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  • Jen

Bulbs, Bulbs and More Bulbs

It’s tulip time! No, not to see tulips blooming in the fields…but to plant them! 😊

It is no secret that I love tulips. I recently bought several hundred tulip bulbs (even though I don’t actually have a garden...whoops) simply because I was seduced by all the pretty photos of tulips on the packaging. But where do these tulip bulbs come from? Well, let me tell you.

Many people think that the tulips growing in the fields are the flowers that are sold in florists, supermarkets and markets – but that is not true! The tulips in the fields are not grown for the flowers, but for the bulbs! (See my other blog post to see how the cut tulips are grown).

Tulip Field near Alkmaar

Just like you would do at home, farmers plant the bulbs in the autumn for spring flowering. However, the difference here is that bulb farmers are planting whole fields of them and aren't actually interested in the flowers! Why grow boring crops like cabbage or corn when you can grow tulips?! Seriously, I know what I would choose - tulips...and pumpkins, because I really like pumpkins. But I digress... back to tulips. The tulips fields are actually crops, which is why you should not enter between the rows as you can not only do damage to the plants/bulbs, but you can also transmit disease through infected soil carried on your shoes. I know it is tempting to take that perfect selfie amidst the tulips, but resist and stick to the edges of the fields. Farmers are starting to crack down on visitors coming into the fields, so please be respectful so we can all enjoy the flowers!

So now you have a stunning field full of blooming tulips glowing in the spring sunshine (or rain...this IS Holland after all), but what happens next is nothing short of scandalous. When the tulips are at their peak and most beautiful, the farmers come along and chop the flower's heads off! Gone! Nothing is more heart breaking than seeing a chopped field of tulips with the beautiful coloured petals unceremoniously discarded between the rows. But this brazen disregard for photo taking and general tulip enjoyment is done for good reason. By removing the head of the flower, and leaving the leaves intact, the energy generated by the leaves will be drawn into the bulb and the bulb will then continue to grow until the leaves naturally die back in the summer. Larger bulbs make larger flowers!

Tulip today...

Cleaning the tulip bulbs

Once the leaves have died back, the farmers will pull up the bulbs and bring them in for processing. Think of it as tulip bulb harvesting. I went to visit my friend Ellen at Bij Ellen to see how it's all done.

When the bulbs arrive at the warehouse, they are fed into a giant shaking machine which knocks off any excess dirt. Although much of the processing is done by machine, it still takes a team of dedicated people to make sure the bulbs that leave the warehouse are ready for planting! In this photo the workers are cleaning up the bulbs before sizing so that they look their best. Like a bulb beauty salon.

Sorting tulip bulbs by size

Now that the bulbs are looking beautiful, they are fed into the sizing machine. Only the largest bulbs get packaged up and sold and the smaller bulbs will be replanted again and again until they are big enough to sell. Big is beautiful! It can take years for a small bulblet to be big enough to make it to your garden (or in my case, a bag sitting on my deck).

Bulb boxes

Once the bulbs are sized, they need to dry out. This is done by laying them out in the hot summer sunshine to dry naturally. *Cough* Ok, maybe not. Due to a sunshine shortage in Holland, the bulbs are dried indoors in wooden boxes and warm air is pumped around/through them. The box has a mesh floor which allows for the warm air to dry the bulbs nicely. The bulbs are then sent off for packaging and ready for you to plant at home!

And there you have it, bulb processing in a nutshell. Now, does anyone have any ideas on what I can do with all these bulbs?

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