30,000 lettuce plants per week
VOF van Gool & Rombouts is located in the North Brabant town of Oud Gastel. ‘Van Gool is my last name, Rombouts is my wife’s. Hence the farm’s name,’ explains Johan.
‘We bought this farm together two years ago. Before we bought it, this was a strawberry farm, but that wasn’t exactly our cup of tea. We had been growing lettuce for years at our previous location, so we wanted to continue that. The difference is that we now cultivate our lettuce in greenhouses, rather than in the open. The greenhouses prolong the growing season. When we bought this location, there was one greenhouse, 12,000 square metres in size. We then built an additional greenhouse covering 18,000 square metres. We’ve more than doubled the size of the farm.’
Johan cultivates jumbo lettuce, which has relatively big heads. He also cultivates pak choi and endive.
‘The lettuce grows year-round,’ says Johan. ‘Each week, we plant about 30,000 lettuce plants mechanically. In summer, the lettuce can be harvested after about five weeks; in winter this takes three months. But the higher quantities we grow in winter still provide us with a weekly harvest. We harvest everything manually. Immediately after cutting, we put the lettuce in bags. The lettuce is packaged as a ready-to-eat product when it goes to our customers. ‘
Chinese cabbage and endive: a short growing season
Besides jumbo lettuce, Johan cultivates Chinese cabbage and endive. ‘Our greenhouses are divided in eight compartments.
In both greenhouses we reserve several compartments for Chinese cabbage and endive,’ Johan explains. ‘The Chinese cabbage and endive can only be cultivated during the first months of the year. After that period, the greenhouses become too warm. We start planting Chinese cabbage on 20 January for three consecutive weeks. We harvest the vegetables from early April until late April. Endive is harvested a bit later: there are three harvests from late February until usually 8 March. The harvest starts from around 20 April and ends in the course of May, which is when our growing season for these products also comes to an end. Whoever wants Chinese cabbage or endive after that can get it from companies that also cultivate these crops in the open.’
Johan didn’t take any special environmental measures, but he does spray his crops very carefully.
‘The rules are becoming increasingly strict, so we spray less and less. Despite that, I still manage to control pests effectively. Sticking to the rules is easy, because Eurofins Agro pays us regular visits: up to eight times a year. So far, I’ve been approved every single year.’
We do everything ourselves
Johan and his wife don’t employ any staff. ‘The way our farm is organized at this point, we can do everything ourselves.
The machines help with the planting, and the harvesting we do manually. But we’ve been doing it for such a long time that we’re handy and quick at it. For the time being everything is going fine and we don’t feel the need for change.