Friday, March 9, 2012

Semi-automated planting of lily bulbs

High Pressure over our farm this morning!
We woke to a blanket of snow earlier this week - but spring is apparently on its way, because the first chorus of frogs began performing last night, plus our returning birds were checking out potential nesting spots today.  Leaves on the trees and shrubs are beginning to unfurl themselves and the Daylily sprouts are starting to poke up in the garden.  Unfortunately, those pesky "winter" weeds are also looking pretty good, but no time for weeding the front yard this month because we have lily bulbs to process for customers, and the rest of our planting stock needs to go into the fields.

Covering up the bulbs with soil.
On the home farm two weeks ago, Bob tilled the cover crop from last September, where the rows are meant to be, giving the root masses time to decompose before planting. Usually it takes two or three workings of the soil to completely break down last autumn's oats, but our rotation of sun, rain, and snow this spring has left a very nice seedbed - and since the soil has been frozen nearly every morning... Hooray, no new weeds seeds have germinated!  The cover crop remaining between the rows will be mowed and tilled later this spring.  Oats do not always winter over so nice and green, but even should they die back, the browned foliage helps to suppress weed germination and the oat roots help to soften the ground for planting - a win-win event.

After the frost melted this morning our soil was still a bit too sticky-wet for total machine planting, but since the forecast for rain was still a bit South (see radar image above) we saw an opportunity.  Hand placing lily bulbs into a trench is a bit more work, but it helps us to get a head start on planting season.  That is, of course, if it doesn't rain and make "mud" in the rows - in which case everything is then hauled back into the barn cooler. After the bulbs are quickly put into place, the tractor covers up the row, but fertilizer is not spread until the lilies are beginning to emerge.  Our winters are too wet to mix nutrients into the soil while tilling, any fertilizer dug into the soil before lily bulbs can utilize it would simply wash away and be wasted.

The lilies shown in the photos are planted much closer together than what is recommended for the home garden.  These are large two-year old bulbs that only need one more summer in the field before being packaged for sales and they were simply being moved from another section of field that needed to be reset.  Larger lily bulbs are placed further apart, just like in the garden.

Shipping is just around the corner... and as the weather permits safe delivery, orders going to southern states will be filled next week for selected areas.  We'll ship as many orders as possible that the computer says can be completely filled.  About 80% of the bulbs have been packaged and the rest will be processed over the next three weeks.  A few more bulbs need to come out of the ground where the soil is still semi-frozen, and excepting northern areas where winter still has sharp fangs, most of our lily bulb orders will be out the door by the second week of April unless you specifically requested late April or early May delivery. 

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