Horticulture group newsletter - August 2015

5 Aug 2015

July proved a busy month for the Group. At the begining of the month we visited Edward Vinson’s Sandbanks Nursery, Faversham to look at the large scale propagation of soft fruit. See 'Strawberry plants by the million' below.

On the same day we visited Canterbury to learn about the educational specialisms at Christ Church University and later in the month we joined the Professional Group South West for a visit to Dicot Gardens near Axminster followed by Frogmary Green Farm where they grow potatoes for supermarkets, maize and grass for fodder and chickens. These and the chicken litter are now becoming the raw materials for a giant anaerobic digester to feed the national grid with gas.

During the month we also joined SCI Agrisciences Group on a visit to Rothamsted Research and the Institute of Food Science and Technology for a visit to the Warwick Crop Centre to see the research being conducted there. Reports on these visits will appear in later newsletters.

Please remember that on 18 September we will be holding the presentations for the David Miller Bursary Award at Reading University when the 2015 winners and one of last year's winner will be updating us on the work they are doing.

Peter Grimbly


Strawberry plants by the million
Plant of the Month
News from our Associates
Horticulture Industry News
Events Calendar
Horticulture Group contact details
Related Links

Strawberry plants by the million

A year ago the Horticulture Group visited the breeding nursery of Edward Vinson near Faversham in Kent where the company is breeding and selecting new varieties of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries as reported in our September 2014 Newsletter. This year we followed it up with a visit to the nearby propagation nursery where selected varieties from the breeding programmes are multiplied up to provide the plants for both Edward Vinson's own production and for sale to other soft fruit growers.

evinsonHowever, the propagation process does not start on the nursery as Managing Director, Sean Figgis (pictured on right of upper picture), explained. First dealing with strawberries he described how growing tips from the runners of selected plants are sent to the Nuclear Stock Association (NSA). There the selected plants are screened for pathogens, especially viruses, using grafting and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests. If all tests prove negative, the plants receive a PHPS certificate which certifies them as pathogen free. They can then be moved to NSA’s Stock House where a virus free stock of the variety is maintained and subjected to annual testing to ensure it remains pathogen free.

Each year virus free tips of runners are sent from NSA to Gentech Propagation in Dundee where the plants are multiplied using micropropagation. Finally some 450,000 micropropagated mother plants arrive back in Faversham where they are planted in bags suspended in the greenhouses well above the ground (middle picture) and any potential contamination. As these mother plants grow all flowers are removed in order to encourage the plants to produce as many runners as possible each with new plants at their tips. It is these tips from the mother plants that can be rooted to produce the crop plants that will finally produce the strawberries for harvest (Lower picture).

The two managers who supervise the propagation and production sides of the business are both from Bulgaria. Using their contacts back home they have set up a new propagation facility in Bulgaria where, taking advantage of better spring climate, they are able to produce runner tips 7 days earlier then the UK. These can then be bundled in ice at 4 degrees to transport them to the UK for growing on. This nursery produced over 4million strawberry tips this year.

With millions of plants being propagated each year it is vital that all conform to the same variety characteristics that were originally selected. To ensure this happens the stock plants are routinely DNA tested.

The nursery carries out a similar, though less extensive, propagation system for its new raspberry varieties. Raspberries do not perform as well as strawberries in micropropagation. Nevertheless mother plants are produced and arrive to be planted in bags as with strawberries although this time to be grown on the ground. In December, after a season’s growth, the canes are cut down and the growing bags filled with roots, are cut in half horizontally exposing the root mat. These half bags are placed in trays with the root mat uppermost and, after 6-8 weeks, adventitious shoots start to appear – up to 200 per bag. Cuttings are taken of these shoots and rooted to produce the plants for distribution to the growers.

After viewing millions of young strawberries both in greenhouse and the open field we were taken to see a production crop and allowed to ‘graze’ amongst 4 acres of the most excellent fruit. A very pleasant way to conclude a most interesting visit.

