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There are two main bulb growing regions in Holland, one centered around Lisse, to the south of Amsterdam and Haarlem, the other north of Amsterdam and Alkmaar. The southern region, like many agricultural areas, is under increasing pressure from development. This view from the air of hyacinth and tulip fields is in the north, near the village of Petten. The North sea is in the background.
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Only in April and May can flowers be evaluated, and important decisions must then be made about what varieties to grow in the future. Tulips from above.
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Daffodils and Hyacinths from the air near Petten. Much of this area is polder, or land reclaimed from the ocean, and as such is below sea level. Notice the row of tulip trials on the right edge of the unplanted field.
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More tulips from the air, looking towards Petten and the North Sea.
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Looking North towards Den Helder.
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In North Holland there are generally two types of soil, sand or clay. The clay (shown above) is more difficult to work with, and the bulbs grown in it require more rigorous cleaning to be certified for export to the U.S. But some say that the clay produces stronger bulbs.
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Clay soil, very hard clay soil.
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Holland can get a lot of precipitation in the spring, but some springs are relatively warm and dry. The 30 days before and after blooming are critical to the tulip crop. To ensure bulbs of the largest size, rainfall and soil conditions must be monitored.
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Taking a sample to judge soil moisture.
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There's the water table.
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That's the level where irrigation will be needed.
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Wet enough to clump up.
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Healthy roots on a growing tulip.
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Inspecting the foliage. No troubles here.
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All is good. If it rains in the next few days this grower won't have to irrigate. The rain often bypasses the coast and moves inland.
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Further south on the coast at Egmond an Zee there's no rain in the forecast. It's time to move the irrigation equipment into place.
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Tulips and Daffodils from above. Irrigation equipment is in place. Most fields in Holland are bounded by irrigation canals, so water is always close at hand.
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Irrigation equipment running. Old and new windmills are a common site. A remarkable number of old windmills are still in use on windy days. They are used to pump water and mill grain. Modern electric wind turbines spin clockwise, the old windmills spin counter clockwise.
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Irrigation of tulip fields.
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Some buyers are busy evaluating and making notes of what they see.
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Looking and making notes. There are a lot of flowers to remember.
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Even a Bollywood film crew is working shooting a music video in the tulips today.
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Open-air negotiation. Now's the time to make deals and plan for the future.
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Looking at new varieties. Each new variety represents at least a decade of work.
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Off to the next trial garden. Looking at old varieties. Some varieties are decades or centuries old. And the time to judge their commercial viability is now or never.
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After dinner. Still time to look at tulips. North Holland is at 52° latitude north, further north, that is, than most of Newfoundland, so the days are quite long even in April, about 15 hours.
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Crop Inspection. Every tulip in the whole country will be looked at at least once. The dunes in the background form a natural barrier to the North Sea.
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The inspectors are under pressure to be thorough but quick. The growers want to cut the flowers off before the blooms draw too much energy from the bulbs.
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The inspectors carry a herbicide applicator. If a rogue or diseased tulip is found, a small drop of herbicide is placed on the leaf. The herbicide will drip down into the bulb and kill it.
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After a field is inspected an independent agency certifies that the crop is uniform and healthy. Then a machine to cut off the blooms, a kopmachine, is called in quickly.
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The kopmachine is adjusted to cut the blooms but not the foliage, so some shorter flowers are missed. These will be removed by hand. When the machine and field crew are done, not a single tulip flower will be left in place.
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Discarded blooms in the kopmachine. The growers are growing bulbs, not flowers. The flowers and ensuing seed heads draw energy from the bulbs, reducing their size. What happens to all of those decapitated flowers? Those don't fall between the planting rows may be fed to cows, who are said to prefer the red ones.
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A crew removes any remaining blooms.
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On to the next field to hunt down more survivors of the kopmachine. The crop in back under warming plastic is probably cabbage. Crop rotation is always carefully practiced.
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Removing the blooms that the kopmachine couldn't get. Bulb growing in Holland is centuries old so mechanization is a recent development. This tractor-propelled bed allows 10 people to lie on their stomachs and pick off flowers as they are pushed slowly through the field. Beats bending over countless times to reach down and snap off a bloom.
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Close-up of the flower removal team on the tractor-propelled bed. Farming is a family business in North Holland. The kids help out after school and on weekends.
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After the "koppe," or beheading. By the second week of May there won't be a tulip bloom left in the whole country.