Edible flowers under LED lighting at Piet van Vugt: "The customer asks for the same product all year round, so that is what we started to grow"
With the holidays approaching, it is also party time in the greenhouse at Van Vugt Kruiden. Yellow, purple and white pansies look as if spring has already sprung. And that is exactly what Piet van Vugt wants. "With the installation of the right LED lights, we can now supply high quality edible flowers to our customers all year round."
Small, growing market
"The pansies are still the most popular," Piet says as he walks through the colourful greenhouse in Ridderkerk. "Here are snapdragons, these are fuchsias. All edible. Begonias go there, as do carnations." Since he started growing edible flowers, almost twenty years ago now, he has gained a lot of knowledge of the product. Both of the cultivation, and of the market. "In herbs, we have always responded to the demand of the customer and in edible flowers, that is just as important," Piet says. "It is still a very small product, although the market has been growing for years."
In response to that growing demand, Van Vugt Kruiden built a full-electric new greenhouse in Ridderkerk three years ago, fully equipped for the year-round cultivation of edible flowers. "Importing product from far away always brings risks with it and a big advantage of growing locally is that we can respond directly to the market," Piet believes. "In edible flowers, we often have to deal with last-minute orders."
Within Europe, Van Vugt Kruiden handles sales itself, in cooperation with logistics partners. The Netherlands is an important market and the Germans also appreciate the flowers. Outside Europe, customers are supplied with edible flowers by exporters. They can be found as far away as Dubai.
Same product year-round
The customer's wishes were also central to the realisation of the new greenhouse. There are many different segments, so that many different flowers can be grown. In pots, gutters and in the open field. "The customer demands the same product all year round, grown as sustainably as possible. So that is what we set out to achieve," Piet tells us. That means growing without gas: the greenhouse, demo area and offices are heated by 3,500 solar panels in combination with the residual heat from the cooling cells. Double screens keep as much light and energy inside as possible, and ground and hoist heaters provide heat in the right places.
COVID, however, threw a spanner in the works: the market for edible flowers collapsed completely when the catering industry closed down. Again driven by demand, Piet decided to grow herbs in the new greenhouse. Meanwhile, the market has picked up considerably and he is gradually filling the greenhouse with edible flowers again.
Now an extra dimension has been added. Grow lights have been installed in the greenhouse. These make it possible to deliver the same quality all year round. "You would actually like it to be the middle of June in terms of light levels in the greenhouse. Just in terms of light levels, that is; the temperature can be a lot lower for the best flower formation." Partly due to the low energy consumption of LED lamps, the choice fell on the CoolStack® MAX lamps from Mechatronix. "Together with this supplier, the ideal light recipe was determined. This took place partly in our own research and demo room, where special luminaires with controllable spectra were used to find out what works best for the edible flowers. The LED lamps with this spectrum are now installed lattice by lattice. The amount of light and the exposure time can be adjusted."
"Apart from the fact that we can now grow flowers year-round, we also see that the quality is better," says Piet. "The growing cycle is shorter, so you harvest from younger plants. That benefits the quality of the flowers." And that is ultimately what it is all about for him. "All the technology here is in service of the plants and in service of the customer. If you deliver 100% quality every day, the customers will eventually know where to find you."
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