Peter Grimbly


Plant of the Month

Pedicularis groenlandica, elephant’s head, Orobanchaceae

pedicularis_groenlandicaThis stunning hemi-parasite, formerly categorised in the family Scrophulariaceae is a native of wet environments in the high mountains of western North America. The Swedish chemist, botanist and entomologist Anders Jahan Retzius (1742-1821) named and described this species in 1795 from a sample collected in Greenland by an unknown collector on an unknown date. Although the type locality is now thought to be Praestejford close to Nuuk the capital of Greenland the original type specimen, stored in the Natural History Museum in London, has now been reclassified as Pedicularis hirsuta. So maybe this is a case of mistaken identity with the legacy of a name that is now misleading.

The genus name may also be misleading. From the Latin word pediculus meaning louse, it is said that in former times people believed that when eaten, this plant gave both people and cattle lice, or perhaps they thought that the plant cured them of lice. It is a name that has stuck, with the genus still known as lousewort by some.

The common name of elephant’s head is much less misleading. It is a clear reference to the intriguing individual flowers that make up the inflorescence. Up close, the head, trunk and ears of the elephant can clearly be seen in the petals of the flower. The inflorescence sits atop a stem that rises up from the finely toothed red leaves.

North American herbalists make use of this plant as a skeletal muscle relaxant.

Whatever is true, what is certain is that this is a stunningly beautiful plant to come across on a rocky mountainside.

Other plants of the Rocky Mountains

Also found growing with and near the elephant’s head were:
Aquilegia caerulea – the state flower of Colorado
Lupinus argenteus – the silvery lupin
Phacelia sericea – a perennial phacelia, endemic to western North America
Aconitum columbianum – native to western North America
Mertensia ciliata – known as mountain bluebells

Rocky Flowers

Alison Foster


News from our Associates

CHACommercial Horticultural Association
This autumn CHA will be taking groups to three shows; the Naivasha Horticultural Fair in Kenya between 18-19 Sept 2015; The International Horticultural Trade Fair at Vijfhuizen, Holland between 4-6 Nov 2015; Growtech Eurasia in Antalya, Turkey between 2-5 December 2015. Grants will be available for eligible UK companies wishing to participate and anyone interested should contact CHA.


Society of BiologyRoyal Society of Biology
Known until now as the Society of Biology it has now received a Royal Charter
and become the Royal Society of Biology.


Horticulture Industry News

For the very latest horticultural news follow us on Facebook iconFacebookTwitterTwitter, or Linked InLinkedIn

Watermelon genome doorway to other plant studies
The genome sequence of watermelon has been published by an international consortium of scientists. Related to the cucumber, melon, squash, pumpkin and marrow, this information could dramatically accelerate both breeding of more nutritious, tasty and disease-resistant fruit, and progress our understanding of the role of the plant vascular system as an information superhighway. The genome of the domesticated watermelon contains 23,440 genes, roughly the same number of genes as in humans. The team compared the genomes of 20 different watermelons and developed a first-generation genetic variation map for watermelon. This information allowed them to identify genomic regions that have been under human selection, including those associated with fruit color, taste and size.

Percolating arsenic in rice
Researchers have made a breakthrough in discovering how to lower worrying levels of arsenic in rice that is eaten all over the world. After many laboratory experiments, they have discovered that a simple, shop-bought coffee percolator is the best method for removing the carcinogen, inorganic arsenic, from all types of rice, including white and wholegrain. Rice is the only major crop grown under flooded conditions and it is this flooding that releases inorganic arsenic, normally locked up in soil minerals, which is then absorbed by the plant. Rice has, typically, ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and according to the European Food Standards Authority, people who eat a lot of rice, as is the case in many parts of the developing world, are exposed to worrying concentrations.

