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It's a blooming success
Fresh Tulips USA's new facility in King George County is enabling it to increase production and add three new flowers to its lineup.

 The King George greenhouse had been vacant for five years before Fresh Tulips USA bought it because the firm needed more space.
photos by PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 2/10/2013

BY CATHY JETT

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

An area grower's new King George County location is allowing it to grow and ship an additional 2 million tulips in time to brighten loved ones' Valentine's Day.

Fresh Tulips USA, which opened in an 8-acre greenhouse in Stevensburg in 2004, recently purchased the 45-acre greenhouse complex off State Route 3 near the Birchwood power plant in King George County.

The company cleaned and improved the facility, which had lain vacant for five years, and geared up for production in mid-January. Its two locations will ship a total of 8 million red, pink and white hydroponically grown tulips for the Valentine's Day holiday period, which runs from the end of January through Feb. 14.

Tulips are the second-most- popular flower for Valentine's Day, right behind roses.

General Manager Coen Haakman said that the company had outgrown the greenhouse it leases in Stevensburg. Buying the King George greenhouse will allow the company to increase its tulip production by about 15 percent a year.

That's partly because it has room to expand in King George, where just 7 acres are currently being used. And partly because it will be able to raise tulips year-round in that air-conditioned facility. Tulips can only be grown in the Stevensburg greenhouse from the end of September to the end of May.

"We're trying to fill in the gap with air conditioning," Haakman said. "Tulips don't like temperatures above 75 degrees."

He's also using some of the additional space in King George to experiment with growing oriental lilies. Green shoots ranging in height from a few inches to a couple of feet already are rising from pots in the greenhouse.

"I can hear them growing," he joked during a tour by golf cart of the vast building.

Lilies take about 100 days to grow, compared to three weeks for tulips. Haakman hopes to have the first ones ready for sale a week before Easter. He's also going to try growing daffodils and hyacinths and hopes to have their cheery blooms ready for sale by December.


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TULIPS TRAVEL FAR IN TRIP FROM BULB TO BLOSSOM TO BUYER
BY CATHY JETT

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Tulips go from bulb to blossom in a matter of weeks at Fresh Tulips USA's greenhouses in Culpeper and King George counties.

The bulbs are shipped from parent company B&B Quality Bulbs' farms in Holland, France and Chile to the King George facility.

Their first stop is in the new cooling rooms, where they'll stay for 21/2 weeks. Workers will then inspect and toss any defective bulbs. Those that pass muster will be placed shoulder to shoulder in black plastic crates and watered.

"Tulips are basically self-sufficient," said general manager Coen Haakman. "We do little tweaks, but the bulb has enough nutrition for the plant."

Once the bulbs have sprouted roots and shoots, those in crates bearing yellow labels will be trucked to Fresh Tulip USA's greenhouse in Stevensburg where they'll finish growing in flats on the greenhouse's concrete floor. The rest will be placed in similar flats in the King George facility.

Workers will cut off the bulbs just before the tulip blossoms begin to unfurl, and send the stems to an assembly line. There, they will be gathered into bunches, wrapped according to buyers' specifications and sent to a storage room kept at 33 degrees.

"It basically puts them in a dormant stage again," Haakman said. "It's three to five days before they're shipped."

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407 cjett@freelancestar.com