5 Oct 2011
During September the Group held its Annual General Meeting which was followed by talks by Kevin Moran and Alison Foster. These are reported on below. The Group also joined the Professional Horticultural Group South West to visit Golden Acres Nurseries and Knoll gardens in Dorset, again reported below.
October sees the cider apple harvest in full swing and on 25 October 2011 we will be visiting three contrasting cider makers from large to small scale as well as looking at perry production from pears. More
Bedding plants, rippling sand and ornamental grass
Golden Acres Nurseries was started around 30 years ago and now in addition to two production nurseries it has four garden centre outlets in Dorset and Wiltshire. The nursery is well known to many in the industry as the site of the successful GAN Trade Show which until recently was held each February on the West Parley site. Showing the Horticulture Group around in conjunction with the Professional Horticulture Group South West, Operations Director Simon Edwards explained that they had stopped the trade show in order to concentrate on their core business of bedding plants.
The tour started in the West Parley Garden Centre which unashamedly concentrates on selling quality plants and does not sell the garden furniture and 'household decor' etc. that many others do. They find this a successful formula despite having more typical garden centre competitors in the immediate area. Apart from plants and plant accessories the other main source of income is an atmospheric restaurant built in an old cavalry stables.
The production nursery is in three sections. The first is a cash and carry sales area, selling a range of shrubs and herbaceous plants to landscapers. These plants together with those for the garden centres are all bought in and, where possible, sourced from UK producers. With the current exchange rates, buying from European countries is expensive and so more than ever is UK sourced.
The main area of the nursery is used for bedding plant production. They aim to operate on a relatively simple low cost system and as a result concentrate on a few uncomplicated lines. 'Too much choice confuses the customer' reckons Simon. The latest victim of 'complications' is the traditional Busy Lizzie. While easy to propagate, the customer will inevitably lose them to downy mildew and be disappointed and the nursery does not want disappointed customers.
Sowing is done using a Hamilton vacuum drum seeder to accurately place the seeds on prefilled plug trays. After germination in a controlled environment chamber created from the ubiquitous shipping container the trays are laid out in the glasshouse on heated beds and finally finished off on unheated floors. Plants that require potting on are transplanted using a Hamilton Tea Transplanter linked to a pot filler and 'big bale' compost feeder.
The final section of the nursery specialises in a few added-value products. These include hanging baskets but their main line is a decor item 'sand art' using coloured sand and low maintenance plants (picture right). Trained operators (all Polish women) fill ornamental glass containers with coloured sands to create a ripple effect. The sand is filled around a pot so that a plant can be dropped in to complete the product. The plant of choice seemed to be Haworthia attenuate f clariperla, a small architectural succulent.
The group moved on to Knoll Gardens where proprietor Neil Lucas showed us round his demonstration garden. Neil has collected grasses and sedges from all round the world then selected, and now propagates and sells, those he feels have horticultural value in the UK. His collection of 6-700 lines ranges from low growing grasses and sedges through the taller Stipa and Miscanthus to bamboos. However he does not sell the latter as he regards them as too vigorous for the average garden. His garden, created from a carrot field, now benefits from a framework of mature trees providing both shelter and a mix of sun and shade to provide suitable habitats for the full range of species he grows.
Although the main emphasis of the nursery is the use of ornamental grasses Neil is happy to grow large numbers of standard Festuca for planting green roofs.
AGM, Fertilisers and Prairie planting
The main formalities of the 2011 Annual General Meeting of the Horticulture Group took place without incident. Thanks were recorded to those members of the Committee who were retiring, Nigel Kirby, Phil Mullington and Marion Stainton. In their place four new members were elected; Susan Cole, Chris Moncrieff, Kevin Moran and Julian Perfect.
Yara - Fertilisers for Horticulture
After the meeting Dr Kevin Moran gave an overview of Yara International ASA, the Norway-based global fertiliser company founded over 100 years ago and its role within the BioResources Group. Yara International (then Norsk Hydro) was established in 1905 when the Birkeland-Eyde 'arc furnace' was used to produce calcium nitrate using hydro-electric power at Nortudden in Norway. Yara was formed as a separate company from Norsk Hydro in 2004 to focus on fertiliser production and distribution, and Phosyn plc, international specialists in foliars and micronutrients for whom Kevin Moran had worked for nearly 30 years, was acquired by Yara in 2006.
