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Visit to Glasshouse Tomato facility in Holland

This month Jon and his family were lucky enough to be invited over to "De Lier" in Holland to enjoy a tour of the Large-scale commercial Tomato Glasshouse facility owned...

This month Jon and his family were lucky enough to be invited over to "De Lier" in Holland to enjoy a tour of the Large-scale commercial Tomato Glasshouse facility owned and run by "Varenkamp de Zeeuw". Their glasshouse is 225m x 200m, giving them over 11 acres of growing space under glass.

Arto Van Aalst gave us a guided tour of the state-of-the-art facility and explained their process from start to finish. 

Their annual production process starts in January, when they sow their seeds into a coir based substrate with heat. The seedlings then progress into their hydroponic system out in the main glasshouse, where they enjoy a year-round 28 °C climate, after 80 days they can start harvesting, and each vine gives them at least one new truss of tomatoes every week right up until the end of November. They then spend December clearing out all of the vines and associated debris (which is composted off-site to further reduce waste) , ready for the next growing season the following January.

Varenkamp de Zeeuw have been in operation since 1979 and grow just one single variety "Sweet Elle" which are a mini-plum type tomato with an excellent flavour profile. It's a "snacking" tomato, which is excellent in salads, lunchboxes and also for sauces. Their vines grow to an impressive 18 metres long by the end of their season! The scale of the production and attention to production detail was truly impressive. 

 It was extremely interesting to hear about how they are licensed based on the strength of their sustainable practices. They had solar panels and storage batteries covering the vast majority of their electricity requirements.  To heat their glasshouses, they had participated in a community-led project that saw a borehole being drilled 2700m down to provide the whole area of Westland with access to a communal ground-source heat solution. This project alone gives them free heat for over 50% of the year without relying on any fossil-fuel inputs. They then utilise a state-of-the-art heat recovery system, combined with a huge 5 million litre water tank which saves them considerable reliance on imported gas. The heat during the colder months does come from imported natural gas, but the thermostatically controlled heating system keeps that import to an absolute minimum, opening and closing roof vents automatically to control the heat / humidity during daylight hours.

Arto explained further about how all the water (that isn't lost to evaporation or transpiration) that is used in the facility to water the vines is fully recirculated to minimise any additional water use / loss. Any top-up water required for irrigation is collected from the glasshouse rainwater guttering system. They deploy thousands of predatory insects for biological control of aphids and other troublesome insects as well as buying in swarms of bumble bees, used to enable pollination.

A huge thank you to Arto Van Aalst and his team for taking time out from their busy schedule to give us a tour and explain the intricacies of their operation and let us taste their tasty crop! We have certainly come away with further enthusiasm and knowledge to apply to our own small operation here in Yorkshire.

pollinating bumble bees


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