John Stoa takes a look at the excellent work being done by horticultural research centres. All that fruit and veg you’ve been growing holds some incredibly interesting biology.
Strawberry breeding has eliminated red core disease and viruses, and SCRI-bred Symphony and Rhapsody are very popular varieties. Raspberry breeding gave us a heavy-yielding Glen Ample, but now pressure is on to find resistance to raspberry root rot (phytophthora) as it is so widespread that growers are finding it difficult to find clean, unaffected land. They are now growing them in compost bags in tunnels, with Glen Fyne one of the most promising new varieties.
Blackcurrants are mainly grown commercially for production of juice high in vitamin C, though many of the Ben series are excellent for gardeners. I grow Ben Conan on my allotment. It is a very heavy cropper with large sweet fruit and is not troubled by any pests or diseases.
The new variety Big Ben has huge fruit, twice the normal size, and is suited for supermarket retail sales. Research is ongoing to continue to find ways of increasing the levels of vitamin C in the fruit for new varieties.
Other research is underway to tackle the problem of lack of winter chill as we get milder winters. Blackcurrants need a period of cold weather to initiate fruit buds and have been suffering poor crops following recent mild winters, which have also advanced flowering times, making the young fruit liable to damage with a late frost.
Gooseberry breeding has been successful in creating mildew resistance and an almost thornless bush. A new variety is approaching release and is much anticipated.
Potato breeding is looking at the problems of late blight in our wetter climate, as well as increasing levels of vitamin C and other healthy traits. A new range of Phureja varieties including Mayan Gold, with enhanced levels of carotenoids in the deep yellow fleshed tubers, have been created from potatoes grown in Peru.
Turnips and swedes are being bred with resistance to clubroot and powdery mildew, and include Invitation, Gowrie, Brora and Lomond.