Season 2 • Episode 5 - March 16, 2023

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Spring is a time when gardeners start to get excited about the warmer, flower-filled months ahead. For many that excitement starts in a flower field in the mid-Willamette Valley at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. For 39 years the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest and the Iverson family have welcomed people to their 40-plus acre tulip farm early each spring to celebrate the tulip. We had a chance to stop by the farm before the festival started to chat with Barb Iverson about the history of the Tulip Fest and growing tulips.

The festival is the signature event for the farm and the Iversons, but they have been growing tulips for more than 39 years, since the mid-'70s. They started when they were approached by a tulip grower from Indiana. The earlier growing season here in the Northwest was why he came to talk to them. Growing bulbs is a tough business, so members of the family got together and decided to start a little festival to drum up interest in bulb sales. Their first little festival was not much more than a wheelbarrow full of tulip bunches and they ended up with a traffic jam. Being a farming family, they were surprised at the response. They were also growing rhododendrons at the same time and slowly got out of that business to free up more fields for blooms and it has grown consistently since then. Starting with about three acres, they now plant between 35 and 40 acres of bulbs. All those acres means waves of color when you come out to visit.

Those waves of color are all weather-dependent. Some years, like this one, the colder weather of the late winter has slowed down the blooms. The festival for 2023 was supposed to start on the 17th of March, but due to the cold rains and snow, they had to push the opening until the 24th of March. Once blooming, they like a little cooler weather to keep the tulips from blooming too quickly. The good thing about Wooden Shoe is that they try to have plenty for people to do when they come out even if the flowers don’t cooperate. There are lots of fun activities and things to do for the whole family. You can always see how the fields are doing by checking out their website and the updated Field Report.

One of the problems of the past was the huge crowds that would be attracted to see the blooms. When COVID-19 pandemic came, they had to change to a timed ticketing system to keep the crowds lower. It worked out so well that they have continued to use that system. Now, instead of waiting in a traffic jam for hours, you can drive right in and know there will be a parking spot for you and your family. Plus, the crowds are smaller so you can enjoy the fields without a huge crush of humanity to deal with. People are always aiming to catch the blooms at their peak, but as Barb told us, there really is no peak. Since there are so many varieties with differing bloom times you may have a ‘peak’ of a week or more, once again, depending on the weather. We were told that the best time to see the most blooms will occur in April. Always check the field report to get updated information.

It is a lot of work for the family and all the Wooden Shoe employees, but there are a lot of perks. One is just being in the fields every day. The color of the blooms with the backdrop of snow covered Mt. Hood is amazing. Then there are the memories that are being made. Barb loves to see the families with little kids out in the field and seeing them walking among the blooms. There is also the reach that this festival has. There used to be a world map on a wall near the office and they counted visitors from nearly 140 different countries one year. The farm figures that there have been over between 3.5 and 4 million people who have visited the farm. That’s a lot of smiles over nearly four decades.

What can you do once you get your ticket and come out? Well, there are the fields, of course. Then they have a lot happening back near the gift shop. They have their own wine, so you can have a glass or two of that. If you are really into wines they offer wine tours around the fields and a tasting of their fabulous vintages. There are a lot of kids' games and activities, jump tents and carnival rides, including cow wagons and photo cut-out boards. There are a lot of onsite food vendors. On weekends you can see how wooden shoes are made, check out steam tractor demonstrations and craft vendors. Depending on the weather you can even book a tethered hot air balloon ride.

If you fall in love with the tulips, you can purchase cut flowers to take home or order bulbs to be delivered next fall so you can plant them and enjoy some of this great color in your own garden. If you forget to do it at the festival, check out their sales page where you can order bulbs like tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinth, alliums and crocus.

Once you fall in love with the tulips you will want to learn a few tips on how to take care of them. First of all, tulip bulbs do not like wet feet. That means they don’t like to set in wet or damp conditions. Tulips really like good drainage. It doesn’t take long for the bulbs to rot if they are sitting in water. You don’t have to worry about planting them in a certain direction. The bulbs don’t have an up or down. They will grow the right direction no matter which way they are planted. They also like a little chilling; the bulbs like a little bit of cold to trigger their spring growth. As far as pests, rodents love tulips. Mice and voles will nibble them to get to the tasty center of the bulb where the new plant is forming. After they bloom in your garden, then deer become a problem. They love the blooms for a whole different reason than you! It is a delicacy for them to eat. Of course, slugs can also be a problem, eating the leaves and blooms, stunting their growth. Other than that there are not a lot of pests for tulips. There is a mold that you might encounter from moist conditions and it can so fast that it is called "fire blight." Pick those diseased plants once you see them and throw them in the garbage to prevent the spread of the disease.

Once you have them planted you can pretty much leave them in the ground. Some people want to know if you should dig them every year, but they are a perennial bulb so for most locations it is safe to leave them alone. The only time to dig them is if you are seeing a lot of foliage and no blooms. The bulbs will multiply over time and that crowding of the bulbs will cause them to compete for resources and become weak. Dig them up after they bloom and separate the bulbs and plant the extras in a different area in your garden. If you don’t have room in your garden, remember that tulips are great for your early spring containers. To help them get stronger you can deadhead them after they bloom. Deadheading is when you snap off the old bloom, and the seed pod that is forming, and leave the foliage. This allows the foliage to feed nutrients to the bulbs and helps form the new blooms for next year. If you want to help them grow you can add a bulb fertilizer. The best bulb fertilizer is one that doesn’t have a lot of nitrogen in it. Nitrogen will promote leaf and green growth. You want the phosphorus to be a little higher than other nutrients, since that promotes root growth.

For displaying your cut tulips you will want to give them a fresh cut when you get them home or from the store. Then get them in cold water. You don’t need to add anything to the water to keep them going. in fact, tulips are one of the few flowers that will continue growing once they have been cut. The only warning that Barb gave us about displaying them is to not put them in a vase with fresh cut daffodils. Daffodils release a sap and if placed in a vase with tulips they will plug the vascular system of the tulip and shorten its life. Put your daffodils in another container for at least a day before you include them in a vase with your tulips.

So, check out their website and book your tickets to come out to the fields if you are in the area. If you live a little further away, be sure to check out their sales page to get some bulbs for your spring garden. Kick off your spring with some wonderful color!

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