Three greenhouses: bee hives of activity
Martens-Goos (M.T.S.), a farm in North Brabant started out in 1970 as a small farm on an area of 2,000 square metres.
Coen Martens, the current owner, entered into a professional partnership with his father in 1986. Through the years, the farm has grown to 2.5 hectares of greenhouses. Three of the greenhouses host crops of poly lettuce (small heads) and cucumber. In summer there are strawberries, too. Coen is enthusiastic about the way his farm is thriving.
Forty cucumbers per plant
The two crops in our greenhouses are a good combination. The cucumber crop cycle runs from February until October, whereas the lettuce crop cycle runs from October until February.
Both crops require an entirely different approach in terms of cultivation. First, I will tell you about how we cultivate cucumbers. Rather than directly in the soil, cucumbers grow on substrate mats. The plants are supplied to us in pots, which we put on the mats. The roots grow into the mat, which enables us to very precisely control their nutrition. Every cucumber plant receives nutrients though its own trickler. A cucumber plant grows upwards along a piece of string and can grow up to five centimetres a day. In order to make sure the growth process goes as it should, the pots have to be turned three times weekly. We call this ‘turning and pruning’. Five weeks later, they are ready to be harvested. Until 20 June, we harvest about forty cucumbers per plant. The plants are then cleared, and the greenhouses are prepared for the second crop cycle. This process lasts until early October, at which point the greenhouses are entirely cleared. The used substrate mats are recycled and made into bricks. We always start a new season on new mats.’
Phases of planting and harvesting
After the greenhouses are cleared, the lettuce plants go into the soil,’ says Coen. This is done phases; every two to three days, we plant twenty to twenty-five thousand plants.
The harvest starts around 5 December. You have to know exactly when to harvest which crops. We have a formula for this: a day’s difference in planting is a week’s difference in harvesting during the winter. The last harvest is in February. We then prepare the greenhouse for the cucumbers again. We run the cycle of cucumbers, clearing, lettuce, clearing, simultaneously in all three of our greenhouses.’
Strawberries on stands
In summer we also cultivate strawberries,’ says Coen. These are placed on 1.5-metre-high platforms in huge pots of soil.
Strawberries, like lettuce, are planted and harvested in phases. The first plants are put into the soil at the end of May and can be harvested from mid July until the end of October.
The work at M.T.S. is intense, and staff are needed throughout the entire year.
‘I’ve been employing Romanian and Polish staff for years,’ says Coen. Three of them have a fixed contract and are here throughout the year. During the peak season, I issue temporary contracts and the size of my staff may go up to twenty. Because these seasonal workers have to stay somewhere, I made sleeping arrangements for them. About five years ago, I converted two sheds into apartment buildings. My employees can live here whilst they have a contract. They enjoy working here. Our staff turnover is low, and most employees return every year. This makes my job easier, too, because I don’t have to explain the same things over and over again.’