Loving your greens is becoming a more attractive proposition, as breeders continue to work on the flavour, shape and colour of leafy vegetables to appeal to consumers
The results could be seen at British Seed Houses' autumn demonstrations in Lincolnshire last month. Elsewhere, companies are working to extend the cropping season or strengthen disease tolerance, field holding and storage.
Monarchy is Nickerson-Zwaan's new sweet-tasting pointed cabbage, which can stand some frost and so extend the home-grown season by taking over after Duchy. "We're learning how to use it more accurately," says product development manager Nick Bolton. "It's for harvesting from mid October until the bad weather. Some growers went to the end of November last year, which was a six-week extension to the season."
It needs to reach its desired size before growth shuts down in winter, however, and comparison of 25 July as a planting date with 9 August at the Lincolnshire demonstration showed plants from the later date struggling to make the target. Monarchy will cold store, too, until the end of December.
The company has also worked on a red pointed cabbage, NiZ 15-852, which is a couple of weeks later to mature than Duchy and not as sweet but presents an opportunity to market red and green twin packs, says Bolton.
Nickerson's savoy Jade, launched last year, suits outlets looking for 10 to a box while the heads still retain enough weight. The plots had been planted at 59,000/ha to make the required size, but Jade would stand higher densities if it found demand as a baby. It is scheduled for harvesting from November to February.
The ballhead cabbage Sennen was bred by Sakata not only for its flavour but to come into crop ahead of spring-planted Primo by sowing in July and transplanting in October. Introduced two years ago, it has already been improved by CB 10271, which features better uniformity and field holding. "It holds for five to six days rather than two to three days," says Sakata UK technical manager Kate Smart.
Mona Lisa is Sakata's proposed name for the Primo variety K3-537, which follows spring-sown Candisa. Where Candisa matures in 70-75 days, K3-537 takes 75-85 days. Head weight is similar at 0.8-1kg. Sakata has also bred a heavier headed Primo, WC99042, which makes 2kg in weight - a size more in demand in Europe, but which may find a place here.
Mucsuma, Rijk Zwaan's newest processing white cabbage, is a 130- to 140-day variety that will store at least until the end of May. Plant population for a 3kg head weight is recommended at 35,000 to 40,000 plants/ha.
Expect Elsoms' new cabbage for coleslaw production, is relatively early maturing but expected to store longer than Counter - up to June. "We are still trialling it in-store, so will know more next year," says crop specialist Keely Watson.
In red cabbage, Resima is Rijk Zwaan's first round-headed variety. It matures in 130-140 days and will store up to June. Breeder Cord Hadler says Resima is particularly versatile in terms of weight, producing heads of 1.5kg and heavier depending on plant density.
Clause has brought out a couple of new red cabbages - Redsea and Redguard. Redsea is a second early for the Primero segment, making 1.2-1.8kg heads. Redguard is a storage variety - to March/April - with heads of 1.8-2.3kg. "Redguard has an oval shape and stands erect on its stem," says development and product marketing manager John Ward. "It's all cabbage because of its small core and sits well in the supermarket."
Seminis and Nickerson's have both been working on varieties of spring greens that crop over a longer period. Seminis already offers two hybrids for summer and two for winter, but believes RX7026 could work all season to help simplify growers' cropping plans. Also new is RX7104, a summer variety that appears to hold well in the field.
Nickerson's first hybrid, Winter Jewel, was bred as a winter variety but works just as well in summer, says Bolton. Its second introduction, Antelope (formerly NiZ 15-823), is slightly more compact and vigorous in winter but can also be used through the summer and autumn on less fertile soils.
Stabilis, Rijk Zwaan's most recent summer cauliflower, is best produced from an October sowing in modules for planting in March, cutting between mid June and the end of July. It has an upright habit, so is well presented for harvesting. "Stabilis is not as flexible as Dexter because it has a shorter cycle," says international crop specialist John Buysman. "But it's quick to build a frame in summer with enough leaves to maintain a white head."
Seminis has been working on developing varieties for early autumn production that come into crop before Appia. A new trio provides a spread of harvest over a fortnight, says Seminis product sales specialist John Hutton with RS5710 taking 100 days and Agenda and Aquata maturing in 110 to 120 days.
Clause's autumn variety Overlord has been released to complement Chassiron. "It's not as fully flexible as Chassiron," says Ward. "It comes in three days later between mid September and the end of October." It makes an upright plant with a good twist cover.
Nickerson's broccoli variety NiZ 18-151 is on trial for the first time in the UK this season. Bolton says the absence of any spear rot made this selection stand out in a screening trial this autumn. "We will be testing it further to see whether its yield is comparable to other varieties and how much of the season it will work," he says.
Sirtaki, the first variety for the UK to emerge from Clause's new programme in broccoli, has been followed by Kuba and Kechua. A first early for sowing by September 20 at the latest, Sirtaki can come in three to five days before any other variety in May.
Kuba and Kechua make 300-500g heads for the fresh market. Kuba is two to three days earlier than Ironman, with clean stems, a blue-green dome with small bead and low incidence of bracting. Kechua has the same timing as Ironman. "Last year, whenever we cut Kechua, it seemed to have two or three days extra shelf life," says Ward.
Code-named varieties in Seminis's broccoli trial were RX 1006, which comes in five days later than Steel and stands better in the field, and RX 1007, which combines the timing of Ironman with Steel's quality of head.
