Flower Spotlight: Tulips

I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in the garden.
— Ruth Stout


I couldn’t agree more with Ruth Stout.  Unfortunately, greeting spring a couple weeks ago wasn’t by smelling the daffodils but rather hunkering down low tunnels for the snow and freezing temperatures.   Just as we got slight sunburnt cheeks, wind and cold rain is to reveal itself (once again) come tomorrow,  For now, we'll bask in the spring-like weather.


Thankfully the last week has felt like spring.  The girls found treasures in the garden beds… love-in-a-puff seeds.  If you have seen the seed before, I’m sure you can imagine it’s charm to little girls.  A round black ball, about the size of a sweet pea seed, with a little white heart on one side.  Though a little early for the heat loving vine, the girls planted them in pots anyways and we tucked them in the greenhouse but down low so they can keep a watchful eye on them.  

The ranunculus are getting ready to explode under the low tunnel, I was shocked to see them happy and budding!  I'm out harvesting narcissi everyday and the tulips seem to grow inches over a mere sunny afternoon.


Flowers are enchanting, they have definitely captivated our family but I’m not sure I would give up my home or life savings for a tulip bulb.  Sounds like a crazy leap?  Not really, it actually happened.  



In the late 1600s Holland was introduced to the tulip.  That was awesome.  Then the tulips got the mosaic virus which created unique markings that were gorgeous and that’s when it hit the fan.  Long story short, people went nuts selling their homes, their land all for a flower bulb. There were shortages.  There were schemers who pocketed money and never handed over the promised bulbs.  Basically, it was a hot mess and Holland was in a serious economic crisis… over tulips.


I’m sure there were a lot of face-palms happening after investing so heavily in a flower bulb didn’t pan out for all.  On the plus side, there are some amazing varieties of tulips now available to us (and it won’t cost a house!).



Last fall, I nestled over 1,300 bulbs into the garden bed of twelve different varieties.  This can be peanuts in the flower farming world but it was a huge leap from our couple hundred last season.  Plus, we have a huge variety of tulips, from buttery doubles to fringed blues.  



How in the world did I fit so many tulips in one tiny garden bed?!  Unlike growing for landscape, we use a tulip bulb for one season only.  Yup. We do not grow it as a perennial, which actually makes tulip bulbs one of our largest annual flower investment! I’m definitely not whining, tulips make my heart skip a beat so I’m glad that we can make such an investment in them. What does this have to do with spacing? When grown as an annual, they don’t need the normal recommended spacing.  We actually snug them in cozy, imagine eggs in an egg carton or people stuffed on the MUNI in San Francisco, super close but not touching.  That is the magic secret to fitting over 1,000 bulbs into one little garden bed.



Another concern for us is stem length.  Have you ever really looked at the stem length of your tulips and then look at the stem length of tulips in the store?  The difference is dramatic.  I love sharing not-such-a-secret-but-maybe-unknown-to-you-secret, would you like to know?  We. Are. Ruthless.  We yank the tulip, bulb and all for harvesting.  We also plant the bulbs super deep.  This is how we get the best stem length, even if (gasp) the weather makes the tulips ready for harvest before they are much off the ground!  It happens.  This is probably the year it will.  But by burying deep, about six inches, at least we’re guaranteed for the stem to be that long.  So… what do we do with the bulb?  Sadly, to the compost.  It isn’t much good to us.  Tulip flowers can be harvested but the bulb needs to stay in the ground and for the foliage to die back to produce baby bulbs.  They truly are an annual investment for us.



Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones ravenous for tulips.  Enter Bambi.  In Genoa or heavily deer populated areas, you may have experienced the despair of your precious tulips becoming a  buffet for deer.  I’ve talked to many of you and most of you have thrown in the towel. I don’t blame you, it’s heartbreaking. Tulips are not a cheap investment, financially or time wise.  Deer don’t like narcissi, perhaps planting that coupled with some other pungent herbs may help deter the deer.  Alliums, fritillaria and muscari are some other spring bulbs that are greatly disliked by our furry friends.  Don't give up!  Try again!



Tulips are an incredibly long lasting cut flower.  Last year, customers reported back to me that they still looked great weeks after they had purchased them from me.  They were impressed (so was I!).  A great characterisitic of the tulip is how their stem continues to elongate towards the light, they twist and twirl, creating the most beautiful movement!  They move like ballerinas in Swan Lake production, with romance, elegance and perfection. When their petals decide to fully open up, they have a slight shimmer to them and a whole new personality comes out that kind of screams rebel-night-club-goer.  Okay, perhaps I can see how the Dutch went insane over them!



Pardon my little blurb about tulips (maybe more like a ranting?).  There is just so much goodness and an interesting history whirled around tulips!  

We have been busy around our urban farm.  Some days it's winter, meaning direct sowing sunflowers despite the wind and snow flurry then dashing about during the warm days to catch up on harvesting and transplanting.  We've also started thousands upon thousands of seeds.  I have never been a fan of Tetris but I've gotten pretty good at playing it with seedlings trays and plants in the greenhouse!





I hope you enjoyed this dose of floral bliss.  


I can’t wait to be handing you blooms soon.


-              Jessica

To help you with your own spring bulb planting journey, here’s a link to our favorite bulb food: