Sustainability Class Explores Using Fresh-Cut Grains in Wreaths

10/19/2013 7:00 AM
By Ayleen Stellhorn Southcentral Pa. Correspondent

BOILING SPRINGS, Pa. — Fresh-cut, fall-themed wreaths are now in season, but only for about two or three weeks, according to Michelle Elston, owner of Roots Cut Flower Farm in Carlisle, Pa.

Elston took a break from harvesting and arranging cut flowers recently to teach a workshop at Dickinson College Farm in Boiling Springs, Pa., on using fresh-cut grains and other home-grown accents to create fall-themed wreaths.

Elston, who owned a flower shop in Cornell, N.Y., before establishing her cut-flower farm in southcentral Pennsylvania in 2007, taught numerous wreath-making and flower-arranging classes there. She said that fall wreaths, while beautiful, are often overlooked between the end of the flower season and the start of the Christmas wreath season by both farmers and home decorators.

“When you are working with fresh-cut materials, your window is very short,” Elston said. “You have about two weeks to create and sell the wreaths before the materials are no longer fresh and the interest switches to the next season.”

Fresh-cut wreaths are made by wiring bundles of plant material to a wire or dried twig/vine base. They differ from dried wreaths, which feature dried plants and artificial elements hot-glued to a base. Most of the decorative elements for dried wreaths are often purchased from craft stores.

Elston brought several crates of sorghum (commonly called broomcorn), barley, ornamental peppers and eucalyptus for students to use in her hands-on workshop. All of the material was fresh-cut and had been grown on her farm. Sorghum and barley can be seeded directly into the ground, she said, and the ornamental peppers and eucalyptus can be started from seeds and later transplanted.

“Everything for fresh-cut fall wreaths can be grown in your backyard,” she said. “If you want to grow your own materials, plan ahead to figure out what to plant in the spring.”

Plants for fresh-cut wreaths are those that will dry naturally and retain their shape and color. Grains, like barley and wheat, are ideal materials, she said.

Participants picked two or three of the materials for their wreaths, using the fuller sorghum or barley for the bulk of the bundles and the peppers or eucalyptus for accents. Wreaths could be made with just one element, Elston said, and a handful of participants chose to use only the colorful ornamental peppers.

During the two-hour class, Elston showed participants how to create attractive bundles, wire them to a metal or dried vine base, and finish with a wire loop on the back.

“Consistency is the key to making a beautiful wreath,” she said, encouraging each participant to make sure every bundle of materials was consistent in shape, type of materials and size.

Because making fresh-cut wreaths is time-consuming and requires a lot of diverse material, Elston noted that hand making wreaths for profit has the potential to be a disappointing business venture. However, as a supplement to an already established business, such as a farmers market stand or farm store, wreaths can be a great way to use excess material to generate some extra income.

Roots Cut Flower Farm ( provides cut flowers for sale at local businesses including Giant and Karns grocery stores and retail florists. Elston also designs arrangements using the cut flowers grown on her farm for weddings and other events.

The wreath-making workshop was one of five classes in the Sustainability School at the Dickinson College Farm held in partnership with Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and Good Food Neighborhood. Harvest from the certified organic and Food Alliance-certified 50-acre Dickinson College Farm is delivered to the college’s dining hall and to 130 families in the farm’s CSA program.

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