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,
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
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
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.