Co-writers: Mr. Peter Klapwijk, Green Architect and Connector with a vast growing history and Marit Nieboer – Klapwijk – Business coach, discovers and supports you and your companies talents and abilities.


Greenhouse innovation starts small

Behind many homes in The Netherlands, including my own, you will find a common theme; a bicycle shed.  On many occasions, together with my brother and friends, this was the place where I was working on old mopeds and bicycles to bring them back to life. With every creation we built, there was always a better version of what we originally found. The more bicycles and mopeds we rebuilt, the faster and finer they became and most importantly, steadier on their wheels.   As we refined our skills, we eventually built our own tractors with trailers.

During this time, we learned an enormous amount about perseverance.  We made many mistakes along the way but we always bounced back and never gave up. In doing so we honed our skills and developed new creations.  We gained a greater understanding of certain techniques and learned how to solve many of the problems and malfunctions we faced.


How it started

In the second half of the 20th century, when high-tech horticulture was rapidly developing, innovations emerged in small glasshouses. During the 80s, we began to specialize in our line of business and the scale expanded. At this time, bigger and more efficient production facilities were built and smaller scale greenhouses, where so many new ideas, crops, and innovations were developed had sadly vanished.

Experience with small greenhouses

When I was merely a fourteen-year-old boy, I started to grow bedding plants in a small greenhouse. I had started to earn my own money for the first time. I then began growing melons on a substrate and started the first trial in year-round production of lighted tomatoes with my neighbor Teun. This all began in that little bicycle shed behind our home.

To develop something new, I was aware that I needed to start small. This is especially true with small greenhouses. It is expected that there will be some mistakes so you can find your true capabilities.

By experiencing these limitations, you can extend and develop innovative concepts and techniques. Without the small greenhouses, there wouldn’t be any major breakthroughs such as:

  • Growing on Rockwool
  • Creating the high wire system for tomatoes
  • Developing new crops like bell peppers and eggplants
  • Using grow light and benefitting from year-round production
  • The new logistical systems in greenhouses are based on the rail tube system

All these developments started in small greenhouses. By learning from our mistakes, we figured out how to improve them step by step. Developing new things and reaching for the next goal is impossible without passing the occasional misstep. It may lead to making mistakes, but this is simply our learning curve.

The benefits of failures and accidents

There has been research done at universities around the world that has been quite valuable. The knowledge that is gained through this research is essential to move forward to develop these advancements. Unfortunately, pure knowledge is not sufficient enough.

There is a current shortage of centers with smaller departments where innovations and concepts can be evaluated and demonstrated. We must know where the boundaries of cultivation can be found, and where it is acceptable to fail.

Although research centers are particularly important to stimulate the progress in the development of cultivations and techniques, it is often the exploring entrepreneurs and creatives that really dare to cross the boundaries and make important innovations happen. Breakthroughs like substrate cultivation, cultivation under growing lights, the new cultivation, and the semi-closed greenhouses were all founded within those bicycle sheds from our youth back in the Netherlands.

At this moment, there is a growing trend to create very extensive and efficient companies. These developments slow down the effective advancements since the scale of these companies and the stakes are way too high to take on these sizable risks. Apart from that, entrepreneurs in this generation often have a different focus for their companies. In their minds and within their companies, there is little room for the old-fashioned bicycle sheds.

shed to greenhouse

The bicycle shed of the future

I think that crops such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers can be cultivated at lower temperatures and a smarter way of growing with simple technologies. Using different temperature strategies, savings of up to 40 to 50% will be manageable. However, for these particular cases, there is a need for smaller greenhouses to discover the current boundaries.

On that note, one must think about the following:

  • Extra natural temperature integration can save energy. For example, tomatoes can be grown at 12 °C at night.
  • When compared to a single climate screen, a double climate screen saves an additional 20% in respect to your energy level.
  • Dehumidification: we spend 35% of our heating energy on removing humidity from the greenhouse. With dehumidification units, energy savings of 25% are feasible.

Currently, there is a lot to be learned and developed, with a modern version of the bicycle shed. Imagination, creative entrepreneurship, and both the will and ability to work together would have a significant impact on successful innovation and research centers. After all, these innovations often occur in crossovers. Working together is necessary among experts in various disciplines to create new perceptions, ideas, and, breakthroughs.

For example:

  • Automatization and robotization: making the crops more suitable for robots.
  • New coverings for greenhouses: lighter and increasingly energy efficient.
  • Renewable energy: growing with low-value energy and underground energy storage.
  • Circular fertilizers and growing systems.
  • Greenhouse climate is driven by plant transpiration. Connect the climate computer to the crop.
  • New ways of automated crop protection, vacuum to catch insects, and Ultraviolet to protect against various fungi.
  • Innovative greenhouse accessories for labor efficiency and quality improvement of the crop.

Research and Development is a lot of work, and therefore can be quite costly. However, keep in mind that at the end of the day, staying on the bottom for too long without progress in efficiency on input and output will cost much more in our production process. In the past, conservatism brought down several companies and even complete industries such as steel production and car building in the USA and textile and shipbuilding in Europe.

The question is as follows: Are you aware of what you do not know, and are you willing to work together as a team with the same goal to invest in these vital matters?