Tag Archives: agriculture

Did You Know… There’s A Plant That Produces Both Tomatoes and Potatoes?

The “TomTato” is a veggie lover’s dream: above ground, it’s a tomato plant; below ground, it’s a potato plant.

The idea was the brainchild of the horticultural firm Thompson and Morgan, based in Ipswich, England.

Although the concept sounds crazy, the plants are not genetically modified; rather, they are created using grafting. This process involves making matching incisions into two different plants which allows you to connect them.

A similar process was recently used by a professor from Syracuse University to create a tree that produces 40 different types of fruit.

A basic diagram of the grafting process. Click to enlarge

The current version of the TomTato is the culmination of 10 years of development.

Early versions of the plant had issues with taste, but advances in grafting technology have allowed Thompson and Morgan to perfect their process.

“It has been very difficult to achieve because the tomato stem and the potato stem have to be the same thickness for the graft to work,”

said Thompson and Morgan director Paul Hansord.

According to the horticultural firm, the tomatoes ripen right around the same time that the potatoes can be dug up.

The “TomTato” plant in all its glory. Click to enlarge

Many people in England have their own small vegetable gardens, but don’t have the space to grow as many different types of vegetables as they would like.

Thompson and Morgan hopes that the plant will gain popularity amongst these people, and possibly even start a trend towards more vegetable hybridization in the future.

If the tomatoes and potatoes really are as good as the company’s director claims, the TomTato could very well start popping in up vegetable plots all over the world.

Read the original story from the BBC here.

How In the World Is This Tree Able to Produce 40 Different Kinds of Fruit??

Sam Van Aken is an art professor at Syracuse University in New York. He wasn’t always immersed of the world of art though- as a child, he grew up working on his family’s farm before pursuing his art career.

So, in 2008, when Van Aken learned that the orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be destroyed because of a lack of funding, he knew he had to put his farming past to use.

Many of the trees in the orchard were 150-200 years old, and grew ancient, antique native stone fruits varieties that have been mostly hybridized or modified by modern agricultural practices (commercially-grown fruits are selected for their look and size more than any other factors, including taste).

Syracuse art professor and “Tree of 40 Fruits” creator Sam Van Aken

Aken knew he had to save these rare and ancient fruit varieties, so he bought the orchard and spent the next couple years trying to figure out how to graft parts of multiple trees onto one single tree.

He started by creating a timeline of when all the varieties of fruit (about 250 total) blossomed, so he could know precisely when to graft a new variety onto the main tree.

The grafting process basically involves making an incision in the main tree, and then inserting a shoot from the tree you want to add.

When the tree was young, he grafted directly onto its root structure. Once it reached two years old, Aken began using “chip grafting” to add new varieties of fruit to various branches.

An illustration of the grafting process

Chip grafting involves cutting a small notch into a branch of the main tree. Then, a sliver of the tree to be added (including a bud) is inserted into the notch and taped in place. Over winter, the tree heals the incision, and in doing so incorporates the new fruit variety into that branch.

After five years, Aken completed his first “Tree of 40 Fruit”, as he calls them.

For most of the year, it looks pretty much like a normal tree, but in spring, it explodes with white, red and pink blossoms before bearing its various ancient varieties of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds.

Since then Aken has planted 15 more “Trees of 40 Fruit” in museums, community centers and art galleries around the country. His next plan is to create an orchard of them in a city setting.

Read the original story from Science Alert here.

You can watch a TEDx talk that Van Aken gave about his Tree of 40 Fruit below:

Saskatoon: A New Kind Of “Super Fruit” Berry Is Making Its Way Into The States

Saskatoon berries may look like blueberries, but the shrub is actually more closely related to an apple tree.

According to NPR’s The Salt, the berry,

“…is pretty common in Canada but hasn’t been grown by farmers in the U.S. until recently. Here [in the U.S.], the berry, also sometimes called the serviceberry, has been collected in the wild for generations.”