Yara International now has annual global revenues of around £6.5 billion and a workforce of more than 7,300 in 150 countries. Yara is very active in R&D with many research programmes worldwide which tackle the problems encountered by farmers and growers of a diverse range of crops. Dr Moran's particular interest is in mineral e.g. calcium and micronutrient e.g. zinc nutrition of crops and in improving food quality through bio-fortification.
In bioresources terms, Yara is looking at the key global challenges in the areas of food, energy, climate and health. He acknowledged that use of fertilisers gets a bad book from some writers particularly in the developed world. But many of these do not appreciate the value of adding both macro- and micronutrients to food crops. Sadly in some countries, growers still believe that the more fertiliser you add, the higher the yield, ad infinitum, while in others, crops are grown without fertilisers until the soil is exhausted and no longer productive. Soil analysis is vital to ensure the right fertiliser, is added at the right time, in the right place and in the right amount which maximises crop production, while minimising run-off and reducing carbon footprint.
The two most critically-needed micronutrients in the developing world are Vitamin A and zinc. Kevin showed the correlation between yield and nutritional value of rice and wheat crops if nitrogen and zinc fertilisers are added together. This means that infants in the developing world can enjoy an improved supply of the micronutrient when currently 400,000 children die each year through lack of zinc in their food.
Sowing the Seeds of Change – The New Merton Border at Oxford Botanic Gardens
Dr Alison Foster then described the plans for a new border in the 'lower' area of Oxford Botanic Gardens (OBG), based on the research on sustainable herbaceous planting of Prof James Hitchmough of Sheffield University.
The original aim of redeveloping the area was to provide an aesthetically pleasing border. But since OBG is a dedicated provider of education and the 'lower' garden already has displays of fruit- and vegetable-growing, and an herbaceous border, with a wide mix of well-known and more specialist species. The area to be developed, starting in 2011, measures 955m2; the largest single cultivable area within OBG. The aims are to promote sustainable development, with minimal detriment to the environment; celebrate plant diversity; and provide an ornamentally inspiring feature.
The garden consulted Prof Hitchmough, who has researched such plantings for 20 years. The aim is to sow (rather than buy in container plants) a mix of herbaceous perennials, which will provide aesthetic appeal and educational interest throughout the growing season, and a wildlife resource during winter months. OBG is calculating the difference in cost between their seed sowing programme, versus buying pot grown plants. Plants have been chosen from three main world sites: Central/ Southern USA Great Plains; Eastern/ Southern Africa, >1000m; Southern Europe; Turkey. The selection includes species which will tolerate the warmer, drier conditions predicted long-term. Some are already well established in the UK; others show potential to adapt.
James Hitchmough's research has shown the balance and mix of seed species which work together to provide a display, over an extended season, of flowers and ground-cover for a number of years, with minimal maintenance. The 'Merton' Bed at OBG will be treated with glyphosate, and the pernicious Nothoscordum fragrans (a garlic relative, with highly efficient powers of spreading, through prolific bulblets), is being removed by hand-digging and electrocution. The top 8cm of soil will be removed and replaced with an equivalent layer of weed free sand. Alison emphasised that this regime is not the equivalent of preparing land for a wildflower meadow; the aim is not to depress soil fertility. More
The Hitchmough seed mix will be sown at the end of October, to allow for vernalisation. The bed will be covered with jute matting, similar to that at Burgess Park. The bed will be irrigated next Spring, to help seedlings establish.
Maintenance will consist of cutting back the plant haulms in late winter., and burning them off every few years, as necessary. The plant 'sward' should be sufficiently dense to prevent weed problems.
