Fingerspitzengefuhl 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 the bulbs will be ready, but if you
know just by feeling that it is the right time, you call it
"fingerspitzengefuhl," which means literally "the feeling in the tips of
Bulbs in general, and especially daffodils, need to mature after
harvesting. Harvest time for daffodils is the end of July through the
beginning of 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).
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
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.
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.