A field of "chopped" tulips
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
April 30, 2014 – Hoorn
We came to the Netherlands to see two things, Brugge and tulips. Today we accomplished our purpose.
We were docked in Hoorn, North Holland, one of the two provinces which can rightfully called “Holland.” It is a quaint town, full of sail boats and cafes, a mixture of old buildings and new, but we did not get to see the town until we drove out of it.
We were on the road at 9:00 this morning, heading for tulip country and a presentation on the farming and cultivating of tulips. Each of the three color groups [yes, we are still Green] went to a different farm. Our bus trip took over an hour although there were times that bus slowed down so we could gawk at fields of tulips. The “snap” of cameras was almost overwhelming.
Once we arrived at the farm, we were invited to take coffee and cake [including stroopwafels], a Dutch social obligation. Skip, Fran, MA and David all commented later that these refreshments were what we had expected at Anna’s yesterday [Barry and Nancy were highjacked to the Yellow group several days ago, but they agreed when we discussed it later].
Our presenter explained that the farm we were visiting was family-owned. It had been started by her father in the 1970s, but he had worked in the industry as had his father; she was third generation at least. The company is currently headed by her older brother and she, her mother and another sibling work the farm; they have only one other paid employee but hire seasonal workers – students or immigrants – as he need arises.
She began with a slide show presentation of the life cycle of the tulip farm. Actually, they also grow two types of jonquils, lilies and other flowers which grow from bulbs. There are two seasons to the farm, so rotating the crops is not a problem and there is some aspect of farming occurring every month all year around. What we did not realize is that they are concerned with producing strong bulbs, not with producing flowers.
In order to produce quality bulbs for sale to exporters [and eventually to consumers] is to chop of the blooms. If this is done at the right time, neither too early nor too late, the energy which the plant would have put into the bloom is redirected to enlarging the bulb so that it will produce more flowers the following year. When is the right time? Only the farmer knows. Many of the fields of brightly colored tulips we passed on the drive had obviously not been chopped, but there were many which had or which were half-and-half.
Holland and the rest of the Netherlands had a particularly mild winter this year, so the tulips started to appear two weeks earlier than usual. Our farm had been chopped save for two fields which we suspect were save for our visit. We are sure the blooms will be removed before we leave the ship on Saturday.
There are many factors which combine to make a good tulip. The soil must be sandy and water must be available. The soil at our farm had been inferior before the farmers improved on it. It now has a clay base with light sandy soil on top. Water is available, too, but it must pass government inspections to make sure it does not have too much salt or other chemicals in it. Tulips, we were told, do best it their bottoms stay dry, but lilies like the water. Tulips are dry bulbs but jonquils have a paper skin like a peanut to protect them from the moisture. And these are only the bits and pieces we remember!
Much of the operation is automated now. The equipment which is used to plant the bulbs looks like modified tractors but they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Someone asked how much one cost and the answer was “several houses.” This family buys used equipment because it is more economical for them. Some equipment is leased as it is needed rather than bought outright.
We were able to visit the two remaining fields of tulips. The rows seemed to extend forever but were probably only several hundred meters. They were absolutely straight because the tractors have GPS systems to keep them from straying by even an inch. The rows are exactly one meter wide.
We noticed some odd-ball blooms in the fields. They really stood out and emphasized the precision of the other plantings. The guide/farmer told us that she had hired someone to remove the strays last year, but that he had done a poor job and was not hired a second time.
The stray flowers need to be removed lest they have a fungus or some other disease which could infect the entire field, so we can add disease to the list of factors in growing good bulbs. Not only to the blooms have to be removed, the entire bulb must be dug up as well.
We were invited to pick as many tulips as we wanted since all of the flowers were going to be chopped soon, so the passengers jumped right in and helped themselves. Of course, they can’t take them back to the US even if the flowers stayed fresh, and most will have wilted before Saturday’s departure.
Eventually we were herded back to the bus having spent about two hours at the tulip farm. Our return trip was highlighted by the driver’s taking a circuitous route to show us even more fields of tulips. Seen from the side, at a distance, the rows of flowers look like a solid ribbon of color as the blooms blend in with each other. Seen end on, the precise division between the rows is obvious.
Although we had been the first bus to depart, ours was the last to return. We had had a long morning in the fields.
After lunch, there was a 2-euro walking tour of Hoorn which we skipped. MA read a very little and then took a nice long nap. David took the unpredictable camera and walked through Hoorn for an hour or so, taking pictures without any idea of what he was looking at. When he returned to the ship, it was almost time for the disembarkation talk, so he went to that and met up with the others in “the group.”
Once MA was up and dressed, we went to the lounge for sodas before dinner [vegetarian shepherd’s pie/steak]. We finished a bit earlier than usual and went directly to the lounge for the crew show. It was amateurish but highly entertaining and we all laughed through the whole show.
Back in the room, it was time to update yesterday’s blog entry to explain why the Zuider Zee Museum was trying to preserve life around the Zee from the early 20th Century and to write about the tulips. Tomorrow will be another busy day, but more about that tomorrow night.
Tomorrow -- Amsterdam, Day 1
Scenes from Hoorn