Is the greenhouse watermelon here to stay? “Who knows?” Producer Lynn Vermeiren and Tomeco’s brand manager Tom Verdonck mysteriously laugh.
Since week 24, they have been harvesting mini watermelons every week in Meer’s greenhouse. And in Loenhout, the plants of a new harvest, planted on July 7, are ready in the gutter on Friday afternoon, July 9. Tomato growers have enthusiastically started their journey of discovery.
Lynn Vermeiren and Tom Verdonck in the greenhouse with watermelon, but also cucumber and tomato
Earlier in the afternoon, Tom had already summed up the many benefits of the special crop on the high wire, but was interrupted by Lynn. âDon’t be too enthusiastic otherwise everyone will want to start cultivating them,â she said with a wink. But more seriously: âThere are still a lot of new things and even if we only cultivate a few rows, the cultivation takes a lot of work. Soon after, even more benefits. âThe skin is so smooth and even. It’s so beautiful !”
Smooth skin is highly appreciated
Tests in three greenhouses
This season, VW Maxburg, along with fellow tomato grower De Bakker Westland, is one of two growers to try greenhouse cultivation of mini watermelons. The growers were approached by breeding company BASF Vegetable Seeds to see if they wanted to test a variety specially suited for greenhouse cultivation.
In Loenhout, at the VW Tuinderijen site, the new watermelon seedlings were planted in a greenhouse with tomatoes in week 27. The aim here is to continue the cultivation as long as possible with the help of a hybrid lighting system.
They were happy to try this at Meer. The result is that in addition to the usual tomato specialties, and since this season also three hectares of cucumber, there are a few rows of watermelons in the greenhouse. And not only in Meer, but also in Loenhout at VW Tuinderijen, while Hortipower, a third producer from Tomeco, also passes the test.
Young watermelon plants grow on rock wool in a greenhouse oriented towards tomatoes, not specifically melons.
Under the lights
The current harvest in Meer is not the first watermelon harvest for the growers. From February to mid-June, tests were carried out with a culture under light. Lynn: âThe idea was to see if, with the use of SON-T, there was enough light in February for the melons, which like a lot of light. It didn’t quite work. weren’t producing fifty melons a week. The production has been disappointing. “
To emphasize the local origin of the watermelon, the fruit has a biodegradable sticker with the Belgian flag on it
In the current second harvest, producers have already improved their control. Each week various trading companies buy the watermelons from controlled atmosphere storage in Tomeco via CoÃ¶peratie Hoogstraten. Tom: âWe are now very busy researching sales for this new product. In doing so, we consciously focus on the local market. It is a strength, because we can avoid transport from the South.
Tomeco offers watermelon in three segments. Producers have not (yet) noticed a difference in demand between segments. 700-1100 grams is premium.
Tomeco offers Tomelon, the brand name they gave to watermelon, in three segments: 500-700 grams, 700-1100 grams and 1100-1500 grams. Why a fruit gets bigger and heavier remains a mystery to growers. What is certain is that with a brix of 9.5 fruits of all sizes are on par with their southern competitors, while the long shelf life is remarkable. Tom: “Our Tomelon will easily hold two weeks at room temperature and a little longer in the fridge.”
Because the crop is new and it is difficult to estimate maturity, growers label the fruit with color codes after fruit set. Red means “harvest this week”. The labels also have numbers on them, to keep track of the amount of melons in the greenhouse.
Constitution of a file
After the first positive reactions from trading companies and consumers, the producers hope to generate many more reactions in the near future. The step towards the supermarket has not (yet) been taken. Tom: âAt first, we wrote to local independent supermarkets to personally deliver the first shipments of melons, as a little bonus. At the same time, fruit and vegetable specialists were also contacted. However, they immediately took most of the harvest. , so things turned out slightly differently than expected. “
They don’t regret it. In fact, Tom is very happy with the way things are going now. âWe might not be able to deliver the melons ourselves, but in terms of building a case with comments, the way things are going now may count for something. With feedback from a larger audience than we initially hoped for, we can make a more informed decision to grow and approach retail.
Once the plant grows on the wire, ripe melons can be found from the bottom to the top of the crop.
But until then, it’s about learning and discovering new things. Lynn: âWe are aiming for stable weekly delivery to the customers we currently have. With the irregular setting of the plant, this is quite a challenge. Especially when the plant grows on the wire, side shoots and therefore fruits appear everywhere. This makes the harvest difficult. “
Growers still marvel every day at the new crop in the greenhouse.
But once on the rail cart between factories, the difficulties are quickly forgotten. And there is a great temptation to cut such a convenient watermelon immediately after harvest and eat it. âAt this size it’s easy to eat the whole fruit at once so there’s no waste. Another plus,â Tom concludes with a laugh.
On the VW Tuinderijen site, the first very small melons were already visible in the young plants. It can still happen that the plant aborts the berries.
Labeled red means: harvest this week.
In a greenhouse, cucumber, watermelon and tomato.
The predatory mite Swirskii is introduced into the cultivation of watermelons.
Just like the predatory mite Montdorensis. Lynn knows that the predatory mite Montdorensis is used to control whiteflies, which is very common in cucumbers.
Miraculously, the harvest retains the heavy fruits well. Of course you can throw them everywhere …
… as long as you can catch it again!