also used by professionals in not only agriculture but in water and soil remediation with “faster, higher absorption.” Experts from several University of California campuses as well as Cornell University, Rutgers University, Mississippi State University and Stanford University have been involved. In a blind study, Renel said, their biochar performed 70 percent better in terms of biomass, root mass, and stem growth.

Clients include the Port of Seattle, Boeing Field, the Port of Tacoma and throughout Silicon Valley in corporations using green roofs. With the best properties in the commercial marketplace, they also sell Biochar to other companies that use it as a component to make their mix. And like the peonies, this product is also shipped and available nationally.

Since the original Biochar product has a negative charge and works best with positively-charged toxins, Renel has developed an additional product that goes after negatively-charged elements/toxins, for instance, in phosporous runoff. Renel sat and made a diagram to show the ions being used. Positively-charged elements include aluminum, zinc, cadmium, lead and cobalt. Negatively-charged ones are arsenic, chromium and selenium. 

“So we morphed to meet the need,” she said. This system is versatile and used in creeks, lake beds and alongside mountains following fires to encourage plant growth and protect root retention promoting slope stability.

Renel now has articles in five peer-published professional journals with two patents and other pending. Their biochar is used in a special garden producing vegetables for the five-star restaurants in New York City, based on independent and competing trials done by an Ivy League university.

Locals are welcome to stop by the East Badger Road field to enjoy the display garden or select blooms at $1 a stem from the field, the cooler, or from pre-cut plastic tubs.  Orders can also be placed online for either Black Owl Biochar at biocharsupreme.com or Pure Peonies at purepeonies.com and  locally at the Food Co-Op, Garden Spot Nursery, hydro shops, and through a distributor specializing in organic soil amendments.