April 12, 2016
Categories: Post Harvest
The perfect peony starts with the harvest and cold chain procedures at our farm. We overlook the frigid waters of Kachemak Bay fed by three glaciers, Grewingk, Portlock and Dixon. The cold air coming off the waters keeps our temperatures mild all summer. This is a good thing for the peony. With the cooler air temperatures, cold soils and the 22 hours of daylight, our peonies grow larger in size and more saturated in color. This is not just my opinion but agreed by such world renowned experts as Don Hollingsworth after visiting our farm and seeing our production.
Harvesting the peony is an art. The time period to harvest is exact, within usually a 5-7 hour window depending on that day‘s particular weather conditions. Cut too soon and the bud will never open. Cut too late and the flower will blast or open before it reaches its final destination.
Cutting the buds is the hardest job on our farm. Every variety is a bit different in how they should be cut. Some varieties need cutting in a very hard stage while others require a strip of true color and still others with open buds need even more considerations. Our cutters have to be knowledgeable about each variety‘s particular habit. Several of our varieties are only cut by the most experienced cutters because of the exactness of their requirements.
Getting the field heat out of the peonies immediately is the next exact science in the cold chain procedures. We take the peonies direct from the field to one of our coolers set up specifically for removing field heat. After removing the field heat, our team takes the cooled peonies out of the cooler to quickly remove the lower leaves, grade for bud size, stem length and prepared for storage. In the past we bundled in 5's but as our customer base has diversified, we have grocery stores in bundles of 3, drop shippers in 5 and one bouquet maker requires bundles of 8. So we have eliminated the bundling step and store the processed stems without bundling. We have also changed another time consuming step. We no longer hydrate the stems before storing. Several studies have shown hydrating at this stage causes the buds to open sooner thus long term storage is compromised. Once processed for length and bud size the stems are stored in various ways. Some varieties are stored 50 stems per dry bucket. Others are put in open boxes holding up to 200 stems and stored on shelves. Reds are handled a bit differently as they can burn quite easily. Red varieties are cooled down slowly. We store them in closed boxes for the first 24-48 hours then the boxes are opened. Finally flowers are moved into our finished products cooler and kept at 33F ready for packing and shipping. We have a third cooler where we can store peonies not scheduled for immediate shipment. Peonies are dry stored in breathable plastic bags and open boxes in this cooler.
We recommend the end user receive the flowers 3 days before they are to be used. Upon delivery, we recommend cutting off a 2-4 inches of each stem and rehydrate by putting them in a clean bucket of water with flower food. We use Chrysal products for their effectiveness and ease of use.
We ship in a tight bud unless specifically asked for a different stage. This allows the end user to keep in the cooler for tighter bud use or leave in a warmer area to allow the buds to fully open. The end user can manipulate how they want the buds to open to fit their particular needs.