Until recently the berry had not been commercially grown in the U.S.. The commercial strain, which produces a larger berry with fewer seeds, has just found its way to farmers in Michigan, but hopes to have a nationwide presence eventually.

Saskatoon berries before being picked

So what do they taste like? Well, it’s kind of hard to say. Here’s Steve DuCheney, who grows the berries in northern Michigan:

“Every time I eat them I get a different flavor…The other day I had somebody tell me they tasted like peach, and that was the first time I heard that one.”

Some people describe the flavor as being nutty, like almonds, and still others say that the berry is sort of like a mix between blueberries and cherries. But everyone seems to agree that the berry is sweet and good for pies.

The saskatoon berry is also a “super fruit”, meaning that it has high levels of antioxidants which help fight heart disease. It also provides 5 essential vitamins and minerals and contains high levels of fiber.

Saskatoon pie, anyone?

San Men of the Kalahari Show What A “Fair Chase” Hunt REALLY Looks Like (Video)

Earlier today, I discussed the controversy surrounding Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech leader who hunts big game in Africa and posts the pictures to Facebook.

In the caption of a picture of her with an African leopard, Kendall described the hunt as a “fair chase”. I feel the need to disambiguate that term.

Let me present the San people of the Kalahari desert in Africa. This traditional hunter-gatherer society inhabits the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. San men go on marathons across the desert to track down the Kudu antelope which provide key protein for their families:

The San people lived as hunter-gatherers for countless generations until government modernization programs, lasting from the 1950s until the 1990s, mandated that many of the San switch to farming.

They are one of our fourteen surviving “ancestral population clusters” from which all modern humans today descend from. Studies of the San have provided a wealth of information in the fields of anthropology and genetics.

So let’s be clear: hunting  with high-powered rifles and motorized vehicles is as far from a “fair chase” as it gets.

Water Scarcity- The Invisible Threat to Humanity’s Future (Infographic)

Water is the most important necessity for life. However, it’s something that we take for granted in much of the developed world. Although 70% of the world is covered with water, only 3% is freshwater, and 2/3 of that is frozen and inaccessible.

Also, most people don’t realize just how much water we use for food- it takes an estimated 441 gallons of water to produce just one pound of boneless beef, and a large portion of our freshwater is used for agriculture.

Check out this great infographic from Seametrics about just how much water we’re using now and what the future looks like for our most important resource (click to see full size):

The Bright Side of the Polar Vortex: It’s Killed Off A Bunch of These Invasive Stink Bugs

The polar vortexes have brought a lot of damage, danger, and just general discomfort to people who are not used to such drastically cold conditions.

But there has been at least one positive effect of this weather. A team of entomologists at Virginia Tech lead by Thomas Kuhar has been gathering Asian stink bugs near their campus for 3 years.

The brown marmorated stink bug, properly known known as Halyomorpha halys, was mistakenly introduced in Pennsylvania in 1998 and quickly spread to 38 different states.

The brown marmorated stink bug (Photo: NPR)
The brown marmorated stink bug (Photo: NPR)

The bugs have been plaguing homeowners (they congregate in walls, shingles, and attics when it gets cold) and destroying crops across the country since they arrived in the late 90s.

The usual winter die-off rate is about 20-25% of the stink bugs, according to Kuhar and his team. This year, however they saw 95% of the population die off.

Read the full story from National Geographic here.

Feature photo courtesy of Leske, 2010.

Satellite Photos Show the Severity of California’s Worst Drought in 150+ Years (gif)

Check out this gif from grist.org showing California around this time last year and this year. Note the drastic lack of green in the second image, as well as the lack of snow to the northeast.

Last week, California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of drought emergency. So far, 2014 is the driest year since the state began keeping records in the 1840s.

A team of paleoclimatologists (scientists who study the history of weather through geology) from the University of California- Berkeley has been examining old tree rings, which can be used to determine how wet or dry a particular year was.

