With tulip planting time around the corner in the Skagit Valley, the new owners of Tulip Town got a visit Friday from a farmer from the Netherlands who shared his expertise with the tulip newcomers.
“I wanted to meet the new owners and offer support,” said Thijs Van Zaal.
Spinach Bus Ventures, a local venture capital company, bought the farm in June, shortly after Tulip Town founder Tom DeGoede died.
“It’s huge for us to have someone on the business end because we can ask questions,” said Spinach Bus Ventures CEO Andrew Miller.
Van Zaal said he started working with DeGoede in the 1990s and thought of him as a brother. He said they hailed from the same area in the Netherlands.
From their friendship and years working together, Van Zaal said he learned to understand the thinking behind DeGoede’s decisions on the farm, which included bringing in harvest and planting equipment from the Netherlands and creating better tulip displays for visitors.
“I try to be a mirror for (the new owners),” he said. “This is what it is, and this is what it should be.”
Van Zaal said in the Netherlands many farmers plant tulip bulbs in nets, a technique DeGoede adopted at Tulip Town.
“It makes digging easier, and doesn’t contaminate the field (with leftover bulbs),” he said.
At Tulip Town, there is a whole suite of Dutch equipment that DeGoede brought to the United States. Recently, the farm bought a topper machine that cuts the flowers off tulips at the end of the growing season to ensure the plant directs its energy to the bulb.
Van Zaal said in the Netherlands technology has been used for decades, driven by increased labor costs and shortage of available labor.
“Most machines pay for themselves in one to two years,” he said.
Adopting technology can elevate the skill set of workers, he said.
“Everyone wants to drive a tractor,” he said.
One issue Van Zaal said needed improvement at Tulip Town was the ventilation of bulbs to prevent rot while they are stored in containers. Miller said the company plans to invest in upgrades.
“It should be clear Tom and Jeannette (DeGoede) didn’t leave a poor farm,” Van Zaal said. “When you want to stay ahead, you have to invest.”
How do Skagit Valley tulips stack up to those in the Netherlands?
“Tom’s farm would be an example in Holland,” Van Zaal said.
He said one difference is that many farmers in the Netherlands are only interested in growing bulbs, not in attracting tourists to tulip fields.
“I envy them for having this opportunity,” he said. “In Holland, it’s not exceptional to have a big field of flowers. Here, it is.”
Van Zaal said he will travel to Texas next to assist a tulip farm there.
Miller said the farm plans to plant bulbs in the coming weeks, when cooler nights can drop the soil to below 60 degrees.