Sarah & Michael’s Farm in Durham specializes in lily bouquets, growing year-round and harvesting six days a week. They plant about 5400 bulbs a day during the spring. The lilies grow in crates in greenhouses with controlled heat, air flow, and humidity. No spray is needed for pests or disease. In the summer, Michael selects lily varieties that do better in heat. He grows both Asiatic lilies (more brightly colored) and Oriental lilies (more perfumed smell). Managing the farm is a huge task: staff plant extra bulbs for holidays like Mother’s Day two months in advance and place bulb orders over a year in advance.
The lily-growing process is environmentally conscious. Used crates are steamed to protect against disease and weeds. The steamed soil is then sifted to remove old bulbs and leaves, which go to the compost pile. Processed soil is reused. The soil is actually “coir”—ground coconut husk. The coir comes from Sri Lanka, which is farther than peat moss would travel, but it is a renewable resource, it works better, and it can handle repeated growing and steaming. The lilies grow in the same crates that the bulbs ship in. Bulbs are only used once because it’s more economical to buy new bulbs. Also, after flowering, bulbs work at reproducing, so the second flowers might be smaller.
Once planted with bulbs, crates sit in a cold room for three-and-a-half weeks to stimulate the lily roots to grow. In the greenhouses, rows of crates demonstrate all stages of growth: un-sprouted bulbs, short green plants, tall plants with buds soon to open, the stubble of harvested stalks. With careful planning and attention, Michael keeps a steady supply of lilies coming from Sarah & Michael’s Farm.
Watch a video of our visit, below.