SPECIALTY CUT FLOWER CORNER: For the beginning grower

Lilies Make Everyone Smile
Pennsylvania grower Paul Shumaker finds a fragrant niche in cut lilies … and more

By Melanie DeVault

Farm at a glance

Never Should Have
Started Farm

Paul and Elizabeth Shumaker
Bangor, PA

Location: Just outside of Bangor, PA, the Shumaker's travel nearly 2 hours south to sell at Philadelphia's farmers' markets.

Size: 2 acres with an additional 2 acres rented

Products: Everything from atriplex to zinnias, with lisianthus, dahlias, euphorbia and hypericum.

Marketing: Direct to customers through participation in regional farmers' markets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit about Melanie

Melanie and husband George own a 19.2-acre certified organic farm in Emmaus, PA, where they, with son Don and daughter Ruth, have operated a modified CSA and members-only home market stand, sold at Farmers’ Markets, to health food stores and restaurants. Melanie specializes in specialty cut flowers. A former newspaper reporter, she also is a freelance garden writer. She is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.

 

QUESTIONS?

I’ll be happy to anwer them! E-mail me at devault@fast.net

Or contact The New Farm Team.

October 21, 2003: Like most flower growers after a busy summer, Paul Shumaker is quick to quip that he’s ready for the first frost. It’s been a tough year in the Northeast, with way too much rain and relentless weed pressure. But he’s not quite finished: After all, September is usually this flower grower’s busiest month, thanks to lilies and a slew of pampered annuals and perennials. This year may not be up to par, but Fall is still good.

On his Never Should Have Started Farm (we’re glad he did) outside Bangor, PA, Paul maintains a schedule that leaves room for a couple hours of reading and a nap each week -- sometimes at the same time, he concedes. But his flowers bring gasps of appreciation from customers at farmers’ markets in Philadelphia and Emmaus, along with private customers closer to home.

A highlight of Paul’s offerings are his lilies -- the fragrant Asiatic and Oriental lilies, along with Asi-Florum and L.A. hybrids. Asi-Florums are a cross between Longiflorum Lilies and Asiatic Lilies. L.A. hybrids are similar to Asi-Florum Lilies, although the size of the flowers is smaller, and there are more flowers per stem. The long-lasting head-turners take some customer education, but once people give Paul’s lilies a try, they will come back. The vase life is extraordinary, 1 to 3 weeks, with a little care (and sugar added to the vase). Oriental lilies usually have large flowers which are fragrant, and often used for weddings.

Paul grows the lilies in crates -- he did 160 crates this year -- set neatly on landscape fabric in a shady corner of his 2-acre property. He rents another two acres nearby where he grows annuals. Paul does nearly all of the work himself, with his wife Elizabeth only helping at market.

Choosing your tools

He plants lilies four times a year, April, May, June and the first of August, mixing varieties with each planting to extend the offerings. They’re classed by weeks, he explains, so some varieties will take 9 weeks and some 14 to bloom. “Also, the later to freeze, the faster to flower,” he adds. “For example, with Suncrest, if I plant this variety in April it probably has been frozen since December, and will take 12 to 13 weeks to bloom. But if I plant it in July, it will take 9 to 10 weeks to flower since it’s been frozen longer.” He plants Asiatic and Orientals only in April, and no later than May 15 because they need it cool, using the other mixes and hybrids in other months.

Bulb suppliers will ship bulbs at requested planting times. Many lily growers order from suppliers close to their farm. (Many suppliers have minimum orders, so be sure to ask!) Crates and potting mix can also be purchased from most local bulb suppliers. Ask an Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Inc. (www.ascfg.org) member near you for a recommendation. Paul buys his bulbs from Ednie Flower Bulb Inc. (www.ednieflowerbulb.com, or phone 1-800-24-EDNIE). Also check out Zabo Plant at www.zaboplant.nl, www.lilynook.mb.ca and www.lilies.org for more information. Gloeckner (www.fredgloeckner.com) also has many supplies.

