"Look, you can see it," grower Ton Groot points out, pulling a strawberry plant out of its pot. "It's got roots throughout. The substrate seems to be a bit coarser than the cocopeat we worked with before: this product also has a very even quality. It drains easily, and doesn't become too wet to quickly."
Groot cultivates strawberries in Hoogwoud, in the north of the Netherlands. With his brother, he grows on 1.5 hectares of gutters and in 1,500 sqm. of greenhouse.
Since this year, they've been working with Botanicoir cocopeat disks. Before, he used to work with loose cocopeat substrate.
"The company isn't big enough for a potting machine, so when we started planting, the warehouse was full of cocopeat, and the whole team was wheeling, filling and inserting. Now we just put in a disk while walking past. That's a lot better."
For him, the ease of planting was the main reason to start with the Botanicoir disks. "From the start, the crop has developed well, and it's still looking very green and healthy."
In the production of the Botanicoir disks, extra attention is given to the uniformity of the substrate. By selecting the cocopeat particles by growth, the composition of the buckets is very consistent. The top of the disk has a pre-drilled hole, so the drip irrigation can be inserted directly into the disk.
The Botanicoir cocopeat is popular in the British market, and the cocopeat disks and slabs sell well among British growers. Two years ago, Hans Bakker was de first Dutch grower to start using them. At a trade show, he was told how easy it is to plant using the disks, and now he's got the plants in the same cocopeat for the second season.
"Next year we're going for new disks again," Bakker says. "Two years is really the maximum for the substrate, although they're growing well now too."
The roots look good, white and healthy, and Bakker notices the cocopeat remains firm and airy, it doesn't become mushy. "Even though I'm quite generous with water," he says. "We've got plenty here, so we water generously, and the superfluous water is drained quickly."
For Bakker too, the ease of planting is something that attracts him in the disks. "Within a day of receiving the disks, I can have all pots filled - 12,500 of them!"
Bakker stays in touch with his consultant Wim van Wingerden. They agree to adjust the hole in the top of the substrate slightly for the next shipment. "Then the drip irrigation stays in place better when watering starts."
Both Hans Bakker and Ton Groot manage their own sales of the berries. "We sell in-house here, and at my brother-in-law's garden center at the end of the street," Groot says. "The ease of planting may be high, but we cannot compromise on fruit quality. That would simply lose us customers. We haven't experienced that this year. Quite the contrary: we've had a very good season." And again next year, he hopes. "The disks have been ordered. We were talking about it the other day, and my brother said he's actually looking forward to start planting again. It hasn't always been like that."
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