Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lily Bulb Harvest Update for 9.29.12

Nights have finally dropped below 40 degrees.

In our little valley, the vine maple leaves are beginning to turn orange and fall to earth, and our lilies are ripening their stems for safe digging and processing.  About 80% of the earlier blooming Asiatics and LA hybrids (L. longiflorum x Asiatic) have already been dug, cleaned, sized, and packaged, and have been tucked into a cooled holding area waiting for their turn to be transported to the bins in the shipping room.

Sometimes there are surprises underground.
The weather has been relatively dry this fall and most of the trumpet lilies are being harvested this weekend, following irrigating the field.  We are still checking Orientals and Orienpets (OT or Oriental-Trumpet hybrids) for digging next week, while a few early to bloom varieties on the ends of rows have already been processed.  (All bulbs will be out of the ground within the next 10 to 14 days, and on the 9th, Dianna will be celebrating her birthday while grading bulbs! - Bob)

Normal size bulblets on stem.

Look at the HUGE bulblets formed on this Asiatic!  Granted, these are larger than normal and the "mama" bulb was smaller than the others in the row, but that was because all of her energy went into producing bulblets (like raising kids).  These extra-large offsets will most likely bloom next summer, instead of needing another summer of growth before making a single flower like the smaller bulblets in the photo on the right.  As a size reference, the large bulbs on the end of the stems were all 14cm in circumference.

What can you do to encourage such large offsets?  

Some gardeners like to plant their lilies on their sides, but the bulbs generally "right" themselves anyway; some give their lilies too much nitrogen fertilizer, which actually weakens the bulbs and causes rot; still other gardeners plant in pure compost hoping for outstanding results, but during a wet year they risk losing the bulbs to rot over winter.  Rather than trying to manipulate nature simply feed your lilies a balanced fertilizer (5-10-10 or similar; we use Rose food) in spring and midsummer, water when the soil is beginning to dry two inches below the surface, and keep weeds and aggressive plants from stealing nutrients and water from your lily garden.

Not everybody is ready to dig.  See the green leaves?
How do we know when to harvest? 

As we "test dig" bulbs, we are looking for them to be a large enough size, as well as checking that the new "nose" (future stem) is being formed before harvesting that variety.  Lily bulbs mature at differing rates depending on breeding background, the specific cultivar within a type, and outside influences such as when fertilizer was applied, the amount of water received as well as air and soil temperatures during the growing season.

Shipping begins Mid October for the coldest regions.

In early October our database computer begins printing the orders that can be filled with varieties that are ready in the bins, even while the remaining bulbs are being harvested and packaged.   We look to be right on schedule to start shipping to the coldest areas of the USA the second week of October, with the warmer regions following soon after. 

Getting ready for shipping.
Delivery by region is best for lily bulbs.

Here's a link for information on preparing your garden early if you are concerned about freezing temperatures before your order arrives.  Lilies are shipped to the Midwest and East (and mountain regions) from Washington State Monday-Wednesday, and we generally fill West Coast orders Thursday-Saturday.  Shipping is dependent on cross-country weather, if the temperatures begin to drop more quickly than expected, we put the west coast orders aside for a time and we concentrate on the colder areas.

Southern areas are shipped the third or fourth week of October, or in early November.  Soil in mild winter areas needs to cool before fall planting, as lily bulbs do not have a hard shell like a tulip or daffodil and can be damaged by heat.

Priority Mail boxes and stacks of packaged bulbs waiting to go into the bins are stacked just outside the shipping room.   We use our coolers during summer to store our flower show equipment, and when fall shipping is completed and we start the winter harvest, we move the show equipment out of the coolers to the shipping room floor to make room for the lily bulbs.  Bulbs dug over winter are the ones we offer in our spring catalog.

Other blog posts you might have missed:

Green Stems on lily bulbs mean don't dig yet!

Winter care of potted lily bulbs.

Garden Cleanup, its never too early to begin.

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