B. Lynn Ingram, who led the study, believes that California hasn’t seen this level of drought since 1580, and worries that this drought may be a mega-drought, saying,

If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century.”

Other studies have previously shown that California has a history of these mega-droughts.

Read more from TIME Magazine here.

Norway’s Multimillion Dollar Doomsday Global Seed Vault

According to the Global Crop Diversity Trust (A main contributor to Svalbard Global Seed Vault), The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is…

a fail-safe, state-of-the-art seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time – and of natural or manmade disasters”

Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established in the permafrost in the mountains of Svalbard (Norway) in February 2008, and is designed to store duplicates of seeds from seed collections around the globe. Many of these collections are in developing countries. If these seeds are lost, as a result of natural disasters, war or simply a lack of resources, the seed collections may be reestablished using seeds from Svalbard. The vault currently holds over 770,000 different seed samples for long term storage, making it the largest seed storage facility in the world.

svalbard

Svalbard Global Seed Vault also ensures that the genetic diversity of the world’s food crops is preserved for future generations and is an important contribution toward the reduction of hunger and poverty in developing countries. The greatest plant diversity originates mainly in developing countries and is also where the need for food security and the further development of agriculture is most urgent, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

The loss of biological diversity is currently one of the greatest challenges facing the environment and sustainable development. The diversity of food crops is under constant pressure. The consequence could be an irreversible loss of the opportunity to grow crops adapted to climate change, new plant diseases and the needs of an expanding population. Check out the visual below to see some of the main losses in crop diversity since 1903.

From The Global Crop Diversity Trust:

Funding of the Vault Construction of the Vault was funded entirely by the Norwegian government. Since no staff are needed permanently on-site, the annual operating costs are as low as around $300,000, and these costs are shared between the Trust and the Norwegian government.  If thought of as an annual insurance premium for the world’s food supply, this represents astonishing value.

The Trust is also assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting samples of unique accessions from their genebanks to the Arctic, and the Trust is financing the deposit of samples from the international collections of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The Role of the Global Crop Diversity Trust The Trust sees the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as an essential element of a rational and secure global system for the conservation of crop diversity – after all, every good system needs a back-up.

The Trust supports the conservation of crop diversity in genebanks worldwide. As an extra layer of security, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores a backup of these valuable seed collections.

The Trust is committed to supporting the ongoing operational costs of the Vault, and is assisting developing countries with preparing, packaging and transporting samples of unique accessions from their genebanks to the Arctic.

Check Out these pictures of The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (including the beautiful and unique art on the outer roof and on the top of the entrance):

 

 

Giant Asian Hornets: Coming Soon To A Beehive Near You

Giant Asian Hornets: Coming To A Beehive Near You

(click link above for full story)

Vespa mandarinia (Giant Asian Hornet)- queens

Steady increases in temperature across the globe are expanding the habitable regions for the Giant Asian Hornet. In the last few years alone, temperatures in the Shaanxi province of China have risen a little more than 1℃, allowing more hornets to survive through the winter. This has led to a steady increase in the number of injuries and deaths caused by these insects.

The hornet’s main prey is honeybees. Asian honeybees have developed an awesome adaptation to protect themselves- they basically will engulf a hornet and then raise the heat inside of their swarm by vibrating their flying muscles until the heat “cooks” the hornet on the inside.

Unfortunately, European honeybees have not developed this survival tactic. A number of the hornets were unwittingly transported to France in 2004 (most likely in a pottery shipment), leading to a research project financed by the “European Apiculture Programme”. In 2004, these researchers counted three hives; by 2010, that number had skyrocketed to 2,000. And with climates in Europe slowly warming, the hornets will be able to survive in more and more regions, posing a huge threat to the bee populations that are so integral for agriculture.

Guardian article outlining the European hornet invasion: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/aug/23/invasion-bee-eating-hornet-courtois

Here’s a video of what happens when the Asian Hornets invade a European honeybee colony. It only takes about 5-10 hornets to massacre an entire hive.