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Availability is crucial for courgettes
Eating courgettes is increasing in popularity, according to Leander van de Griend, account manager for ZON fruit & vegetables. The vegetable has always been much eaten in the Mediterranean, but in recent years it has gradually migrated towards the northern regions of Europe. Consumption is boosted by Dutch people with a migration background. Courgette is a very versatile vegetable that has many applications due to its neutral flavour. The latest ‘invention’ was created because of the low-carb trend: courgette spaghetti that replaces traditional pasta based on starch in Italian dishes.
Paul Janssen, Tuinderij Beegdenhof and Leander van de Griend, ZON fruit & vegetables.
Specialist in the field of outdoor courgettes in the Netherlands is Tuinderij Beegdenhof in Hunsel, Limburg. Years ago, they started with a wheelbarrow filled with courgettes, but they have now grown into a company that takes care of the production and supply of millions of courgettes of constant quality and flexibility to its customers. That happens in close cooperation with ZON fruit & vegetables, which takes care of both contacts and contracts with permanent suppliers for Beegdenhof. “Leftover product is sold at ZON’s auction,” says Paul Janssen from Tuinderij Beegdenhof. “Mid-February it becomes clear to us what relations need. We have had a long-lasting cooperation with many customers. These are retailers, cutting plants and buyers in the hinterland and the UK. Based on that we plan the area with what we think we’re going to need. To guarantee supply, we plant about 30 per cent more. But if cultivation circumstances are favourable and we have more product, it’s not a problem for the auction.”
Furthermore, everything revolves around a good communication, Leander adds. “Paul is my eyes and ears in the field, and he tells me how everything is growing. I pick up talk from the market: who they are, where they’re going, those kinds of things are burnt on my retina.”
Product availability is important when it comes to courgettes. Supply is always changeable, nothing is as fickle as the weather, and that can be seen in the courgette harvest. Paul: “Courgettes grow quite quickly, so you have to keep a close eye on them during the growing stage. A courgette of 200 grammes in the morning can grow to 300 grammes by evening on a summery day. During hot summer evenings, courgettes also continue growing.” Paul always keeps a close eye on weather conditions and temperature, he springs into action when there are tropical nights, and he puts the brakes on sales when it rains or when it’s windy. “Courgettes have to be pollinated. If it rains, the bees don’t fly, or they fly less far. Courgette flowers are only open one hour per day. When the flowers aren’t pollinated, the fruits become pointed and they won’t be suitable for selling. Wind also has much influence on quality. The leaves of a courgette plant have a rough, prickly underside that can damage the fruit’s skin.”
Beegdenhof has invested in sustainable expansions with a modern sorting and storage warehouse, and professional housing for seasonal employees. After these expansions, the company is completely focused on the future. Sizing the courgettes requires a delicate touch. Beegdenhof can offer various sizes, which vary from 225 to 450 grammes. Cutting plants need small sizes from 200 to 300 grammes maximum. These courgettes don’t have much seeds, and they have a firm core, so that they don’t spread out as easily in a bag. Additionally, they also have a good white/green ratio. Supermarkets want uniformity, of sizes between 300 and 400 grammes. Beegdenhof sorts and packs the harvest to size. Courgettes heavier than 500 grammes are waste, just like the ones with bumps or too many scratches. Usually, there’s only a small percentage of B-quality, which is meant for local food banks and organisations like Kromkommer, which is dedicated to fighting food waste. The best storage temperature in the supply chain for fresh courgettes is 12 degrees ºC, and it’s best to keep them out of refrigerators. The bags of vegetables from cutting plants are kept at 4 ºC. “Courgettes can also be stored at that temperature, but that would mean the temperature in the supply chain would constantly have to be 4 degrees. Otherwise the courgette becomes soft, and it will become spread out in the bag,” Paul says.
Courgettes are available year-round. In the Netherlands they are grown both outdoors and in greenhouses, in Spain they are grown in tunnels. Greenhouse growers are in hot water regarding green courgettes. They are very necessary for the pollination of yellow courgettes, but have much competition in sales from abroad and from domestic outdoor cultivation. The advantages of growing in greenhouses (no wind damage, manual pollination) don’t always compensate for the costs. For yellow courgettes, greenhouse cultivation is more profitable. Yellow courgettes can’t be grown outdoors because the peel is much more vulnerable than that of green courgettes.
Beegdenhof grows the courgettes from March, after which they are planted outdoors from mid-April. To protect them from any frost, the young plants are covered with plastic foil or acrylic cloth. After the plant has made both male and female flowers, pollination can occur (with the aid of bees). When the female flower has been pollinated, it can grow into a fruit. Tuinderij Beegdenhof’s courgette season is from June to about the first week of October.
The market for courgettes has increased, and Beegdenhof has grown along with that. For ZON fruit & vegetables, they are one of the most important growers, but they can’t meet demand as the only company.
Leander: “Mutual openness is important. The grower’s group for courgettes meets once a year. We look back on the previous year, but it’s even more important to look ahead to the new season. We all hope people will eat more courgettes. It’s very positive to see growers wanting to positively contribute to that, and that they want to invest in generic advertising.”
ZON fruit & vegetables
Leander van de Groen
Publication date: 10/4/2017
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