Elsoms is assessing the timing of its new purple sprouting broccoli hybrid Rioja in planting date trials. "We are comparing Rioja with Santee, which broke the mould when it was introduced because it could be produced for summer," says Watson. "Rioja is more of a traditional type and looks like being a February variety." Also new is Mendocino, which matures around 240 days after planting, depending on the winter.
Among the varieties under development in Tozer's hybrid programme is TZB 7037 for October/November cutting and one for April harvesting. Also in trials is TZB 7030, which has a particularly sweet flavour and so may need to be marketed as a premium product. "It's not cold-tolerant, so would probably be marketed for a limited period as a special range based on its flavour," says breeder Sara Jennings.
Seminis also had the Tumoba broccoli harvester on display, which could revolutionise broccoli growing - once the company has cracked its concept of "raised head" varieties, where the head is held above the foliage. The idea of a Dutch Seminis breeder more than 20 years ago, machine cutting will not only slash harvesting costs but also improve shelf life if the crop does not have to be cut in the heat of the day, says Hutton. "The varieties are still at the prototype stage," he points out. "The heads are still too variable."
The newest sprout varieties from Elsoms' joint breeding programme with Bejo kick-off with first early Davlin, which is ready 120 days after planting, one of the earliest ever varieties for the company. It is followed 15 days later by Irene, which was code named BE2768, and the high-yielding BE2807.
BE2808 matures in 165 days and its sprouts are medium green in colour. The latest new variety is BE2776 for a mid December harvest in Scotland and January picking in Lincolnshire.
Nickerson's new late season sprout Brenden (formerly NiZ16-439) is launched this year. Targeting the Christmas market, it can produce as many as 120 buttons per stem with a size spec for nets, which maximises throughput for packers.
Flower sprout, Tozer's new take on a Brussels sprout currently being marketed through an exclusive arrangement with Marks & Spencer, was launched with one variety, the green and purple Petit Posy. "Its season is November to March but we want to develop varieties that start in late August," says senior plant breeder Jamie Claxton. Derived from a kale and Brussels sprout cross, darker purple and green types are in the pipeline.
Sakata in Japan runs an extensive breeding programme in pak choi, a once exotic vegetable that has now crossed into the mainstream. "We pick out of the programme (for the UK) but the company is starting to look more for the European market," says Smart.
Chu Choi is the first variety to have emerged this way. A hybrid Canton type, it has proved more popular with ethnic outlets, where it is regarded as truer to type. It makes 100-150g heads with a darker leaf than Joi Choi and has improved tolerance to bolting.
Another new pak choi is PC 10190, a Shanghai type for supermarket sales that is fast growing but slower to bolt even than Yang Qing.
Leaves and herbs
Never have brassicas looked more colourful than in Tozer's demonstration of its speciality lines, in which it is developing mixed packs for stir fries or, alternatively, baby leaf production.
Claxton is also working to improve cavallo nero for winter hardiness, flavour and colour as a baby leaf and ease of harvesting of the larger leaved product. Some grow with a more pronounced stem, which is more difficult to harvest than rosette types.
Selections in wild rocket are aimed at varying the leaf shape and sweetening the flavour. "Wild rocket is slow to establish, especially in cold soils at the end of the year, so we are looking at improving vigour too," says Claxton.
The latest release is Gourmet, which has pronounced leaf serration and is slow to bolt. Because salad rocket already has good vigour, the aim here is to make the leaf appearance more interesting.
In chards, Tozer is working on strengthening individual colours at all stages from baby leaf to sizes for its "wash and cook" idea, while Sakata has named its two new hybrids for baby leaf production, Destiny and Fantasy. Destiny is fast-growing, suited to early or late drillings where the speed is most needed. "Fantasy has a darker contrast of leaf that some people prefer," says Smart.
Since the Daehnfeldt herb breeding programme was sold to German breeder Hild, Sakata is now able to offer a wider range of herbs. Curled and flat parsley and three dill lines were on show at its demonstration site for the first time.
Tozer's new variety of coriander, Calypso, is described by Claxton as a breakthrough for the crop. Not only is it slower to bolt than Santos by a month, but its growing tip is low on the plant. "You can get at least three to four cuts from one sowing," he says.
The company's work on herbs is also focusing on chilling tolerance in basil. "We are looking for a robust basil with a thicker leaf that can be used in salad bags," he says. "Basil has great flavour and aroma but can't be used for bags because of chilling damage from the cold water wash, which blackens leaves in less than 24 hours."
Other vegetable lines showcased at the autumn open days included:
- Broad bean Witkiem Monica, bred for the fresh market by Holland Select and available from Elsoms. It is slightly earlier than Witkiem Manita and higher yielding.
- Sakata's turnip SC9-303, the soft texture and mild flavour of which generated distinct interest from supermarket representatives last year. It has a fine crown attachment and less coarse leaf, which is important for bunching. "It could reinvent the turnip market, but we're still learning its seasonality," says technical manager Kate Smart. Trial seed is available for 2011.
- Red beet BEC 113, the earliest of Sakata's three hybrids. "We're looking at several new ones for next year, for earlier and later production and disease resistance," says Smart. "It's a growing industry - we're feeling the uplift of the publicity about the health benefits of beetroot."
- Tozer's squash Autumn Crown takes the shape of Crown Prince, but the colouring and flesh of a butternut. The Crown Prince genetics have doubled the new variety's storage life, says breeder Jamie Claxton. The company has also developed two larger fruited varieties, producing 2kg butternuts, and one for processing.
- Pumpkin Spitfire, bred by Clause's sister company Harris Moran, matures early so could avoid the need to thermocure in a late year, says John Ward. Targeted at the culinary market, it also features clean foliage.