Fingerspitzengefuhl--We Will Sell No Bulb Before Its Time

Finger spitzen gefuhl
Fingerspitzengefühl is a German expression that means having a feeling about how something has to be done. Dutch bulb growers use this expression to decide when flowerbulbs are ready to be harvested and shipped. You cannot predict when bulbs will be ready for digging and shipping, but if you know just by feeling that the time is right, you call it "fingerspitzengefühl," which means literally "the feeling in the tips of your fingers."

Bulbs in general, and especially daffodils, need to mature after harvesting. Harvest time for daffodils is late July or early August. The bulbs are dug by machine and dropped on the soil. The wind and sun can then dry them out in the open, fresh air. The daffodils need to lose more than 20 percent of their water weight before the end of August. If they are left in the open for at least two weeks, much of the drying will be done naturally. The rest of the drying takes place in a warehouse in large "kuubskisten" (wooden boxes).

Finger spitzen gefuhl

Here comes the problem, though. Bulb growers are being forced to harvest and ship too early. Why? The exporters in the Netherlands want the bulbs delivered before August 10 and sometimes before August 5. The reason is that the Dutch bulb industry wants to ship daffodils with the rest of their bulbs (tulips, crocus, etc.) to the U.S. as early as possible. Why so early? Their customers in the United States, the buyers for the large discount stores, demand that their bulbs be delivered by late August. That way the bulbs are on display for an extra two weeks of early sales. The negative early shipping spiral continues when the local garden center owner, who usually knows better, also needs his bulbs delivered early for competitive reasons.

If you honor this schedule, it is impossible to give daffodils a proper drying. You have to take the bulbs from the field within a week after digging them. The moisture in the bulbs has much more difficulty escaping during the grading, packing and shipping process. Or it doesn't come out at all. The result is daffodils that are not mature. They will be stored and shipped in an environment with higher humidity because of the moisture they continue to release. This humidity provides an ideal environment for all kinds of fungus to grow and damage the bulbs.

Finger spitzen gefuhl

OK... how much moisture are we talking about? 100,000 double-nose daffodil bulbs weigh about 22,000 pounds. If these bulbs need to lose another 10 percent of their weight after grading and packing, we are talking about 2,200 pounds (263 gallons) of water per 100,000 daffodils. That is a lot of EXTRA moisture that is trapped in the packages during packing and transport. We are not worried about competing on quality or price. Colorblends is easily competitive. But we shouldn't rush the crop.

Our industry is not collectively strong enough to "just say wait." But at Colorblends, we won't start delivery until the first day of Fall, around September 22. We may lose business because of this policy. Having a customer tell us to deliver early, when the bulbs are not ready and temperatures are still too warm, is not an option. It would be like telling a winemaker to harvest his grapes early so the bottles can be on the shelf a little sooner. With agriculture and nature, you need patience. You can't tell a flowerbulb when it is ready. The flowerbulb tells the grower. Usually through the fingers.

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