Eight thousand heads of fresh lettuce every week
Horticulture has always been part of Gert Jan Boon’s life.
‘My grandfather started here, in ’s-Gravenzande, in the 1930s. My father learned the trade from him, and I was also raised with it. When I was sixteen, I already did a lot of work here. Ten years later, I knew how to run the place. My brother joined after a while, and we now do the work together. My sons also help me when needed, although I wonder whether they actually want to take over the company. It’s really a job that you have to like. I don’t yet see in them the enthusiasm that I had when I was their age.’
Gert Jan continues, ‘Our most important product is what we call “thick lettuce,” which is called “jumbo lettuce” by most traders.
Some people call it “Belgian lettuce,” because this type of thick lettuce grows predominantly in Belgium. We cultivate the lettuce all year round. We plant a section of lettuce every week, and every week we also harvest a section. This comes down to an average of eight thousand heads of lettuce per week. My brother and I plant and harvest manually. After harvesting, the heads are boxed in the shed and collected on the same day. This quick turnaround time is necessary because lettuce spoils quickly and is much tastier when it’s fresh!’
The growing period of the lettuce depends on the season.
Gert Jan says, ‘In summer, we can harvest the lettuce after five weeks; in winter, the growing period can last up to four months. To ensure we have a regular supply of produce, we work according to a harvesting schedule. We have lots of produce in summer because the plants grow more quickly at this time. But we need to make sure we don’t produce too much and overshoot demand. We can’t store the lettuce, and it needs to be fresh when it leaves us! This is why we plant less lettuce during the warm season, but plant extra in September and October. Because of the longer growth period, we need to have enough supply to last us through the winter. ‘
Steam the soil
‘Because we plant less during the summer, we use that time to steam the soil.
We then use a smaller section for lettuce cultivation, which leaves us with some free soil. This soil is then turned over well, after which it is covered with tarpaulin. A large steam boiler releases dry steam of about 150°C under the tarpaulin. The tarpaulin inflates and the soil is heated. At a depth of half a meter, the temperature can still get up to 50°C. The heat destroys weed seeds and diseases. This is how we keep the soil nourished – the lettuce has to like the soil to keep growing in it. In June, July, and August, we steam the entire soil surface in stages. That is enough to last us through the winter,’ explains Gert Jan.