Monday, April 21, 2008

Flowers blooming in the field

It is the best time of the spring to take a train ride along the west of the Netherlands. On the way between Leiden and Harlem, you can see big field of flowers, red, yellow, purple, white, ... ... big patches of color spread out.

We were enjoying this beautiful scene a few times recently. Yesterday it was the warmest day lately, and we took the train to Amsterdam to visit a colleague for Lunch. Two young ladies sitting across the corridor besides us were reading tour guides for Amsterdam. They spoke some eastern European language that we do not understand, but I could recognize the Amsterdam map in their hands. They read to each other, and discuss sometimes, very concentrated. Sunday travelers are mostly for fun.

Mr. and Mrs. Aawara started discussing what are the funs of traveling in today's world when you mostly know everything that you would expect from the travel guides all over you. You know which hotel to live in, which train, at what time you need to take. You even know that you are going to try a special local food, with picture on the web. The only surprise left of the fun of travel is the exact feeling over there, which almost all surprises are removed before your trip. I am hesitating to plan trips too much in details.

Passing Leiden, flower fields started to appear in both side windows. I looked around, and pointing to Mr. Aawara views appeared in different windows, and noticing those two ladies were still focused on their research on touring Amsterdam. I looked at them and turned back saying, "look they are missing the most beautiful scene of the flower land." The guy sitting opposite to us heard me, and also laughed. He seemed to be a Dutch person since we heard him calling in Dutch.

After a while, suddenly he stood up, and leaned his body towards the other side of the corridor, and tried to interrupt those two ladies by touching one of them shoulder, "look outside!"

It was great. I thought I should have done this earlier.

When the train passed a highway ramp, he pointed to us, this is the way to Keukenhof. We smiled and told him that we went there last weekend. He told us that his wife worked there, at the gate. So I can't stop asking my question about the flower field: why do they let so many flowers bloom in the field rather than sell to the market?

Here is the answer: the profit of this flower business is not only on flowers. The most amount of profit is from selling bulbs. Bulbs are harvested after the blooming season and can be sold all year around. Do you know this? How come I haven't thought about this before. Here are some new knowledge about this topic:

The Netherlands' climate provides nearly perfect conditions for spring-flowering bulb production. Holland is protected by its proximity to the ocean and to the North Sea and by being 5 to 10 feet below sea level. Its winters are moderate and its springs are long and cool with almost constant rainfall, giving the bulbs the best chance for an optimal growing season. If there is too much or too little rain, an amazing, complicated engineering system involving the ditches, canals, and dikes can raise or lower the water table when needed. The soil in the western part of the country, where most of the bulbs are grown, is almost pure beach sand amended with organic compost, which provides excellent drainage for the bulbs and allows for easy, clean, mechanical digging.

This small country has focused on making the most of every inch of ground and developing specialized machinery to increase productivity. There are more than a thousand producers of spring bulbs in a relatively small area in Holland, which facilitates cooperation among growers in sharing equipment and swapping land for crop rotation instead of using chemicals. Also, because of the large numbers of people involved in the industry, much of the culture and the local activities center around spring-flowering bulbs and their flowers.

However, I still have one more question that I am not very clear. For those flower land, would it be better to be able to sell flower and bulb at the same season? Is this the optimal choice for the growers, or cutting flowers earlier would affect the growing of the bulbs?

Picture is from here.


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