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Bart Pynnebrouck and Martine Perneel from Oostnieuwkerke spill the beans
"Every bean grower has his own working method"
It is still early when we drive through the misty fields to Bart Pynnebrouck’s greenhouses. Five pickers are already busy with over-picking bush beans. Slowly they literally creep in between the beans. A job that requires firm knees and concentration, because the pickers first collect them in their hand and then place them nicely in rows in the boxes.
Bart: "My grandfather, my mother's father, started here with a diverse company with chickens, pigs and crops. When my father came to work here, he didn’t like these animals. According to him, horticulture was the future and he built the first greenhouses in which he cultivated tomatoes, lettuce and beans. In the past everyone had several crops, now this is more specialized. In addition to greenhouse beans he also had open field beans, something that some still do have, but only for the industrial processing companies: frozen and canned.
I also wanted to go into horticulture and when I was twenty years old I joined the company and (laughing) immediately added a greenhouse. In 1998 I took over the company and when I married Martine in 2000 she also joined the company. Tomatoes are our main crop, bush beans are a nice addition."
Bart: "We are 'over-picking' which means that all the beans that already meet the standard 'double extra very fine' are picked, while the others stay on the plant until next week, then we pull out the plants. Every bean grower has his own way of working. I plant them wide enough so that we can easily can get in between for the over-pick. But most of them do not do that and immediately pull them out. That is easier because you're doing the picking standing up. Now we are in the middle of the season and that means intensive labor for about 4 weeks. A good picker manages 6 kg per hour, in our case 2 boxes of 3 kg. Then they are ready to be directly taken to the auction. The small beans are already kept separate during picking.
We sow ourselves in pressed cubes with seed from the specialized wholesaler. I always put 3 seeds in a block, so I am sure of 2 bushes. We put the seedlings in the germination cells for about 7 days until they appear. Next they go for 7 days in the warm tomato greenhouses and only then do we plant them in the bean greenhouses. We do this on raised beds so that they stay nicely upright and the excess water can drain easily. The first plants are planted around March 14th and depending on the weather we start picking by mid-May so that we can auction the beans first.
Bean growing is a very ecological cultivation. Beans thrive on lean soil, they feed on the nitrogen from the air. When you pull the plants out there sometimes have Rhizobium root nodules, actually the nutritional reserve of the plant. Beans also do not suffer from bugs - so there is no need to spray - and they need little water."
From the field to the auction
We have moved on to a plastic greenhouse, the last greenhouse where Bart, as the 3 permanent greenhouses are almost picked, sows the last beans directly into the ground. Bart: "Because I'm aiming at having the earliest beans, we already stop in July and we concentrate on the tomatoes. If the summer price of beans would be better, I would definitely continue longer. The beans go to the auction and then to the shops in the 3kg boxes. Alternatively you can also pack them in boxes of 200 grams, which I find even more appealing. That way people can’t mess with them so that they keep looking good which improves the sales. Beans must be sold in very fresh condition; because they need at least 12° C, they actually cannot be stored. Limp beans are old beans."
Bart: "My daughters aged 16 and 13 have no interest in horticulture (laughing), they do not even help out. Nor would I recommend it to them, you never are ready, it is difficult to leave for 4 days." Does he regret his choice? Bart: "Not at all, I would definitely start in horticulture again. Only now there are a lot more rules than before. And as far as the beans are concerned: I found them delicious as a child, but the Kenyan and recently also the Moroccan and Egyptian beans are so cheap ... (sigh). People look at the price, not at the quality and whether they come from here, with a small footprint. That’s a shame.
Publication date: 6/29/2018
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