Cultivating Clean Plants Serves a Higher Purpose

September 8, 2016

Every month we gather our entire staff together for continuing education and to talk about our company’s values. The following blog post covers our teaching emphasis for September 2016.

We’re waging war against pests, viruses and disease. It’s a daily fight at our greenhouse, and it takes intentionality on every level, from the grower who monitors stock and plans for its care, to the research director who experiments with new ways to propagate clean stock, to the daily hands who take cuttings with sanitized blades.

Cleanliness and virus control are important for the sake of our business. When we are careful to avoid cross-contamination, we significantly reduce the spread of disease in our plants and the resulting losses. When we maintain clean, virus-free plants, we help to grow our customers’ businesses by providing them with a quality product for their customers. But cleanliness is even more important than that: as we actively fight diseases and viruses, we are engaged in making the earth a little more like God originally intended it to be.

If the primary job of the first humans was to care for creation, they were, in effect, gardeners whose task was to continue the creative process that God had started in His act of creation. Once man rebelled, God levied a curse on the earth and gave punishment to man. Something—on a fundamental molecular level—changed that day. In that very moment, degredation began. It was the start of death, disease, and decay.

It is the reality of this fundamental change that we deal with in our greenhouse every day. Viruses can infect every living thing, including plants. Out of the more than 4,000 viruses currently on our planet, approximately 1,000 of them affect plants. In just one calendar year (2003), it is estimated that the Tomato Spotted Wilt virus alone caused 1 billion dollars’ worth of damage globally. According to Springer Science, that trend continues year after year. That’s serious business.

It is at the cellular level where we can make the most impact on our plants and the plants that are being shipped to our customers. Viruses can only exist as parasites. The only way they can reproduce is to infect the cells of some other organism. In the case of plants, viruses can only be transferred mechanically—that is to say, through direct contact from an infected cell to a non-infected one. This transfer can be done while cutting for propagation (using infected tools while working with the plant material), through direct plant-to-plant contact, or through lesions caused by insect bites. Once the virus gets to the vascular system, it moves through the entire plant resulting in a systemic infection.

How to Maintain Clean Stock

The most effective way to stop viruses in our greenhouse is to prevent them from spreading. We have a five-step process to stop the spread of viruses:

  1. We grow the plants that are most vulnerable to spreading disease away from other plants and away from each other. This separation prevents direct contact between the plants and eliminates virus transfer.
  2. We keep our greenhouse clean. Weeds under the bench can harbor both pests and viruses, and dead plant material on the floor can be a safe haven for viruses waiting to be transferred to live plants.
  3. We disinfect our tools between cutting plants. It is very important to use alcohol or chlorine to disinfect knives and scissors when working with plants.
  4. We identify any insects in the stock and notify the grower in charge that there’s a problem.
  5. We identify any possible symptoms of viruses and notify the grower in charge. Symptoms include:
    • Chlorosis – Yellowing of the leaves
    • Contraction or shrinkage of the leaves
    • Mosaic patterns
    • Slow growth
    • Lesions
    • Abnormalities in the leaves, flowers or stem

If we find a virus in our stock, it can be eliminated, but it is not cheap. In our lab, we can create clones using the meristem tissue of a diseased plant and, through several life cycles and the use of antiviral drugs, produce a virus-free plant. The cost is around $1,000 per plant and takes about 6 months to accomplish, and because it’s not 100% effective the process may require multiple cycles. If we can prevent the spread of infections, we save ourselves time and money and we supply our customers with affordable clean stock to sell to their clients.

If we are to be good stewards, it is our job to do the best we can to care for and maintain the creation around us. What lies before us in the greenhouse is not our own: it is given to us by the Creator for our care and cultivation. In keeping our stock clean, we honor Him, we provide a quality product for our customers, and we leave to the generations who follow us a better start. It’s our way of restoring a bit of goodness to a fallen world.