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How Kalter became Kalterra

From strawberries to organic vegetable seeds

Over a year ago, Kalter Aardbeien made the switch from strawberries to the production of organic vegetable seeds, and owners Annet and Richard replaced the sign above the door with a new name: Kalterra. "We didn't want to be called Kalter Zaden after Kalter Aardbeien," Annet explains, "but rather a name that stayed close to us." Apart from a nod to the word 'terra', indicating 'growing in the earth', insiders also recognise the couple's initials in it. Now that the first rounds of cultivation are over, it is a perfect time for a look behind the scenes.

"There has been nothing in this soil for 40 years," Annet begins. "We have been growing strawberries on gutters for the past 10 years, the growers before us grew tomatoes for 30 years and also did so on substrate. Because we always covered our soil with three layers of plastic, our vegetable seeds could be certified organic (Skal) just six months after starting. What also helped with the decision to become organic is that we have been doing a lot of resilient cultivation in recent years. Actually becoming organic was just the next step for us."

Tightly sealed
The first harvest was not yet allowed to bear the organic stamp but now it can. The most complicated of all, he says, was creating seven sealed sections, with the emphasis on sealed. When the bees are released to fertilise the female plants, it has to be completely sealed, absolutely nothing is allowed in and out to prevent unwanted cross-pollination. And so all sections must be able to be sealed completely, with artfully stitched cloths and screens and with mesh in all 900 rebates.

The first round included fennel, leeks, Savoy, Chinese cabbage, while the 1.7 ha greenhouse now includes pointed cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. The range is determined by client Bejo, who also looks closely over the grower's shoulder. And that is necessary, Annet continues, because this organic seed cultivation is in many ways a miracle. "We are growers and we really know a thing or two, but we have to think very differently now. With strawberries you want beautiful fruit, now you want flowers and then for it to look like Poverty Row. You let things discolour and wither at the end of the crop, then you shake out the plants or let them dry out on the ground, aiming, of course, to extract the seed. In addition, you have two rows of males and one row of females, so once the plants are pollinated you uproot two-thirds of the crop without feeling like you're getting any benefit."

"Little work"
Whether it is good farming? "At least it's not a matter of sitting back and harvesting the seeds once at the end. You have little work to do, or so was the thinking at first, but there are some reservations about that. Whether it will yield anything further at the end we don't yet know. The harvest will leave here and Bejo will then work with the seeds for months to come. On the input side, biological control agents in particular are a big cost. When we were threshing, we were all standing over the tables picking out the precious insects. Can you picture it, a line of grown men looking for ladybirds? But they are important as fighters against aphids and the ones with seven spots are especially precious. After all, they can hibernate so they are worth extra."

New adventure
No further lighting or heating is required, and should the winters really get too cold one day, the connection to the local geothermal heat network offers a solution. No gas is used. The switch to organic seed growing is otherwise unrelated to the energy issue that was naturally more prevalent in strawberries. The decision was made after the greenhouse had been up for sale for two years. Due to health problems - Richard is now wheelchair-bound - the entrepreneur put a stop to strawberries and also to the thriving local shop. The idea was to slow down and therefore sell the greenhouse. When the greenhouse failed to sell ("there were interested parties but the sale never materialised, it was depressing"), a tip-off from a fellow entrepreneur put the entrepreneur in touch with Bejo. And since Annet can't sit still and neither can Richard, despite or perhaps because of his disability, they were keen to embark on a new adventure, and accepted the challenge.

New angle
Meanwhile, Kalterra has found its new angle, although the hustle and bustle of yesteryear is missed. In the local shop, all sorts of things were for sale, as well as food and drink. All but two Polish employees, including those in the greenhouse, have disappeared, and the vacant spaces at the front of the business (where the shop, barn and terrace were located) now house a few caravans. In addition, the Kalter strawberry, which grew into a household name in the region and continues as a brand (the rights have been sold to a Limburg growers), has also disappeared from the local market. "But no regrets, due to the circumstances this is a nice solution for us. Moreover, our son, who initially had little need to know about it, has recently also taken an interest in the business, so we are just putting our shoulders to the wheel."

For more information:
Tuindersweg 2B
8271 PK IJsselmuiden
[email protected]

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