Gerben Ravensbergen, Lilies of Life

How a greenhouse became a hen house

Chickens in the greenhouse? Yes, Dutch Lily grower Gerben Ravensbergen picked them up from the chicken shelter and is using them to control weeds in the greenhouse.

Thanks to his chickens, he has become famous in the Netherlands. A regional magazine picked up the news two weeks ago, and since then his phone hasn't stopped ringing.

It is a positive story to be in the spotlight with, but Gerben is not the inventor of this idea. "I know other growers who have them walking around from whom I’ve copied it. That was about two to three years ago, and we were happy with the results. My neighbor, who’s now a gerbera grower but used to do tomatoes, told me that it was also not uncommon in tomatoes – now that’s no longer allowed, and tomatoes also aren’t field grown anymore either."

No hen house
The chickens are from the chicken shelter and are now walking around freely and cheerfully pecking the weeds out of the soil. When needed, they are given supplementary feed, though not on the paths. They sleep on the heating pipes in the greenhouse; there is no hen house. "We used to have one because we thought that chickens belong in a coop. Ask any poultry farmer and that’s what they’ll tell you. Boxing in is really the way they think. Then we came into contact with the Dutch 'Save a Chicken' foundation and we learned that they feel better roaming freely. And it saves cleaning."

In the greenhouse (Source: Facebook, Lilies of Life)

"You don’t notice the poop when you have 14 chickens walking around on 4.5 hectares." And according to Gerben, the pecking at bulbs or leaves is negligible. "Chickens primarily roam on open ground. Bulbs are quite deep and we cover them with nets when they come out, then chickens will avoid them. In short, the chickens do exactly what they should do: they remove the weeds and therefore fewer plant protection products are needed. Also nice: we have fresh eggs for lunch or breakfast every day."

Family business
The nursery has been growing special lilies for years. It is a real family business: Gerben is third generation, grandpa and his brother started the nursery in 1931. The chickens fit perfectly in the sustainable approach the growers like to boast about: all bulbs are from Dutch soil, substance use is kept to a minimum and their soil is kept as 'rich' as possible. "Where the latter is concerned, I believe that not only we, but the entire lily branch is progressive, and other growers of other crops can certainly learn from of us."

MR Lilium
Once the dust settles Gerben can continue to do what he always does: grow lilies. In the meantime he already knows that another PR moment is coming up. "We hope to positively be in the spotlight again around Father's Day, with MR Lilium, a shaving soap in which lily components have been incorporated. Last year this was handled nicely in collaboration with ‘Funny how flowers do that’ ( and we hope to do the same thing this year."

For more information:
Lilies of Life
Gerben Ravensbergen
Kloosterschuurlaan 16
2231 MT Rijnsburg
T: +31 6 5192 8578

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