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Downy mildew in roses is caused by an obligate biotrophic oomycete in the family peronosporacea namely Peronospora sparsa. As the scientific name indicates, the production of spores is sparse and therefore this disease is difficult to diagnose and control. It attacks all types of roses both in the greenhouse, nursery and the landscape from potted miniatures to landscape-size roses and even shrub roses. It causes destruction of leaves, stems, and flowers of the infected plant. The pathogen produces zoospores that have flagella they use to “swim” to ideal infection sites. That is why wet plant surfaces make the disease much more prevalent.

The fungus overwinters in or on plant parts as a vegetative mycelium or in fallen plant debris as hardy Oospores. The pathogen has short development cycles under optimum conditions, produces high quantities of spores and causes an irreversible damage to the crop.

Florist Zhong Wenping is usually racing around at valentine’s time, preparing for Valentine’s Day. But this year her flower shop in Jingshan, a small city in central Hubei province, was quiet.

Like many places in the province at the centre of a deadly coronavirus outbreak, the streets of Jingshan were empty. Wedding banquets and other events were on hold. The shops are shut, as are cinemas, karaoke bars, restaurants and even banks. Checkpoints and guard posts have been set up at the entrance to every public building, and residential communities are in lockdown as authorities try to contain the outbreak that is believed to have started at a live animal and seafood market in the provincial capital Wuhan in December.

“It should have been the busiest day of the year for me because the Lunar New Year holiday is over and everyone should have been back to work,” Zhong told the South China Morning Post.

“I should have started preparing roses a week ago, but people haven’t been able to leave their homes since late last month – let alone do any celebrating,” she said. “Also, how can you really sterilise flowers?”

If you are feeling anxious about Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for those working in the floral industry. For them, this is the busiest time of the year, and it’s largely about just one flower: the ubiquitous red rose.

Ahead of February 14, Gulf News visited Black Tulip Flowers, the region’s largest floral company, to gain an insight into how they deliver millions of Valentine’s Day roses in 35 countries worldwide.

The Sharjah-based company begins operations at 3.45am when most of us are still in bed, to prepare for their biggest days of flower sales.

“We are the third largest flower grower in the world and this is the peak time for our business so one can well imagine what’s it like here,” said the company’s owner and chairman M.M. Ehiya, an Indian expert who started from a small flower shop on Sharjah’s King Faisal Road in 1990.

Finlays shut down their farms, Chemirei and Tarakwet, in Kericho (Kenya) on 25th December. However, they will continue to expand their Lemotit farm in Londiani, and they will double the size of their packhouse. But what is the reason for the closedown of the Kericho Farm? What will happen with the employees and how will they continue? We had a chat with Piet Kelderman, Commercial Manager of Finlay Flowers who explained it all.

The shutdown - costs too high
In April 2018 Finlay Flowers announced that it would be closing its operations in Kericho over a three year phased program. Recently, the company decided to accelerate the closure and brought the date forward by twelve months. But what was the reason for this decision? “The costs”, says Kelderman, “Specifically around labour. When Finlay Flowers started in Kericho in 1989, its labour costs were aligned with the tea industry and it remains like this to this day. The salaries are higher – approximately twice as high as the rest of the flower industry in Kenya and this has made the farms in Kericho uncompetitive.”

Molo River Roses Ltd met the required threshold to emerge among the top by winning two exceptional awards. Spear of the nation award and excellence based award are the two accolades the company claimed.

When we moved in, the first thing we had to do is was to clear the bushes and flatten some of the termite hills. We had to design an inroad and gravel it. Getting labour from within was a problem as the locals would prefer to work for a half day in the neighbouring small scale farms than to work the whole day in the flower farm. Getting outside labour was also a problem as the farm is in an isolated place and no housing around. We have since overcome these problems and the farm is now running smoothly.

All said and done, this has been my best job since joining the industry. It is a baby I have seen been conceived, born and now walking. We have had a number of challenges but every challenge has provided us with an opportunity to learn from.

I would like to see Molo River Roses being the preferred supplier of choice for quality flowers to major markets in the world. As a new farm, there are a number of things we need to do to achieve this vision. The list of priorities is long but top on it is the need to improve the technical skills of our staff through trainings. We are also working on setting up sustainable systems which can guarantee quality products throughout the year. Above all we are working on developing a good market for our products.

Irrigation in greenhouses can be a major challenge for some managers because water supply and water quality can considerably affect the success of the crop. However, regular water analysis is not always a common practice in many greenhouses.

Considering that water may be coming from many sources throughout the year, there can be variability in quality. That’s why it is important to look in a water analysis.

The water provided by rivers, dams and boreholes can have variable chemistry throughout the year. Why is this important? Water quality can impact a growing medium’s pH because of high or low water alkalinity.

Therefore, a periodic water sampling and analysis program will keep tabs on the minerals or nutrients present in the water and which can affect a growing medium’s pH and fertilizer availability for plants.

Wilting Under New Rules, Competition

With a perfect allyear growing climate, affordable labor and access to temperature-controlled air freight, Kenya has all the ingredients to become one of the top flower producers in the world.

Hopes by Kenya’s flower growers to exploit the lucrative United States market and stop dependence on the European market has not borne much fruit despite the recent launch of direct flights between Nairobi and New York.

In spite of optimism and excitement after national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) started direct flights to the US, the airline’s business strategy of focusing on passengers as opposed to cargo has dashed the hopes of the flower industry of targeting the market that has remained elusive.

This is bad news for the industry which despite being the second leading foreign exchange earner after tea, is grappling with a myriad of challenges that are threatening the country’s position as Africa’s leading producer of cut flowers.