New Brussels sprout just one highlight at Elsoms Open Days

Elsoms’ annual Vegetable Open Days at the company’s trial field on the edge of Spalding provided almost as much to see inside as out., writes Richard Crowhurst.

Outside a large number of crop plots displaying everything from brassicas to lettuce, root crops, spinach, celery, radish, salad onions and more, were accompanied by agronomy trials organised by Agrii. Inside the large marquee there were displays of other crops, such as the company’s expanding herb portfolio, as well as exhibitions from a number of companies and a cookery demonstration from local celebrity chef Rachel Green.

“We approached Rachel to help showcase Elsoms’ own material, which includes parsnip and swede, in more engaging way,” explained Head of Vegetable Sales, Justin Solly. “We wanted to get visitors thinking about how to use these varieties by creating a sense of theatre for our guests.”

Kale (or borecole) remains a popular leafy vegetable with a range of consumers, despite some premature press reports suggesting that some trendy eaters have shifted their allegiance to crops such as chard and spinach. Oldenbor (BJ3055) is the latest green curly kale offer from the Bejo breeding programme.

“In terms of production, you can use Oldenbor as late in the season as you would Reflex, but Oldenbor is also winter hardy and resistant to bolting so it produces a very uniform crop,” says Elsoms’ Crop Manager Keely Watson. “It produces a finely-curled, dark green leaf and we have had good results from our trials so far.” With seed now commercially available she adds that she has “high hopes” for the variety.

From the range of cauliflower on the site, Brassica Crop Manager David Clay says that Liria has established itself with growers who are having very good results from it commercially. He recommends using it in programmes with Skywalker to provide continuity through the season.

The joint Brussels sprout breeding programme between Elsoms and Bejo has produced some exceptional material in recent years, such as Marte, Helios and Doric, and the pipeline shows no signs of slowing down with new trial variety BE3097 following on in terms of timing to fill the later post-Christmas segment.

“In Lincolnshire BE3097 matures in January or February and it has a strong performance against light leaf spot,” comments Elsoms Breeding Manager Richard Tudor, who adds that the company is currently funding a PhD student looking at the disease. “It has good vigour and produces a high number of buttons.”

Another successful collaboration between Elsoms and Bejo has been their joint programme to breed purple headed broccoli (PHB). The latest variety is Burgundy (BE3047), a 70-day PHB with a long harvesting season and excellent presentation of the spears. “Its colour is striking, and the structure makes it much easier to harvest than other varieties,” comments David. “The plant ‘sits up’ and presents the spears to you. It also has quite a long season, being suitable for summer and autumn harvesting.”

When it comes to more traditional brassicas, seed of new Savoy cabbage BJ3052 is currently available in trial quantities. Keely describes it as being ideal for the period from October through to Christmas with good holding ability. BJ3052 features a highly textured dark green leaf.

In white cabbage, new introduction Kaluga is ideal for long term storage and the variety has shown good resistance to thrips and performed well in trials over the last few years, producing average head weights between 800 grams and 1 kg. For growers looking for a larger processing type which also has long term storage potential, Zacapa (BJ3160) should fit the bill.

In the UK, vegetables don’t get much more traditional than parsnips. Crop Manager Keely Watson says that overseas sales are increasing, with countries as far afield as Canada, New Zealand and Sweden all taking an interest. “Panorama is the best seller in our current range,” she adds. “The more people grow it, the more they like it, but we are not resting on our laurels and we hope to have new material coming forward over the next couple of years.”

Breeding Manager Richard Tudor explains that Elsoms’ parsnip programme is really aimed at producing uniform white roots for pre-packing size specifications. “We currently have four promising varieties, of which PSH25 is one,” he explained. “Of these we will probably decide to take two forward commercially and we are currently assessing trials to see which two they will be. Consequently we are still a few years away from having this material commercially available.