Tag Archive | greatest challenge

Getting bees hooked on flowers with nicotine

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While some researchers have been busy developing a possible vaccine to help humans beat their nicotine cravings, others have been getting bumblebees addicted to the stuff. But the experiment wasn’t just an exercise in getting the bees buzzed, it was an investigation into whether or not the drug could influence the insects’ ability to learn the color of flowers. Hint: It can.

They sure do love their bumblebees over at Queen Mary hooked on flowers. Researchers there have previously taught the pollinators how to push a ball around a playing field, and pull a string to get food rewards. In a further demonstration of how a creature with a brain about the size of a pin head can be trained to execute particular behaviors, researchers there used nicotine-laced nectar on artificial flowers to see if they could get the creatures to show a preference for one color over another.

So they laced blue flowers with a plain sugar solution and purple flowers with a sugar solution containing nicotine. They then set 60 different bees lose in their artificial garden to see how they behaved. Sure enough, the bees showed a clear preference for the nectar that was doped with nicotine in the purple flowers. Interestingly though, the bees were repelled by the nicotine-containing flowers if the concentration of the chemical was too high.

The researchers then reversed things: They laced the blue flowers with the nicotine solution and the purple flowers with the plain nectar. The bees continued to fixate on the purple flowers however, showing that they had associated the color with the reward, even if they could get a nicotine buzz by visiting the other flowers (pin-head-sized brain, remember?).

“Flowers typically reward pollinators ‘honestly’ with rewards such as sweet nectar, but nature’s trick box is endlessly resourceful, said professor Lars Chittka from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. “Some plant species gain an unfair advantage over competing species by spiking their nectar with addictive substances, such as nicotine in tobacco flowers.”

While the experiment might seem a bit obvious – of course bees would prefer a buzz-bringing solution over plain sugar water – the researchers say it opens the door to wide range of future studies analyzing ways in which plants might out compete each other for the attentions of insects that can spread their pollen.

For More Information: Michael Franco

If you’re after a cottage garden for spring, it’s time to get sowing

caroline_plouff

If you’re after a big display of spring and summer flowers next year, you should sow seeds before the cold weather sets in.

Right now’s a good time to sow annuals and perennials including wildflower meadows. Wallflowers, poppies, delphiniums, Stephenson, acanthus, aquiline, pansies, violas, primulas and many more flowers are easily grown from seed.

There’s a far wider choice of varieties if you sow your own rather than seeing which seedlings are on offer at the garden centre next spring. Seeds are much cheaper too! One packet of seed will give you enough seedlings for generous swathes of blooms

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Delphinium cultivator. Large-grade delphiniums can be expensive in spring. Plant seed in autumn and they’ll flower in early November; deadhead and they’ll bloom again in February. Look for ‘Dwarf Fountains Mix’ for a wide range of pink, mauve, blue and purple flowers on stocky plants, or ‘Pacific Giants Mix’ for the back of the border and as cut flowers.

Our pictures show seven flowers to tempt you but there are hundreds more to choose from. For the widest selection of tempting blooms browse these online seed catalogues.
* Kings Seeds
* Egmont Seeds
* Wildflower World
* Yates
* McGreggor’s
* Owairaka Seeds

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‘Zinfandel Peach Blush’ is a double-flowered crested zinnia in shades of cream, peach and salmon. It’s a superb cut flower, with strong stems reaching 75cm high. A 2014 Electroscope Novelty Award winner, this hardy annual flowers over several months. From Kings Seeds.

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Snapdragons (Antirrhinum magus) are excellent for bedding, borders and cut flowers. Pictured is double-flowered ‘Twinny Peach‘ from Edmonton Seeds.

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California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) close at night and open in the morning. They thrive in poor, sandy or stony soils and love the hot and dry. An annual, it self seeds freely but it’s easy to control.

For More Information:- BARBARA SMITH

A Brexit that benefits agriculture is a Brexit that benefits the nation – Ministers, take note

caroline-plouff

As Samuel Johnson said: “Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation but the only riches she can call her own”. He may have written this in the eighteenth century but, as the UK prepares to leave the European Union, his sentiment has never been more relevant. Agriculture is facing its greatest challenge and its most exciting opportunity for generations.

We are currently faced with an unprecedented chance to reshape the agricultural sector to deliver more for the UK, building prosperity and improving our quality of life.

How to maximise the benefits and minimise the disruption of Brexit is hugely important to the country’s future and will dominate discussions at the NFU conference this week.

The NFU has commissioned a comprehensive report in order to demonstrate the true value of the agriculture sector and why the Government should prioritize food and farming in its upcoming negotiations.

For the first time, this report calculates the full contribution agriculture makes to the economy. It also assesses the social and cultural benefits that farming provides for the nation, including the role farmers play in helping to manage the countryside.

The report shows that the overall contribution of agriculture to the UK, based on the latest available figures, is £46.5 billion. This is spread across every part of the country, with agriculture playing a central role in truly re balancing the economy.

The sector employs around 475,000 people and produces the raw ingredients for the country’s largest manufacturing sector – food and drink. This sector is worth £108 billion and generates around £18 billion worth of export earnings annually.

To give an idea of the significant return on investment this represents, for every £1 the nation invests in farming, a staggering £7.40 is generated. The research demonstrates that farming is a vitally important part of our overall economy.

In addition to its core role of feeding the nation safe, high-quality produce, farming also plays an important role in managing over 70 per cent of the UK’s land area, providing habitats for wildlife and countryside for us all to enjoy. This, too, has economic benefits: rural tourism is worth at least £2 billion a year.

Moreover, in recent years, farmers have managed to increase food production while lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the use of chemicals and water.

Farmers produce renewable energy, including wind, biomass and solar power, with around 10 per cent of the nation’s electricity now generated on agricultural land. This is a huge success story, and one I witnessed first hand in my own farming community in Pembroke shire.

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In order for agriculture to continue to contribute so magnificently to our national coffers and the protection of our rural heritage, we need the Government to put farming at the heart of its Brexit negotiations.

Leaving the EU will allow us to take control of the policy that currently governs our farming industry. Gone will be the current Common Agricultural Policy structures; new measures bespoke to the UK’s food and farming needs will be in its place.

This is a golden moment for British politicians to show they understand the true value of the agricultural sector to this country.

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Food and farming must be a central part of our trade talks from day one. Our first opportunity, and our number one priority, must be focused on getting the best possible access to European markets.

Trade must be at the heart of the Government’s negotiations. 70 per cent of the UK’s exported food goes to the European Union; farmers need the freest access to its markets as possible. Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, is seeking new bilateral free trade arrangements. These need careful thought. New settlements must be entered into in full knowledge of the potential impact on UK producers.

For More Information:- Meurig Raymond