Greenhouses full of fresh leaf vegetables
Gert van Waal is the owner of the company Blad Vers, which in Dutch means ‘fresh leaf’, in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands. He took over the company from his father eighteen years ago. ‘The company consists of greenhouses, each covering 1 to 1.5 hectares. Each greenhouse has its own product. The greenhouses have different locations. They’re quite far apart, so you need a car in order to get from one location to the other,’ says Gert.
Blad Vers cultivates frisée (also called curly endive), pak choi, cabbage lettuce, and cucumber. ‘We also used to cultivate purslane, a typical summer vegetable,’ says Gert. But it wasn’t very popular. This is why we stopped cultivating purslane last summer. We could, of course, start cultivating it again at any time if there’s sufficient demand.’
The cabbage lettuce and the pak choi grow all year round,’ says Gert.
‘Our crop cycle has a fixed pattern. We order seeds with the seed supplier. and the seeds go to the plant nursery, where the plants are raised. Once they are delivered to us, we put them in the soil. In the warm season, the pak choi and the cabbage lettuce are ready to be harvested after about five weeks. In winter, it takes about thirteen to fourteen weeks. To still gain sufficient produce, we plant more of them in winter. We only cultivate frisée in the spring and autumn. It’s too hot for frisée cultivation in summer, while in winter it’s too cold.’
Cucumbers in rockwool
The cucumber crop cycle is different,’ explains Gert.
‘Our cucumbers are placed on rockwool root mats. Rockwool is a type of glass wool. I place the root mats in the beginning of March. On top of each small block of rockwool is a cucumber plant, measuring about 30 centimetres in height. The plant grows upwards along a piece of string. After about four weeks, the first cucumbers can be harvested. From that moment onwards, the plant yields cucumbers every day and keeps growing. Around mid June, the plants stop producing and are spent. We then immediately start round two. This means we don’t have any cucumbers for four weeks. The second growing period lasts until about mid October, after which we produce no more cucumbers for the rest of the year.’
To get all the work done, Gert has staff all year round. ‘We have about six members of staff in winter, but in summer it can be up to over twenty. The staff are not my own, but placed via a recruitment agency. This is how I stay flexible.’
Taking care of the environment
Gert tries to take care of the environment as much as possible.
‘What we can grow organically, we do. We use insects to control insects and keep spraying to a minimum. We try to regulate the temperature in the greenhouses as precisely as possible. We don’t use more heating than necessary.’