Tulips and Holland. They go together like salt & pepper, peas and carrots, love and marriage.
This year I was lucky enough to arrive in holland right in the middle of the short, 6-8 week, period in Spring when they are at their blooming best! In The Netherlands this is from late March to mid-May each year. I even spoke with a local tulip grower in North Holland who told me about the year-round work required to prepare the soil and bulbs for the springtime spectacular, which I am sharing with you today!
Firstly, the main purpose of the many tulip fields in The Netherlands is not for the aesthetic pleasure of tourists (as much as we might like to think that), but to produce ‘bulbs’ or the ‘base’. A portion of the stems are sold in flower shops but mostly it is the bulbs that are the prize. Bulbs are harvested and sold in nurseries or exported so that people at home and abroad can grow tulips as well. Having flowers in the home and garden is a significant part of Dutch life and culture.
Autumn (Sep-Nov, in NL)
The sandy soils, cold winters, dry summers and fields providing full sunlight in Holland make it the perfect place to grow Tulips.
After cleaning out and preparing the soil from the previous season, harvested bulbs are planted well before the first frost of the winter. Growers still do much of this by hand. When planted, the bulbs do not have roots, but in the time before the first frost, the bulb will begin to develop roots (see stage 1 in the picture above).
Winter (Dec-Feb, in NL)
This is a time of ‘rest’. Tulips like the cold, well drained soils of The Netherlands and need a cold rest period to thrive in the spring.
For Tulip-growers, this may be a quieter time of year.
Spring (Late Feb-June, in NL)
In early Spring, the shape of the bulb begins to change, this is the flower and the stem beginning to push upwards, out of the bulb. Eventually they reach the surface, producing the Flower Bloom.
Those which are to be sold at flower markets, florists, supermarkets and so on are then harvested when they reach this stage.
The majority, however, are allowed to proceed to full bloom (where the flower head is allowed to open). During this time all of the energy and nutrients are received directly from the roots and the sun (not the bulb) and go into the flower bloom. The Bloom lasts for somewhere from 4-8 weeks.
This is when we get to admire the many leading lines created in the Tulip Fields!
During Springtime, tulip growers are busy checking the blooms for viruses and discrepancies, if the shade of their colour is only slightly off, they will be taken out and destroyed. Just like Willem explains in this interview.
Summer (mid-May – August, in NL)
Before the bloom begins to fall or wilt, the stems are cut and left on the ground. The leaves provide nutrients to the soil and energy is directed back into the bulb, which begins to multiply, producing up to 5 ‘daughter’ bulbs (see last 2 stages in the life-cycle photo above).
After the foliage has died down completely, and daughter bulbs have developed, they are harvested and separated for sale or replanting next season. The bulbs are stored/transported away from direct heat or cold and with adequate ventilation.
After harvesting, the soil is turned over, fertilised and allowed to rest before the whole process begins again in Spring!