Monday, February 2, 2015

Peony conference addresses research

During a research panel presentation at the Alaska Peony Growers Association conference in Fairbanks Jan. 30, the moderator introduced UAF Professor Pat Holloway as the “matriarch of peony research.”
Researchers addressed the peony conference attendees.

“Pat was the first to do peony research in Alaska and the first to study growth and development of peonies, what cultivars to grow and now she is studying post-harvest techniques,” said Jill Russell, a researcher and peony farmer.

Holloway said funding for agricultural research in Alaska is flat. She praised Washington State University researchers Beverly Gerdeman and Gary Chastagner for their efforts. “What they are doing is truly a gift,” Holloway said. “They are helping the growers do a better job.”

Gerdeman studies thrips (insects) and Chastagner botrytis blight, a fungal disease. Gerdeman and Holloway are studying thrips on the 100 peony cultivars at the Georgeson Botanical Garden.  Chastagner said botrytis gets to plants by blowing in the air. “Temperature, length of time and moisture on the leaves affect it,” he explained.

UAF Professor Mingchu Zhang studies fertilizers, fish amendments, compost, top soil and peat moss to improve peony production. He divides Alaska into three zones for peony production: Kenai/Homer, Matanuska Valley and the Interior. “We are looking for solutions to enhance stem strength,” he said.

Audience members asked the research panel about everything from geothermal energy to companion crops. When questioned about optimal spacing, Holloway said when she set up peony plots at the GBG she copied a farm in Oregon and planted double rows with two-feet spacing and five or six feet between the double rows. “The plants were really happy and they still are,” she said. “Production is still high after 13 years.”

New farmers were advised to get their soil tested by the Soil and Water Conservation District. “The soil should not be waterlogged,” Mingchu Zhang said.

Nearly 200 people attended the conference in Fairbanks Jan. 30-31 and 40 stayed Feb. 1 for a special soils workshop led by Research Technician Bob Van Veldhuizen.

Russell asked growers to participate when researchers send them surveys. “They are vital to us, and help us solve problems as we continue our research,” she said.

Visit the GBG website to follow peony research.

Piet Wierstra of Oregon Perennial Co., left, congratulates the new president of the Alaska Peony Growers Association, Richard Repper of Echo Lake Farm in Soldotna.

The conference featured a trade show, art display and awards banquet. Growers' schools and sessions on taxes, workforce development, peony diseases and insects, preparing your farm, soil health, weeds, chilling buds, selling to brokers, shipping and handling and more were presented.

The new video, Peony Tissue and Soil Sampling, was introduced at the conference.

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