A Sustainable Twist on Growing Tomatoes

By T. Morgan 8/3/2010

If you’re in North America, you’re currently reaping the benefits of fresh produce grown outdoors. But have you ever thought about what it takes to grow fresh vegetables in the dead of winter? And on top of that, with the push to grow produce sustainably, how would a grower do this indoors?

There’s no one better to ask than the Houweling’s Hothouse Group. Their growing practices bring a whole new meaning to sustainable production for vegetable growers.

“We reuse pretty much every drop of water we can,” Martin Weijters, head grower for Houweling’s Hothouse Group, said. “All the rainwater we can, we collect. All the condensation water that comes from inside the greenhouse, we collect. All the drain water coming out of the bag [underneath the tomato vines], we collect, filter it out, disinfect and reuse it again.”

Weijters said if you add all of those things up, that easily equates to 40 percent savings on water use. In addition, not only do they reuse their water, but they also recycle the cocopeat, which is multipurpose growing medium used to grow the tomatoes, by giving it to a local grower for composting.

Another sustainable growing practice for the Houweling’s Hothouse Group is the use of solar panels. They have 1 megawatt of solar panels, which is used to generate electricity for the greenhouses. The average person might think that is quite a bit of energy savings, especially for a greenhouse. But for the Houweling’s HotHouse Group, that’s not enough.

“For this specific growing facility, we’re using heat collected from the cooler,” Weijters said. “We’re using heat collected from the solar panels and our irrigation water. That all gets stored in a heat storage tank, and at night, goes through the system to a radiator. That’s how we warm up the greenhouse.”

Not only are they saving energy and water, but they’re not sacrificing the quality of the tomatoes. Weijters said because they are able to control the climate of the greenhouse, they’re able to optimize growing conditions -- which not only means more yield, but also a better-quality product.

“Because you’re so in control of your climate, the differences of your climate in the greenhouse is nowhere near as intense as outside the greenhouse,” Weijters said. “So you try to keep the growth of your plant as optimum as possible, which improves the quality of your tomato.

“And this is important for our customers out there. You want to always have a consistent, quality product delivered to them.”

This also helps them predict the volume they’ll be producing for their costumers.

The Houweling’s Hothouse Group got its start in 1974. To this day, it’s still a family-owned company with high-tech hydroponic greenhouses in Oxnard, California and Delta, British Columbia.

Houweling’s Hothouse Group is a customer of De Ruiter Seeds, a Monsanto Vegetable Seeds brand.

You can learn more about the Houweling’s Hothouse by visiting their website. Also, the Phil Lempert Report featured Houweling’s Hothouse Group in their late June edition.

Houtweiling Hothouse Group - Monsanto Photos on Flickr