By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter
Fall is “go time” for Ohio’s farmers. The days become shorter and the nights become cooler as crops all across the state are harvested and hauled to market. It is an especially busy time for Jessica Doehr who will be at work harvesting in the fields and marketing products for J.D.’s Mums and More in Grafton. Her roadside market sells home-grown mums along with a variety of fall staples.
While she may be in the flower business, Doehr herself is all business. The wife and mother juggles the seasonal business while also owning a farm and being employed on her family’s grain and cattle operation. This year Doehr and her husband Bryan, will grow and market 6,500 hardy mums through their retail stand and sell some wholesale to grocery stores and other roadside stands.
As a senior in high school, Doehr already knew she wanted to join her parents and farm for a living. However, Doehr’s father told her if she wanted to stay on the Loraine County farm, she would need to find a way to diversify her income.
Since 1998, Doehr’s parents, Kathy and Brian Duplaga, offered a small roadside wagon with fall products. They would purchase mums and pumpkins at local auctions and sell them in the front yard to local passersby. Doehr saw the potential in the fall wagon and thought it could be her ticket to diversifying herself on the farm.
“I officially took over the fall stand from my parents in 2008 and knew I wanted to start doing my own mum production,” Doehr said. “Before growing mums ourselves, we would spend a whole day at the auctions. Sometimes you came home with what you wanted and sometimes you didn’t. I figured I could do it myself instead so I gave it a try.”
Doehr planted 800 chrysanthemums in 2008 while still a senior in high school. Networking was key to learning the ins and outs of mum production. Doehr connected with numerous mum growers for advice and tips.
“I would work on the mums after school and my parents would help me as well. That first year was a learning curve with lots of trial and error,” Doehr said.
In the 14 years since Doehr took over the fall business, she’s added a physical market stand and expanded her offerings. She sells everything from mums, pumpkins, corn stalks, Indian corn, straw bales in various sizes and more. It’s a one-stop shop for fall décor lovers.
“I buy mum plugs that are usually about two to three inches tall from another farmer and get them planted in either the first or second week of June. We plant the mums in their container they’ll be in throughout the rest of the growing season,” Doehr said.
After planting the starters, Doehr will monitor the mums and check if any of the plants need pinched. Pinching off the top few leaves early during the growing season will cause mums to branch out and become fuller, instead of growing upwards. The potted mums are grown all summer long on black ground cover to prevent weed pressure. They are watered daily through a drip irrigation system.
“I think what sets me apart is that I do some things a little differently with fertilizer and other micronutrients. I fertilize fairly often,” Doehr said.
Like all other plant production, Mother Nature can be a struggle. Pests and diseases can ruin a whole mum crop if left unchecked.
Thrips and aphids are two primary pests Doehr has encountered. Thrips are common greenhouse pests that eat away at the leaves at the mums, causing them to appear silvery. They also damage the flower buds and carry harmful viruses. Aphids pierce the plants and leave behind a honeydew sap that attracts other insects or can leave the plant susceptible for fungus growth. Doehr rotates insecticides to combat various pests.
Doehr scouts her mums often to watch for signs of disease. Root rot is the main disease she’s encountered. Caused by soilborne funguses, root rot quickly destroys the plant and causes it to wilt. The fungus pythium ultimum, or water mold root rot, is a common mum concern. It’s treated with a fungicide, which Doehr also runs through the irrigation lines.
This year Doehr has 42 different varieties of mums, differing in color and maturity. The goal is to fulfill customer demand throughout the whole fall season. The earliest plants are ready by mid-August, while the latest maturing plants will be bloom in early October.
“The goal is to be open until Oct. 31. To date, the 2021 season has been my best year for sales. I hope to keep growing, I would love to have 10,000 mums to offer sometime in the next few years,” Doehr said.
The fall stand is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Doehr relies on some seasonal help but she usually works at the market every day, even if only for a few hours. There are times though where she has to spend the bulk of her day in a tractor rather than with customers.
“My husband and I own Doehr Livestock and Grain Farm in Wellington, so we have about forty head of cattle, we feed a few hogs and then own and rent some crop fields. But when I’m not there, I am employed at my parents’ farm. They grow corn, beans, wheat and hay. They also have a 150 head cow-calf Limousin herd and freezer beef business that I help with. I also exhibit breeding stock at local fairs,” she said.
It’s a good thing Doehr likes to stay busy.
“Luckily, planting season is usually done by the time I am ready to plant mums. Then in the fall, I would say the heart of the retail mum business is usually over by the time we start to harvest,” she said.
To reach her customer base, Doehr created the J.D.’s Mums and More Facebook page a few years ago. She posts updates of products at her market stand throughout the fall and shares updates from the farm the rest of the year. In years past, Doehr used to participate in local farmer’s markets and flea markets, but finds more success using social media to market her mums.
“Word of mouth is a huge part of my business. I have customers that come from Cleveland and Columbus each year to buy mums. They love to come see our dogs and sit in the giant lawn chair I have,” Doehr said. “Sometimes I get whole neighborhoods who come because they see the mums on their neighbor’s porch and want to come buy some too. I’ve been lucky to create some friendships with my customers.”
Doehr’s husband is instrumental in the business, doing everything from maintenance to planting and anything in between. The couple welcomed their newest farm employee, daughter Jamie, in January of 2022. Doehr hopes someday her daughter will grow to love the business too.
“Mums have really helped to grow my husband and I’s farm and make things possible for us,” Doehr said. “My daughter has the same initials as me, J.D., so I do hope that J.D.’s Mums and More can live on into the next generation someday.”
For Doehr, mum is, indeed, the word.