On 11 June the Group joined with the Professional Horticulture Group South West to visit the Somerset Cider Brandy Company. This provided an interesting new twist on cider production which will be described in a future Newsletter.
We then joined Professor James Hitchmough to see the plantings in the Olympic Park and hear how an industrial site was transformed for the Olympics. This transformation is described below.
On July 24 the Group will be visiting the gardens of Canterbury Cathedral and the adjacent university before moving to Edward Vinson's soft fruit farm to learn about their soft fruit breeding programme.
The Olympic Park: Turning an industrial wasteland into a park
Centre of Agricultural Innovation for Fresh and Prepared Produce
Plant of the Month
News from our Associates
Horticulture Industry News
Horticulture Group contact details
A small group of SCI members were invited to join James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at Sheffield University, and a group of his MA students to see the landscaping work that he, his colleague Nigel Dunnett and others had planted at the Olympic Park.
The Olympic Park was built on what was originally part of the Hackney Marshes bordering the river Lea. By the time work for the Olympics started on the site, it was covered with low quality housing, a major railway goods yard and industrial buildings. The valley's local landmark was the notorious Hackney Fridge Mountain, a 20-foot heap of broken appliances. Much of the soil was heavily polluted and the main plant life consisted of invasive species like Buddleja and Fallopia japonica, Japanese knotweed.
Once the site had been cleared one of the first tasks was to bury two major power transmission lines that crossed the site. Some 3,500 holes were also drilled to assess the local geology and soil contamination. Archaeological survey's found Iron Age skeletons, a Bronze Age hut, numerous other artefacts and remains which required recording.
Before any work could start, the soil across the entire one square mile site was cleaned to remove pollutants and plant matter. An unprecedented programme involved two soil hospitals, where a variety of techniques were used to clean the soil, as well as five soil washing plants. In all 80% of the soil, some 1.7 million cubic metres, was recovered. Much that could not be reused is now located under the widened M25 and the local Westfield development.
If the soil was poor quality to start with, the washing process ensured that what nutrients there were had been eliminated. The low nutrient status of the resulting growing medium suited the type of planting that James and his colleagues had planned for both the immediate plantings for the Olympics themselves and the legacy plantings which are now following. Nevertheless they still imported sand from a local quarry to cover the planting areas to ensure that any dormant seed load was buried and to provide a clean seed-bed for their own plantings.
The whole project was delivered against a tight time schedule which created its own problems for the original plantings. These had to look their best during the period of the Olympic and Paralympic games. Balancing the plant growth to the prevailing weather conditions proved the usual juggling act. Ammonium nitrate was used to accelerate growth where required since its high solubility meant that it was rapidly leached and left no long term residue.
Once the Olympics were over, the site was closed and work started to turn the landscape into a the long term permanent park as intended. The plantings are in two halves. The south park around the main Olympic Stadium and the Aquatic Centre is planted with a wide range of trees and herbaceous plants from around the world while the north park around the Velodrome is planted with native species.
The object is to create a park that is open 24/7 for all to use. Dr Philip Askew, project leader for parklands and public realm, who took us round the south park explained that, while health and safety of the visitors was important they had not attempted to remove all risk. Thus the children's play area is suitably covered with a soft surface, while the adjacent climbing wall is unsupervised and provides a major attraction.
Next month I will describe in more detail the planting plans that James and his fellow landscapers are putting in place.
At a meeting held in mid-June organised by the Horticultural Innovation Partnership (HIP) in conjunction with the British Growers Association a proposal was put to set up a Centre of Agricultural Innovation for Fresh and Prepared Produce under the joint BIS, DEFRA, DFID initiative - the UK Agricultural Technologies strategy. Innovation centres have to be industry led and for this reason the process was started in January this year with a meeting of 50 key industry stakeholders. This led to a call for volunteers to progress the proposal and a second meeting in April. The present meeting was to bring the research and knowledge delivery sectors on board.
This centre would address the major challenges facing the sector, including increasingly restrictive regulatory controls on the use of pesticides and other inputs, consumers' demands and unpredictable weather conditions. Steve Tones of AHDB pointed out that the rate of increase in agricultural productivity dropped sharply after 1983 when the decline in research funding started and the free ADAS advisory service was withdrawn. The UK has in effect been flat-lining and the government have finally woken up to this fact and decided to take an initiative.
The government is putting £90m to establish up to seven innovation centres. £80m is set aside for capital and £10m for recurrent expenditure. It is however felt that there may only be four centres: crops, livestock, informatics, systems & resource use. Horticulture will form part of the crops centre. This government funding must be matched by industry funding.
