Tulips in warm Africa
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. About a month-and-a-half later, as the flowers start to show their colours, they are harvested and divided into bunches to go to retailers. Hydroponics also makes it possible for Adriaan to try his hand at growing new varieties, such as daffodils.