Group Honorary Secretary
Plant of the Month
Cucumber, Cucumis sativus, Cucurbitaceae
The genus Cucumis contains two species familiar to most people Cucumis sativus, the cucumber and Cucumis melo, the melon, as well as some thirty other species. Cucumis sativus originally came from the India/Indo China region of Asia where it has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years and it remains a widely grown 'vegetable' although of course strictly a fruit. The majority of cucumbers grown around the world are what we in England would call ridge cucumbers with broad seeded fruit. As the fruit are normally harvested at an immature stage, the seeds are undeveloped and soft so can be eaten along with the flesh. The typical English glasshouse cucumber takes advantage of the plant's natural ability to produce seedless parthenocarpic fruit; ie without pollination. This long thin, glossy skinned type is thought to have been selected in the hothouses of large estates when the gardeners tried to produce fruit as early in the year as possible before any bees were active and thus gradually selected for increased parthenocarpy.
The cucumber is naturally monoecious with separate male and female flowers on every plant. The main stem remains persistently 'male' for some considerable length but the first two leaf nodes on every sideshoot normally bear female fruit and this is where the crop is borne. However, it means the sideshoots need constant trimming to encourage more sideshoots and more female flowers. Many modern parthenocarpic varieties carry a gene that makes them all-female so that every leaf node on the main stem and sideshoots bears only female flowers. This reduced the need for trimming and also helps to avoid the bitter taste that can come from pollination of these varieties.
The bitterness is caused by one or more of a group of steroid chemicals called cucurbitacins which are normally present in all parts of the plant except the fruit. There is another single gene that can block the production of this chemical giving so-called bitter-free (UK) or burpless (US) cucumbers. Purists will say that this removes some of the 'bite' to the flavour of the fruit but it also means that all parts of the plant can be eaten and have the familiar cucumber flavour albeit without the familiar texture.
A third type of cucumber cultivar is the gherkin. These are smaller fruited varieties of ridge cucumbers that have been selected for pickling. They tend to have smaller fruit and denser flesh than slicing cucumbers. They are harvested immature in the same way as slicing cucumbers and pickled in either vinegar or brine.
News from our Associates
Society for Horticultural Science
The ISHS holds a great many meeting each year throughout the world. Most of these are notified in our eEvents Calendar below. The talks given at these meetings are routinely reported in Acta Hoticulturae, a full list of which can be found here.
In conjunction with the Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Chemistry the Society has submitted a joint response to the White Paper on Higher Education. A summary can be viewed here.
The Society is also launching in November a new special interest group, the UK Plant Science Federation, to bring together stakeholders from across the plant science community. The Horticulture Group has agreed to join this group on behalf of SCI and Professor Geoff Dixon has agreed to be our representative. More
Horticulture Industry News
Plants take in more CO2 than thought
Scientists might be able to predict climate change with more accuracy after discovering that plants consume carbon dioxide 25 percent faster than previously thought. The finding could help refine efforts to fight global warming just at a time when U.N. talks are struggling to agree on a broader climate pact that will be the focus of a major meeting in December in South Africa. Better and more accurate climate science can help change energy policies. More
Loss of 'lake lawnmowers' leads to algae blooms
Unprecedented algae growth in some lakes could be linked to the decline of water calcium levels and the subsequent loss of an important algae-grazing organism that helps keep blooms at bay. Daphnia - also known as water fleas - acts like microscopic lawnmowers in lakes, feeding on algae and keeping it in check. However, without sufficient calcium, these water fleas cannot reproduce. Declining calcium concentrations in some lakes, which is linked to acid deposition and logging, has only recently been identified as a serious environmental problem in North America and Europe. More
Dipping tongues allow bees to drink the sweetest nectar
US mathematicians have worked out why the flowers pollinated by bees have sweeter nectar than those visited by butterflies. When it comes to drinking nectar, the most important factor is whether the insects dip their tongue in, or whether they suck the liquid up. The sweeter the nectar, the thicker it is, and research found that the dipping method of bees is ideal for drawing up the most viscous liquid. By making mathematical models that take into account how the thickness, or viscosity, of nectar changes with increasing sugar concentration, the researchers were able to find out what feeding method was best for drinking nectar with varying sweetness, testing the idea that plants and their pollinating insects have co-evolved. More
