Early-morning sunlight glistens down from a high canopy of giant redwoods; the ocean thrashes with a pleasant sort of discord, crashing powerfully against the rocky shoreline. The green is uncomparable. Moss covers nearly the entire road, and where it’s not green, wildflowers, deeply purple and shockingly yellow, emerge from beds of red needles along the highway.
It’s rare to get such a pleasant morning in Arcata, California. Stuck between the weather circuit along Cali coastline and the eternal rain up north, Arcata gets a unique climate. The viridian hills and emerald forests demonstrate that effortlessly. The area has a certain nonchalant character to it, like civilization and nature have a gracious respect for each other. It is humble, unassuming, and vibrantly beautiful. However, for those in the floral industry, Arcata is very special indeed. About two minutes off of the highway lies a single flower farm, capitalizing off of the conditional weather that’s so unique to the region, and making history because of it.
Sun Valley’s world famous farm lies just outside of the heart of Arcata. In front of the facility, the air still tastes salty, and the ocean can just barely be heard off the edge of your imagination. The office building is completely surrounded by flowerbeds enriched by rainbows of tulips that seem to smile at everyone that walks through the door. Cedar trees and blackberry bushes bursting with fresh fruit line the grounds, and a field of fresh quinoa, surprisingly still part of the Sun Valley project, is just visible in the distance.
Sun Valley is a highly accredited farm with a fantastic supply-and-demand rate, as well as ridiculously high quality product. They’re about as perfect as a farm can get: considerate of their customers, wanting to have the best flowers possible, and highly functional on such a large scale. Most notably though? Arcata’s Sun Valley is the only place in the WORLD that grows tulips year-round. And yes, that is a very, very exciting deal.
Tulips are springtime flowers. They bloom early in the year because that’s when conditions are at their best for them. They get the perfect amount of light, nutrients, and energy they need to survive and thrive. In the summer, the light changes to last more throughout the day, and different flowers bloom. Tulips simply can’t survive with this much sunlight.
Arcata matches their needs perfectly. The long rainy seasons, the delicate temperatures, all of these work in favor of the horticulturalists tirelessly working here. The system to implement this, though, is where things get really impressive.
There’s a surprising reminiscence to the abundant forests behind the facility walking into the greenhouses. A high ceiling of glass panes leaks trickles of light across leaves and greenery, illuminating their precious blooms. Some stems tower so high you wonder if they’re holding up the sky. Music plays on loudspeakers as employees move expertly through the lines of crops, tending to each and every one on a surprisingly individualistic basis.
And everywhere, crates upon crates upon CRATES of tulips in perfect lines.
At Sun Valley, using crates for growing is the norm, rather than planting in the ground. This enables soil control. The workers use a perfected soil recipe, specified for the tulips. From the beginning, tulips bulbs–specially ordered from the Dutch market–are planted into crates, each about 2 feet by 3 feet. To keep them fresh, once they are planted, they go to a massive freezer, where they will comfortably stay in hibernation until current tulips finish their growth cycle. Once new space is cleared out in the greenhouses, fresh crates with bulbs are removed by a worker and carried into the greenhouse. He places them on a palette at the end of a line of boxes that will hold up the crates from the ground. And, at the other end of the line, with another worker, is a giant contraption known as the Terra Machine.
The Terra Machine about quarters the time necessary for putting out fresh crates. It moves down the line of tulips, guided by a single worker. When he gets to the platform where his partner has placed the crates, it only takes about 30 seconds for him to load up them into the machine. When he pulls an opening in the machine over the platform, it picks up the crates in stacks, and then releases them down one-by-one in the appropriate position in the greenhouse.
Not only does this save countless hours of work, but it also assists in saving workers from strained backs and other physical injuries from long periods of bending down and picking up and replacing heavy crates. Keep in mind, in a single greenhouse, there’s thousands. Once they are placed correctly, the care is anything but basic. From intense research and development, Sun Valley managed to derive a rather brilliant system for their greenhouses.
Many of the qualities are the same as other farms. Regulated grow lights (more powerful than just about anything someone could use in their house) hang from overhead, programmed to set the perfect amount of light onto the bulbs day and night. Irrigation systems run through the fields of crates, also programmed for the ideal amount of water, and then recycles it to be used again. The thermostat is also perfectly tuned for tulip conditions. All of the controls for these systems, however, run back to a central computer in the office of the main horticulturalist. At any given time of the day, he can change all of these regulations with just the touch of a button, keeping it consistent across all of the greenhouses.
The years and years of studying and hard work paid off big time at Sun Valley. Instead of trying to overpower nature or be enslaved by it, the agriculture at this farm mingles proud horticultural traditions with a legacy of prolific innovation. Growing tulips is no longer so much a science now that they have perfected the system; instead, it has transcended into art.