Putting the green back into the greenhouse
Wilco Van Herpen ANTALYA - Hürriyet Daily News
More farmers are trying new techniques in greenhouses such as growing strawberries without using soil. They also change the habit of using pesticides and let Mother Nature do a bit of work.Last week was a nice week for snow-lovers in Istanbul, Ankara and many other places. The morning it all started, however, I had to go to Antalya and thought I might be lucky and have a nice and warm time there. I left early in the morning, and when the driver came to bring me to Sabiha Gökçen Airport, I was still too sleepy to understand the weather. But once I arrived at the airport and opened my eyes, I saw the result of the blizzard – and this was only the beginning. My plane had to be defrosted, and big trucks were clearing the runway of snow. It felt as if our plane was going to be the last flight from Sabiha Gökçen that day.
One hour later, I was in Antalya; looking down as you approach the southern province, you either see the sea or you see a lot of greenhouses. Looking up, I saw the beautiful blue sky, from the plane’s window, it looked great, but once I disembarked, I was freezing. My goodness, I didn’t know Antalya could be that cold. I thought about all those people who told me that Antalya is an amazing city and that in winter you can ski in the mountains and swim in the warm sea just an hour later. Well, looking around, I couldn’t see a single flake of snow in the mountains even though the sea was colder then the North Sea in Holland. Another myth busted…
The reason for me to go there was to make a program about greenhouses. Without knowing it, this was the perfect time to do a story about it. Why, you might wonder? I never knew that frost creates such difficulties for farmers. To me, greenhouses equal warm and humid glass places in which you grow veggies, plants, or fruit, meaning that there are no worries about very cold temperatures.
One of the things that surprised me was the will and determination of quite a number of farmers to change – change the habit of using pesticides and let Mother Nature do a bit of work in the greenhouses. Nowadays, you can find a lot of insects in the greenhouses and maybe not the ones you might expect to find. There are the harmful insects that eat the roots, leaves or fruit of a plant. And then there are the insects that fight those insects. Big deal, you might say, and indeed, it is a big deal because the moment the farmer decides to work with insects in the greenhouse it automatically means that he can no longer use (too many) pesticides. If he does, he will break the fragile chain of eco-friendly agriculture. He might also be punished by the government with a fine and the destruction of all his vegetables. So the farmer is careful not to ruin his harvest.
Let’s take tomatoes. According to one farmer, it is better to eat tomatoes during wintertime because that’s the time that you know they come from greenhouses and are therefore healthier then the ones that grow outside. When they grow outside, you need to use pesticides, but here, in the safe environment of the greenhouse, one can use other insects if one has an insect problem. In the Netherlands, I simply phone a company who sends me the necessary amount of little bags filled with bugs and then the war can start. If I grow tomatoes, I start with the little tomato plants; and once they begin to flower, I get the bees in. The bees take care of the cross-pollination. And when you work with bees, you cannot use any poison because bees are extremely sensitive to it. If you use pesticides, you could kill your entire bee population before you know it.
More and more farmers are trying new techniques; I met one guy who is growing strawberries without using soil. What they use is a mixture of coconut stuff mixed with something else. This (again) is something that came from the Netherlands and this farmer decided to grow strawberries because there was more money in it. With the system he is using, he can grow at least four or five times the amount of strawberries in a small greenhouse. The problem at the moment is the weather. It had been cloudy the last couple of days so the strawberries did not gain enough color. But the few colored strawberries I found tasted, well, very nice… Another advantage of not using earth is that you also use much less water. So it is not only good for the farmer (cheaper and therefore the farmer will be happy), it’s also good for Turkey since there is a serious water problem in the country. With the old watering system, so much water was wasted. Now the farmer can measure the exact amount of water that is needed.
It was slowly getting dark, so it was time for me to leave and head to the hotel. Demre, my assistant, had found a nice boutique hotel in the old city center of Antalya. But when I stepped inside it was as if I had entered one of the famous ice hotels in Alaska or Norway. The heater wasn’t working, so my room was freezing cold; this was a real cold shower. (Fortunately the next morning, the shower turned out to be warm, although my room was still freezing).