HIP will continue to build on the dialogue with industry, including further engagement with input suppliers and food processors. This feedback will help shape the proposal, which is being drafted by the HIP Innovation Centre steering group in readiness for submission when the call for Agri-Tech bids opens later this year.
Encephalartos ferox, holly leaf cycad, Zamiaceae
Encephalartos ferox is part of an ancient lineage of plants, growing at the time the dinosaurs roamed the earth. This cycad hides numerous secrets.
The genus name is the key to the first of these hidden stories. From the Greek en (within), cephale (head) and artos (bread), encephalartos could be translated literally as within the head there is bread. Indeed, the plant's stem has been used as a source of sago, a traditional starchy foodstuff. More conventionally, sago comes from palms and other cycads, but local people on the southeastern coast of Africa, whence Encephalartos originates, have used it for its starch content. However, along with other cycads, Encephalartos ferox contains another, more sinister presence; a neurotoxin. This neurotoxin is an amino acid, ß-methylamino-L-alanine, which must first be carefully removed from the sago by repeated washings before the starchy product can safely be consumed. Its presence in cycads has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases in populations who consume cycads directly or indirectly in their traditional diet.
Another secret, hidden from the naked eye, is that photosynthetic, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) live in specially adapted coralloid roots near the surface of the soil. The bacteria form symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with the plant; cyanobacteria and cycads sharing nutrients.
Encephalartos ferox produces separate male and female plants, and is threatened by over-collecting for traditional medicine and horticulture, being relatively easy to cultivate and architecturally striking. Thieves have been known to remove mature plants using chainsaws, then to pot these rootless plants up for sale at exorbitant prices. Consequently, Encephalartos ferox appears on the IUCN red-list of threatened species as near-threatened.
When the Botanic Garden staff noticed that our Encephalartos ferox had produced a female cone (reproductive structure) some years ago, they saw an opportunity to play a small part in the conservation of this endangered species. There was no male plant growing at the Garden at the time, so the Glasshouse curator sent out a lonely-hearts advert to other glasshouse collections around the UK. Pollen was sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the glasshouse staff did their best weevil (snout beetle) impression and pollinated the female cone. They were rewarded for their efforts with a tremendous production of seed, which when mature was sown and germinated to produce about 100 young plants. These plants have now been distributed to other botanical collections, with one growing happily in the Palm House.
Pictures by Oxford Botanic Garden:
Upper: Female cones
Middle: Close up with mature seeds visible
Lower: Broken female cone, through the megasporophylls which are showing mature seeds laying on megasporophylls aggregated in to a loose cone.
Jones DL 2002. Cycads of the World: ancient plants in today's landscape, Reed New Holland. Norstog KJ, Nicholls TJ 1998. Biology of Cycads. Cornell University Press.
Oxford Botanic Garden
Commercial Horticultural Association
The annual Naivasha Horticultural Fair will be held on Friday 19 & Saturday 20 September 2014 at the Naivasha Sports Club, Kenya. This highly important event is considered the biggest and most diverse horticultural fair for Kenya and the whole East African region. Following a successful first-time participation in 2010, CHA is planning to organise the first ever dedicated British Pavilion in 2014. Working alongside the British High Commission in Nairobi and with support from UKTI, they also have plans for an extended programme of activities, details of which will be announced shortly. For further information contact CHA
Horticulture Innovation Partnership
HIP launched its new website at the end of June. This will enable stakeholders to be kept more up-to-date with what HIP is doing and what its plans are. They have also published their first annual report.
HIP has reviewed current funding opportunities, UK R&D provision and supply chain structures to discover who funds what, who can deliver innovative R&D and who can promote uptake of practical applications. They now have a better understanding of where there are gaps between those funding basic, fundamental research and those funding more applied business-ready solutions. On behalf of the industry the HIP is brokering stakeholder discussions to increase connectivity across this landscape.
