The goal was to develop an on-farm tissue culture laboratory that would allow the producer, Vickie Talbot of Moose Creek Farm, to propagate local lingonberry plants.
Propagating ligonberries in Alaska has proved difficult. Most commercial cultivars of the fruit, also known as mountain cranberry, come from Europe and produce flowers twice in a season. In Alaska, the first flowering results in small yields, and the second is nipped by the short growing season.
Local lingonberries adapted to local conditions root readily from stem cuttings for commercial production, but they rarely produce rhizomes or form productive matted rows, and research suggests they may have a short life span requiring frequent replacement.
Tissue culture offers an alternative to quickly propagate large quantities of local cultivars, but no tissue culture labs exist in Alaska. So Talbot and Pat Holloway, associate professor of horticulture at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, decided to build one that would supply local plant material for Moose Creek Farm and, eventually, other local producers.
To build a workable lab required minimizing culture contamination, providing adequate ventilation and cooling, determining the best light and temperature, developing a space-minimizing rooting system and maintaining the root cuttings for several months during the winter before planting.
For the tissue trials, Talbot collected stock plants with large fruit and an upright growth habit from a site 440 kilometers north of Anchorage and plants with small berries but large clusters from Moose Creek Farm. She converted a storage area in her farmhouse into the laboratory, creating a culture chamber for microshoot production.
Microshoot production worked well using a woody plant medium with a plant preservative biocide to reduce contamination. For rooting, thin layers of peat-based medium were rolled like jellyrolls in plastic film. The microshoot production succeeded, but rooting failures have been unacceptably high, which suggests more research.
Talbot and Holloway succeeded in developing an environment cabinet that can maintain the jars of growing shoots at fairly constant temperature and humidity at a fraction of the cost of a commercial unit.
“We kept costs low using less expensive equipment,” says Talbot. “Many of our supplies came from the grocers’ shelves.”
Through the project, the researchers were able to overcome many of the problems associated with developing a small, relatively unsophisticated laboratory on the farm. To deal with the high level of contamination in the homemade lab, they found that using Plant Preservative Mixture reduced contamination levels to less than 5% of the jars. They also salvaged new explants that showed signs of contamination by cleaning them again and soaking them in the mixture.
They found that alternating the fluorescent light in 30-minute light-dark cycles resulted in greener leaves, compared with the rust-colored leaves that resulted under 16 hours of continuous light followed by eight hours of dark.
The lab was able to support 150 baby food jars of mature cultures and 150 jars of developing cultures. Around 3,000 shoots were harvested per transfer from 150 jars of mature cultures. For rooting, thin layers of peat-based medium were rolled like jellyrolls in plastic film. Several materials were tested for rooting the microshoots – perlite, vermiculite, peat moss and coconut husks. All worked except the coconut husks. Rolls covered in plastic, rather than enclosed in a bag, had up to 95% rooting success. A cold room provided a space to house the plants through their dormant phase. Talbot says they were able to instill an additional year’s growth by bringing them back into the lab for a second time, then returning them to the cold room once more before spring.
Holloway says that through the project, meaningful progress has been made into understanding how to commercially propagate lingonberries.
Says Talbot, “I believe that it is possible for an on-farm laboratory to be successful. Our major area of difficulty was the amount of time the lab required to fully develop. Although we sought our information on tissue culture from several sources, much of the knowledge and information we gained was through trial and error.”
She expected to plant the newly developed plants in the spring of 2001.
By successfully developing an on-farm tissue culture laboratory, Talbot will be able to propagate her own plants and possibly provide plant material for other producers. If follows that others could mimic her low-cost, highly creative approach to building their own on-farm tissue culture lab.
FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
None have been reported to date.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
While the microshoot production was successful, rooting failures in the project have been unacceptably high and will require additional research.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
The findings were presented to world leaders in vaccinium research at the International Vaccinium Symposium in Chillan, Chile, in January 2001.
“Her projects were well received, and we came back with a lot of new ideas, particularly in Finland and Estonia, that will further Vickie’s goals,” says Holloway.
Vickie Talbot, the project coordinator, operates Moose Creek Farm Inc., Alaskan Berries & Plants, in Trapper Creek, Alaska.