Tulips fill this field of dreams
By Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Date Modified: 05/30/2012 1:27 PM
ORANGE CITY, Iowa — A house was on the market in 2006 and a small, specialized business was about to close.
That is until Brett Mulder realized he just couldn't let that happen. Even if it meant he and his wife, Nora, had to purchase the business and become purveyors of tulips.
They bought the business, learning lots about planting and growing tulips from former owners Don and Mary Lou Vander Wel. Six years later, their business gave them the opportunity to visit The Netherlands to tour the Keukenhof Gardens and meet with their bulb supplier.
Visiting The Netherlands
"Keukenhof Gardens is 80 acres of tulips and other spring flowering bulbs," said Nora. "Six million tulip bulbs are on exhibit in different landscape styles."
The gardens are only open for 10 weeks each year.
Bulb developers donate thousands of tulip varieties to Keukenhof Gardens, which employs 60 full-time gardeners.
"It takes three to four years for a tulip bulb to develop," said Brett Mulder. "It is their crop. Whereas here in Iowa, we have fields of corn and soybeans, but in Holland they have fields of tulips."
To grow tulips as a crop, bulbs are planted in the fall. When the plants start to bloom, the flower is cut off, redirecting the plant's energy back to the bulb, said Brett Mulder. Once the foliage dies back, the bulb is dug up. Bulbs are then sorted for size — anything smaller than 7 centimeters is tossed. The goal is to have the bulb reach 12 centimeters.
Fruits of their labor
The Mulders plant at least 3,500 bulbs on land where the American Reformed Church once stood. Their 1930 house is the former parsonage. Visitors roam their gardens to admire the blooming tulips and other plants.
"We'll be out here grilling or enjoying a meal on the deck," Brett Mulder says with a laugh. "People will just wave as they are tulip walking. That's fine with us. We want others to enjoy the efforts of our labor."
That's a lot of tulips
Each tulip variety has its name on a stake, which makes it easier for customers to order tulips.
The Tulip Town Bulb Co. sells 50,000 to 60,000 tulips annually. Last September they shipped to 24 states.
Most orders are taken during the Tulip Festival, which is May 17-19. Tulips also can be ordered from their website www.tuliptownbulbs.com. Orders must be placed by June 15.
Brett Mulder takes off from work at Van Beek Natural Science the week of the festival and a week in September. Nora also takes a few days off from her position as loan officer at Iowa State Bank.
"We pretty much do the work ourselves," said Brett Mulder. "It takes a bit of concentration to get the orders done accurately. Don Vander Wel, the former owner, also has helped us."
Get the most from bulbs
The Mulders suggest planting 20 to 30 bulbs in a clump to make a spectacular show. They recommend digging a hole 10 inches deep, then mixing peat moss with the soil and returning some of the soil mixture so the bulbs are planted 6 to 8t inches deep. A mostly sunny spot is the best location for tulips. Tulip bulbs must be planted in the fall.