April of each year the Skagit Valley is carpeted with vast tracts of color: yellow and white daffodils, pastel hyacinths, glorious purple irises and saturated hues of red, yellow, purple and pink tulips to name a few. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is a month-long celebration of spring in the rich, fertile soil of the Northwest US. As in Holland, which is synonymous with spring-flowering bulbs, we feast on the lush color and celebrate renewed life in spring. I enjoy making a pilgrimage to the verdant valley beside the Pacific Ocean, but this year was special – I participated, with my wonderful husband and a couple of great friends, in a tour of Washington Bulb’s greenhouses and facilities. It was a surprise treat for me.
The three-generation farm of a family migrated from Holland mid-century with knowledge and experience procured in the land of spring flowering bulbs, is a vast enterprise dedicated to supplying both bulbs to brighten our own garden and cut flowers for special occasions; RoozenGaarde is the retail side of the farm while http://www.tulips.com is the on-line presence where you can purchase these luxurious blooms. John Roozen, oldest brother in the second generation of farmers, graciously lead us on this tour of the 15 acres of green houses, 38 huge freezer rooms, and various processing centers to better understand the complexity of such an operation.
We began in the freezers, huge rooms designed to replicate natural seasonal temperature and light conditions to control the development of the plants within. At 28-29 degrees F and dark, the freezer had inch high green leaves pushed through the peat moss and humus soil combination (a highly specialized mix). Further on, in another freezer, lily bulbs were still packed in peat moss, awaiting space in the greenhouse for their turn to bloom. These are forced bulbs, meant for cut flower arrangements throughout the year: think Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Mothers’ Day, birthdays, anniversaries or weddings, etc.
Fifteen acres of greenhouse, covered, climate controlled growing areas, provide year round cut flowers. Heated water flowing through tubes a few feet above the plants uses convection to ensure air flow and balanced temperatures for the fully foliated plants as they begin to bud. All aspects of the green house, from moving the large growing frames to fertilizing and watering are mechanized. GPS linked, the computer ensures proper light conditions as well by moving large fabric shade panels to take best advantage of the sun for the plants at the specific stages they are at. This precision and minute attention to detail ensures each blossom will be as nearly perfect as possible.
John Roozen, a self-proclaimed gear head, has developed or helped specialize the farm’s equipment and continues to refurbish the existing tractors that have helped work the farm for decades. European technology as well as American is visible throughout the facility.
Outside, overlooking some of the last display beds of tulips for the season, we discussed the field grown bulbs and how they are treated to remove pathogens once they have flowered and gone dormant and are harvested in the summer months. These bulbs are then stored in three-foot wide wood hallways with computer controlled fans which draw or blow air through them and the foot high vents along one wall of the hall, floor to ceiling. This allows the bulbs to ‘breath’ and maintains the moisture level at a point where the bulb is satisfied, but airborne pathogens are not likely to grown, damaging the crop.
Field or greenhouse grown, the flowers are graded, sized, and bunched for sale. The high-tech machine uses multiple ‘eyes’ and ex-ray to ensure each blossom has the ability to open and last as we expect it. People at various stations along the machine complete the assembly line process, boxing according to orders. French style long-stemmed tulips, which removes the bulb’s ability to pro-generate another flower bud as the leaves are removed with the bud, are bundled by hand at another station. As bulbs weren’t being handled at this time, we didn’t see that part of the operation – I could hope for another visit to see this.
Knowing where the cut flowers I purchase come from, the sustainable habits of the grower (which were too numerous to detail here) and the care with which each perfect flower has been handled makes my special purchase doubly great.
Link to see what is offered right now: http://www.tulips.com