Spicing up Broccoli boosts cancer-fighting power
Eating fresh broccoli with a spicy food that contains the enzyme myrosinase significantly enhances each food's individual cancer-fighting power and ensures that absorption takes place in the upper part of the digestive system where you get the maximum health benefit. To get this effect, spice up your broccoli with broccoli sprouts, mustard, horseradish, or wasabi. The spicier, the better. When fresh broccoli sprouts were eaten with broccoli powder, scientists were able to measure bioactive compounds in the blood 30 minutes later. When these peaked at three hours, they were much higher when the foods were eaten together than when either was eaten alone. More
Groundwater greed drives sea level rises
Slowly and almost imperceptibly the seas are rising, swollen by melting ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms. But there's another source of water adding to the rise: humanity's habit of pumping water from underground aquifers to the surface. Most of this water ends up in the sea. Not many scientists even consider the effects of groundwater on sea level, says Leonard Konikow of the United States Geological Survey. Konikow measured how much water had ended up in the oceans by looking at changes in groundwater levels in 46 well-studied aquifers, which he then extrapolated to the rest of the world. He estimates that about 4500 cubic kilometres of water was extracted from aquifers between 1900 and 2008. That amounts to 1.26 centimetres of the overall rise in sea levels of 17 cm in the same period. More
Lessons to be learned from nature in photosynthesis ....
If we can learn from nature and develop an artificial version of photosynthesis we would have an energy source that is absolutely clean and virtually inexhaustible. 'Solar energy is forecasted to provide a significant fraction of the world's energy needs over the next century, as sunlight is the most abundant source of energy we have at our disposal,' says Graham Fleming at the University of California, 'However, to utilise solar energy harvested from sunlight efficiently we must understand and improve both the effective capture of photons and the transfer of electronic excitation energy.' More
....Moss shows the way to do it
A team of designers and scientists at Cambridge University will be exhibiting a novel moss table at the London Design Festival later this week. The prototype table will showcase an emerging technology called biophotovoltaics (BPV) which uses the natural process of photosynthesis to generate electrical energy. Featuring biological fuel cells made from moss, the table has been created as a vision of the future. Still at early stages, BPV has the potential to power small devices such as digital clocks. Low cost BPV devices may become competitive alternatives to conventional renewable technologies such as bio-fuels in the next ten years. More
Carnivorous pitcher plant inspires super-slippery material
Water, oil, blood and insects alike slide swiftly off a new super-slippery material inspired by a carnivorous plant. Scientists searching for clever materials sometimes borrow ideas from nature. The leaves of Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), for example, are famously water repellant, thanks to their textured surfaces which trap a cushion of air for water to slide down. The leaves have inspired a range of so-called 'superhydrophobic' materials. But these materials have trouble repelling oils and more complex liquids, which have lower surface tensions than water and can seep into the surface at the slightest pressure. Now, a new material takes a cue from one of the plant world's few meat-eaters: the carnivorous pitcher plant Nepenthes. The plants prey on insects, whose oily feet normally allow them to walk up walls. But pitchers' tube-shaped leaves have microscopic bumps that hold a thin layer of water in place. The water repels the oils, sending hapless insects slipping straight into their gaping mouths. More
Bulk chemicals from plant materials
Researchers from four companies are working together with researchers at Wageningen to develop processes that will, for the first time, produce the bulk chemicals styrene and acrylic acid from plant materials. Styrene and acrylates are two of the most widely used types of bulk chemicals in the world, and they are presently being produced from fossil sources. These chemical building blocks are, in turn, used to produce coatings, optical fibres, plexiglass, glues, plastics etc. In the research project these bulk chemicals are produced using plant-based sugars and protein-rich residual biomass released during the production of biofuels. More
You are what you eat!
MicroRNAs from common plant crops such as rice and cabbage can be found in the blood and tissues of humans and other plant-eating mammals. One microRNA in particular, MIR168a, which is highly enriched in rice, was found to inhibit a protein that helps removes low-density lipoprotein (LDL) from the blood, suggesting that microRNAs can influence gene expression across kingdoms.
