How We Look At Salads by David Domoney

By on 23rd March in Garden

The Naked Garden is solely reliant on nature doing its job at the right time and in the right place (along with a little help from us for the timings of course). Plants always make me nervous when doing show gardens as they have a habit of peeking too early or too late, so I never keep my eggs all in one basket. Whilst on my travels someone recommended using a new Agricultural Research Centre called Proeftuin Zwaagdijk based in Holland.

During recent years the Proeftuin Zwaagdijk institute have developed into one of the most important agricultural research centres in the world, carrying out practical research from their base in the Netherlands. They have a nationwide network of sites with facilities in North Holland and in the Westland, and trials fields in 100 locations spread all over the Netherlands (from Limburg to Groningen). This highly flexible organisation offers high quality practical research which can be immediately applied to improve productivity and plant genetics.

With their experience in growing using alternative methods we have commissioned them to grow our salads, tomatoes and cucumbers in a very sterile hospital operating theatre style environment for our Naked Garden.

Lettuce

They feed the plants water using a specially developed nutritional feed which is dissolved in the water. Too much nutrition (salts) could be harmful or even fatal so great care has to be taken. Longer term a lack of nutrition could create deficiency symptoms and plants unacceptable for the show.

The water is also monitored to ensure it is not too warm, less than 30°C is suitable and ideally enriched with oxygen.

The main goal of scientists is to prevent/limit the growth of algae and this is exercised by keeping the water, nutrients and therefore keeping the roots in a dark environment. We have asked Proeftuin to revise this process for our Grow your Own selection and expose the roots to light. Unlike most familiar life on Earth, plants do not eat but, rather, synthesize their food using carbon dioxide, water and energy form the sun. For this reason plants require adequate exposure to light, and they have evolved mechanisms that allow them to maximize their exposure in conditions where light is limited. When light only comes from a single direction, you can observe one of the plant kingdom’s more impressive evolutionary adaptations: Phototropism.

What is Phototropism?

Phototropism is the way in which plants modify their growth so that they extend or lean towards a light source. If you have ever grown a house plant on a bright, sunny window cill, you will probably have observed phototropism, over time your plant begins to lean towards the source of light and press into the glass. The reason for this behaviour is that each plant cell contains the machinery needed to convert sunlight to energy, by exposing as much of the plant as possible to the sunlight allows the plant to maximise its energy production.

Plants lack nervous systems and sensory organs recognisable in animals, so it’s amazing how plants know which direction a light source is coming from? This is possible because embedded in each plant cell are special receptors called phototropins. These receptors react to light in the blue area of the spectrum present in sunlight. Growth is stimulated on the darker side of the plant, where the phototropins do not detect a light source. A plant hormone called auxin moves to this darker side, causing increased growth and bending the plant towards the light.

We have many factors to consider when removing plant pots and these rules only apply to the crops which have tested so far, and tests are still underway:-

The plants should not float too deep in the solution as the upper parts of the roots can become rotten.

Regular circulating of the solution will help the plants and is better than not circulating the water and nutrients.

At our Dutch nursery, we are undertaking several trials and timing the point from cutting to fruiting to ensure the plants we take to the show will be at their best on the opening day of the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

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