Turning your passion into your job is a luxury not many people have. One of the lucky ones is Rob Houwing from Multi Vitro, who's been living his dream for 34 years. With a close-knit team he supplies Dutch growers orchids and carnivorous plants. "Growing orchids was and still is my hobby. I started doing tissue culture to combine my hobby and study," Rob says.
While studying plant physiology and horticulture at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, he did an internship at a Dutch orchid grower. "I started a small lab to increase some plants for that grower. I liked it so much, that I continued to do so even after my studies," he says. "When I graduated, I thought: I have nothing and therefore can't lose anything. Finding space for my company was difficult. Eventually I was able to rent an empty hall of 100 m2 in an old paper factory in Renkum, a town in the eastern Netherlands. We started with limited resources." Rob quickly found some customers and when the paper factory had to be demolished after three years, a brand new laboratory was built in a nearby town.
Rob enjoys the challenge in starting up new things. "We often only get a few plants. Then we take out the growth point and place it on in nutrient medium. When it becomes a plant, we start with the propagation. We use propagated plants every year to ensure that the culture remains pure. The material is replaced on a regular basis, because we can't run the risk of something going wrong during propagation. If the grower brings me a pink orchid, so to speak, he wants to get a pink one in return. If months later in the greenhouse the contrary appears, it's too late. That's why I make sure that I bring the plants to the grower every week, so that we can discuss progress and whether the deliveries need to be expanded."
Carnivorous plants and orchids
Rob is still enthusiastic about his work. "Growers turn to us with plants that are difficult or slow to multiply or can't be propagated by seed. As one of the few small laboratories in the Netherlands, Multi Vitro is fairly unique in the supply of carnivorous plants. We serve a customer with the exclusive rights of a number of species. We are also specialized in orchids. The phalaenopsis, however, we have deliberately ignored, because the large companies often regulate multiplication themselves. Furthermore, we do everything the customer asks for and we also set up projects now and then. 75 percent of the increase is not different in terms of work. You do of course have to make a number of adjustments to the nutrient medium. My experience often tells me if something is going to be difficult or easy."
The Pilea, or pancake plant is one of their own projects. "A few years ago we got the idea that there is a market for it and that has worked out nicely. For the staff it's also nice to add a new variety. There is a very good atmosphere here. Multiplying just involves numbers so there is lots of small talk at the same time." Over the years Rob gathered a close-knit team around him. "Most of them have been working here since the beginning. We work on an area of only 30 m2, so you know each other through and through. Especially considering the fact that my wife and two children work here too, it makes it feel like a real family business."