Selecting what varieties of each crop to grow each year is sometimes a daunting task. So how do we do it and why?
Answering the 2nd question is MUCH easier so I will address that first. A farmer earns a living by growing crops to sell. Ultimately quality and yield are the two most important factors to consider when selecting which pepper, tomato, etc. variety to grow. Disease resistance is the next most important trait we look for. If a variety is resistant to a disease such as bacterial spec on pepper or Powdery Mildew on winter squash, this means the crop remains healthier when disease is present. It also reduces the amount of spray we need to use and boosts yield.
Now that we have the why out of the way, the how is the difficult part. If any of you have gone shopping we all know that marketing is a powerful component of any company’s sales strategy. Everyone seems to have the “biggest” or “most flavorful” variety. So how do we cut through the marketing and find out which varieties actually live up to the marketing? We use several strategies:
1. Read university, public and private trial reports during the winter. This may be really dry reading, but the trialing data that these universities gather really helps to highlight which varieties do well and which struggle. Trials are essentially planting many different varieties of a particular crop in small amounts to see which ones perform the best in terms of yield, fruit size, fruit quality and disease resistance.
2. We conduct our own on farm trials with current commercial varieties and new experimental varieties. The experimental varieties are exciting for us. They allow us grow varieties that may not be released for the next few years. Our trials help the seed breeders to know if their work has resulted in a better fruit or vegetable. This also helps us to know which varieties do best on our farm in our climate.
3. Relying on our trusted representatives to tell us which varieties do well in our area. Our good friends at Seedway and Johnny’s Seeds are invaluable sources of information. The representatives for our area speak to many growers and hear feedback on what works and what does not. They are able to pass this information on to us and help guide us in selecting our seeds for the coming year.
During the CSA season we may include samples of these new varieties and ask for your feedback. The breeders are just as interested in knowing how well you enjoyed the produce. Together we can provide valuable feedback to our seed breeders that can help them in their efforts to provide us the tastiest, most nutritious, high yielding and disease resistant crops we all enjoy.