News - May 14, 2020

‘Here you build a greenhouse yourself’

Monique van Schie

Who? Lotte Demmink (22), MSc student of Plant Sciences
What? MSc thesis on biological pest control in tomato greenhouses
Where? Universidad de la República in Montevideo, Uruguay

I was eager to go abroad for my thesis, and I thought Uruguay would be a nice country, and one where I could brush up my broken Spanish. I chose this project because I was interested in learning more about biological pest control. Alongside fieldwork in tomato greenhouses with insect traps, I held interviews with local farmers. The varied work made it a nice project to work on.


I did the interviews with my supervisor, a Uruguayan PhD student. It didn’t go the way it goes in the Netherlands. One of the farmers was a real chatterbox, and the interview with him took two afternoons of four hours each. My supervisor was too polite to interrupt him, whereas the interviews with the other farmers took one hour in total. The tomato greenhouses amazed me too. In the Netherlands we have very advanced greenhouse technology, so that’s the image of it I took with me to Uruguay. But their simple greenhouses turned out to work fine in their climate, and the farmers can build them themselves as well.

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Relaxed mentality

Some weeks were quite busy with fieldwork, so I was still processing the measurements at the weekend. My Uruguayan housemates didn’t understand that at all. They said weekends were for doing nothing and drinking maté on the beach. Maté is a hot drink they take with them everywhere they go and drink all day long.

Student life

I enjoyed the collaboration with the PhD students and professors in the chair groups. Everyone has lunch together and chats, and there is often an asado (barbecue). I got on well with Paloma, a Uruguayan student who helped with the fieldwork. After the fieldwork we often went for a beer or a maté, and I went to parties and on weekend breaks with her and her friends. Through Paloma I learned a bit about local life.

Christmas in summer

Celebrating Christmas Eve with Paloma and her family was very special. In Uruguay there is a tradition of setting off fireworks both at Christmas and at New Year, and of partying in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. There had to be an asado too, because they do that on every special occasion, really. On Christmas Day, my Dutch housemate Gerbrich and I went to the beach. That was really chill, but Christmas does feel different when it’s 30 degrees Celsius.