Growers talk turkey about day lily passion

300 varieties and growing | Retired turkey producers consider ways to expand business

BALMORAL, Man. — As the sun set on Emmy Byle’s yard, a soft light illuminated the oak trees, two bird feeders and a metre of snow surrounding the house.

It was a tranquil setting for late March in Manitoba, but the twilight scene outside Emmy’s front window was a complete contrast to the vivid yellow, pink, orange and green images on her computer screen.

She scrolled through dozens of dazzling flower photos, taken last summer 150 metres south of her home, while explaining why she enjoys growing daylilies.

“It’s relaxing out there (in the field). We are in our own little world,” she said.

“We like to see things grow. That’s why we’re grain farmers, or farmers period.”

Sitting at the kitchen table of their cottage-like home, with a fireplace on the opposite side of the room, Emmy and her husband, David, talked about how they are turning Emmy’s passion for daylilies into a business.

Daylily farms operate in Ontario and British Columbia, but the Byes are in the early stages of running what is likely the first daylily farm in Manitoba.

“We’re always (buying) out of province for different varieties. There’s nobody in Manitoba that farms them,” David said.

Added Emmy: “Why go out of province for it if we can grow it?”

The Byles, who have three adult children, April, Amanda and Joel, used to run a turkey farm on land near their new home, which is 50 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Closing in on 60 and concerned about the future of supply management in Canada, Emmy and David decided to sell their turkey operation several years ago.

“A lot of our retirement was in the value of our quota. There are always challenges against our (supply management) system. What if we wake up one day and our quota has no value?” David said.

“We saw an opportunity to get out while the going was good.”

The Byles continued growing grain and oilseeds on 500 acres because idleness wasn’t an option. They wanted to keep busy in semi-retirement, so they began exploring the concept of growing and selling perennials.

Emmy used to run a flower shop in nearby Stonewall and has always enjoyed gardening, especially growing daylilies.

She has amassed a collection of more than 300 daylily varieties by buying from fellow enthusiasts and growers in Ontario and B.C.

As testament to her infatuation, the daylilies were not abandoned when the Byles moved several kilometres from their previous farm to their new house.

“We had our whole garden filled up in the other yard…. When we sold the farm, well, we’re not leaving all those lilies behind,” Emmy said.

“We dug them all up and moved them with us.”

The daylily garden grew larger every year, and the Byles eventually realized that their hobby could become a business.

The Byles travelled to Ontario for a family reunion in 2011 and stopped at several daylily farms to learn about the trade.

They retuned to Manitoba with more knowledge and a few more varieties for their collection.

“We learned a lot and we ended up with our suitcases full of daylilies,” David said.

“We probably brought 50 home.”

Added Emmy: “This is hobby gone crazy.”

Their hobby officially became a business last summer when they started selling daylilies grown on a one-acre field at the farm.

Only 30 minutes from Winnipeg, the farm is conveniently located for urban residents who want to beautify their property with perennials.

“Bedding plants only live for one year, so you’re shelling out a pile of money every year,” David said.

“Once you establish them (daylilies), you don’t have to buy anymore.”

The Byles recognize that it may be difficult to compete directly against bedding plants because daylilies aren’t ready to sell until July. Most urban gardeners want to plant flowers in late May or early June, so they’ll need customers who prefer perennials.

“Ideally want we want… is to have people come out (to the farm) at blossom time,” David said.

“The show out there is unbelievable.”

They are also considering selling daylilies through their website, www.greenridgefarm.ca, to variety collectors and gardeners across Canada.

“We weren’t sure we wanted to get into that, but last year we had a lot of requests to see if we do ship,” said David.

Fifty varieties are listed on the website.

The Byles said their business plans remain in the “infancy” stage be-cause they haven’t nailed down a marketing strategy.

As well, they aren’t sure if they want to dedicate their entire summer to growing, weeding, splitting, replanting and selling daylilies.

Son Joel runs a turkey breeding farm in the area, and Emmy and David frequently help out, which takes up a number of hours each week.

So, between 500 acres of cropland, three adult children, four grandsons, working on their son’s turkey farm and selling daylilies, the Byles will have to postpone full-fledged retirement for a while.

That’s OK with Emmy, who believes in staying busy.

“If you slow down, you die.”

  • They are able to survive, with minimal care, in a wide range of climates.
  • They adapt well to a variety of soil and light conditions.
  • Different varieties bloom from late spring until autumn.
  • The American Hemerocallis Society has a database of more than 55,000 registered daylily cultivars.

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