U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8b. Sunset climate zone 5

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tulip Fields: By Machine Or By Hand?

I appreciate all the comments I got on my three posts about the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (Yellow Seas ,Purple and Pink Dream ,Red and Yellow Tulip Fields ). I got curious and did some research after receiving a question from Dirt Princess .
She wrote:
"It is simply amazing! How do they plant them? By machine or by hand? That is quite an undertaking. Of course I realize that most come back, but then there is the dividing and re-planting. I would love to go there." What a good question!
Really, HOW?
The best answer I found was on I think their article is extremely interesting. I am using it to show the main stages of the process:
- When conditions are right, the tulip bulbs are planted much like potatoes. A bin in the back of a tractor holds the bulbs. As the tractor moves through a field, bulbs drop through a shoot and into a furrow in the prepared ground.

- At the same time, another implement of the tractor adds bands of fertilizer on either side of the bulb.

- Finally, a tractor shoe layers a 5 1/2-inch-thick hill of soil over the top of the bulbs.

After planting, tulips become a bit lower-maintenance for a while, as growers rely on the ideal conditions of the Skagit Valley to nurture their crop.
Underground, the bulbs germinate as they soak up water from the Valley's "perfect" amount of rainfall. Eventually, green shoots start to poke up through the soil. When they start to appear also depends on the weather.
The flowers start to bloom as soon as early spring. The time of the bloom also depends on the tulip. Different variety are early-, mid-season- or latebloomers.

- Commercial harvesting of the flowers begins when they start to bloom. Workers bundle the flowers in groups of 10 and put them in trays. The trays go into a warehouse cooler for an hour so the stems are cool when workers pack the bunches into plastic sleeves for shipping to stores.

- As soon as the flower looks ratty, a crew goes into the field to cut all of the petals off, right underneath the head of each flower.
With no flower left to devote energy to, a plant sends all of its nutrients to the bulbs. Each plant is attached to multiple bulbs, including the bulb planted the previous fall and new, smaller bulbs.
Allowing petals to remain to fall off into the foliage can also spread disease to the leaves and bulbs.

- After the flowers are topped, growers give them about three weeks to send nutrients into the growing bulbs. In late May, using a machine called a skimmer, they cut the stems to the ground. A tractor following behind the skimmer scoops out the bulbs. They rise up a belt on the tractor, like potatoes, and the bulbs fall into a hopper.

- The bulbs go to a barn, where they're loaded onto a conveyor belt and washed. Crews pick sprouts off the ends, and the bulbs move along to another belt to a grader for sizing.
As they move along the belt, the smallest bulbs drop through holes in the grader first into waiting bins. The largest bulbs make it to the end. The larger bulbs, 12 centimeters in diameter and larger, are the ones that are sold. Smaller bulbs are retained to be planted again.

- Next the bulbs, sorted into trays, are placed in an air tunnel for drying and storage. Fans keep air circulating over the bulbs to keep them dry, mold-free and cool until conditions are right for planting again.

***Copyright 2009 TatyanaS


  1. Very interesting. I'm going to try tulips in pots next season, I've decided, they're just too good to miss out on!

  2. THANKS:). That was very interesting. I can't believe they scoop them all up. I just couldn't imagine it being done by hand. Modern technology is amazing! I appreciate you looking all of this up.

  3. Now I want to be a Tulip Farmer.

  4. Great reading and lots of stuff learned about growing tulips. Thanks for posting this. They say you learn something new everyday, yes I did :)

  5. Very interesting. I love the field of pink bulbs.

  6. That field is just the most beautiful and tranquil sight.

  7. That's very interesting. I had never even thought about how all of those tulip bulbs are planted. It's also nice to know that they only need about three weeks to get the nutrients. I dislike having the stems up until they die back completely.

  8. I've always wondered too and thank you for such a good post about the whole process. They are sure an awesome scene planted in mass like that.

  9. Tatyana- very good info! I was thinking of trying to plant a river of bulbs just like in the photo gallery of Buchart Gardens. I am really needing to go to that place. Now I know that maybe it isn't totally feasable and I need to think a little smaller. I don't own a cool machine. Yet:-D

  10. Great tips in this post. Especially helpful since I added quite a few last year. Photos are wonderful. They extended the festival again this year, didn't they?

  11. Fascinating thanks. But how do they make sure they are planted the right way up!

  12. Thanks Tatyana that was very interesting and something I had wondered about ie what to pick what to dig up and what to sell as bulbs I think you covered it all so well.

  13. All your pictures are wonderful, Tatyana! Very interesting how it's all done..but I wonder if the tulip pickers get tired of their for the information.

  14. It's so nice to learn this from you, Tatyana! Thanks for sharing--I just wish they could come here and fix up my yard a bit!! It'd be cool to have a hard full of tulips!!! My homeowners association would hate it, though. Anything 'nice' is a definite NO NO! ha. I'm just saying that because they are a pain;-0 Anyway, have a Wonderful Day, dear Tatyana!! Jan

  15. It has been a few years since I have visited the Skagit Valley tulip fields. They certainly are lovely!
    Thank you for the lovely photos.


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