It may be the depths of winter and nothing is growing in the fields, but in Hawke's Bay there is a very special harvest underway.

Millions of Oriental Lily bulbs are being dug up in Hastings, to be exported all over the world.

The bulbs will keep for up to seven months in cold storage, ensuring a constant supply for Northern Hemisphere growers.

These bulbs are the best in the business with a very international provenance. They start their life in Dutch laboratories and are planted in New Zealand six months later. They are grown for one season, dug up and culled of any inferior bulbs before being planted for another year.

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"They will be harvested again and graded again and then packed and sent overseas," Island Bulbs packhouse manager, Edward Schilder said.

Schilder, himself a Dutch export, has only one regret about the process.

'Unfortunately I've never seen them flowering because before they are flowering we take the buds off the flower, because energy needs to go back on to the bulb and not into the flower."

Before shipping, the bulbs are mixed with Lithuanian peat moss and water before being packaged in a frozen block.

About eighty 40-foot containers are exported annually, thanks to almost 70 harvest staff.

"We send quite a lot of bulbs back to Holland for professional growers but also from Holland it goes all around Europe," Schilder said.

"Our main markets are especially Asia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Taiwan.

"Other markets include Australia, Mexico and some to Indonesia and new markets are appearing as well.

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"At the height of the season we employ about 45 people doing the grading of the bigger bulbs, the commercial sizing and cleaning up of the potting material, the export wash and the packing of the lilies all happening at the same time and that is beside the harvesting crew and the washing crew which is another 12 people."

The bulbs are always planted in fresh paddocks, to avoid any viruses being carried over, and are closely monitored.

"When you have harvesting conditions from maize, squash or onions in the area, you get a lot of aphids into the air and that is what becomes quite a risky period for us."

Oriental Lilies have a spectacular bloom with a perfume to match. A treat that Edward and the Hawke's Bay team can only appreciate through pictures of their bulbs finally flowering elsewhere around the world.

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