30 million tulips in Istanbul, 70 million in Konya

It’s tulip time in Istanbul. From Silivri all the way to Tuzla, millions of tulips in a broad range of colors have burst open. Parks such as Emirgan, Goztepe and Gulhane are overflowing with visitors wanting to delight in the beautiful vistas of colorful beds of tulips.

The greater Istanbul Municipality oversaw the planting of 211 different kinds of tulip — about 20 million tulips — this season. When you add in the 10 million tulips planted by local city municipalities, this means that Istanbul has truly been transformed into a tulip panorama.

The tulips that decorate Istanbul each year come from producers as far afield as Konya’s Cumra district and Silivri’s Catalca. The biggest producer of tulips in Turkey is Asya Lale, which began its annual “leaf-breaking” this month in its 400-acre field with members of the media present. In Cumra, with fields boasting around 70 million tulips, the tulip leaves have also been broken off and collected — they are used to make food dyes (and even textile dyes). While the leaves are saved for food dyes, the bulbs left in the ground are pulled out in June and sent to the Istanbul Municipality, large shopping markets and abroad. As for the food dyes to be manufactured from the tulip leaves, they will be on shop shelves by the end of the year.

Tulips are one of Istanbul’s most important symbols. Opening from the beginning of April, these colorful tulips are one of the most stunning natural attractions the city has to offer during spring. A full 25 million of the tulips blooming throughout Istanbul have come from the Asya Lale company in Cumra.

The story behind how the CEO of Asya Lale, Ali Yetgin, began working with tulips is interesting. Fifteen years ago, on a trip to Holland to purchase a piece of equipment, Yetgin returned instead with tulip bulbs. Yetgin explains: “We were producing Konya produce, things like beets and potatoes. We looked into whether we might produce tulips, and we decided we could do it here. During the first years we did this, we had lots of trouble, since no one really knew what tulips were.

“We weren’t able to sell everything we were producing. Just as we had decided to stop growing tulips, the Istanbul Municipality began planting tulips. They were importing them from abroad, but when they found out we were growing them, they began to buy from us.”

Yetgin, who notes that his company also began exporting tulips, says: “We now even export to Holland. We sent two TIR trucks of tulips this year as a trial. We sent tulips that are already produced there, but which are so in demand that they need more, as well as hyacinths. We also have customers from places like Azerbaijan and Iran. Syria was also a big customer of ours, but when the war broke out, we lost them. Prior to the fighting in Syria, we were sending 2 million tulips a year there.”

Yetgin notes that although his company began its tulip production on fields that encompassed 40 acres, they are now some 400 acres in size. He says: “Our only customers used to be various municipalities, but now we have large markets as well as 10,000 sales points. This year we produced 50 million tulips. We sold 25 million to Istanbul, and the rest to a variety of customers.”

Yetgin, who says that tulip production numbers are going up each year, notes that his company is expecting to reap 50 million tulip bulbs from the soil this year. He indicates that it is difficult labor, saying “During the entire production period, some 7-8,000 people work. Now we have started the leaf-breaking period of production. The colored parts of the tulips are broken off. The bulbs, with their ‘heads’ broken off, will remain in the ground until June 15. Then they will be uprooted and brought to cold storage facilities. Then they will be cleaned, separated according to size, and packaged. In October and November, they will be sent to Istanbul for planting. They will then bloom in the spring, and due to our preparation work, their sizes and blooms will be larger. As for the broken-off ‘heads,’ both food and textile dyes are made from these.”

Yetgin says that Asya Lale’s own food dye facilities, where the tulip leaves are used to make food dyes, are almost completed.

He also explains that tulips pass through 12 different stages on their journey to becoming bulbs. He says: “We were surprised when my father started producing tulips. Of course, for some three to four years we did lose money. Until 2004 we were unable to sell what we were producing. It was when the Istanbul Municipality started looking for tulip producers that they found us. Now, thanks to the municipality planting so many tulips, an entire sector has been born. A culture has been created. These tulips have not only brought tulips and color to Istanbul, but in fact tulips to all of Turkey.”

7,000 people work to produce tulips

Asya Lale produces about 40 million tulips a year, with 7,000 people working in the various stages of tulip production. The workers involved in the tulip-leaf-breaking stage are very happy with their work. One worker, Tugce Hepsucu, who comes in from a nearby village, says she has been involved in this work for the past three years. Noting that she loves tulips, she says: “It is a bit tiring, but I forget that I’m tired when I look at all this beauty. I love working with tulips.” As for mother of two Nagihan Koc, she says she has been working at this job for seven months, explaining: “Actually, I am a food technician, but when I was unemployed, I decided to work in the tulip sector. Now we are breaking off the leaves of the tulips, so the bulbs will be healthier. Throughout winter, we plant tulip bulbs in planters. After the leaf-breaking stage is over, we will dig up the bulbs. It is really wonderful working with tulips.”