Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Seeds and services: vegetable breeding at Rijk Zwaan

Salanova lettuce varieties on the Rijk Zwaan demonstration field.
 In previous posts I have sung the praises of the beautiful and tasty Salanova® lettuce varieties from the Dutch vegetable seed company Rijk Zwaan: on Friday I had the chance to visit a couple of the company's sites and learn more about the extraordinary ways in which they are pushing forward the development of new vegetable varieties. Although it is still hands-on breeders who place pollen on stigma, the whole process is driven by lab-based geneticists using innovative techniques to maximise the potential of the existing genes - Rijk Zwaan is absolutely against genetic modification using genes from other organisms. The scale of the operation is extraordinary. For example, every lettuce seedling in the breeding programme has its DNA checked for the genes of interest, using tissue from the cotyledon: if not present the seedling is simply discarded.

Michiel Zwaan
My guide for the day was my old friend and colleague Michiel Zwaan, who works in product development for the company (founded by his grandfather in 1924). First stop was the Rijk Zwaan tomato demonstration greenhouse in Kwintsheul, where the current tomato lines are grown under ideal conditions and where all aspects of their cultivation and yield are monitored, providing growers with the information needed to enable them to maximise their crops. All Rijk Zwaan facilities have strict biosecurity measures in place, so we had to dress in overalls - not fetching, but important.

Tomato plants at the Rijk Zwaan demonstration greenhouse: grown hydroponically, with two stems grafted onto one rootstock, they are trained on wires until they are 9-10 m long, over an 11 month period.

Freshly picked samples of each variety are displayed for easy comparison.

The Rijk Zwaan demonstration field at Fijnaart: how field trials should look.

We then travelled further south, to the Rijk Zwaan centre at Fijnaart, where the laboratories are situated and all work on breeding leaf and field crops is done. After a tour of the lab facilities, which would put those of most universities to shame, we moved out onto the demonstration field where the various crop varieties are grown for evaluation and consideration by potential customers. Immaculate and astonishing in the diversity of varieties of e.g. lettuce and spinach being grown, it was also a beautiful sight.

The rather spooky effect of lettuce isolation bags, preventing undesirable pollination. 

A new crisped red Salanova lettuce.

Red Cabbage Rexoma RZ F1: it's difficult to imagine a more ornamental foliage plant.


  1. john in coastal Nova Scotia27 October 2011 at 03:16

    What a gorgeous cabbage there John. And how timely. Tuesday a friend presented me with a cabbage he had grown in Prince Edward Island. It was grown from seed sent to him by a friend in Taiwan. I am usually not prone to get excited by cabbages but this one was so perfect and of a most mesmerizing light soft green reminiscent of an iceberg lettuce that I hesitate to cut into it..... Thanks for posting the Rexoma and Salanova.

  2. This is incredible. Talk about ornamental edibles! Seeing the production is quite fascinating as well.


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