Greenhouse Visit

By Kelly, Environmental Studies; Sophomore

Wageningen University and Research greenhouse. Photo by Kelly.

This morning was chilly and rainy, but luckily we did not have to rush out of the cube hostel to make an early morning tour. Instead, we slept in a little more, took care of some laundry and grocery shopping, or competed in the Rotterdam Water Management and Sustainability Scavenger Hunt. This required students to find and take photos of objects or people that reflect examples of sustainability around Rotterdam. I opted for a trip to the grocery store and art store, while looking for some items on the scavenger hunt along the way. We started biking again (about an hour ride) after our day of rest for our 13:00 greenhouse tour with Jim at Wageningen University Research Greenhouse Horticulture. He was incredibly welcoming, offering coffee and tea to us as we settled in for a brief video introducing us to their mission. At their massive facility (11,000 hectares of glass houses – aka greenhouses!), their objective is for researchers to innovate sustainability through reducing the use of fossil fuels, limiting waste, energy saving, higher yields, controlling disease, and creating more appealing products for the consumers.

We put on some very stylish outfits to avoid contamination in the greenhouses – large white suits with clear shoe bag covers and hair nets – which everyone felt silly in. We strolled through the aisles of the greenhouse and learned about the ways they control different factors like temperature, sunlight, humidity, nutrients, water, pollination, ethylene, sodium, and carbon dioxide to engineer different environments for a variety of vegetation. One tool they use to diffuse light is through frosted glass windows. This blocks 1% of sunlight and eliminates any shaded areas and increases yields by 10%. I really enjoyed seeing some of my favorite foods – tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers – being grown in many non traditional ways.

My favorite stop was learning about the vanilla plant because my favorite desserts typically include vanilla and I never knew about its complex growth. I learned that vanilla is an orchid which takes 2-3 years to grow in their greenhouses but can even take up to 6 years when grown traditionally. More interesting, vanilla can only be pollinated when its flowers open up, and this only happens for about 6 hours in the morning for one day. If not pollinated during this time, the vanilla will not produce a yield.

After this, we went to another building with beautiful flowers where we concluded our tour. We then settled into our bikes once again for the 22km ride to the train station in Den Haag. The ride was about 2 hours to Hengelo and a quick walk brought us to our hotel for the night. We shared a delicious dinner at a restaurant in town before coming back for a debrief. It appeared as most of our excitement for tomorrow is surrounding our visit with Dutch university students!

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