Indoor farming technology provider, LettUs Grow, and fruit farmers, Bardsley England, have partnered to trial apple tree whip propagation using soilless growing technology as per LettUs Grow’s latest statement.
Bardsley England has been growing fruit trees in the UK since 1892, producing high-quality apples, pears, plums, and apricots predominantly for supermarkets. They operate across 23 sites over 850ha of land throughout Kent.
LettUs Grow specializes in aeroponics, a method of growing plants without soil or harmful pesticides. The technology uses ultrasonics to create a nutrient-dense mist that irrigates plant roots within a controlled environment setting. Aeroponics boosts plant growth rates and health due to increased access to oxygen levels.
The aim of the trials is to investigate whether aeroponics can improve the quality, cost, and health of tree whips, with yield and resource consumption, also being tracked over time.
Over the course of 2021, proof of concept trials took place in an attempt to root, propagate, and transplant apple tree whips from cuttings taken from 3-year-old Gala apple trees from the Bardsley orchards. Both root and stem cuttings were propagated in a hydroponic system, moved into an aeroponic system to develop root growth and shoots, before finally being hardened off and transplanted in stages between vermiculite, compost, and then into the ground.
Jack Farmer, LettUs Grow’s co-founder & Chief Scientific Officer, said: “LettUs Grow & Bardsley’s ethos is well aligned; we’re both passionate about technology and innovation being able to support traditional growing methods. It’s great to be working with Bardsley to see how their commercial operation might be improved using indoor farming technology.
“It’s very exciting to be able to explore the potentials of aeroponics beyond leafy greens, and potentially, even beyond food – propagation of tree whips could also potentially benefit forestry projects.”
Aeroponics could prove more advantageous than conventional propagation techniques due to reduced time and space requirements, the ability to propagate regardless of the season, reduced water consumption and, more fundamentally, the ability to improve the overall health of tree whips supplied to commercial growers. Root systems are fully accessible in aeroponics, so plant health can be closely monitored, whilst avoiding soil-borne diseases.
In the initial 2021 trials, all the tree-whips that entered the aeroponic system successfully reached their maximum growth target within 2 months. Next steps in the trials involve improving the resource efficiency by exploring the modification of lighting, effects on transport shock, and repeating the trials to investigate the results upon different apple tree varieties.
You can follow the Bardsley trials and LettUs Grow’s research projects here.