The awareness and demand for healthier culinary ingredients has paved the way for greenhouse niche products. Aart-Jan and Mirjam Bil, who own the Dutch firm "De Schorreblomme" have been growing salicornia outside for 5 years, and have recently decided to begin growing it in greenhouses, as the demand for salicornia and sea lavender is increasing. Aart-Jan Bil hopes to extend cultivation by a few weeks by growing the product in a cold greenhouse. This new structure is a second-hand structure from Debets Schalke.
Greenhouse builder Debets Schalke came with a special approach for this project. "Last year we saw an increase in greenhouse construction projects for the niche markets in the Netherlands. The greenhouse construction projects for such a crop have the following characteristics: small areas and the use of used materials or a combination of new and used. The return on investment is accelerated this way," says Jan Schalke from Debets Schalke. "Demand for niche products, like herbs, watercress and seaweed is increasing. Every project is different, just as the wishes and priorities are different. A flexible and customer-oriented approach is essential in this market, "The projects in this sector are often experimental and of course you want them to be a success for everyone involved," says Jan Schalke.
Extending the season
"We can extend the season with this investment," says Aart-Jan. The second-hand greenhouse that was built by Debets Schalke greenhouse construction company is 4.00 meters high and has a 3-pronged ventilation system, "The conversation I had with Jan Schalke gave me enough reason to continue working with the company. By using new and used materials the greenhouse was ready quite quickly. On top of that, the price was good. The decisive factor for us was the conversation we had with our insurance company who indicated that Debets Schalke was a reliable partner." The new 2,000 square meter greenhouse was put to use in early August.
Salicornia and sea lavender in the Netherlands
Salicornia and sea lavender are the best known types of salty vegetables. Salicornia is one of the most popularly used salty vegetables in culinary seafood dishes. It can be eaten raw, like a salad, or smothered in butter. The crunchy and slightly salty salicornia and the sweet spinach-like sea lavender have become a luxurious delicacy for specialized fish restaurants. Salicornia grows in the wild in the Netherlands in Zeeland and the Wadden Sea. It is a seasonal product that is available between May and August. Supply is supplemented with imports from France. Salicornia is cut during harvest and is thereafter tenable for a maximum of 4-7 days.
Sea lavender called 'Schorreblomme' in Zeeland, the Netherlands
In Zeeland sea lavender is also called 'Schorreblomme', this is the name of Aart-Jan and Mirjam Bil's company. The salty sea lavender and salicornia, which normally can be found in salty environments like the edges of dikes, marshes and ditches, have now been growing on the Bil's land for six years. 90% of what they grow is salicornia, and the other 10% is sea lavender. The volume price per kg for salicornia is better than for sea lavender. In Schouwen-Duivenland Aart-Jan is the only person who grows the salty delights, "There are about 7 or 8 salicornia growers in the Netherlands. Most of the growers are located in the Southwest. Salicornia and sea lavender used to be food for poor people. With the rise of horticulture and the wide variety of fresh vegetables, salicornia and sea lavender disappeared from the menus. Nowadays you need a permit to cut salicornia in the wild because it is a protected plant. A good price is also paid for this niche product," says Aart-Jan Bil. Growing salicornia and sea lavender is a labor-intensive process, "We sell the product to individuals, restaurants and local supermarkets on the island, and a part of the production is for commerce. To distinguish ourselves we follow a few principles: quality, service, reliability and specialty," says Aart-Jan Bil.
A large part of the import comes from France. Their harvesting period corresponds with the Netherlands. Outside the season salicornia is imported from Israel, Mexico and Portugal, "We expanded our acreage last season so we could meet the growing demand. Preparations are already underway for the next season, which begins in April. We are hoping to exceed our production because salicnoria will also be grown in the greenhouse. We have more to offer next season. In this way we will be able to serve even more customers. The demand is there. Is it not wonderful that we can supply this product from our own land?" says Aart-Jan proudly.