'This is a very exciting piece of work that suggests that the food we eat may directly regulate gene expression in our bodies,' said Clay Marsh at the Ohio State University. MicroRNAs are, as the name implies, very short RNA sequences (approximately 22 nucleotides in length) discovered in the early 1990s. They are known to modulate gene expression by binding to mRNA, often resulting in inhibition. With the recent discovery that microRNAs circulate the blood by hitching a ride in small membrane-encased particles known as microvesicles. More
Weed identification by mobile phone
An innovative new mobile phone app that will help growers identify weeds on their farms will be launched by BASF at the beginning of next month. The app contains 140 arable grass and broad-leaved weeds and over 1,000 photos to aid identification. Users can take a picture of the weed they are trying to identify, which remains as a smaller image on screen while users filter weeds out by choosing characteristics relating to the weed, such as cotyledon and leaf shape. More
Ladybirds sniff out powdery mildew
Mycophagous ladybird beetles (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) feed on powdery mildew and have considerable potential as biological control agents; however, the foraging ecology and behavior of these beetles is not well understood. Now the olfactory cues presented by squash plants (Cucurbita moschata) infected by powdery mildew (Podosphaera sp.) have been studied as well as the behavioral responses of twenty-spotted ladybird beetles to these cues. Volatile analyses through gas chromatography revealed a number of volatile compounds characteristic of infected plants, including 3-octanol and its analogues 1-octen-3-ol and 3-octanone.
These compounds are typical “moldy” odorants previously reported in volatiles collected from other fungi. In addition, infected plants exhibited elevated emissions of several compounds also observed in collections from healthy leaves, including linalool and benzyl alcohol, which are reported to have anti-fungal properties. In Y-tube choice assays, P. vigintimaculata beetles displayed a significant preference for the odors of infected plants compared to those of healthy plants. Moreover, beetles exhibited strong attraction to one individual compound, 1-octen-3-ol, which was the most abundant of the characteristic fungal compounds identified. More
Autumn crocus fights cancer
Researchers are poised to start clinical trials with a new 'smart bomb' treatment, derived from the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale), targeted specifically at tumours. The treatment is able to slow the growth of and even completely 'kill' a range of different cancers, in experiments with mice.
The native British autumn crocus, otherwise known as 'meadow saffron' or 'naked lady', contains the potent chemical colchicine, which is known to have medicinal properties, including anti-cancer effects. But colchicine is toxic to other tissues in the body, as well as cancer, so until now its use has been limited. The researchers have now altered the colchicine molecule so it is inactive in the body until it reaches the tumour. Once there, the chemical becomes active and breaks up the blood vessels supplying the tumour, effectively starving it. More
Potential control for Erwinia rots
The bacterial diseases blackleg and wet rot represent a major challenge to growers of seed potatoes and flower bulbs. There are no ways to control these pathogens nor are there any resistant varieties. A scientist in the Netherlands has discovered how the organism that causes blackleg and wet rot, the Dickeya bacterium (Erwinia), spreads in the potato plant. He also discovered an antagonistic bacterium that can be used to control the Dickeya bacteria. More knowledge about the ecology of the pathogenic bacteria could contribute to a better way of controlling these diseases. More
Using less water to grow more potatoes
Most commercial potato producers use ridged-row planting systems but this planting configuration allows irrigation runoff to collect in the furrow and percolate below the crop root zone. This water is unavailable to the crops, and can also lead to increased nitrate leaching from the soil. American researchers have found that using the flat beds increases yields by an average of 6 percent, even though 5 percent less water was used for irrigation. This means that using flat beds instead of ridged rows for potato production could lead to an overall 12 percent increase in irrigation water use efficiency. More
Tequila for your fuel tank
Agave tequilana, the plant used to make tequila and fibres for rope, has proved a handy alternative feedstock to corn or sugarcane in the production of bioethanol fuel. The sustainability of large-scale biofuel production has recently been called into question because of mounting concerns over the impact on land and water resources. Now a team at the University of Oxford has studied the viability of using Agave as an alternative feedstock because it can be grown in an arid environment.
