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Growing fresh cucumbers year-round

Growing fresh cucumbers year-round

Growing fresh cucumbers year-round

The business of growing fresh telegraph cucumbers year-round to supply a significant portion of the New Zealand market is a complex job and one mastered by Pukekohe grower Arie van der Houwen.

Established in 2000, Arie and his team utilise 30,000 m² of automated, climate-controlled glasshouses to grow telegraph cucumbers which are picked and dispatched daily under the House of Taste brand. Each glasshouse is split into three blocks with cucumber plants at different stages in their growing cycle to ensure continuous supply. The volume grown in winter months are about 75 percent less than full summer production. They import their own seed and contract the propagation to Zealandia.

About seven years ago, they installed a container harvesting system from Dutch company TAKS Handling Systems. Arie says switching from harvesting into traditional crates to the container system has improved the speed of harvesting.

“To the best of our knowledge, no one else in New Zealand has this container harvesting system. It allowed us to improve the number of cucumbers our harvest staff can pick in an hour by about 25 percent compared to harvesting into crates. The labour saving comes from being able to harvest continuously and also from not having to open and stack crates, lift and shift the full crates, and push heavy trolleys. The containers are emptied automatically in a controlled manner, without damaging the cucumbers.”

Arie highlights the importance of looking after his staff when considering the physical aspect of a job like harvesting cucumbers.

“Not lifting heavy crates all day makes the job easier. You want to achieve labour efficiencies and you want to make the job more attractive for people. It’s important to think of job enjoyment.”

At the heart of the operation run by Arie and his glasshouse managers is the core goal of supplying top quality, fresh cucumbers to consumers in New Zealand and around the Pacific rim at a competitive price with the smallest environmental footprint possible.

“Cucumbers are mostly eaten fresh, and we are mindful of every input. We’re always looking for better options for packaging for example. Cucumbers need to be wrapped for hygiene, longevity and to lessen damage in transit. We use a plastic wrapping that is commercially compostable, although not all councils can compost this yet. We do what we can to continually monitor for better options.”

Another aspect is using an integrated pest management growing programme.

“The Fruitfed Supplies Crop Monitoring team help us with weekly scouting for pests and diseases to help us minimise spray inputs.”

Thrips are the most significant pest in glasshouse cucumbers, with whitefly and spider mites the others being monitored.

“Thrips damage the cucumbers, reducing the quality. We introduce beneficial predator insects from John Thompson at BioForce to the glasshouses to help control these pests.”

Scouts also monitor for powdery mildew. “Generally powdery mildew is under control. We spray preventatively for this disease during the first three weeks that the cucumber plants are in. Then, once harvest starts, we utilise products with very short pre-harvest intervals so we can spray one day and harvest the next.”

Arie and his glasshouse managers work with Stephen Hall, a Technical Horticultural Representative from the Pukekohe PGG Wrightson and Fruitfed Supplies store. “It’s important to get the right product to control pests like whitefly and Stephen helps us with all those, as well as a range of other products.”

Looking ahead, Arie says he’s always learning and looking for improvements. “Obviously production wise and cost wise, we all want to improve and look after our labour force. Being able to outsource things like monitoring helps us focus on our core business of growing quality fresh cucumbers.”