The plastic crates Paul uses are standard lily crates which he purchases from Ednie. They cost about $1.50 each and are 1 foot by 2 foot by 8 inches deep.

Other crates or containers can be used but it’s important that the bulbs have good drainage and that the lilies have sufficient shade. A hoop house with roll up sides and 50 percent shade cloth is ideal, he says.

Bulbs come frozen, and Paul explains, “You get them with base roots and they grow stem roots. You don’t handle them when frozen. Open the packs, let them defrost a couple of days or put in the fridge. Then it’s necessary to either keep them in a cooler at 45 degrees or inside in a cool place for 2 to 3 weeks.”

Paul plants 15 bulbs to a crate. (At a recent ASCFG regional meeting, Dave Dowling, who grows about 25,000 lilies -- at his Farmhouse Flowers & Plants in Brookeville, MD -- see www.farmhouseflowers.com -- plants 20/crate. He used to plant 25, but found they fare better with increased air circulation.) Paul finds better success with fewer bulbs per crate.

He puts a sheet of newspaper in the bottom of the crate and 2 inches of potting mix on top, sets the bulb in and puts 4 inches or so of soil on top -- “up to crate handle” -- and waters the bulbs in lightly with RootShield, an organic fungicide.

“When the plants start to break the soil, bring them out on a cloudy day,” he says. “Keep them moist, not wet.” To simplify his life, Paul has drip irrigation hooked through the rows of crates. He fertilizes once a week to 10 days, watering in fish emulsion.

A main disease concern for the lily grower is botrytis, or gray mold, which can be seen on the leaves, Paul says. Botrytis thrives in moist conditions, so allowing adequate air circulation helps. “You can still sell the lilies without leaves, but it’s best if you don’t get botrytis in the first place,” he adds. He says a copper sulfite/lime mix can help.

It depends upon the variety, but generally you cut the lily when you see buds swelled with the bottom bud fully colored, split tip. You can go by the feel, also, Paul says, when the bud feels soft. Cut two-thirds of the stem, leaving a few leaves with the bud.

He bunches in threes and sells the bunch for $6 plus tax. Orientals bring more -- $3.50 to $4 a stem, he says. “If you buy the crate and mix, it’ll cost $4.50. You can reuse the crate. The bulb costs 40 cents to $1 a bulb. So obviously the problem -- you’re limited to what people will pay and the economy is terrible this year.”

Many lily growers just use the bulb once and dump the used potting mix and bulbs. Paul replants in the field if he has time. “I have 2,000 in the field now (you plant in fall) and the problem is, how many can you use?” Paul explains. They’ll come in at pretty much the same time. Also, color popularity seems to vary from year to year. When he started, Paul says orange were most popular, followed by pink and yellow. Now it’s almost reversed. Reds, paprika, is popular as is yellow … and orange is in the basement.”

Speaking from 18 years experience

Paul says he got interested in horticulture in high school, and went on to Delaware Valley College. But it wasn’t flowers that captured his attention: it was fruit. So he spent eight or nine years managing orchards in New Jersey. “Then I grew vegetables on my own, and dabbled in flowers. I also managed a vineyard, and consulted. I got into flowers fulltime in 1985.”

He sells only one-variety bunches of flowers now. He used to make bouquets, but found it too time consuming. He grows everything from atriplex to zinnias, with lisianthus, dahlias, euphorbia and hypericum highlights of his extensive offerings.

Paul’s advice to beginning flower growers: “Produce a good product and charge for it! Ninety-eight percent of growing flowers is sanitation. If you’re not willing to wash buckets, don’t go into the business.

“Quality is so important,” he stresses. “Those who dabble and sell cheap flowers that don’t last kill my business because my reputation is only as good as the worst grower.”

For those who become regular customers, however, Paul’s reputation is impeccable. Quality is always a priority. His flowers last. It all comes together with hard work, delivered with a smile.