For many years, I have scoffed at the audacity of Costco to sell hyacinth bulbs in August.
I love shopping at Costco. You can wander for hours, rest in their sofas, nibble on snacks and consider what you might need three months in the future. Right now, your child can pick out her Halloween costume. In about a day and a half, Costco will be selling Christmas ribbon and ornaments. Perhaps your child wants to dress as a Christmas tree for Halloween. How lovely to have so many options.
If you’re a good consumer, you can store your costume and ornaments next to the 10 oversized boxes of cheese puffs you bought at Costco last week.
This year, I was pleased that hyacinth bulbs are ready to fall into my shopping cart. In fact, I had been waiting for them. The other day, I roamed the overstocked aisles and asked a nice, helpful man in a red smock: “Where the heck are the hyacinth bulbs? It’s already August!” He assured me they would arrive “any day now.”
There’s no rush, of course, except that I have learned that hyacinth bulbs can be forced year-round.
Last year, hyacinth and other bulbs were a great source of joy – for me and for my students.
My first classroom bloom was a hulking, blazing red amaryllis, which bloomed before the weather turned gray. After that, I began on an indoor-bulb-a-thon. Something was growing in a vase until the daffodils bloomed outdoors in the spring.
For the winter holiday, I gifted each child in my class a glass jar, a generous amount of pebbles and their own hyacinth bulb. During winter vacation, several parents emailed me photographs noting bulb status. These moments are among the underreported joys of teaching.
When I bought a huge bag of hyacinth bulbs this week, I immediately placed a bulb in a specially-shaped jar with water, and popped that beauty in the refrigerator. Over the next many weeks, white roots will grow from bulb, reaching with white tentacles. When the bulb resembles a jellyfish, I’ll bring it into the classroom.
Chilling? Thumbs up or down?
Note that there’s some question about whether spring-blooming bulbs need to be chilled if you intend to plant the bulbs in the ground. I’ve read that most bulbs purchased at the store have already been given a jolt of cold. Newly purchased bulbs should be ready to plant as soon as you get the gumption to dig a hole.
I scoured the very small print on my new bag of bulbs, and there was no word on chilling vs. not chilling. I am thinking the bulb-sellers want their consumers to be successful. If the bulbs needed to be chilled, they would probably tell us.
What is chilling?
Many bulbs, as well as other plants, need a time of dormancy before they can repeat their life cycle. Almonds grow well in this area, because trees get enough “chilling hours” in winter to signal the tree to flower and create a batch of nuts.
Several bulbs can also be tricked into thinking it is time to bloom. In this way, we can chill bulbs and then force them (I prefer the terms tease or coerce) during most times of the year.
The quandary over ethylene
Of note: Hyacinth and other bulbs can have their growth stunted if exposed to ripening fruit. My fridge is currently filled with berries and corn, so I’ll be careful. Fruit releases ethylene gas. I skimmed through several scientific articles on the subject, and learned it is tricky to know how much gas from ripening fruit will do damage. I’ve had good luck so far by dropping one or the other (the fruit or the bulbs) into a paper bag and storing in the crisper drawer.
When to plant outdoors
As for planting bulbs in the ground, a garden guru once told me to wait until Thanksgiving. If the bulbs are in the crisper drawer, you can chill them for as long as 16 weeks, or as little as 6-8 weeks. For many folks, by the time Thanksgiving arrives, you need every inch of your fridge for storing pre-meal food, then post-meal leftovers.
Some bulbs do not need a chill. The American Meadows website, (www.americanmeadows.com/fall-bulb-faqs) notes that amaryllis, anemone, crocus, Dutch iris, freesia, lilies, daffodils and ranunculus can be simply planted without a zap of cold.
The you-pick peach sale at the Chico State University Farm has come and gone. I did not make it this year, mostly because I do not have any room in my refrigerator.
However, you can still pick yourself a peck* of tomatoes along Hegan Lane at Laura’s tomato stand.
The price is $1.25 a pound and runs on the honor system; You put your dollars in a drop-box. Laura’s dad is a genuinely nice person, and occasional tomato public information officer. He sent me an email so I could share the ripe news.
Laura’s stand is on Bruce Lane, which is just off of Hegan. The best way to get there is to travel south on Park Avenue, until the road turns into the Midway. Travel just past the veterinarian’s office, and take a quick right onto Hegan. Watch for Laura’s signs to Bruce Lane, on the left.
A peck of pluots?
Also from Laura’s dad, the stand that sells pluots via the honor system was also open for business last time he checked. The Pluots (https://ucanr.edu/blogs/venturacountyucce/index.cfm?tagname=pluot) are a cross between plums and apricots. You can try them, while they last, for $1.50 a pound.
* Peck: As in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” is an archaic term for about two dry gallons. We think it’s funny to hear that someone picked a “peck” of something. According to Wikipedia, the “peck” was funny even when the tongue twister was new. Apparently, pickles were almost never picked by the peck, even back then. Who knew?