Tulips in warm Africa

go! Platteland - - HYDROPONICS -

Grow­ing tulips in South Africa, one of the big­gest chal­lenges is hy­giene. The plants are highly sen­si­tive – a sin­gle fun­gus or dis­ease can very quickly af­fect a whole swath of bulbs. That’s why hy­dro­pon­ics is such a good so­lu­tion for tulips, says Adriaan van Wyk, who man­ages a farm (a large small­hold­ing, in fact) out­side Raw­sonville, where they grow 140 000 tulip stems a week in the busiest sea­son (Mother’s Day)!

The tulips are grown in large crates. The bulbs are po­si­tioned on sharp points at the bot­tom of the crates, and their un­der­sides only just reach the shal­low wa­ter be­low. “Hy­dro­pon­ics is a cleaner process. Be­sides the fact that it’s eas­ier to elim­i­nate dis­eases, there is no soil on the plants. Be­cause it is done in a green­house, you just about never need pes­ti­cides,” says Adriaan. “And you can put that green­house vir­tu­ally any­where.”

For hy­giene rea­sons, the wa­ter can’t be cir­cu­lated as with other hy­dro­ponic sys­tems, but Adriaan says he still uses less wa­ter be­cause it goes straight to the bulbs and doesn’t seep away into the ground.

It was his step­fa­ther, Kobus Klop­pers, who started the hy­dro­ponic green­house way back. “We made many mis­takes ini­tially, and it can be ex­pen­sive, be­cause the setup costs are higher than on a tra­di­tional farm. But within five to 10 years you can break even.” In terms of qual­ity, Adriaan says, hy­dro­ponic tulips are on a par with their coun­ter­parts that are grown tra­di­tion­ally, but they are more uni­form and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. It’s also much eas­ier to ex­per­i­ment with new va­ri­eties – which ex­plains the row of daf­fodils we saw in the green­house on our visit.

Adriaan van Wyk from Raw­sonville, among his hy­dro­ponic tulips. BE­LOW, FROM LEFT When Adriaan re­ceives an or­der, the bulbs are re­moved from the “win­ter room” (where they lie dor­mant) and stuck onto sharp points in crates con­tain­ing wa­ter and nu­tri­ents....

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