Bioplastics could be made from trees
A research project has demonstrated the feasibility of extracting organic chemicals from lignin for the manufacture of bioplastics. As a waste product of the pulp and paper industry, lignin is a potentially abundant and low-cost feedstock for the high performance chemicals that could provide the foundation for the next generation of bioplastics. The project has successfully demonstrated that bacteria can be effective in the selective degradation of lignin, and that the breakdown pathway can be controlled and improved using synthetic biology. Crucially, several organic chemicals have been produced at laboratory scale in promising yields that have potential use in bioplastic manufacture. Initial scale-up trials on several of these target chemicals have demonstrated the potential for them to be produced at industrial scale, suggesting the commercial feasibility of using lignin-derived chemicals as an alternative for their petrochemical counterparts. More
Gene protects plants from toxic zinc
When high levels of zinc are present in the soil, it can become toxic to the plant. Researchers have now discovered a novel genetic mechanism that protects plants from toxic zinc levels. The research team identified a gene, ZIF2, that produces a protein capable of sequestering zinc inside the vacuole of root cells. In the presence of high levels of zinc, this gene undergoes a special processing which ensures more production of the protecting protein. These findings open new avenues for increasing plant tolerance to zinc. More
Some trees adding to urban pollution
A recent study describes how some trees and greenery can actually raise the ozone level. Some trees like a poplar or black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), can also release compounds that can react in the air to create lung-damaging ozone. When such trees dominate a street they can raise the ozone level considerably. At ground level, ozone is an oxygen molecule that is linked to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Similar to vehicles and power plants, trees emit airborne chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which in the presence of sunlight react with nitrogen oxides in vehicle fumes to form ozone, one of the components in smog that makes it a health threat. More
Varroa amplifies honeybee virus
Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is one of the most common viruses infecting European honeybees. Although present in almost all colonies, high levels of deformed wing disease - characterised by developmental deformities, reduced foraging ability and longevity - are only common when Varroa is also present. Researchers have now discovered how the disease is amplified in the presence of Varroa. In colonies free from Varroa, DWV is present at very low levels and generally causes symptomless infections. However, the team found that when Varroa feeds on honeybee haemolymph (blood), specific virulent strains of the virus are transmitted and amplified, explaining why colonies infested with the mite suffer most severely. The researchers also demonstrated that direct injection of a mixed DWV population in the absence of the mite, resulted in the same virulent strain being amplified - suggesting that this route of virus transmission bypasses the insect's anti-virus defence systems.
Expansion potential for ornamentals growers
A new HDC report reveals that displacing a proportion of the imported £324m of live ornamental plants and £598m of cut flowers presents substantial new market opportunities for the UK ornamentals sector. The report quantifies the opportunities for UK ornamentals growers for import substitution and export. As yet relatively undeveloped by UK ornamental growers, export markets account for only 5% or £50m worth of UK growers' sales. Looking for new opportunities, the report found four broad market segments within Europe, each with varying degrees of potential. The strongest possibilities came from two of these - firstly the Emerging East - former eastern bloc countries, some of which have joined the EU where ornamentals spend is low but growing rapidly. In most cases this growth is also seeing import growth; and secondly the Northern and Alpine Affluence - mainly Nordic and alpine countries with high living standards and high per capita spend on ornamentals and much detached housing, with larger gardens. Growth is more modest, but still high and often fuelled by import growth.
GM banana slashes infant mortality
A genetically modified banana which has the potential to dramatically reduce infant mortality and blindness in children across Africa is to undergo its first human trials in a major step towards becoming a staple for millions of people. The GM banana is enriched with vitamin A to combat a nutritional deficiency which leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths, and children losing their sight across the world every year. Researchers hope that the bioengineered crop, which increases the level of beta-carotene in a particular type of cooking banana or plantain grown in East Africa, will go into commercial production in Uganda by 2020 if proven to be effective at producing increased levels of vitamin A. More
EU ministers back deal with option to ban or approve GM crops
A compromise deal to give European Union states the option of banning genetically modified crops won approval from EU environment ministers on Thursday 26 June, bringing the EU closer to ending years of deadlock over GM cultivation. Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops in Europe have divided opinion, with strong opposition in many countries, including France and Germany, while Britain favours them. Thursday's compromise deal drew criticism from both opponents and supporters of growing GM food in Europe.
Plants sense water to grow roots in the right direction
Scientists have discovered how the presence of even small amounts of water can influence the structure of plant roots in soil. The degree of root branching determines the efficiency of water uptake and acquisition of nutrients in crops. Understanding the regulation of root branching is therefore of vital importance. Using an advanced form of X-ray imaging researchers have discovered that root branching is profoundly influenced by the distribution of water in soil. An ability to precisely determine where water is in soil, which is different from a touch-reaction, affects the positioning of new lateral roots. Lateral roots (LR) form on the side of the main root in contact with water, but rarely on the dry side. The researchers have called this novel process hydropatterning and showed that it is common to the experimental model species Arabidopsis as well as the important food crops maize and rice.
