With the purchase of a 2.5-ha greenhouse, breeder and propagator Evanthia is taking matters into its own hands. “When you rent a greenhouse, you end up making different choices”, says Pieter Lock, manager tropical plants. The focus on their newly acquired site is mostly on the expansion of their tropical plant propagation activities for now. They will probably develop further and start with breeding activities, at a later stage.
Evanthia came into existence in October 2013, after the split of Combinations from ‘s-Gravenzande. At that time, Nico Grootendorst, founder of Evanthia, started to focus solely on the breeding of cut flowers and flowering pot plants and the propagation of tropical plants. And the company also specialises in seed technology.
The propagation activities started within a year at one of the locations of bedding plant company Peter van der Plas. When the opportunity arose to buy the company instead of rent it, Evanthia took it. “The purchase means we gained the much-desired ownership of the company”, says Pieter Lock, manager tropical plants.
In-house seed technology
Evanthia purchases seed from all over the world, mostly from South and North America, Asia and Africa. They process the seed themselves. After it is cleaned and broken down into different sizes, the seed is either pelletized (increased in size, to make it easier to sow by machine), or coated (with crop protection agents and/or nutrients).
Depending on the orders, seeds are delivered at the propagation site once a week. Most seed is sown mechanically (80%), only the seed that’s too large or too light is sown manually. Sometimes seed needs to be irrigated or topped with a layer of sand or soil.
After that, the seeds are left in an incubator to germinate at a temperature of 25 °C and a relative humidity of 92%, for a maximum of five weeks. Their technology allows seed to be germinated under the same conditions, 52 weeks per year. And the use of multiple layers means that large quantities can be germinated at the same time.
When the seeds come out of the incubator, they are left on concrete floors at a temperature of 20 °C and a relative humidity of 65% – 75%, covered by white foil or acrylic canvas. This phase only lasts for a few days, until the seedlings become visible. By adding this short phase, we don’t have to do the entire germination process in complete darkness, to avoid elongation. “The incubator is used for the rough germination phase, but the finishing touches take place in the greenhouse”, explains Lock.
Eventually, the seedlings are moved to their final position, where they stay until they’re sold. With the use of assimilation lighting in the months of October and November. Only a few varieties are moved to another section in between, to harden off at a temperature of 18 °C. Again with the aim to reduce elongation.
Green plants are popular
The fact that green plants have been gaining popularity, has not gone unnoticed by Evanthia. They intensified their propogation activities from 0.6 ha to 0.8 ha in two years time. Turnover of this branch of Evanthia has been increasing the last couple of years, by 20-25% per year.
The quantities are increasing, but the assortment isn’t really. “That’s pretty normal for tropical plants. Innovations aren’t really derived from breeding activities, but mostly through finds in the wilderness. That’s why we work together with a number of plant hunters”, says Lock.
In addition to the propagation of plants from seed, they’ve also been trying other propagation methods since this year, such as tissue culture, as a way to broaden their assortment. Different methods, such as tissue culture, sometimes come with better availability and reliability, for example when the seed shows limited germination or germinates in certain periods only. Our current facilities allow more space for this than in the past.
The bedding plant greenhouse didn’t require too many adjustments in order to make it suitable as a propagation greenhouse for tropical plants. The cold store was converted into an incubator and had nozzles installed so that a high relative humidity can be achieved. And part of the loading area was converted into a hardening-off section, with a few changes including screens, lighting and irrigation pipes. “The cultivation of bedding plants comes with many more logistic activities, so they needed a much larger processing and loading area. Useless space when you’re propagating tropical plants. Hence the conversion to a hardening-off section”, explains Lock.
They’re hoping to invest in a new sowing line that’s faster and more accurate. And that can be used for different sowing types too. “We’re currently short of sowing capacity during peak periods. We’ll hold on to the old sowing line, which is 20 years old, for emergencies and extra capacity. Perhaps we’ll convert it, to make it suitable for a more permanent use. After all, the demand for green plants is strongly increasing”, says the manager.
Expanding to a hectare
Lock estimates that the propagation activities will have expanded to a hectare within two years, perhaps even within one year. During that time, the company will also regain possession of the areas that are rented out to third parties at the moment.
They’ve already made a start with selection and crossing activities of various cut flowers and flowering pot plants. It’s very likely that the breeding activities are going to be expanded at this site. But, says Lock, “we’re looking into the various options at the moment, as the current circumstances don’t fulfill all the needs and requirements that come with that kind of work”.