That Dutch greenhouse builders are real adventurers, Leo Alleblas can confirm. He has been around in the sector and has traveled a lot. "The current generation does not believe their ears when you tell the stories of the old days. Everything was done by hand."
Leo was fourteen years old when he finished school as a carpenter. "I could make 47 guilders per week. My father, who had a small greenhouse demolishing company, offered me double." The seventies were good years for greenhouse demolishers. Greenhouses developed very fast. Particularly vegetable growers in the Westland switched in high numbers to higher greenhouses with wider windows. more light meant more kilos after all. Their old fittings and fixtures were in high demand in other parts of the country and even abroad.
Second hand greenhouses
"One of our first projects was for Nouws, an alboriculturist in Zundert. We installed a nice greenhouse we had purchased earlier from tomato grower Keijzer in Maasland. The light was less important to Nouws than to Keijzer. The alboriculturist, it was an ideal greenhouse for a fair price. The greenhouse was 6,000 m2, quite a size for those days. Although the alboriculturist did not immediately need all that space, he bought the entire greenhouse. We returned every year to add 1,500 meter."
His father's company grew steadily and started to supply abroad eventually. "One of our first projects abroad was with flower grower Schweemers in Germany. Germany had strict rules with regard to greenhouses and the greenhouse we supplied, equipped with some new trusses and some new legs, met those rules perfectly."
Building in Iceland
When working for his farther, and in the following years, when Leo demolished and built greenhouses with his brother Aad under the name Alleblas en Zonen BV, he traveled abroad a lot. One of the trips he remembers well is Iceland, end of the eighties. "We were building a greenhouse for the cultivation of roses in the middle of summer - at the time quite a profitable business for Icelanders."
"It was a bizarre experience. While working in shorts and T-shirt the one day, the wind turned east and next day could be fifteen degrees colder. A country of real extremes." The greenhouse had to be prepared for extreme weather conditions. "We had to narrow the glass to sixty centimeters. Otherwise, it would bend and break due to too much snow."
Pouring concrete in Spain
How different are the conditions in Spain in a scorching summer in the beginning of the nineties. Close to the city of oranges Valencia, Leo and his colleagues builds a greenhouse for a Dutch bonsai tree grower. At night, they went into town, but during the day they had to work hard. "We built a shed with a concrete floor, which dried at 40 ⁰C faster than we could keep up with. We should have asked for a concrete retarder, but that was lost in translation. We had to remove the top layer and level the floor all over again."
"We did learn from it. When we were doing a project in France, my brother, who spoke French well, ordered retarded concrete. "Well, we got it. The concrete poured on Friday, had not dried on Monday."
Everything by hand
Leo says that a construction site looked very different in the early years. "Building greenhouses was a lot of manual labor. You picked up the steel and carried it around all day. Now, you have the Manitou and all kinds of other machines, so hardly any manual lifting is needed. This saves the current generation a lot of back pain and other physical complaints we have to deal with."
Attraction of building greenhouses
After all kinds of wanderings (Zwirs Kassenbouw, Saarlucon, Hogervorst Tabben), Leo ended up with Holland Tuinbouw Systemen (HTS). "It is the adventure that keeps drawing me in. It is the attraction of greenhouse building, you end up everywhere. Recently, I was in Austria driving through gorgeous vistas. Very different than the Netherlands, where everything is as smooth as a tile. It also remains a challenge to score projects over the competition. That, and the urge for adventure is deep in the nature of the Dutch greenhouse builders."
This is the sixth installment in the series 'Andere Tuinbouwtijden', in which various 'old hats of the business' look back at times long gone. And in which we look at what their work has meant for the horticulture sector of today.
Part 1: Rob Grootscholten - 42 years of building...
Part 2: Peter Stuyt - As Dutch American, I combine...
Part 3: Leo Alsemgeest - Bit by bit a step back
Part 4: Harry Dullemans - Never tell you are not there...
Part 5: Kees de Groot - We have to make something else then...