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Bear Creek Farm's Spectacular Dahlias

Sun Sep 11th, 2016

Who would have thought that tucked away at the end of a long driveway off Route 82 in Stanfordville lies Bear Creek Farm, Debra Kaye’s home and the site of her commercial dahlia venture. In fact Bear Creek is the only commercial dahlia farm in the Northeast.

It all began three years ago quite by accident. In 2012 when Debra was planning her Autumn wedding to Steven Horowitz, she asked a florist friend to do the flowers. As he was already booked, he suggested she grow her own flowers particularly dahlias that would be in bloom in September. Debra asked, “what’s a dahlia?” When she saw photographs, she planted 100 tubers. 

As you must keep picking for the plants to continue blooming, Debra soon had so many extra flowers that she took bunches to the farmers market. They sold out at once and when she discovered she would be paid, Bear Creek Dahlias was born. 

Since then the enterprise has grown almost exponentially. Today Debra has over two and a half acres planted with 80 varieties of dahlias, which she sells at farmers markets in New York and Rhinebeck as well as at Big Rock Farm in Stanfordville. She also sells to florists and wholesalers. And she is just beginning.

Although she says that dahlias are like grapes in preferring to grow where it is a little difficult, in fact they require a lot of attention. The tubers must be planted in the early spring after the ground has warmed up. Before they get too tall they must be staked to give the heavy blossoms some support. Once they start blooming the flowers must be cut every other day in order to keep them producing flowers.

The real and most exacting work begins in the autumn. After the first frost they must be left in the ground to harden off for two weeks. Depending on the first frost things can get hectic “because you absolutely must get them out of the ground by November 30th…otherwise ground becomes too damp and they get moldy.” 

If it’s a late frost things get frantic because the tubers must divided the minute they are dug because the eyes are only visible for 48 hours. Each tuber is then stamped with the name of its variety and put into perforated plastic crates to be stored in the root cellar for the winter. Bear Creek’s root cellar can hold 100,000 tubers.

Next year Debra plans to double the number of dahlias under cultivation. She has also planted eight varieties of white peonies, which will be ready for sale in 2018. Moreover she has made significant additions to the infrastructure: a new 50 gallon well to service the extensive sprinkler system;  a fence to keep hungry critters out of the beds; a state of the art temperature and humidity controlled root cellar and an air conditioned storage room for the cut flowers. Debra also refurbished a 1901 barn on the property for meetings, and parties with space downstairs for the farm office. 


This new venture seems as different from Debra’s past career as can be imagined. For many years she ran an ad agency and innovation firm in France and Italy. She did what she calls “white space innovation.”  Basically she would identify a need, then invent a product to answer that need, give it a name, and design the packaging for clients including Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, and American Express. 

Debra bought the 38 acre property with woods, open fields and the largest Sycamore tree in Dutchess County in 1986. Thinking about her new enterprise she says, “there must have been a reason I’ve had this property all these years.”