Mom is the word… – Ohio Ag Net

By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ Field Reporter

For Ohio farmers, fall is go time. The days grow shorter and the nights cooler as grain is harvested and brought to market across the state. It’s a particularly busy time for Jessica Doehr, who will be working in the fields and marketing products for JD’s Mums and More in Grafton. Their street market sells homegrown moms along with a variety of fall items.

While she may be in the flower business, Doehr is all business herself. The wife and mother juggle the seasonal business while also owning a farm and working on their family’s grain and cattle farms. This year, Doehr and her husband Bryan will grow and market 6,500 hardy moms through their retail stand and wholesale a portion to grocery stores and other street stands.

As a high school graduate, Doehr already knew that she wanted to earn a living with her parents and a farm. However, Doehr’s father told her that if she wanted to stay on the Loraine County farm, she had to find a way to diversify her income.

Since 1998, Doehr’s parents, Kathy and Brian Duplaga, have offered a small street cart of fall produce. They bought mums and pumpkins at local auctions and sold them to passers-by in the front yard. Doehr saw the potential in the fall wagon and thought it might be her ticket to diversifying down the yard.

“In 2008 I officially took over the Herbststand from my parents and knew that I wanted to start my own Mama production,” says Doehr. “Before we became mothers 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 make it myself instead, so I gave it a try.”

Doehr planted 800 chrysanthemums in 2008 when he was still in high school. Networking was key to learning the ins and outs of mother production. Doehr is connected to numerous mother gardeners for advice and tips.

“I would work on the moms after school and my parents would help me too. The first year was a learning curve with a lot of trial and error,” said Doehr.

In the 14 years since Doehr took over the fall business, she’s added a physical market stall and expanded her offering. She sells everything from mums, pumpkins, corn stalks, corn, straw bales of various sizes, and more. It’s a one-stop shop for fall decor lovers.

“I buy mother plugs, which are usually about two to three inches tall, from another grower and have them planted in either the first or second week of June. We plant the mothers in their container where they will last through the remainder of the growing season,” Doehr said.

After planting the starters, Doehr will monitor the mothers and check if any of the plants need pinching. Cutting off the top leaves early during the growing season will cause the mothers to branch and become fuller instead of growing upwards. The pot moms are grown on black groundcover throughout the summer to avoid weed pressure. They are watered daily by 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 quite often,” said Doehr.

Like any other crop production, Mother Nature can be a struggle. Pests and diseases can ruin an entire mother plant if left unchecked.

Thrips and aphids are two major pests that Doehr encountered. Thrips are common greenhouse pests that eat at the mothers’ leaves, turning them silvery in appearance. They also damage flower buds and carry harmful viruses. Aphids pierce the plants, leaving a honeydew sap that attracts other insects or can leave the plant susceptible to fungal growth. Doehr rotates insecticides to control various pests.

Doehr often looks for signs of illness in her mothers. Root rot is the main disease she has encountered. Root rot caused by soil fungi quickly destroys the plant and causes it to wilt. The mushroom Pythium ultimate, or water mold root rot, is a common concern of moms. It’s treated with a fungicide that Doehr also runs through the irrigation lines.

This year, Döhr has 42 different varieties of mothers that vary in color and maturity. The goal is to meet customer demand throughout the fall season. The earliest plants will be ready in mid-August, while the newest mature plants will flower in early October.

“The goal is to be open by October 31st. To date, the 2021 season has been my best sales year. I’m hoping to keep growing, I’d love to have 10,000 moms to offer sometime in the next few years,” Doehr said.

The fall stand is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Doehr relies on seasonal help, but she typically works at the market every day, if only for a few hours. However, there are times when she has to spend most of her day on a tractor instead of being with clients.

“My husband and I own Doehr Livestock and Grain Farm in Wellington, so we have about forty cattle, we feed a few pigs and then own and lease some farmland. But when I’m not there, I work on my parents’ farm. They grow corn, beans, wheat and hay. They also have a herd of 150 Limousin cows and calves and a frozen meat business that I help out with. I also exhibit breeding animals at local fairs,” she said.

It’s good that Döhr likes to be busy.

“Fortunately, the planting season is usually complete by the time I’m ready to plant mums. Then in the fall, I’d say the heart of the mom retail business is usually over when we start harvesting,” she said.

To reach her customer base, Doehr created JD’s Mums and More Facebook page a few years ago. She releases new products at her market stall throughout the fall and shares farm news the rest of the year. In recent years, Doehr has attended local farmers’ markets and flea markets, but finds more success using social media to market to her moms.

“Word of mouth is a big part of my business. I have customers that come down from Cleveland and Columbus to buy moms every year. They love seeing our dogs and sitting in the giant lawn chair I have,” Doehr said. “Sometimes I get whole neighborhoods that come because they see the moms on their neighbors’ porches and want to buy some too. I’ve been fortunate to develop some friendships with my clients.”

Doehr’s husband is instrumental in the business, handling everything from tending to planting and everything in between. The couple welcomed their newest farm worker, daughter Jamie, in January 2022. Doehr hopes that one day her daughter will also love the business.

“Mothers have really helped my husband and I grow my farm and make things possible for us,” Doehr said. “My daughter has the same initials as me, JD, so I hope one day JD’s Mums and More can live on in the next generation.”

For Doehr, mom is indeed the word.

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