The Story of Betsie’s Bulb Planter

The Story of Betsie’s Bulb Planter

Last Thursday we pulled out our beast of a bulb planter and planted 26,000 tulip bulbs with four people in one hour. Every year it takes a little coercion to get the bulb planter to want to move again, and this year was no different. This implement was likely made in the 1950’s and is only used for about one hour every year. Talk about a specialized tool! Once we got it going, it did what it does best, plants bulbs!

While we were planting, Nicole asked me how I came to grow tulips and own this planter and she enjoyed my answer so much, I thought you all might too.

Back in 2002, when I was a student at the Evergreen State College, I met Betsie DeWreede, who was my boss at the school farm. She had been a vegetable and tulip farmer for many years and, being of Dutch descent, she loved tulips. She introduced me to growing tulips and how very special they are. I never knew that tulips were so unique and varied in color and style; I’ve been growing them ever since.

Back in 2005 when I was leasing Old Tarboo Farm, my operation was so small I wasn’t able to order bulbs on my own. Betsie let me tag team onto her order to have access to the most beautiful bulbs Washington and Holland had to offer. For years every September I would make the annual trek to her farm in Rochester to sort and count bulbs to divide up our orders. She always made me lunch and we had the chance to catch up on farming and life. My bulb order eventually got big enough that the supplier would sell to me directly, and Betsie retired, so our annual event unfortunately came to an end.

When Betsie retired, she also decided that I was to be the recipient of her bulb planter. I hemmed and hawed. Really!?? This giant implement for one hour of use annually? That wasn’t really my style, as I’d been planting bulbs by hand (with the help of the tractor to make and cover furrows before and after), but I could never get the bulbs deep enough for the highest quality stems, and of course it was painstaking, back-breaking work to distribute all the tulips in the field. Finally I decided, what the heck, I’ll take the beast. I sure am glad I did!

Planting the tulip bulbs every year is honestly one of the most fun tasks on the farm. I usually ride on the platform, clipboard in hand, telling the tractor driver when to stop and the people loading on the ground which variety is next. The crew gets excited when the bulbs go in, as it’s the last gasp of summer and we are all sick of the long, hot, dusty days and endless fruit harvests. Dreaming about picking tulips in the cool promise of spring sounds just about right.

I’m so thankful to know Betsie, for her friendship and mentorship all these years, as well as introducing me to tulip growing. For a long time, she was the only other woman farmer I knew who ran her farm solo, without the help of a husband or farm partner. She helped me to realize this was even possible! I know she’ll be reading this (she always does). Thank you, Betsie, for being an inspiration and mentor to me all these years. And thank you for making sure I got the bulb planter!