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Tulips: The No-Dig Method

For this year's tulips we wanted to move to a no-dig method of growing. This has a number of benefits for both the ground, the quality of the cut flowers and the efficiency of the farm. We treat tulips as an annual crop and buy new in each year as they don't return reliably.

The benefits of this method:

  • minimal disturbance to the soil which protects soil health

  • compost is easier for us to move - less back breaking

  • bulbs still have their roots in touch with the soil increasing their access to water and nutrients

  • when harvesting the stem is very clean and does not require washing

  • the bulb is pulled with the flower so none are left in the ground

  • Once the bulbs are pulled we have a lovely bed ready to go

Tulips should be planted in November but can be planted up to February. For no-dig field production this is how we have done it:

We creating new beds on previously unused ground, therefore we had to clear the ground first; we did this by using a rotavator to lift the weeds from the top of the ground - taking care not to disturb the ground below an inch or two. This left us with a level and clear bed to plant in. In future we would cover the ground a few months before with plastic to kill off any weeds instead of rotavating, and then broad-fork and rake the surface.

We decided on beds with a width of 50cm which we can easily step over, harvest from and the tractor and trailer can straddle for maintenance. After marking out using posts and string lines, we raked over the soil to finally prepare the ground.

As we put each variety in we label - we have extra large labels which are easy to find and write all key information on them - for tulips this is variety, quantity, planting date, and will also include first harvest date.

We ensure that each bulb has space to grow but we aren't too worried about which way up it is pointing - they are very good at correcting themselves, although we do avoid having any upside down!

The bulbs are covered with 15cm (6 inches) of compost, rather than soil. This gives them a lightweight and clean growing medium which they can push through. They have access to the original soil which is full of the minerals and nutrients they need to support healthy growth. The depth of compost will smother the weeds and prevent weed seeds from germinating.

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