'Abundant Bloomsdale' Spinach
Recognizing that seed knowledge is being lost even more quickly than genetic diversity, OSA trains farmers in basic on-farm seed saving, crop improvement and plant breeding practices that are grounded in an ecological agricultural approach. The work of OSA goes “beyond conservation” to increase genetic diversity through participatory seed projects with these farmers. Beyond the benefit of increased seed security, these regional networks of farmers also result in improvements in quality of life for farmers and their rural communities. The 'Abundant Bloomsdale' Spinach project exemplifies OSA's dynamic and highly participatory regional model. The name, 'Abundant Bloomsdale', is a tribute to OSA's predecessor institution, Abundant Life Seed Foundation. The 'Abundant Bloomsdale' project began in OSA's innagural year as a hands-on participatory educational project for Washington State Peninsula growers. Breeding and trialing work for the project continues to be a base for educational outreach, farmer training, workshops, and field days in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past decade, 8 different farm partners have participated in the development of this released variety.
Breeding Needs and Goals
This new variety is slow to bolt, cold hardy, and has a vigorous, upright growth habit with deeply savoyed (crinkled) dark green leaves. The dark green color means ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ is high in carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene, which are very effective phyto-nutrients that promote good health. Everyone who has tasted the new variety agrees it has a sweet flavor and tender texture.
Breeding Methods and Timeline
‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ originated from a cross between the classic open-pollinated (OP) spinach variety, ‘Winter Bloomsdale,’ and a multiple disease resistant variety, ‘Evergreen,’ bred by the late Dr. Teddy Morelock and publicly released by the University of Arkansas in 2005. ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ contributes excellent cold hardiness and great leaf crinkle and flavor, while ‘Evergreen’ is a good source of horizontal resistance to damping off, white rust, and downy mildew. The original cross was accomplished by making a “strain cross” between at least 15 plants of each variety. This technique, often employed by alfalfa breeders, insures the breeder retains maximum genetic diversity from both of the OP parents in the resultant breeding population. This diverse population was grown over the next five years by local farms with the goal of mixing the parental traits into new combinations. The only selection during this period was to eliminate obvious flaws like pale green leaves, poor vigor, and any plants that exhibited disease symptoms.
In the last two years OSA has teamed up with Midori Farm in Port Townsend for a participatory breeding project to select the most desirable ideotype of a vigorous, spring spinach with dark green color, full crinkled leaves, sweet flavor, and good resistance to any endemic diseases in this ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ breeding population. By selecting repeatedly for good plants in 2011 we were able to identify 130 plants with the desired ideotype from a large plot of over 2000 plants. We then eliminated all other plants to let those 130 plants openly pollinate. As spinach is a dioecious species (half of the plants are male and half female), we then harvested seed from 67 selected female plants into separate, numbered “family” bags.
In 2012 we planted seed of the 60 families we determined best met our breeding criteria at Midori farm. This seed was planted into 60 individual “progeny rows” with one row for each family. These progeny rows have then been monitored since they were at the baby leaf stage through to the fully-grown, bunching stage. From these 60 progeny rows at Midori farms in 2012 we have identified five superior families with beautiful upright plants, dark green color, and nicely crinkled leaves. Midori Farm harvested all of the spinach from the remaining 55 rows for market before they flowered and the five selected families are now flowering and openly-pollinating between themselves. Seed will be harvested from each of the five families and planted in progeny blocks in 2013, in a similar fashion to our 2012 plots. In September 2013, we shared 'Abundant Bloomsdale' seed for the first time with participants at our 10-year anniversary celebration. In 2014, we worked with a local organic farmer to grow the stock seed and released this new variety in partnership with organic seed companies (see "availability" section in the chart at the top of this page).
Breeding new vegetable varieties is a multi-year process. Funding for the 'Abundant Bloomsdale' project has come from various sources throughout the decade long research including Seed Matters, Port Townsend Food Co-op, and OSA's education program funding.
“We know system diversity is one of the foundation stones to successful organic production and we have seen a demonstrated commitment from OSA to build that component of diversity relating to seed. I want to ensure my dollars to on-the-ground projects, a place where an emphasis to make an enduring difference is part of the mandate and where my dollars can be leveraged to build a stronger, healthier food system around the world.”