Fresh Crop vs. Year-old Storage
Fresh Crop Lilies vs. Old Crop Lilies:
Fresh crop lilies are bulbs from the current harvest season. Example, bulbs harvested in the fall of 2016 would be classified as “Fresh Crop” for the fall 2016 shipping season as well as the Spring 2017 shipping season. Old Crop Bulbs are bulbs left from the previous years harvest, or in this case as an example, would have been harvested in the fall of 2015. These are bulbs that went to brokers with the intended end product user being cut flower greenhouses under exacting climate controlled conditions, not outdoors.
As one season ends and a new season begins, there are always leftovers in the freezers of brokers from excess stock that was not purchased by the forcing greenhouse trade. These most often come on the market in the spring season, as to plant them in the fall, having been frozen for nearly a year already, would immediately begin to grow, a sure indication they had been in long term freezer storage. On the other hand, these bulbs are often dumped on the spring garden market as customers then are expecting immediate growth.
We tried them: B&D purchased “old crop” bulbs from a broker one year as a trial to see just what they would do. Sold for a fraction of the cost of fresh bulbs, it was our feeling if we left them in the ground for an additional season, they would grow out of their freezer shock and adjust to their new seasons in the garden. In theory, it made sense, but in the real world, they were a dismal failure and ended up as treats for the pigs and chickens. What did we experienced with trials on Conca d' Or and Bonbini? What our trials showed was that in the case of Conca d' Or, about 60% emerged with less than half of those flowering on thin, spindly stems. In the case of Bonbini, only about 40% emerged with none flowering. The harvested bulbs that fall were beyond disappointing and headed off to storage for winter animal feed.
How to tell? Due to the storage techniques by today's brokers, it is extremely difficult to determine if something was just harvested or had been in a freezer for a year or more. Old crop bulbs often will have a wrinkled appearance on the outer scales from dehydration, but not always. It comes down to planting and watching the results as being the best indicator. During the 2014 NW Flower & Garden Show, fresh crop bulbs had not made their way to the west coast brokers due to the dock workers labor dispute that tied up the West Coast ports with unloaded ships. Old crop bulbs found their way into sales displays at the show and were offered as “from our own fields” by more than one company. The best indicator of imported / brokered bulbs when at a flower show is to ask if they can be taken to Canada under the protections of a Phytosanitary Certificate.
As example, in Washington State, Dutch origin brokered bulbs cannot be cleared for export by our Washington State Department of Agriculture, whereas in some cases, bulbs produced in Oregon with proper documentation can be legally exported based on the Oregon documents. If you are in a display booth or farmer's market offering bulbs that can not be exported, ask yourself - "Are these bulbs that have set in a freezer for a year or more and do I want to take a chance?" You get what you pay for is so true, so even at "sale" prices, is the time expended in your garden planting, weeding and watering, worth it for a poor showing?
Lily bulbs offered in late Summer: Also keep in mind that bulbs that have been "pre-chilled" and offered in August-September planting at "wholesale" prices, are not fresh crop lilies. Planted during mild weather of fall, they will do what they were programmed to do - start sending up a stem immediately to flower immediately - and there is nothing that can be done to stop the process. Flowering in October/November if there is no frost, these lilies would still needs at least 2 months of mild weather to mature their foliage and build up the bulb, before going into a dormant winter period of 6 to 8 weeks of less than 40 degree F. weather. This is the reason that forcing greenhouses grind up and compost old bulbs for efficiency, and replant with new bulbs each rotation.