Do your citrus suffer from Huanglongbing?
Researchers are currently developing integrated strategies to combat Huanglongbing, yellow dragon or citrus greening – all names for the same threat to citrus plants around the globe. This disease caused by the motile bacterium, Candidatus Liberibacter, threatens all types of citrus crops and is driving citrus growers to despair. It is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri, which carries the deadly bacteria to citrus plants. The strategies being developed include active substances to control its vector and the disease itself, and biological control agents for citrus plantations (The wasp species Brachygastra mellifica is a common predator to D. Citri). Once afflicted by yellow dragon disease, a citrus tree is doomed. Its leaves turn yellow and its fruit stays green, fails to ripen and tastes bitter. More

New rice variety could feed the planet without warming it
A new type of genetically modified rice might significantly lessen the impact of agriculture on the climate. The plant, equipped with DNA from barley, emits as little as 1% of the powerful greenhouse gas methane of a conventional variety, while also producing more rice. Experts say the approach has great potential for boosting food sustainability, but requires more research to check whether the new rice performs well in paddies and fields. Between 80% and 90% of methane emitted from rice fields is produced by microbes living on plant roots; some of the gas dissolves into the water and bubbles up, but most is absorbed along with water by plant roots, travels up to the stems and leaves, and escapes into the atmosphere. More

Partial lifting of neonicotinoid ban
The government has temporarily lifted a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain parts of the country. An EU-wide moratorium was put in place after some studies showed the pesticide caused significant harm to bees. But following a second emergency application by the National Farmers Union, two neonicotinoid pesticides can now be used for 120 days on about 5% of England's oilseed rape crop. The areas where farmers will be allowed to use neonicotinoids have not yet been decided. According to the NFU, it will be those areas where there are records over the last season or so that the pests - primarily the cabbage stem flea beetle - have inflicted most damage on oilseed rape crops. More

How fruitfly jumped from hawthorn to apple pest
A new study reveals that the genes of a fruit fly, Rhagoletis pomonella, that has plagued American apple producers for more than 150 years are the result of an extremely rapid evolutionary change. The study looked at the processes that cause a new species to emerge, which may threaten existing, economically important crops. Scientists think that strong environmental changes, such as a drastic change in seasonal weather, can rapidly 'push' different sections of an organism's genome—its genetic blueprint—into changing. Traditionally, the fly lays its eggs in the fruit of the Hawthorn tree. In the 1850s, a small group of these flies began laying their eggs in apples. To do that, regions of the genome had to change from one generation to the next. Apples mature earlier in the year than Hawthorn fruit. Because of this different maturation window, the group of flies had to begin their lifecycles earlier to match the growth cycle of apples, their new host fruit. More

Science minister signals shift towards 'one nation science'
Universities and science minister Jo Johnson has announced a 'new approach' to make sure that all areas of the country can reach their “full potential” in research. He said that the country’s recovery relied on a 'fundamental rebalancing' of the economy. The plan involves audits to map research and innovation strengths and infrastructure in different parts of the country and an 'action plan' to tackle the lack of diversity in science. 46 per cent of public investment in research goes into the 'golden triangle' of London, Cambridge and Oxford. He stressed that excellence must remain the criterion for funding research but we do have to ensure we recognise that other parts of the country have proven research excellence in their universities and ensure we fund excellence wherever it is found in order to realise the productivity gains that we have seen in the golden triangle. More and More

World's first Field Scanalyzer
A world first for automated measuring of crop growth and health in the field has been installed for Rothamsted Research. This is the world’s largest and most sophisticated facility and will revolutionise the way that crop health and growth are monitored in the field. The Field Scanalyzer comprises of a gantry that supports a motorised measuring platform with multiple sensors. Crops within a 10m x 110m area can be monitored throughout the season with a high degree of resolution and reproducibility. The facility is fully automated and can operate 24 hours per day throughout the year. On board illumination facilitates the data collection and sensors include multi-wavelength imaging systems, an imaging sensor to measure chlorophyll fluorescence decay kinetics and a laser system for 3D visualisation and crop height determination.

