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Spring at Wild Nectar Farm

Giving Back and Getting Back to the Land

Article by Meredith Rowe

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Sitting down with Oliver Retzloff and Eric Knutson of Wild Nectar Farm, it’s hard to be anything but optimistic. Over the past 12 years, they’ve taken a dry, barren plot of land in Longmont and rejuvenated the soil to grow a multitude of flowers and support a flock of sheep. 

They started small, getting the grass to come back and cleaning up the flower beds. Then, they ran pigs in the field, utilizing the animals as a way to help revitalize the land. Over time, they’ve built on their practice and methods, creating a business focused on regenerative agriculture and organic, biodynamic principles. 

“This place…has become an oasis for us,” says Retzloff. 

It’s not hard to see why. At the time of publication, there will be ranunculus, anemone, tulips, lilacs, crabapples, and early perennials sprouting—and around 50 sheep having babies! They also have three dogs, two cats, two horses and around a dozen chickens who all call the farm home. 

Retzloff sees the upkeep and beautification of this land as part of his job and loves creating this habitat for pollinators and animals alike. What started as “just homesteading” for the couple has become a full-time work and lifestyle commitment, aimed at improving their little patch of land as much as they can in their lifetime. 

Knutson and Retzloff dream of a world where more people grow in their backyards or on their patios and become more independently food secure, and they have some sage advice for farmers, growers and gardeners of all levels, especially now as we head into the growing season. 

One of Retzloff’s greatest joys in the process has been this return to seasonality. The growing season in Colorado is so short that during some months there will be no income from their farm. That takes a lot of planning and faith in the fact that it’s all going to work out. 

They store in the fall to get through winter and use the winter to slow down and rest, just like the plants. They could be forging ahead and trying to grow all year long, but they enjoy the natural rhythm of following the seasons, harkening back to before we became so industrialized. 

The growing season is Retzloff’s busiest by far, and he finds so much joy in the job—from seed all the way to delivery. His job is to put the seed into the dirt and witness and support the plants as they grow and bloom. 

“When you are actively putting work into cultivating the earth, it responds in a positive way,” Retzloff said. 

For the spring season, Retzloff recommends focusing on getting your beds prepped and applying compost and soil amendments. This is also the time to cultivate your own seeds or buy small plants from a local grower. If you’re in Boulder, there’s plenty of great plant sales, and he recommends supporting Growing Gardens. 

Depending on your plants, you could also be using the time for deadheading, pruning roses or putting perennials into the ground. If you’re planning to add some color to your garden this season, maybe in the form of dahlias, zinnias or cosmos, he recommends holding off until after Mother’s Day to make sure we’re through the worst of the freezes. 

But Retzloff’s best advice? Start slow. 

We all want to get to the finish line, but in his experience, taking the time to watch how things develop and grow, especially across multiple seasons and years, has saved the pair a lot of heartache. 

Retzloff also has to work on actively accepting that there’s so much out of his control. On their farm, whole crops will fail, or they’ll get some hungry grasshoppers. Some years, none of the tulips will come up because the winter is too hot. 

It takes a lot of practice to not let those disappointments get him down, especially as a self-proclaimed perfectionist. It also helps to have a supportive partner who can remind him that he can’t control everything—and to have a community of farmers who are often going through the same struggles. 

Unlike Retzloff, who grew up nearby, Knutson didn’t grow up on a farm or around livestock. He studied soil and crop science at CSU and fell in love with farming and ranching over on the Caribou Ranch. 

He recently received a grant from Boulder County to support his lambing operation and grazing business, and he’s excited to use the funds to empower more people to be a part of this. 

He also serves as the president of the Flatirons Farmers Coalition or FCC. It’s a network of young farmers in the area, and it provides both Knutson and Retzloff with much-needed community and support. 

Everyone in the FCC is united in the choice to be inspired by the land—and to accept the adventures that come along with it. Every day is a different challenge, so Knutson insists that you really have to be called to it and to get some satisfaction out of being connected to the earth. 

Knutson loves the feeling that they’re all in it together, often sharing resources and evolved methods with each other. He insists that people aren’t meant to farm alone, and he loves working with his neighbors and bringing younger people onto the farm. 

The FCC has many first-generation farmers and operators, and the guidance of the organization helps them get past the most challenging years: the first ten! After ten years, Knutson says you’ve seen enough seasons to really figure it out and to go from keeping your head above water to truly beginning a lifelong quest of mastery. 

He also says it helps that they have such a supportive broader community here in Boulder County. They’re willing to go the extra mile, sometimes quite literally, to support local farmers and ranchers. 

If you’d like to support Wild Nectar Farm, you can find Retzloff’s flowers at numerous florists around town, including Fiori Flowers, Boulder Blooms, A Florae and Plume & Furrow. 

They’d also recommend getting involved with boulder-based Mad Agriculture to learn more about regenerative farming and to watch Common Ground to learn more about the world’s soil.