We’re sharing these easy steps below for folks just starting out in their plant breeding journey. These tips will help you take a more active role in the stewardship and development of open-pollinated cultivars adapted for organic conditions in your region. When you’re ready to dive deeper, be sure to check out our online resource library for plenty of manuals and webinars on conducting organic plant breeding on various crops.
Conduct variety trials at home or on-farm
Discovering a highly productive and resilient seed variety can be rewarding for any grower but this information is especially valuable to plant breeders. SeedLinked offers a platform to join established variety trials, helping growers find the most productive varieties and allowing breeders to test new varieties in a wide range of environments. There are sometimes incentives for joining these trials, too. You can also design your own variety trial using this guide from Organic Seed Alliance.
Join or create a plant breeding network
There are many plant breeding networks that welcome new participants. You can jump into an ongoing project or start your own through the Experimental Farm Network. Networks like the Dwarf Tomato Project encourage anyone to help develop unique varieties in collaboration with the community, even if your growing space is very limited.
Listen to plant breeding and seed keeping podcasts
Let yourself be inspired by the stories of plant breeders and seed keepers. No two stories are the same! There are lots of good options out there. Some series to start with include the Free the Seed podcast from Open Source Seed Initiative, The Seed Growers Podcast from Dan Brisebois, Seeds and Their People from Truelove Seeds, and Seed Stories from North Circle Seeds.
Attend or host a plant breeding focused tasting event
Use your taste buds to help plant breeders set priorities for future projects. Discover new ingredients, recipes, and flavors at events hosted by Culinary Breeding Network, Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, and others. Nothing scheduled near you? Contact those organizations and find out how to set up an event like this in your area!
Learn more about seed production through free education
A key part of becoming a successful plant breeder is a solid foundation in the production and preservation of seeds. Organic Seed Alliance is one organization that offers free educational material for seed producers and there is a growing collection of resources available elsewhere online and in-print through your local library. A new six-part webinar series is available to watch free online with practical training for on-farm and collaborative plant breeding.
Subject a diverse plant population to stressful conditions and save seeds from the survivors
Collecting seeds from plants that thrive or persist in spite of environmental stress leads to more resilient and locally adapted varieties. Seeds that are designated as “landrace”, “grex”, or “breeding stock” usually display significant diversity between individual plants. You can also mix several seed varieties of the same crop to create your own diverse starting population. Save seeds from as many surviving plants as possible to retain genetic diversity over time.
Swap seeds, cross-pollinate, save seeds, and repeat
Seed swapping between people is an ancient tradition that continues today. Trading seeds helps preserve diversity by allowing varieties to be grown in a range of habitats and management styles, increasing the likelihood of its survival over time. The natural process of cross-pollination that occurs when diverse varieties are planted in close proximity leads to unique offspring and greater agricultural biodiversity.
Practice visioning and goal setting but remain open to new discoveries
Breeding projects usually take place over many years and can even become “heirlooms” if they are carried on by multiple generations. Many seed keepers and breeders can describe, in great detail, the ideal crop that they are working towards and they progress incrementally closer to that goal with each generation. Over time, however, new and exciting opportunities may present themselves. It is important to recognize when you have come across something special, even if it is different than your original expectations.