Eden turns corner
Cornwall's Eden Project is hoping it has turned a corner with the attraction back in the black after its worst-ever year. Its latest accounts showed a trading surplus of just over £2m for the year to the end of March. That compares with a loss of about £1.4m a year previously. Visitor numbers have also increased despite poor weather in the early part of 2014 and negative headlines about the Dawlish rail collapse, which cut off trains to Cornwall. More
Fragmenting habitats into smaller pieces may let diseases spread more easily
Plants from fragmented populations may be more susceptible to disease, according to a 12-year study of a weedy herb in Finland. The findings are somewhat worrisome given how much of the global landscape has been broken up into small, isolated pieces. In the new study data was collected from populations of Plantago lanceolata in the Aland archipelago of southwestern Finland. This area is home to thousands of populations of P. lanceolata, some of which are more fragmented and isolated than others due to the size and distribution of the islands. Every year, a small percentage of the plants become infected with the powdery mildew Podosphaera plantaginis. The mildew was more likely to infect plants from the highly fragmented areas than the highly connected ones. And when the researchers attempted to deliberately infect plants with the pathogen, their results confirmed that resistance was significantly higher in the highly connected than in the isolated host populations. One would expect that a pathogen should benefit from having potential hosts close together because it would be able to spread more easily through such highly connected populations. But in this experiment, the plants from those highly connected populations evolved greater resistance to the mildew, so the disease couldn't take hold. More
Diversity of habitats more important than organic status for farm wildlife
An international team compared farmland biodiversity at organic and conventional farms in ten European and two African regions between 2010 and 2013. Surprisingly, they did not find a higher number of different habitats on organic farms than non-organic farms, on average over all twelve regions. However, it was clear-cut that the diversity of habitats is key to species diversity. If these additional habitats are different to the rest of the farm, they have a huge impact on the species richness of a farm. They concluded from the research that in order to sustain farmland biodiversity, more than organic farming is needed - habitat diversity is more important. More
Car exhaust stops moths from smelling roses
The acrid smell of car exhaust may seem a far cry from the fragrance of flowers, but both elicit similar responses in the brains of moths, throwing them off in their search for flower nectar. Researchers placed the tobacco hornworm moth, Manduca sexta, in a wind tunnel and exposed it to the odour of its favourite flower, Datura; they also pumped in other smells that the moth is likely to encounter in its flight. Sometimes, the confounding smell came from the creosote bush in which Datura often grows. Other times, the smell was from compounds in fuel emissions. In both cases, the moth found it harder to zero in on the flower odour. The reason the moth is confused by such disparate smells could be the benzene ring, which is at the heart of several compounds that make up both natural and artificial odours. Moths may not be the only victims. Bees, which pollinate a lot more in urban environments, could also find vehicle emissions confusing. The finding is surprising, the researchers say, because moths, like dogs, have a strong sense of smell that is several thousand times sharper than ours. It is also troubling because each minute wasted in search of food eats up valuable energy for these pollinators. More
Oxygen-binding and sensing proteins
6 - 10 Jul 2014, Society of Experimental Biology
International Food Legumes Research Conference
7 - 11 Jul 2014, University of Saskatchewan
Chemical and Non-Chemical Soil and Substrate Disinfestation
13 - 18 Jul 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
14 - 18 Jul 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
Systems biology and ecology of CAM plants
15 - 18 Jul 2104, New Phytologist Trust
Tahoe City, USA
Fruit for the Future 2014
17 Jul 2014, James Hutton Institute
23 Jul 2014, Haymarket Exhibitions
East Malling, UK
Grapevine Breeding and Genetics
28 Jul - 8 Aug 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
Potatoes in Practice
7 Aug 2014, James Hutton Institute
International Peat Technology Symposium
25 - 29 Aug 2014
International Horticultural Congress
17 - 22 Aug 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
27 - 30 Aug 2014
Boskoop, The Netherlands
Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research
31 Aug - 4 Sep 2014, Society for Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research
Emerging Challenges and Opportunities in Soil Microbiology
1 Sep 2014, Loughborough University
Four Oaks Trade Show
2 - 3 Sep 2014
Lower Withington, UK
Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture
9 - 10 Sep 2014, Centre for Urban Agriculture
9 - 12 Sep 2014, Association of Applied Biologists
10 - 12 Sep 2014, German Society of Plant Nutrition
Healthy Trees, Healthy People
14 - 17 Sep 2014, Arboriculture Association
Science & Technology: Innovation on the Horizon
16 Sep 2014
Carrot and Other Apiaceae
17 - 19 Sep 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
18 - 22 Sep 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
Dujiangyan City, China
Vegetables and Potatoes
29 Sep - 2 Oct 2014, International Society for Horticultural Science
30 Sep - 1 Oct 2014, British Crop Production Council
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