Tulip Time CruisesA tulip time cruise in the Netherlands is a terrific spring vacation option. Dozens of river ships sail the canals and rivers of the Netherlands and Belgium from mid-March through mid-May, giving guests the opportunity to see the spectacular tulips and other bulb flowers of the region. The cruises visit great cities like Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Brussels, along with quaint villages along the waterways. However, the biggest draw for most spring visitors are the tulips, and you'll see plenty of them on one of these 7 to 10-day voyages.
The tulip cruises always include a half-day excursion to the famous Keukenhof Gardens, which are located near the Amsterdam airport. These gardens are only open for six to eight weeks each year when the bulb flowers are blooming, and farmers exhibit their best tulips hoping that amateur and professional horticulturalists will buy their bulbs. It's a colorful, amazing place to spend the day, and the Keukenhof photos demonstrate how glorious the gardens are.
In addition to visiting Keukenhof and driving through the countryside to see the fields of blooming bulb flowers, it's fun to walk through the flower markets in Amsterdam to see the bundles of tulips for sale. They are so lovely, I couldn't help but wonder how they were packaged so perfectly! Therefore, I was delighted to have the chance to visit a family-owned tulip farm and observe the whole process of harvesting and preparing the tulips for sale. This excursion was from the Viking River Cruises' Longship christening of March 2013, but other river cruise lines may include the tour in their springtime tulip cruises. Visitors can also book a day trip to visit the farm, but advance reservations are needed via the farm's website.
Siem Munster Family-Owned Tulip FarmSiem Munster, his wife and four young daughters plant 30 hectares of tulips at their farm in North Holland. Siem's grandfather first owned the farm and his father ran the farm from 1971 to 2003, when Siem took it over.
The Munster farm, like much of the Netherlands, sits on land reclaimed from the sea, and it sits about 20 feet below sea level. The farm land looks rich today, but it certainly looked much different at the end of World War II. Three weeks before the Allies liberated the Netherlands, German soldiers bombed the dike, and this farm, along with all the surrounding reclaimed land, was flooded with sea water.
Only tulip bulbs are harvested from the Munster's fields, but they also have large greenhouses where they grow and process cut tulip flowers between end of December and early May each year. Tulips for cut flowers are grown in greenhouses so that the farmers can control the storage temperature from the time the bulbs are harvested in the late summer until they are harvested. During the summer harvest, the Munsters sell many of their bulbs, but put about 7 to 8 million tulip bulbs in cold storage, with the first million bulbs planted by hand in the greenhouse around the beginning of December. The tulip life cycle in the greenhouse takes about three weeks, with one million tulips processed per three-week cycle. This equates to harvesting, processing, and bundling 80,000 to 100,000 tulip stems per day during this four-month cut flower season. That's a lot of tulips, isn't it?
The Munsters have about 20 people who work each day in the greenhouses. When the work moves to the fields, the number of workers doubles. As seen in the photo above, the tulips are cut before the blossoms are fully open so that they will reach their peak when they reach the final customer, not at the wholesaler or retailer.
Let's follow some of these thousands of tulips through the daily processing.
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