This past year has been very rewarding for both our research effort and our educational outreach. We started the year with a set of successful local cold-hardy vegetable trials and recently had one of our best field days at Nash’s Organic Produce with everyone enthusiastically tasting and debating the merits of the beets and carrots from our Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) trials.
Cold Hardy Vegetable Breeding
We learned a lot in our first fall and winter of testing a dozen cold-hardy crops for outdoor production with local farmers. Working with Frog Hill Farm during the fall, winter, and spring of 2009–2010, we identified a number of varieties that were able to survive repeated freeze-thaw cycles and have vigorous re-growth in the spring. We dug up a number of Swiss chard survivors to continue farmer-breeder projects for a beautiful cold-hardy Magenta chard and a broad-stemmed, super savoyed Fordhook chard. The prettiest and most cold-hardy radicchio plants were also transplanted for new farmer breeding projects.
With support from the Food Co-op and the Jefferson County Farmers Market we have expanded these trials in 2010 to three local farms. We repeated our trials on Swiss chard, endive, and radicchio, adding many new varieties to challenge the best varieties of 2009. Based on local interest we included fall turnips and mustard greens as well as the super hardy (and delicious!) winter crops, purple sprouting broccoli and mache. With November cold temperatures of 13°F we will certainly find out which varieties of these crops are winter tough at our Cold Hardy Field Day on December 13 at Midori Farm.
First Year of NOVIC Research Project a Success
The four-year NOVIC project is off to a strong start and making steady progress toward our goal of breeding a cold-hardy, weed-tolerant fresh market carrot. Through NOVIC we are working with plant breeders from Oregon State University, University of Wisconsin, and Cornell University to develop new vegetable varieties, bred specifically for the organic needs of farmers in the northern tier of the U.S. The goal of all these breeding projects is to extend the season for organic farmers.
John Navazio of OSA is leading the carrot breeding effort, working closely with Nash’s Organic Produce. John has crossed a tall top, New Zealand winter carrot to one of Nash Huber’s best tasting Nantes carrots to produce a hardier great-tasting Nantes with robust, tall tops that can compete with persistent fall-winter chickweed.
John is also working with Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley and Oregon farmer Frank Morton along with breeders from the University of Wisconsin on a cold soil tolerant sweet corn for spring planting. On this project John has the awful task of taste testing sweet corn in the field for two days straight!
OSA Released Four Seed Publications
OSA published several in-depth seed growing guides for free distribution this year with support from the Organic Farming Research Foundation. These new additions expand the array of 15 to 20 page bulletins on organic seed production for specific crops that OSA has to offer. This year we published Organic Carrot Seed Production and Organic Beet Seed Production, two of the harder vegetable seed crops for farmers to produce, as well as Organic Lettuce Seed Production. We also proudly published our new comprehensive Seed Saving Guide for Farmers and Gardeners, which gives the “how to” basics on all of the common vegetables and is the first seed saving guide to place an emphasis on trait selection and adequate population sizes to ensure the varieties we are saving remain healthy and vital for future use.
OSA Hosted a Number of Classes and Field Days
We had a great year for field days and classes at OSA, with an increasing number of people interested in growing seed and on-farm plant breeding. Our 2010 classes started with two popular Seed 101 classes taught by Micaela Colley and attended by folks from across the Puget Sound.
Then an enthusiastic group attended our On-Farm Plant Breeding class at Julie Puhich’s Common Ground Farm in Olympia. John taught the two-day class with Jim Myers of Oregon State University. It was coupled with a NOVIC field day, where Julie and Jim demonstrated their work in breeding a uniform, market-quality open-pollinated summer broccoli with heat tolerance.
Next we held a fantastic Family Farmer Seed Co-op workshop near Rocky Ford, Colorado. Dan Hobbs and John Navazio organized the workshops and 30 farmers gathered for all of the seed growing basics and an excellent set of seed cleaning demonstrations with Dan, John, Bruce Carle of Hollar Seeds, and Bill McDorman of Seeds Trust. We had lots of seed to clean and folks stayed late asking questions and soaking up the tricks of the trade.
Our last field day of the year was to highlight our NOVIC work at Nash’s Farm in Sequim. We toured a fall carrot field and gained an understanding of what makes a good winter carrot. We then went indoors to evaluate ten carrot and eight beet varieties for the NOVIC project. All 18 varieties were displayed, both the roots with tops and cut up raw pieces of carrot and shredded cooked beets of each variety to taste test. John’s tutorial on the important market traits and the basics on the science of flavor for these complex flavored crops had everybody asking questions. Everyone tasted the diverse group of roots while we tallied the score on which were the sweetest, most flavorful, and which had off flavors. Everyone was amazed at how different the flavor of these two crops could be.
New Staff Member Joins Research and Education Team
In 2011, OSA is adding a new member to the research and education program: Jared Zystro. Jared has a Master’s degree in plant breeding and a background in organic seed. With Jared as OSA’s California representative, OSA has begun outreach in California and is already working with a California seed grower on an organic participatory zucchini breeding project. The goal of this project is to produce a non-hybrid zucchini that is vigorous and has excellent market quality. In addition to this breeding work, OSA conducted educational outreach through a California seed and grain field day and a seed saving and plant breeding workshop. Work is also underway for a seed producers group, and a seed forum and exchange for spring 2011.
Dr. John Navazio, Senior Scientist, Research & Education, Seed Extension Specialist OSA/WSU