Underwear challenge

An eye-opener, is what I would call my recent conversation with our car dealer Ed. Just to calm everyone’s nerves: Ed is a good one, I know car dealerships have a bit of a reputation with most people, but Ed is a good man. Always honest and straightforward, and physically as large as the door to his garage. My daughter Pien had a car that might have been smaller than him. He probably could lift it with one hand if he tried. 

So what was my eye-opener, then? Everyone who knows Ed might be able to guess. He jump-started my revelation when I was talking to him about a new car for Pien. He started explaining everything that was wrong with her current car, combining it with imperfections my own van was having. He’s always using a lot of words I don’t understand, so he gives me a good impression of what other people hear when I talk to them about flower bulbs. 

I am usually concerned that I might come off as incomprehensible when people just let me talk freely. I probably use some words that even all flower bulb growers aren’t even familiar with, and I just always assume that people probably will magically understand.

I can imagine that my newsletters, for example, might give you the same feeling Ed always gives me on the phone. Will I do anything with that knowledge in the year 2024? Of course not. Everyone has their area of expertise, and sometimes we all just nod along to a fellow old man who’s enthusiastically telling us about his hobbies just to be nice. It’s what all successfully socialized adults do, I’d say. Thank you in advance.

If I ever do cause you so much confusion that you simply cannot let it go, you can always send an email to our company. If it’s flower-bulb related, someone from our team, or myself, will be able to help you make your garden a success and translate my advice into normal language. One time I was talking about how the first symptoms of an illness in Tulips can be found in its butt. Someone asked what part of the tulip bulb was supposed to be its butt, as it had no extremities to orient the anatomy. I thought that one was obvious: it’s bottom.

So here’s how the Tulip Anatomy is going to be steering us into the serious part of this week’s blog: the Underwear Challenge. I was reminded of this challenge when I was attending an event about mechanics and modernisation in agriculture this week.


I saw this enormous machine displayed at the event. It’s supposed to rinse bulbs that have come off the land. I figured that would be a nice thing to tell my readers: specialized washing machines for flower bulb growers! (And not the one some of my friend’s wives insist on: a whole extra normal washing machine in the garage because they’re not washing their nice dresses and blouses in the same sandy machine the overalls their husbands wear go into.) That’s when I was reminded of the Underwear Challenge.

This eccentric-sounding challenge began a long time ago. It was made up by a few very smart growers from the Greenpoort flower bulb area, where they try their best to farm their product as environmentally responsible as possible. One of the most popular slogans in the Dutch biological flower bulb world is “Good Bulbs Start With Good Soil”. What these guys came up with was the following: If you’re wearing cotton underwear and you’re planning tulips, you take the underwear off and put it in the soil with your flower bulbs. Not for the bulbs’ personal enjoyment or anything, don’t know why you would think of that, but this allows you to gain a lot of information on your soil. When the tulips have finished growing, you look for your underwear again. If it’s almost fully intact and can be worn again after just one hot cycle in the washing machine, it’s not looking good. But, if your cotton pants have partly dissolved, been eaten by whatever lives in the ground, and can never be used again, you can be assured that your soil is very healthy indeed. It means lots of life is present in the soil you’re using, and that’s what you want for the environment and your bulbs.

So, to see how healthy the soil is in different areas, these growers have invented the Underwear Challenge, where growers plant cotton underwear alongside their flower bulbs and share the results with other participants. It can be very illuminating if it turns out the soil doesn’t have nearly as much life as expected, especially if maybe the harvest had been bad and the grower was unsure of the reasons why. On the other end of the spectrum, it may also reassure growers that their bulbs have a healthy home. 

This is my piece of advice for this week, especially for the people who have no clue about the state of their garden soil. Whether you’re planting your Dahlias this spring or planting new Tulips next Autumn, you can add your pants to the garden and see how your garden is doing on soil activity in just about half a year!

See you next week. 

Kind regards, 

Carlos van der Veek