Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Blooming Beautiful! – Morning at the Tulip Farm


Table Cape is always lovely with its lighthouse and its stunning views over Bass Straight and the North West Coast, but its even more spectacular at this time of year because the tulips are in bloom. Although the Annual Tulip Festival has been cancelled for 2020, I've heard that people are still coming to the Tulip Farm in droves, even without the usual interstate and overseas tourists. I'm here early as soon as it opens and manage to catch owner, David Roberts -Thomson, for a brief chat before the crowds come.


Early in the morning at the Table Cape Tulip Farm

 

Fields of colour wherever you look

 

David and several generations of his family have been farming here for over a century and they have been growing bulbs - mostly tulips but also Liliums and Dutch irises, for the past forty years. They grow about one hundred different varieties of tulips and sometimes, especially during the GFC, they have even exported tulips back to Holland. Although the tulips are spectacular, there are other interesting things happening here which are not necessarily visible to the naked eye. 

 

 

There are many different varieties too - ruffled ones, pointed petalled ones, as well as more traditional shapes


More than a pretty face

 

 If old school farming was about extracting as much as possible from the soil - “conquering nature” as it were, David and his family are about restoring, nourishing and protecting the soil so that it will yield for many generations to come. “The principles are simple,” says David. “Firstly, we disturb the soil as little as possible. There is no tillage, no ploughing and no overgrazing and we use very few chemicals. Secondly, we use cover crops to keep a living root in the soil. We don’t leave it fallow.” “The third thing is to keep the soil covered. We use mulch to keep the soil temperature down, especially in summer. That’s its ‘armour.’  After about 27oC the soil bacteria don’t work.  The fourth principle is to maintain diversity by rotating the crops we use. For example, we alternate between grasses, broadleaves, brassicas and legumes and in future it will include livestock too.”

 

It's a romantic setting for Sachini and Chirath, originally from Sri Lanka but who now live and work in Hobart

 Is it like ‘Regenerative Agriculture’? I ask.  This is a form of farm management which is becoming popular especially among cattle ranchers in the USA, though it has also caught on in other parts of the world.

“It is in the sense that it’s about improving soil health and increasing biodiversity," says David, “We experiment with all kinds of  ideas to see what works best here.  The whole diversification into tulips is part of that. It’s still a work in progress,” he smiles.  “More an ideal I’m working towards.” However, he’s already seeing benefits like better soil structure, more earthworms and more resilience. He also needs much less in the way of inputs. He uses fewer pesticides, no fungicides and no more broad spectrum insecticides such as the neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in the demise of pollinators such as bees, but also birds and even earthworms.  

 

The lighthouse presides over all

 

It’s good to hear a down -to -earth, regular farmer talking about such things. His methods are no longer ‘alternative’ or ‘fringe” but cutting edge and I'm hoping that this will encourage other farmers to give them a try.  As we 're talking, the first busload of visitors arrives and two of the three parking areas are  already full.  I  ask him how he feels about so many people wandering all over his farm. He pauses for a moment.

 

One of the fabulous floral displays inside. Not this one so much, but many  remind me of those Dutch oil paintings 

Irises and Tulips

“Well,” he says, we had people coming here anyway and I was at a crossroad. I was going to have to build more toilets so I thought I may as well make it into a business.” That seems to be going well too. In addition to the glorious floral display outside, the Two Lips Café and the Gallery are full of stunning arrangements as well. There's a gift shop at reception - all things floral or tulip -related, and David also sells bulbs and has a thriving mail order business. This makes it possibly the largest publicly accessible tulip farm in the Southern Hemisphere. Tulip season runs from around mid -September to the last week in October.


A glimpse inside the Café




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