In the US, bioethanol is produced from corn, which is very water and fertiliser intensive and requires a significant amount of land. The result is a trade-off between feedstocks for the food markets and feedstocks for bioethanol production. In Brazil, bioethanol is produced using sugarcane. But again, land that could be used to grow food is needed to grow this and the question is: which is more important, food or fuel? More
Quotes of the Month
'Slash-and-Burn' is when research councils keep changing priorities, causing scientist to change areas to maintain funding!!
Sophien Kamoun, The Sainsbury Lab
SCI Horticulture Group events are listed here
Other Events of Interest
visit to Warburtons
2 Oct, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Diversity in Carrot, Open Afternoon
3 Oct, Warwick Crop Centre
3 Oct, Oxford Botanic Garden
South West Growers Show
5 Oct, South West Growers
Balkan Symposium on
Vegetables and Potatoes
9 - 12 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
10 - 14 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Application of Nanotechnology in the Food and Food Packaging Industries
11 Oct, Institute of Food Science and Technology, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
technologies for early pest and disease detection
12 Oct, Association of Applied Biologists
Tunnel Horticultural Crop Production
16 - 19 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
and Establishment of Micropropagated Plants
16 - 20 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
Nebraska City, USA
17 Oct, Oxford Botanic Garden
Media, Composting and Substrate Analysis
17 - 21 Oct, International Society for Horticultural Science
and Biopesticides Symposium
18 - 20 Oct, Ag-West Bio
19 - 20 Oct, The Marden Fruit Show Society
Manipulating plant genes – how do you actually do it?
24 Oct, Oxford Botanic Garden
in the garden
27 Oct, Oxford Botanic Garden
From hairy roots to new medicines
31 Oct, Oxford Botanic Garden
31 Oct - 2 Nov, British Crop Protection Council
1 - 4 Nov, Amsterdam RAI
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2 - 3 Nov, Institute of Groundsmanship
Quality Management of Horticultural Products of Interest for Tropical Regions
2 - 4 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
The Natural Insecticide
2 - 4 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Plants in a chemical world
7 Nov, Oxford Botanic Garden
9 Nov, Southern Growers
Symposium on Date Palm
13 - 14 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
GM crops – where do we go from here?
14 Nov, Oxford Botanic Garden
Symposium on Tropical Wines
14 - 16 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Chiang Mai, Thailand
and Aromatic Plants
15 - 18 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Chiang Mai, Thailand
World Fruit and Vegetable
16 - 17 Nov, WVF Expo
of Tuta absoluta
16 - 18 Nov, EPPO/IOBC/FAO/NEPPO
and Carrot Conference
16 Nov - 17 Nov, Processed Vegetables Growers' Association
and Tomato Improvement
17 Nov, Society of Biology
Sutton Bonnington, UK
Medicinal and Aromatic
20 - 23 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Achieving food security and sustainability for 9 billion
21 Nov, Oxford Botanic Garden
on New Floricultural Crops
22 - 25 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Buenos Aires, Argentina
IAgrM BIAC National Conference
23 Nov, British Institute of Agricultural Consultants
Details to Follow
– A cut above the rest
24 Nov, Oxford Botanic Garden
24 Nov - 27 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Chiang Mai, Thailand
27 - 30 Nov, International Society for Horticultural Science
Tel Aviv, Israel
Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae
28 Nov - 2 Dec
28 - 30 Nov, Journal of Biopesticides
29 Nov, Association of Applied Biologists
on Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
29 Nov - 2 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
Chiang Mai, Thailand
in Biological Control
30 Nov, Association of Applied Biologists
2 Dec, British Association of Landscape Industries
in Supply Chains of Ornamentals
3 - 6 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
Management of Root and Tuber Crops
3 - 6 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
Pest and Disease Management in Exporting Horticultural Crops
3 - 6 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
in Postharvest Systems
3 - 6 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
9 - 12 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
Nutrition and Fertilisation: Vegetable Farms Management Strategies for Eco-Sustainable
19 - 22 Dec, International Society for Horticultural Science
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Horticulture Group Contact Details
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