OSA’s research farm is experiencing a very warm, dry spring here in Chimacum, WA. In fact, we’re already irrigating the fields. Spring trials have been planted, and include green sprouting broccoli, sweet corn, tomatoes, and carrots. Seeds for variety trials have been sent off to our farmer partners throughout the Olympic Peninsula, Whidbey Island, Waldron Island, and the Skagit Valley.
One exciting project underway is that we overwintered a crop of ‘Nash’s Red Kale’ and constructed a large pollination tent around it. We’re hoping to gain experience designing and building larger scale and more affordable pollination cages so that we can test and recommend replicable designs for organic seed growers’ farms. For this project we used a caterpillar tunnel design. Here are the steps we followed for installing it:
- We pounded 30″ pieces of 3/8″ rebar ($68 from the local hardware store) in two rows ten feet apart, halfway into the ground, and every six feet.
- Then, we bent 20′ pieces of one-inch Schedule 40 PVC over the rebar ($180 from the local hardware store) and tied the hoops together at the top with bail twine to keep them from splaying apart.
- Next, we covered the whole thing with a roll of 21′ x 150′ ProtekNet insect barrier from Nolt’s Midwest Produce Supply ($548 including shipping), and buried the edges of the net.
The total cost for this tunnel was approximately $800 for a 10′ x 100′ tunnel.
My sense of the design so far is that the ProtekNet insect netting is more delicate than I would want, and in the future I would spend a little more money to find something that is a bit sturdier, although I like how small the ProtekNet is when it is rolled up, making it easier to store during the winter.
The backstory of the pollination tunnel is that for many years now we have been working with Nash’s Organic Produce to pull recessive green traits out of their red kale to develop a consistently red variety that can then be offered to seed companies to sell to farmers. We do this by selecting robust beautiful plants from the over-wintered kale at Nash’s farm and then we self-pollinate the plants. We then plant out seed from each selfed plant separately. As soon as the seedlings germinate, we can see which of the plants have recessive green traits, and can select out all of the seedlings from that plant. In the tunnel right now are progeny from about 20 plants. Soon we will order blue bottle flies from Forked Tree Ranch to pollinate the kale, and will save seed from the population in late summer. We will then decide if this population is sufficient or if we need to continue to widen the genetic bottleneck of selfing more plants.
Next on my list this week is to transplant ‘Big Papa’ spinach to increase the seed of this variety. I was delighted and surprised that ten-year-old seed germinated so well. This was one of the parents of ‘Abundant Bloomsdale‘. We’ll continue to trial this variety in the coming years.
Our research team is also preparing ground to transplant tomatoes as part of the Tomato Organic Management and Improvement (TOMI) project. We hope to evaluate our most promising tomato lines for indoor production in Western Washington and make crosses between disease-resistant lines and tomatoes with good flavor. Keep an eye out for an invitation to a volunteer workday at our research farm if you’re interested in helping us make tomato crosses.