A nasty smell with many uses
Rotting flesh gives off two particularly characteristic chemicals, dimethyl disulphide and dimethyl trisulphide. It is these chemicals that flies, whose larvae feed on rotting flesh, home in on to find suitable sites to lay their eggs. For this reason plants use the same smelly chemicals if they wish to attract flies to pollinate their flower(s). The titan lily, Amorphophallus titanium, and the parasitic plant Rafflesia are good examples but there are may others. However it’s not all bad. The same chemicals are responsible for the sought after characteristic smell of the seaside and the same chemicals that dogs and pigs home in on to find our prized and much valued truffles. More


Events Calendar

Underutilized Plant Species
5 - 8 Aug 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Madurai, India

6 - 8 Aug 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Yakima, USA

6 - 9 Aug 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Kyoto, Japan

Food Processing & Technology
10 - 12 Aug 2015, OMICS International
London, UK

Quality Management in Postharvest Systems
13 - 15 Aug 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Potatoes in Practice
13 Aug 2015, James Hutton Institute
Dundee, UK

Sustainable Uses of Soil in Harmony with Food Security
17 - 20 Aug 2015, Thailand Land Development Department
Phetchaburi, Thailand

Protea and New Ornamental Crops
20 - 24 Aug, International Society for Horticultural Science
Perth, Australia

Present Constraints of Plum Growing in Europe
20 - 21 Aug 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Skopelos, Greece

Ecological Restoration
23 - 27 Aug 2015, Society for Ecological Restoration & Manchester University
Manchester, UK

Machine Harvesting of Tea: curse or cure
27 Aug 2015, Tropical Agriculture Association
London, UK

31 Aug 2015 - 4 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Naples, Italy

Biopesticides - innovative technologies & strategies for pest control
7 - 9 Sep 2015, Swansea University
Swansea, UK

World Sustainability Forum
7 - 9 Sep 2015, SCI Forum
Basel, Switzerland

Growing Media, Composting and Substrate Analysis
7 - 11 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Vienna, Austria

Four Oaks Trade Show
6 - 9 Sep 2015, Four Oaks Nursery
Lower Withington, UK

Mycotoxins in Nuts and Dried Fruits
8 - 12 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Abuja, Nigeria

Next steps for UK food waste policy
10 Sep 2015, Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum
London, UK

Fresh-Cut Produce: Maintaining Quality and Safety
13 - 18 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Davis, USA

Fruit Growing
16 - 18 Sep 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Belgrade, Serbia

28 Sep 2015 - 2 Oct 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Darwin, Australia

Artichoke, Cardoon and their Wild Relatives
29 Sep 2015 - 2 Oct 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
La Plata, Argentina

People and Nature
30 Sep, Cambridge Conservation Forum
Cambridge, UK

BCPC Conference
6 - 7 Oct 2015, BCPC
Brighton, UK

Global Food Security
11 - 14 Oct 2015, Cornell University and Columbia University
Ithaca, USA

Applications of Modelling as an Innovative Technology in the Horticultural Supply Chain
11 - 14 Oct 2015, International Society for Horticultural Science
Wageningen, The Netherlands

Global soil biodiversity
13 Oct 2015, James Hutton Institute
Dundee, UK

Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Continuum
13 - 14 Oct 2015, Rothamsted Research
Harpenden, UK

Soils - where the answer lies
15 Oct 2015, Tropical Agriculture Association
Cirencester, UK

Stress Resilience
23 - 25 Oct 2015, Society of Experimental Biology
Iguassu Falls, Brazil

Plant Molecular Biology
25 - 30 Oct 2015, Brazilian Genetics Society
Iguassu Falls, Brazil

28 - 30 Oct 2015, LemnaTec
Munich, Germany

Artemisia annua against malaria
29 Oct 2015, Tropical Agriculture Association
London, UK

If you would like to advertise a forthcoming event please contact. ester.monfort@soci.org


Horticulture Group Contact Details

For submitting ideas or to volunteer to be part of a committee or a group, please contact:

Chairman - Peter Grimbly
Meetings Secretary - Alison Foster
Minutes Secretary - Margaret Waddy
Newsletter co-ordinator - Sue Grimbly scihortigroup@btinternet.com
Group Contact - Ester Monfort Martinez, E: ester.monfort@soci.org T: +44(0)20 7598 1584


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